The Transformation Of Melissa McCarthy From Teenager To 50

As one of Hollywood's top-paid actresses by 2016, Melissa McCarthy has a direct line to millions of funny bones across the world. While she's gained notoriety on the small screen — playing Gilmore Girls' adorable chef, Sookie St. James, and as the eponymous lead of Mike & Molly — it's been her larger-than-life film roles and devotion to character that's cemented her amongst the comedy greats. McCarthy's portrayal of the gruff and occasionally sexually deviant bridesmaid, Megan, in 2011's Bridesmaids earned her a rare Academy Award nomination for a comedic role. It set the precedent for a string of blockbuster hits for the star, who was 41 when the Paul Feig flick hit theaters. 

McCarthy's career may have gone through a number of changes since she got her start in the Los Angeles comedy scene, but her knack for inspiring laughs has only strengthened. Aside from her robust filmography, this multi-talent has inspired a generation of women to look beyond the superficial to what really matters. "It's still just me," McCarthy told InStyle of dealing with her Hollywood success. "I've fully embraced it in terms of it can all go away as fast as it came. I know that, and I've seen it happen. I do feel like I work 500 percent on everything ... If this all goes away and I didn't try, I'd be, like, the dumbest idiot on earth."

From childhood to superstardom, let's dive into the transformation of Melissa McCarthy.

Melissa McCarthy was a goofball from the beginning

Born in Plainfield, Ill. in 1970 to "Irish-Catholic farmers" Michael and Sandra McCarthy, per Biography, Melissa McCarthy has stayed close to her humble beginnings throughout her showbiz success. As her husband, actor-filmmaker Ben Falcone, told WSJ Magazine in 2019, she's still "very Midwestern." 

Melissa, who's cousins with actress-model Jenny McCarthy (they're reportedly "not very close"), was especially close with older sister Margie growing up, since the family lived in an isolated farm town. "I was bored. I had no neighbors, I had no kids to play with," she explained on The Howard Stern Show. "I'd be, like, running around the barn pretending I was a detective or something." Of her high school self, Melissa once told Anderson Cooper (via People), "I was super preppy, and by the end [of high school, I had] blue black hair that I'd shave in patches."

Her mother, who used to work at World Book Encyclopedia and First Midwest Bank, was "really solid in her shoes" as a matriarch, Melissa told People in 2018. Noting that Sandra's example was "one of the greatest gifts [she] got from her," it seems Melissa inherited her comedic sensibilities from overhearing Comedy Central and The Carol Burnett Show in the living room, as well as watching her "really funny" dad in action. A Belt Railway Company of Chicago arbitrator, Melissa recalled Michael popping out of corners in pranks that were "really elaborate and probably semi-dangerous" during Gilmore Girls press interview.

Melissa McCarthy really found her funny with the Groundlings

Melissa McCarthy may be a natural on screen and stage, but she actually didn't consider a career in comedy at first. During a 2016 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, she revealed that "tennis was [her] main thing" growing up. The actress' "super [competitive]" sportsmanship, however, sounded unhinged at best, as McCarthy described her technique as playing like she had "the need to try and kill someone." 

McCarthy studied fashion for a while at the Southern Illinois University, according to WSJ Magazine, before dropping out and moving to New York City with childhood pal Brian Atwood. The now-famous shoe designer had an eye for her talent and booked her for stand-up gigs within her first few nights in the Big Apple. Suddenly, McCarthy had found her calling.

Luckily, her parents were especially encouraging of this career shift. Later, McCarthy would reveal to People that their undying mantra throughout her childhood was all the support she needed to give comedy a shot: "'Why not you?' is an unbelievably great sentiment to give to a kid." She later moved to Los Angeles, where she became a member of Groundlings comedy troupe in 1997. Working alongside future Bridesmaids co-stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in sketch and character shows, McCarthy developed a "cult following" with lines of fans waiting "around the corner" on nights she was going to perform, per WSJ Magazine.

