Melissa Rauch: Beyond Bernadette

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Melissa Rauch: Beyond Bernadette

Melissa Rauch is easy to like. Strikingly beautiful (with or without glasses), distinctly intelligent (without a hint of smarm) and effortlessly hilarious, her lack of desperation for a laugh is a breath of fresh air. Sure, she plays a character at work (when your day job is the highest-rated sitcom of a generation, you tend to embrace your job), but the actress/writer has no need to cling to it when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Born and raised in Marlboro, N.J., Rauch embraced malls, hairspray and Atlantic City at an early age. Luckily, she left some time for a hobby that wasn’t necessarily indigenous to the Garden State: acting. From theater camps to college, her passion grew, and her desire to both write and perform led her to NYC’s stand-up circuit, a one-woman show (co-written with her eventual husband) and a bold move to pursue her dream on the West Coast.

Bit parts aplenty followed (like Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but her big break came with a chance opportunity at a limited role on The Big Bang Theory, where she played the diminutive Bernadette, a blind date for the overlord of pervy geekiness, Howard Wolowitz. The chemistry was palpable, and plans for a short courtship turned into a long-term relationship, a marriage, and a permanent home for Rauch’s immense comedic talents.

We spoke to Melissa about the new film she starred in and wrote with her husband, The Bronze (which opens in theaters nationwide this weekend), The Big Bang Theory, and adult fan-fiction:

issue229.jpg Paste: You’re from Marlboro, N.J. On a scale of one to ten, with one being light Wawa visitation, and ten being watching Jersey Shore and feeling like it’s a semi-autobiography, how Jersey are you?
Rauch: Before you gave me what a ten was, I was gonna say a nine-and-a-half. I’m not full on Jersey Shore Jersey, but in my heart, my bangs are so feathered with tons of hairspray. My husband says that whenever I get tired, it comes out. My parents are visiting right now from New Jersey and when I’m around them it’s full-on. Every bit of me becomes my 14-year old Jersey self when I’m around them. I would say I’m an eight on the Jersey scale , but I also suppress a lot of it, and then I feel like because I suppress so much of it, it’s boiling so hard inside of me that inside it feels like a ten.

When I first went to acting school they made me lose my accent, which is very upsetting for me. The first day of Shakespeare class I remember the professor was like, “Oh, boy. Oh no, no, no, no. No, no, no,” and sent me to a voice and speech class to get rid of the accent immediately. I feel like I’ve had to tame it, and because of that I feel like it’s fighting harder to get out.

Paste: It’s like you’re The Hulk.
Rauch: Yes. That’s true. That’s exactly right. When I get angry, it’s just full on Jersey. I’m flipping tables, my nails grow long and pink.

Paste: Well, now you sound like Teen Wolf, but either way I get it.
Rauch: Great. It’s a Jersey-Hulk Teen Wolf.

Paste: You and your husband wrote The Bronze together. What was the experience like?
Rauch: I think because we started out as writing partners before we got together, we set up this healthy working dynamic in our relationship. We wrote together in college before we were a couple. We wrote comedy sketches together. Then after graduation we wrote a one-woman show for myself that was in the New York Fringe Festival, and then we took it to Aspen Comedy Festival and then brought it out to L.A., which really transitioned me to Los Angeles. That was really the first huge project that we worked on together. It was a massive grassroots undertaking that we did at the time.

Since then we’ve written several scripts for Gentleman TV, and we shot a couple of short films together, but this was our first feature that we shot together, which was really exciting. And it was such a labor of love that we got to do together. The writing process is our hobby that we enjoy doing together. Some couples golf together or do something athletic, we like to sit on our couch in our sweatpants and write. We really operate under the “best idea wins” motto, so I can’t say that we ever disagree on anything. We’re writing because we’re really just excited to get the best result that we possibly can.

The beautiful thing about writing with the person that you love is that when they come up with an idea that is great, it’s this dual happiness because that’s the partner and that’s such a good idea, and I’m proud of you and then also I’m really excited for the project. I have to say, our writing relationship is the most 50/50 of everything we do together.

