Kristen Wiig takes on a brand new character: Leading lady

The countdown to the Bridesmaids premiere on May 13 means that Kristen Wiig is everywhere. And since she is one of the funniest females on screen, we couldn’t be happier.

If you’ve missed news about the film, click over to Dorothy Snarker’s entry from last week with the trailer and a look at the story. Sounds like funny stuff, right?

We hope so. Preliminary reviews are mostly positive, but even critics who think the movie is uneven agree that Wiig rises to the challenge of her first leading role with a performance that is both sympathetic and very funny. As The New York Times Magazine put it, “Watching the movie, you do not have the sense of Wiig as a comedian stretching to take on a big role on the big screen; she seems more like an actress who has been trapped in the successful career of a comedian.”

She didn’t set out to be either. In fact, Wiig did wasn’t a performer until her late 20s. She majored in studio art at University of Arizona and took an acting class to fulfill a requirement. Her teacher suggested that she pursue acting, but not until she dropped out of school and moved to Los Angeles did she give it a try.

A friend took her to see the Groundlings and “something clicked,” she told the Times. She signed up for classes and earned tons of stage time performing weird characters, including the Target Lady. The character was inspired by an actual clerk at an L.A. Target — “just the accent, nothing she actually said,” Wiig says.

Like the Target Lady, Wiig’s characters usually have a little something recognizable at their core. Don’t we all know a one-upper like Penelope?

Wiig has decided to retire Penelope and mean little girl Gilly, but she has scores of other characters in her comedy repertoire. That’s one reason SNL creator Lorne Michaels considers her one of his MVPs. In fact, Michaels told the Times that he ranks Wiig as one of his top three or four performers of all time — quite a statement considering the show has featured Gilda Radner, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Dana Carvey.

Michaels also appreciates that she is nothing like her on-camera persona. “There are people who I have worked with — and quite a few people I’ve worked with — who are always in some state of crisis: their boyfriend left, their agent is lying,” he said. “What I’m getting at is she’s ‘still waters run deep.’ “

Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote and starred in Kissing Jessica Stein, said that Wiig has a deep sense of gratitude for her success. Westfeldt told NYT about a recent day on the film Friends With Kids. After a half-day that involved Wiig and most of the crew standing in freezing rain, director Westfeldt apologized. “Kristen said something like, ‘Any day getting to work is better than not.’”

Hearing that a wonderful performer is also a wonderful woman is always a treat. I, for one, hope she gets to work for a very long time.

Hulu.com has a special section featuring Wiig’s best characters, so you can catch up on any you missed. And for more about Wiig and Bridesmaids, check out the New York Times Magazine and this week’s Time.

Do you think Kristen Wiig is one of SNL‘s funniest players? What’s your favorite Wiig character?

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