Sookie St. James brought comedic relief to Gilmore Girls

Considering she had already made a name for herself in the Los Angeles comedy scene by the late '90s, it was only a matter of time before Melissa McCarthy took on television. After a cameo appearance on cousin Jenny McCarthy's short-lived sitcom, Jenny, as well as a recurring spot on D.C., Melissa landed her breakout role of Sookie St. James in The WB's Gilmore Girls in 2000. As the best friend and eventual hotel business partner to star Lauren Graham's character, Lorelei Gilmore, Melissa appears in most of the original series' 153 episodes, growing in her onscreen relationship with simple and sweet farmer Jackson Belleville (Jackson Douglas) and as a chef. 

Sookie — and Melissa's humble and humorous portrayal of the character — were integral pieces of the hit dramedy, although creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had a much different vision for the part. According to Screen Rant, actress Alex Borstein was originally cast and filmed the unaired pilot, but had to drop out due to her MAD TV commitments. Melissa was then chosen as her replacement. Sherman-Palladino also later revealed to HuffPost that Sookie "was originally supposed to be gay, but that was a non-starter [for the network] at that time."

While E! reported Melissa was not initially approached for 2016's reunion, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, she reprised her role in the nick of time with a short but sweet cameo.

Melissa McCarthy married her comedy troupe sweetheart

Melissa McCarthy cannot keep her hands off husband Ben Falcone on the big screen — whether she's destroying his fast food restaurant in Tammy or inviting his flight marshal character to join the Mile High Club in Bridesmaids. However, the couple's onscreen chemistry can be attributed to their romantic roots onstage, where they met as part of the Los Angeles comedy troupe Groundlings in 1998 (via Fatherly), and later tied the knot in 2005.

According to Falcone's Groundlings bio, they went on to form their own company, On the Day Productions. In addition to Tammy, this husband-wife duo have produced films like The Boss and Life of the Party, for which they assisted in writing while Falcone also directed. The two comedian-actors might love creating magic in front of the camera — Falcone has made cameos in all McCarthy's films since Bridesmaids — but apart from work, their family life is fairly low-key. They have two daughters together, Vivian and Georgette, inspiring Falcone to lovingly reflect on their family in his 2017 memoir, Being a Dad is Weird

"I think it's important to just teach them at a really young age: Look after your own stuff. Think about other people ... Our girls are really good at doing that," Falcone told Fatherly in May 2020. McCarthy echoed the wonderment in their children, previously telling Us Weekly that she "had to push almost 30 to get their kind of confidence."

Melissa McCarthy did Mike & Molly for the right reasons

In 2010, Melissa McCarthy won the role of Molly Flynn in CBS sitcom Mike & Molly alongside Billy Gardell. The show follows a couple who fall in love after meeting at an Overeaters Anonymous group. While McCarthy told The Guardian in 2016 that she's "been every size in the world, from a six to a 22," she was cautious about doing a show touching on body image. 

"I just don't find [jokes about weight] funny," the actress previously told People, noting that "weight wasn't the topic" but merely "a slice of the pie" on the series. McCarthy responded firmly yet graciously when a 2010 Marie Claire column wrote the sitcom off as "fat people making out on TV," telling People, "It was so unkind ... At a different point in my life, it would've crushed me. But it didn't." The author later amended the article to apologize for its "insensitive" and "unproductive" comments.

Mike & Molly was a hit, scoring McCarthy her first Emmy Award nomination and win for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series in 2011. The show ran for six seasons. Upon its 2015 cancelation, McCarthy tweeted that she was "shocked and heartbroken" by the news, adding she "would have shot this show for 50 more years." With its frank representation, Deadline reports that it played "an important role in helping American audiences accept a show that might not fit the traditional TV star mold."

