From co-writer/director/producer Ben Falcone, the comedy Life of the Party follows Deanna (co-writer/producer star Melissa McCarthy), a newly single mother who, upon having her life turned upside down, decides to re-enroll in college and finally earn her degree. Having dropped out to raise her daughter (Molly Gordon), she now finds herself fully immersed in the college experience alongside her, and while mother and daughter get to know each other on a whole new level, Deanna also goes on her own adventure, making new friends and just having some fun.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Julie Bowen talked about what drew her to the role of Marcie, the woman that Deanna’s husband has dumped her for, how much fun she had playing the mean girl, what she thinks of her character, all of the improvisation they got to do, and the type of environment Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy create on set. She also talked about what it’s meant to her to be a part of the highly successful ABC comedy series Modern Family, making it to 10 seasons, who cracks up most on set, and whether she’d do another TV series, in the future.
Collider: I very much enjoyed this movie and had so much fun with it! Did you know exactly what sort of a mean girl you’d get to be playing, when you signed on to do this?
JULIE BOWEN: I did, but I did not know how much they love to improvise. I’ve never worked with this group before, and they’re a formidable group of people. Matt Walsh started UCB with Amy Poehler. He literally is one of the kings of improv. And then, there’s Melissa. I was just really overwhelmed with how much improv-ing they did and how much you have to shove your way in there. As the new girl to the group, and also playing the bitch, I was a little reticent. I was like, “Well, if I’m improv-ing something that’s really nasty, does that mean I’m really nasty?” I have yet to see the movie, so I’m not sure what got left in, but I know she is not nice. I never said anything even remotely nice.
Well, you pulled it off beautifully. She’s pretty horrible, which is what you want from somebody like that.
BOWEN: Without me and Marcie, there’s no impetus. She’s the terrible thing that moves the story forward, so I was happy to be as terrible as possible. You really needed to justify how much Deanna hated her, and I think I did my job. I made a very hate-able person.
As the person playing her, you’re probably also one of the only people that might actually like her a little bit. How would you describe Marcie, and how do you think she would describe herself?
BOWEN: I think Marcie would describe herself as somebody who’s always trying to just be better and be her best self, but that’s a load of malarkey. She’s a person that doesn’t feel good unless the people around her don’t feel good. That’s your basic definition of a sadist, by the way. They need the people around them to feel small, so they can feel big.
Did you see likeable qualities in Marcie? Did you find yourself sympathizing with her, at all?
BOWEN: I did, only in one scene, when the wedding gets trashed. Whether you’re America’s sweetheart, or a total Leona Helmsley stone cold biatch, having your wedding trashed is a tough one. That was pretty aggressive. We had to justify that, hopefully by her being really awful, and she was, but that was the only time I felt a little bit sorry for her. Just a little.
Marcie takes this other woman’s husband, she pretty much takes her life, and she constantly finds ways to laugh in her face about it. What do you think it is that makes her so unapologetic?
BOWEN: You mean, why did she get that way? I don’t know what bad childhood would do that, but she needed to be that horrible for us to root for Melissa, which is what you’re gonna do. You want to root for Deanna. All of the crazy things she does, over the course of the movie, to find herself, if she was being treated kindly anywhere else, she wouldn’t have done any of that. She really needed to be getting it, and I was happy to deliver.
What do you think Marcie sees in Deanna’s husband, in particular? Do you think there’s something genuine there, or is she with him because it’s easy for her to change him?
BOWEN: I think he was ready to be changed, and she felt like he was a fixer upper project. This is clearly her second or third husband. She’s done this before. She flips houses and she flips husbands.
I love the bit where Dan went and got an earring to impress Marcie. That was a nice little touch!
BOWEN: I believe it was Matt that made that up and came in with that and said, “What if he has an earring?” It’s because he’s doing new year, new you, and it made perfect sense. It’s just so awkward and so disgusting when you realized that somebody you thought you loved – and Deanna thought she loved him and cared about him and they had a child together – shows up and you’re like, “Who are you?!” I imagine a lot of women and men feel that way, after a break-up. You look at the other person and think, “What?! Is this what you’re gonna do? You’re gonna dye your hair blue and act like an 18-year-old?” That is so undesirable. That’s how you can justify Deanna’s behavior because she’s pretty off the chain. She’s erratic. She’s a mess, and we need to understand why.
I think it says a lot about Marcie that when Dan loses the earring, she’s more concerned about the carats that are missing than asking if he’s okay.
BOWEN: That made it in?! There was so much improv-ing, and that was shot months after the fact over, on a lot somewhere in the Valley. I think we made some of that up, so I’m happy to hear it’s in there.
What’s it like to work on a film with Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone? How are they, as a team, on set?
BOWEN: They’re super mellow, even when you’re getting behind, or they’ve lost a scene, or whatever. They were really calm, cool and collected. I was so embarrassed because I wanted to know about Ben, so I looked him up online. I knew he was, but when he came to my trailer, the first day, they were doing the ‘80s dance party, so he was dressed in some crazy ‘80s dance party costume, just in solidarity. He knocked on the door and was like, “Hi!” And I said, “Hi!” He was dressed in such a crazy way that I wondered if maybe it wasn’t Ben. I said, “You’re Ben.” He said, “No,” and he let me believe that he wasn’t. I felt like such an asshole because I completely believed he wasn’t. And then, he was like, “I’m the director, Ben. I was like, “That’s what I said!” He was like, “No, you didn’t know who I was, and that’s fine.” He came dressed as a crazy ‘80s character, with a cat shirt and maybe some shiny pants. But I loved him, and I loved the whole vibe of the set. They have wonderful people surrounding them.
What has it meant to you to be a part of Modern Family and to work with that cast and crew, for so many seasons? Is it bittersweet to make it to 10 seasons, knowing it will be the last one, or is it just really sweet to get that far with a TV show?
BOWEN: Of course, it’s gonna be bittersweet because nobody wants to say goodbye to a family. They’re just a different kind of family. People talk about their college roommates like they’re still their best friends, and they often are, and here, I’ve got college, twice, plus a couple years of grad school, with the same people. I can never think of them as stopping existing. It’s gonna be hard not to have a stage to go and play with them on. That’s gonna be very hard. But if the writers don’t have stories to tell, you don’t have anything to say. That’s fine. We’ll leave them laughing.
Because you guys are all so funny, as a cast, who tends to crack people up the most, and who ruins the most takes from cracking up?
BOWEN: I feel like Jesse [Tyler Ferguson] never got the awards and the prizes in the way that some other people did, including me. Ty [Burrell] and Eric [Stonestreet] have gotten lots of accolades, and they should, but Jesse was the one where I’ve been like, “Why is nobody understanding that Jesse is so goddamn funny?!” He’s such a good physical comedian. He’s such a good actor. He and Ty together are terrible because they can’t stop cracking each other up. Those two delight in one another so much. They have this little face that they make at each other, and then that’s it. They’ll just crack up, for the rest of the day. So, those two probably ruin the most takes for each other. I’m guilty of ruining a few takes.