LONDON – Melissa McCarthy who plays the lead role in an Oscar-nominated biographical movie about an unsuccessful writer who turns to forging and flogging letters in order to make ends meet, told EFE on Wednesday she shared a curious trait with the late author the film was based on.
Marielle Heller’s “Will you ever forgive me?” tells the true story of Leonore Carol “Lee” Israel (1939-2014), a frustrated American biographer who after shunning the limelight and refusing to engage in the publicity game orchestrated an elaborate literary hoax that involved forging letters of well-known authors like Dorothy Parker, Noël Coward and Lillian Hellman in order to pay her rent.
“She was a very difficult, caustic prickly person that didn’t make things easy for herself and found herself at 52 being told that she was obsolete and no longer able to write, which was the only thing she could do, and she did it well,” McCarthy, who interprets Lee Israel, told EFE in an interview.
“(She) found herself in government assistance, couldn’t pay her rent, couldn’t take care of her cat that really was, in her life, the only thing that she could receive and give love to because she was so isolated and lonely and ended up forging these literary letters with Jack, that Richard (E. Grant) plays, and eventually was caught by the FBI and convicted,” the American actress said.
After a fairly successful career writing various biographies, including a profile of feisty American actress Katherine Hepburn, Lee hit hard times in the 1990s and became increasingly secluded, finding refuge in her cat and whiskey, until she met Jack, embodied by English actor Richard. E. Grant.
For McCarthy, the figure of the cat was important in understanding Lee.
“It was important that you see that she did have a heart in there that there was the ability to need companionship and comfort, she just did not do that very well with people which made her own life so much more difficult, but she just couldn’t find that flexibility,” McCarthy said.
The relationship between Jack and Lee is one of commercial convenience as they navigate New York.
Jack befriends Lee and soon sees the potential in her for their sophisticated con.
“It’s the complete opposite of how I live my life,” Grant said when asked how he went about portraying a criminal.
“Somebody that does drug deals, and borrows money from people knowing that he’s never going to pay them back. Everybody I know knows somebody who is a bit like that,” the actor, who is not shy of taking on eccentric characters and in 1988 brought the now iconic “Withnail and I” squalid artist (Withnail) to life.
The movie is based on Lee’s 2008 memoir, which bears the same title as the film, where the writer details how she created fake letters by using old typewriters and putting paper in the oven in order to give it an aged appearance.
As McCarthy got to know the lonely author in preparation for her performance she realized that she shared more in common with the counterfeit letter-writer than she first thought.
“I’m a character actress and I live vicariously through people,” she said in reference to how she approaches acting, namely by choosing interesting, unusual and often eccentric characters.
“I mean I don’t know if it is my cowardice but I don’t know how to do things as myself, I’m very awkward. But if I’m playing a character I can suddenly be much more bold or confident or whatever it is. I can be more decisive when I hold somebody up in front of me,” McCarthy continued.
“And I did realize that Lee is doing the same thing just through her writing. She did not want to talk about herself, she did not want to be the subject of interest but she wanted her writing seen, when she was doing that vicariously through someone else she was quite comfortable with it, so I thought we are really running on the same path,” she added.
Both the film’s main characters are gay, and both McCarthy and Grant were very happy with how sexuality was portrayed in the film.
It was important to both actors that it didn’t become a central element to the movie and characters’ relationship but rather just one of many qualities that made up the multi-dimensional people they were portraying.
“Well I thought it was rather fantastic that Lee was a lesbian and Jack was gay, but it was just a part of who they are,” McCarthy said. “Which is I think how it should be shown.”
“Will you ever forgive me?” is nominated for three Academy Awards in the categories of best actress, best supporting actor and best adapted screenplay.