After struggling with her weight, Melissa McCarthy taught her daughters not to sweat it

At the beginning of her career, Melissa McCarthy was reportedly advised to lose weight if she ever wanted to find success in Hollywood. Instead of taking it to heart, however, the actress told People that she used it as motivation. "I understand that the odds are not as high as if I was skinny, but I still have talent," she explained in 2011. "I thought, 'I'll show you!'" 

While her weight was reportedly never a conversation on the set of Gilmore Girls, McCarthy lost 70 pounds over four months in 2003 as part of a "doctor-supervised all-liquid diet of 500 calories a day." McCarthy admitted that she felt "starved and crazy half the time" and would "never do that again."

After giving birth to her second daughter in 2010, McCarthy told People that she changed her attitude and no longer had a "goal weight," focusing instead on staying fit by eating healthy, playing tennis, and doing a mix of Pilates and boxing. While she hopes to instill healthy habits in her children without teaching them to focus on diet, she said, "If my oldest daughter wants a cupcake, once in a while I'll let her have it." Ultimately, McCarthy said that "part of being young is you thinking gaining six pounds is the end of the world," but "being older" has allowed her to be kinder to herself.

Melissa McCarthy stole the show in a blockbuster comedy

Even more so than Gilmore Girls, Melissa McCarthy's true breakout moment was as Megan Price in 2011's Bridesmaids. As part of Maya Rudolph's character's bridal party, she was a standout in every scene — whether plotting to climb a man "like a tree" or sitting over the sink during a bout of food poisoning, yelling, "It's comin' outta me like lava!" McCarthy's buck wild performance scored her nominations at the Oscars, BAFTA Film Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and was part of the hit movie's success: Taking in over $288 million worldwide, it surpassed Sex and the City as the highest-grossing rated R female comedy of all time (via The Hollywood Reporter).

While director Paul Feig told GQ in 2011 that McCarthy nailed her audition, she initially felt that she might have blown it by going too far. Wearing "no makeup and a bad pant" (via GQ), she later told Rolling Stone in 2017 that she "could not have been any weirder," improvising a story about "handplay with a dolphin." But as her husband, Ben Falcone, explained to GQ, "Melissa will do anything to get a laugh. It's pathological." And her dedication to the role showed, all the way up to the credits, when McCarthy's character shows Air Marshal John (Falcone) her "bear sandwich." 

McCarthy's sense of humor certainly had its moments on Gilmore Girls, but as co-star Rudolph said of her Bridesmaids performance to GQ, "I secretly delighted in knowing that vintage McCarthy was about to be unleashed upon the world."

Melissa McCarthy elevated the buddy comedy

It was clear that comedy found its new heroine when Bridesmaids became Knocked Up and Superbad producer Judd Apatow's highest-grossing film (via The Hollywood Reporter). After a cameo in Apatow's This is 40, Melissa McCarthy's next movie was 2013's Identity Thief, starring alongside Arrested Development's Jason Bateman. Her character, Diana, is a Slurpee-sipping con artist who steals the identity of Bateman's Sandy, taking them on a cross-country journey to right her wrong. The duo's chemistry was magic: Even though the film was critically panned, it grossed over $173 million worldwide on a $35 million budget. 

McCarthy performed many stunts for the flick, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "Anything that I thought I could do, I was like 'I'll give that a try' and at night, I was like 'What have I done?'" However, her stunt skills came in handy later that year for The Heat, in which she plays the rough-around-the-edges cop partnered with Sandra Bullock's no-nonsense agent. McCarthy teamed up with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig again for this buddy cop comedy, which took in nearly $230 million at the global box office. 

Her secret to comedy, McCarthy explained to Collider in 2013, is grounding her characters in reality despite their over-the-top antics. Of herself and Bullock, she added, "We had no interest in making [a movie with] two wacky cops that are bad at their job and they're fighting over lipstick in the car."