Paste: We’ve all heard how many different levels of things could potentially sink a movie at any time. The writing, the direction, the marketing, current events, bad weather….so many things that could potentially cause it to plummet into the darkness of hell. Does that weigh on you, even now? Or is there a point where you throw your hands up and say “Screw it…whatever happens, happens.”?
Rauch: That’s a very good question. I think with our movie, every step along the way was definitely an uphill battle to get this made. We originally had 24 days to shoot this movie and by the time our director flew from Los Angeles to Ohio for preproduction, our budget had been shrunk a little bit more and was cut down to 22 days… just in that flight time that he had from L.A. to Ohio.We were on such a tight schedule, I mean, we were shooting so many pages a day, it was maybe two or three takes tops per scene. We were really scheduled within an inch of our lives.

On the first day of shooting there was a massive tornado warning and we were supposed to be shooting outside. It was so scary because in that moment we were like, “If this delays us we will not make our days and we will not finish this movie.” We all had to just huddle inside and our assistant director gave us a rundown of what we needed to do and thank goodness it passed. We were miraculously able to make our day. Especially since that happened on the first day of shooting it highlighted the fact that anything can happen. It’s scary, but you kind of just have to plow forward as you do with cost of filmmaking and just hope for the best and hope that there’s a light at the end of the crazy tunnel.

It really was such a wonderful experience making it and you have this insane adrenaline rush the entire time. It was really euphoric as we were shooting it, even though it’s a crazy metaphor. We were funding the movie on our credit cards until the night before shooting because our financing hadn’t come through. We both were very scared, but we had a crew to pay that had been working in preproduction and that was definitely a scary time of “Oh my goodness, we may lose our house if this doesn’t go through.”

Paste: Without yet knowing how well The Bronze will do at the box office or digitally, would you do it all over again?
Rauch: 120 percent absolutely. It really was a dream come true. I had the most phenomenal time shooting it. Winston, my husband, and I and our producer and our director—we became this family, and it was such a special time as we were shooting it. And every step along the way has been such a learning experience. It was just a really phenomenal one. Yes, absolutely, I would do it again and again and again and again.

Paste: Gary Cole plays your father in The Bronze, and he is one of those actors who finds a way to overachieve in every role he plays. From your perspective, what did Gary Cole bring to this movie?
Rauch: I agree with you 120 percent. I feel the exact same way about Gary Cole. Actually, I worked with him on one of my very first jobs when I moved to Los Angeles. It was a show called 12 Miles of Backroad that was an HBO show that never ended up airing, but I did a bunch of episodes and he played my boss. He was so kind and so wonderful, and his performances are just so specific and grounded, and he’s just an incredible actor. I believe Gary Cole is one of the greats. When we were writing this script we were about three-fourths of the way through and I said to Winston, “Gary Cole would be so perfect for this.”

We had his voice in the back of our minds and we were so thrilled when he read the script and agreed to do it. From the moment he stepped on set, he just totally inhabited the role and brought this character to life in a way and added so many layers to him that we were so thrilled with. I really feel such a paternal connection with him. He’s just an incredible actor, and he’s also just an incredible human being. It’s so wonderful to get to work with him and now call him a friend.

Paste: The big talking point coming from anyone who’s seen this movie is the sex scene, where you and Sebastian Stan use your gymnastics skills in ways that have never been captured on video before. Gotta ask: did you think this one up while writing the movie, or did your idea for this scene kickstart your inspiration to write the script?
Rauch: I love that question. As much as I’ve talked about the sex scene, I’ve never gotten that question. Thank you for that, that’s really cool. The idea for the movie came first. My husband and I, we outline like crazy whenever we’re writing anything. We’re super, super big outliners. We have the whole script and each scene outlined before we even plug in any dialogue, so the idea came when we got to that point in the outline. It comes about three quarters of the way into the movie, and when we got to that part in the movie, we said “okay, well, this is when they get together…”

I remember we were sitting right across from each other on our couch, and it’s these two medal-winning gymnasts getting together to have sex, and we kind of just looked at each other and we pretty much at the same time were like, “Gymnastic sex!” We wrote it in the outline and really cut and pasted from the outline into the script “the most crazy, epic, intense gymnastic sex scene ever”, and it was like in bold, underlined, with tons of outlines and exclamation points. Then we actually got to the script then we wrote in bullet points of what we wanted happening, like the power horse, and the spread eagle, and things like that. I think there were about six bullet points of what we wanted to see, and then our director was able to take it to the next level. Actually when we scouted for locations, the room that we found at this hotel, or motel we should say… it actually had those rings on the window.

