“Was Christopher Hitchens still alive when Bridesmaids came out?” asks Lizzy Caplan, and the question isn’t rhetorical; sitting at the Four Seasons’ hotel bar in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old actor almost knocks over her chamomile tea while reaching for her phone to do some impromptu fact-checking. (For the record: Hitchens passed in December 2011, seven months after the comedy hit theaters.) “Either way, it was great to see that movie squash a certain women-aren’t-funny argument into the ground. I know a ton of actresses who, frankly, are comedic geniuses. What has changed is that people will now let them be funny; it’s suddenly okay to embrace a female sense of humor more. Seriously, there’s an internal monologue going in a lot of ladies’ heads that is truly hilarious. Trust me on that.” Caplan pauses for a second. “Wow, I can’t believe I was the first one to bring up Bridesmaids in this interview! That’s pretty much unprecedented."
For those who’ve seen Caplan’s new movie, Bachelorette, it’s understandable why Kristen Wiig & Co.’s hit has been coming up in conversation ever since writer-director Leslye Headland’s debut premiered at Sundance last January. Like the earlier blockbuster, this comedy revolves around a bridal party—here played by Caplan, Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher—who aren’t afraid to engage in backbiting, bitchiness and overall bad behavior. Even if the projects didn’t share matrimonial motifs and a cast member (Australian actor Rebel Wilson), comparisons between two films headed by female ensembles playing flawed characters who drop f-bombs would be inevitable. But Headland’s project distinguishes itself by having a secret weapon in Caplan, who utilizes the human-eye-roll affect she’s perfected via memorable turns in Mean Girls (2004) and the cult cable series Party Down; lends a bruised emotional wariness to the part of the trio’s biggest immature loser; and gets the movie’s one showstopper of a monologue (more on that in a bit). Should anyone be poised to break out big from Bachelorette’s success, it’s her.
“Even after Mean Girls, I always got the feeling that I was never going to be one of those actors who everyone sought out for high-school or college-age roles,” she says. “It’s strange to say this, but I sort of stuck in there when things were lean because I felt, Just wait until your thirties, Caplan: That’s where the sweet spot is! And as much as people will make a big deal about the coke snorting, the drinking, the sexual escapades and the bad language, this isn’t just a movie about people getting fucked up and misbehaving. It’s really about that point in your life where people are still stuck in the exact same roles they played when they were in their late teens and early twenties. I don’t think I’d seen any films that have really addressed that transition where you’re going, Well, this self-destructive behavior is no longer cute or charming anymore. Certainly not any from a female perspective."
That was one of the first things Caplan noticed when she read Bachelorette in its original form as a play, when Headland and the actor were collaborating on a TV pilot that was eventually scrapped. The two remained friends, however, and it was after seeing a production during its early, pre–Off Broadway run that Caplan first suggested the writer try to adapt it into a movie. “The odd thing was, I’d already written a screenplay version, but nobody wanted to make the film,” says Headland, over the phone. “Her response was: I don’t care, I want to be in it once they do decide to make it. She stuck by me. People think I wrote the role for her, but it’s really just that she syncs up with my sensibility perfectly. And I’d always been a huge fan of hers; when I wrote for a TV series in L.A., I used to pass this huge Party Down billboard every morning and think, Why is this woman not a huge star?"
“If I had been a star, I might not have done a two-page monologue about blow jobs,” says Caplan, jokingly. Ah yes, the blow-job monologue: This filthy speech about fellatio techniques and why someone should hold back on giving their best right away (“If you start at ten, where is there to go? I like to stick to a six or a seven at first…”), delivered to a wide-eyed male passenger on a plane, may very well be her finest moment. Now she’ll just have to contend with the possibility that fans will be reciting it back to her for years to come. “So long as I’m not with my dad or my future kids, bring it on!” she says, laughing. “If people like your movie enough to quote lines back to you, what could be better, right?” She takes a sip of her tea. “That’s what I’m saying now, at least. Ask me if I feel the same way in five years, after I’ve heard it on every plane ride I’ve taken.” Assuming we can get past her entourage of handlers at that point, of course.
Bachelorette opens Fri 7.
Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear