The Boss taps into the zeitgeist of the mercurial nature of modern-day celebrity with a ribald, if not insightful, commentary on wealth, family, fame and the power it all wields.
The Boss was written by McCarthy, director Ben Falcone and screenwriter Steve Mallory, who met almost 15 years ago at The Groundlings, the Los Angeles-based improv troupe whose notable alumni include comedy stalwarts, such as Will Ferrell, Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, Jack Black, Kristen Wiig and Jennifer Coolidge, among a multitude of others.
That setting would nurture the budding comedienne, who would go on to create a number of memorable sketches and characters—including the extraordinarily tone-deaf, self-help finance guru Michelle Darnell—who years later would still retain the bite that made her an enduring character in the performer’s arsenal.
“So many great characters have been born at The Groundlings. For me, that character was Michelle Darnell,” remarks McCarthy. “I loved her so much that I couldn’t let her go and would randomly bring her up and talk about her over the years. She’s a tricky one, though, because she is so dynamic, so forceful and so confident. Yet, Michelle is someone who makes you wonder what lies beneath it all when she says, ‘I don’t need anyone, other than myself.’”
Mccarthy, whose pitch-perfect timing and deceptively effortless physical comedy has helped to rocket Spy, The Heat, Identity Thief, Tammy and Bridesmaids to blockbuster status, stars as Michelle Darnell in The Boss, a titan of industry who is sent to prison after she’s convicted of insider trading and emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart and reestablish herself as the doyenne of finance, but not everyone she steamrolled is so quick to forgive and forget.
The catalyst for transforming her Michelle Darnell comedy sketch into the feature film screenplay that would become The Boss was the onset of the Writers Guild of America strike in late 2007. With TV production halted, McCarthy and Mallory had time to sit down in their favorite coffee shop to spitball ideas from the numerous characters they had workshopped. They kept returning to the big-talking, ball-busting red head and drew up an outline of multiple story points for her. Indeed, some of their original ideas would be folded into the shooting script.
They began the process of writing the story around the avaricious money mogul with a surprising heart. Numerous incarnations would follow with Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and their writing partner, jumping into the fray. But throughout the process, the heart of their story remained the same: the reinvention of a seemingly irredeemable financier who proves to have quite the soft spot for those she loves. Well, sort of.
The multilayered screenplay they wrote tapped into the zeitgeist of the mercurial nature of modern-day celebrity with a ribald, if not insightful, commentary on wealth, family, fame and the power it all wields.
Mallory is heartened by what they were able to accomplish as a writing team. He reflects: “As writers, Ben, Melissa and I like and respect each other’s creative voices, but mine is very different from Ben’s—who has a very specific voice—as does Melissa. But by combining them, we have something unique and better than any single voice. What we have today is at its core what we always envisioned.”
The screenwriter gives some insight into McCarthy’s decision to play flawed characters. Mallory offers: “We’re all humans, and everyone has a worst day and everyone has a best day. So we came up with this great backstory for Michelle, which explained how she blasted her way through her life to get where she was. We thought it was an interesting character journey for Michelle—to go from a place of someone who was hurt when she was young, spent her whole youth brawling to get successful, gets on top of the world, loses everything and then has to find out what is really important. We always believed that was a wonderful journey for a character to take.”
Michelle is introduced to audiences at the pinnacle of her success and power. Wrapped in her cocoon of entitled wealth and its concomitant power and privilege, she is planted squarely in the upper echelons of celebrity. She eschews customary rules of civil engagement and says or does whatever she wants, whenever she wants, with no repercussions. Well, until she is arrested for insider trading and sent to federal prison.
The consequences of her outlandish behavior reveal themselves when she returns from her stint in the pen…prepared to resume her extravagant lifestyle. No one is more surprised than Michelle when she realizes she has nothing—no minions, no money, no assets and no friends. Turning to the only one left who will open her door, Michelle plants herself on former executive assistant Claire and her daughter Rachel’s couch.
McCarthy, Falcone and Mallory knew that in order to get Michelle back on top, she had to tap into the pioneering innovation that kept her going all those years. Therefore, they gave her Darnell’s Darlings, a brazen for-profit version of a revered scouting organization. Michelle’s brainchild morphs into a motley crew of misfit girls peddling brownies, courtesy of Claire’s own recipe. It is the linchpin to her resurrection and the heart of the story. Time spent with Claire, Rachel and the girls is not only the way she propels herself back into the business world, it’s also the very thing that grounds her and leads her on the road to discovering what family is supposed to mean.
Producers Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy, along with executive producers Kevin Messick and Rob Cowan, previously collaborated with Falcone and McCarthy as producers on the hit comedy Tammy, which marked Falcone’s directorial debut and starred McCarthy. It was an experience that left all of them wanting to do it again and as the project came together at Universal, the Gary Sanchez Production principals signed on as producers.
Henchy was drawn to the indelible Michelle Darnell and upon viewing an early Groundlings clip of McCarthy on stage performing the sketch, it only reinforced the decision to partner up.
He offers: “Will, Adam and I always look for strong characters in the material we choose to produce. It was fantastic to watch Melissa performing this bombastic character on stage, and even then you could see the viability of building a whole movie around that character. Ben and Melissa have always had it in their mind to get to the point where Michelle Darnell could be turned into a full-length feature, so it was an easy invitation for us to help make this movie.”
Married for more than a decade, McCarthy and Falcone’s creative partnership is seamless and evident. Inherent to their approach as filmmakers is an understanding of comedy at its basic form…and how to get to the heart of it in the most expedient way of pacing. Falcone admits that he still has to pinch himself to see it all come full circle: “Fifteen years ago, Melissa was doing Michelle Darnell as a sketch at The Groundlings. Eight years ago, Steve and Melissa came up with the idea of a feature based on the character. This is a wonderful and weird project that started 15 years ago, and now the movie is actually being made.”
The challenge of integrating big action into a character-driven comedy was enticing. “One of the reasons we returned to work with Melissa and Ben is the dedication they both have to the character and her world,” cites Henchy. “For the two months that we film, Melissa knows and studies her character well enough that when she first walks on set she’s looking around the room to find things she can work with and how Michelle would react to her surroundings. There’s shorthand there, and Ben knows how to harness that and provide as many tools to play with as possible.”
McCarthy is the first to admit that she gravitates towards flawed anti-heroines, as with their peccadillos comes opportunity for empowerment.
“I dare you to try make a movie with Melissa McCarthy in your cast without a strong female point of view,” states Mallory. “Melissa has a very strong point of view about playing women on film and television. They shouldn’t be perfect, and they should be as flawed as their male counterparts but still have the ability to change. That’s how you find balance with that imperfection.”
What began as the workshopping of a new character in a 20-minute sketch on The Groundlings stage many years ago has come full circle as a labor of love for McCarthy, Mallory and Falcone as they wrapped production among friends, family and colleagues who helped them pull it all off.