Maya Rudolph is best known for impersonating Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston and other celebrities on “Saturday Night Live,” but she’s working on changing that. She’s currently co-starring with current “SNL” castmember Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids,” the Judd Apatow-produced comedy that pulled in $26 million at the box-office this weekend. And in the fall she’ll star with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett in “Up All Night,” a new comedy about work and parenthood that NBC recently added to its Wednesday-night lineup.
Born in Gainesville, Fla., Ms. Rudolph grew up in California but says she always aspired to move to New York and work on Broadway or in the music industry. Her mother, Minnie Riperton, who passed away in 1979, was an acclaimed soul singer, and her father, Richard Rudolph, is a music producer. After a stint with the Los Angeles-based Groundling improv troupe, Ms. Rudolph began working on “SNL” in 1999 and finally had a reason to stay in New York. “I always knew I’d get here,” she says.
Ms. Rudolph talked about “Bridesmaids,” improv comedy, and her time in New York.
You come from an improv comedy background. How much of “Bridesmaids” was improvised?
The script itself was incredible. But there were definitely days when we were encouraged to improvise. I think the scene I improvised the most with was the first scene, where you see me with [Ms. Wiig] in the diner. We just wanted to show two old friends that know each other well. There’s a lot of natural stuff you see in that scene.
Talk about the real-life relationship you have with your castmates and what that added to what people see onscreen.
I knew [co-star] Melissa McCarthy the longest. We used to be in the Sunday company together at the Groundlings. Along with her husband Ben [Falcone], who plays the Air Marshal in the movie…Even though we didn’t all know each other at the Groundlings, Kristen and I met at a friend’s bridal shower at Melissa McCarthy’s house. But I got to know Kristen doing “SNL.” When you work there you’re together six and a half days of the week and really share your lives together.
Is “SNL” as good a launching pad for female comics as it is for the men?
I was so in love with “SNL” my whole life that I never saw it as a stepping stone. For me it was a goal. It’s actually been harder for me to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
Do you ever watch CNN and think: There’s Michelle Obama, I could have done a fun “SNL” sketch about her? Or there’s Whitney Houston, that would have been a great bit?
There are definitely times that come up, sure, where you think, “Aww, man, if I were on the show I’d be doing a really great sketch!” But my Michelle Obama [impression] sucked so bad that I definitely don’t feel bad when I see her. I’m grateful I don’t have to play her. She’s really cool in real life, so it’s hard. I only had to play her once and it was real quick and I had no idea how to do it. If had a summer to work on it, I might get it.
You live in L.A. now, right?
Yes. But I still emotionally live in New York City. The weird thing is that maybe because I worked on “SNL,” people still think I’m a New Yorker, which I take great pride in. Like when I’m in California, people say, “But you’re from New York, right?” Not like, you lived in New York, or you rented an apartment for almost a decade in New York. They actually think I’m from there, like I’m a real New Yorker, which I find incredibly flattering.