Paste: I do not want to know why.
Rauch: Actually it is a handicapped room and that’s why they have those rings [laughs]. We actually ended up reinforcing them because they were really just opening and closing the curtains, so we reinforced the rings, but you can’t rent out that room and one will find … I mean, at this point I would bring in a cleaning team to really scrub down before, but the rings are in that room and it ended up being the most perfect. We shot the bar scene which also happened to be in the hotel, so the fact that that room existed just up the hall was really perfect.

Paste: That’s the kind of hotel you’re going to find pretty easily in Jersey. You just have to pay hourly for it.
Rauch: That’s exactly right. I think it’s very similar actually to where I had my Junior Prom.

Paste: Wow. That’s a story for another whole interview.
Rauch: No. I should clarify though that I just sat in the corner at the Junior Prom just eating my feelings. Nothing happened like that at my Junior Prom, and also my prom date is very happily married to a man at this point.

Paste: In this movie, you hook up with Sebastian Stan, who of course is best known to many as the “Winter Soldier” in the Captain America movies. Are you prepared for the fact that someone out there is going to re-cut that sex scene from your movie, splice in footage from the Marvel movies, post it on Youtube and unofficially annoint you as a very deviant part of the re-imagined Marvel Universe? I hope you’re ready to hit ComiCon!
Rauch: Oh my god! You just made me so happy, I can’t even tell you. That is something that I did not think of. That is so exciting to me. That is an added bonus of doing the scene, as if it wasn’t already a bonus of getting to do a scene like that with Sebastian Stan. That is very exciting.

Paste: The Bronze is exactly the type of movie that certain audiences will love, but critics love to bash. Who is the audience you are looking to land with this movie?
Rauch: You know, I think it’s been interesting just seeing the different demographics that it’s resonating with in really interesting ways. I think young audiences have gravitated towards it. At Sundance, we had this screening outside of Park City. It was closer to Salt Lake with a pretty conservative crowd. I think at first they were definitely surprised by it, but by the end they were so on board. What’s interesting about the story is that it is a story of second chances, and Hope in her own way is this underdog. She’s in a lot of pain and she’s basically trying to find pleasure in anything she can happily find to regain the sense of euphoria she felt when she won her medal.

When we were creating this character we didn’t want it to be profanity for the sake of profanity. We really wanted it to be that this character has been so controlled over the years that now she’s just rebelling against everything she’s been taught. From the food she’s eating to the words that come out of her mouth, and she’s just going hard against it. We like to say that Hope is a rebel without a sport at this point, and I hope people get on board for the fact that this character—she’s like little orphan fucking Annie. The sun will come out tomorrow in Hope’s world, but it’s more like, “The sun will fucking come out tomorrow.”

Paste: Let’s talk Big Bang. Now you are going to be the first character on the show to be pregnant, do you like the fact that Bernadette and Howard are winning the race to become true domestics? You guys feel like the first real grownups on the show.
Rauch: I’m really thrilled to do that. I was so excited to find out that we’re going to be getting to play these storylines and I think the architects behind the show have always done such a wonderful job with creating these really natural story arcs that are gradual and don’t necessarily change the DNA of the show in any way. The fact that they added myself and my character to the show, I think they still held through to what the show is about, and I know that they’re going to continue to do that even with the pregnancy and addition of a Wolowitz child.

Paste: You’re still on top of the TV world. You’ve gotten a film under your creative belt. What’s next?
Rauch: My husband and I are working on a couple of new scripts that we’re excited about. I really like creating these suave female characters. I think there’s been pressure on women over the years to play likable characters or scripts that lean more on the side of likable. Some of my favorite movies have been movies from the ’40s, like Betty Davis in All About Eve where there was a rawness to her and it wasn’t shied away from. I hope to continue to create and portray these women who are layered and have this vulnerability underneath this raw, rough exterior and seeing what other characters we can meet.

Paste: Okay. Cool. Hopefully more fan fiction in your future as well?
Rauch: Yeah! [laughs] From your lips to the fan-fiction creators’ ears, because I very much look forward to it. Can you promise me that if someone doesn’t do that, we can commission someone to do it?

Paste: I’m not plugged into the community, but I’m sure if I hit a message board or two we’ll be able to reach them pretty easily.
Rauch: Would it be weird if I cut it myself? Is that weird?

Paste: Not at all!
Rauch: I think I may be the first person to do their own fan fiction.

Paste: It’s a whole new market for you. You could make it an extra when the bluy-ray comes out.
Rauch: Perfect. I look forward to that very much.

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