Melissa McCarthy's husband helped her break free in Tammy

By 2014, Melissa McCarthy had proven herself as a box office draw all on her own. After forming On the Day Productions with her husband, Ben Falcone, the two came together for Tammy, which they co-wrote together. The script was six years in the making, McCarthy told Collider, and inspired by a "weird dream" Falcone had in which McCarthy had to "go on a road trip with [her] grandmother," who "drinks and sleeps around."

The film marked Falcone's directorial debut and grossed over $100 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, Box Office Mojo reports. While the release was not met with critical acclaim, some critics were harsher than others. After the movie came out, McCarthy revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that a male reporter had written that she was "only a good actress when [she looks] attractive," claiming that her husband "shouldn't be allowed to direct [her] because he let [her] ... look hideous in [Tammy]." Yikes. Unsurprisingly, McCarthy called out the body-shaming journalist when they met at the Toronto Film Festival by expounding on the need for the media to uplift women. 

Telling host Ellen DeGeneres that she asked if he'd ask the same question to a man or expect the same unrealistic standards of his daughter, McCarthy added, "I just think we tear down women in this country for all these superficial reasons, and women are so great and strong."

Spy was a blockbuster hit for Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy reunited with director Paul Feig for the third time on 2015's Spy, starring alongside Jason Statham, Jude Law, and Bridesmaids alum Rose Byrne. McCarthy portrays Susan Cooper in the flick, a mousy and single CIA agent tied to her desk until she finally gets the chance to go undercover. 

While the film was ostensibly a comedy, the blockbuster also had its intense moments. "It's not anywhere in the ballpark of being a spoof," McCarthy told The Guardian. "It's a real action movie and it's really funny." It was also another slam dunk for Feig and McCarthy, who spoke to the outlet about their chemistry as a pair. "I didn't think anyone would ever let me play one of those strange women that I love so much ... then this guy came along," McCarthy said. For his part, Feig referred to some of his past films as "movie jail," telling The Guardian that his collaborations with McCarthy finally allowed them to "have [their] own voice." 

Spy grossed over $235 million globally and further solidified McCarthy's draw as a lead actress, scoring her a Golden Globes nomination for lead actress, as well as a nod for best motion picture — musical or comedy.

She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Melissa McCarthy's place in Hollywood history was cemented — literally — when she received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015. Paul Feig, Ellen DeGeneres, husband Ben Falcone, McCarthy's family, and other past co-stars attended the presentation, which McCarthy described to KCAL as a very surreal experience. 

"I don't want to forget today, I don't want to forget my mom, my kids, anybody that I get to see here watch this happen," McCarthy gushed. "I want to remember every second of it." 

However, one key family member was missing for a very Midwestern reason. According to E!, McCarthy's father, Michael, had to stay in Illinois to deweed the lake. "It was his turn at the club to take care of the weeds, so he's doing that," his famous daughter explained. "That's the truth. I can't write that." Still, the invaluable support of her family was part of the reason she made it that far. "Every time I said, 'I'm going to quit college and do stand up,' my mom and dad would say, 'Great,'" McCarthy added.

Melissa McCarthy always knew fashion was going to be her lane

Considering Melissa McCarthy originally moved to New York City to pursue fashion and attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, it was only a matter of time before she transformed her love of clothing into a passion project. In 2015, the actress-comedian launched her own clothing line, Melissa McCarthy Seven7, to provide "everything a woman needs," she told Vogue, specializing in "bringing runway looks to women who don't fit sample sizes." McCarthy's vision for the brand is fabulous, yet utilitarian, and she boasted that the collection features "juxtaposition" and, mostly importantly, "pockets in everything."

McCarthy remains a proud advocate of the line, and Extra noted that she wore her own clothes to a junket in 2016, telling members of the press, "I'm wearing my own clothes every day of my life, which I never thought I would get to say." Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the demand for McCarthy's line, which features all sizes while specializing in plus-size options, has in part inspired larger companies to take notice of their potential plus-size shoppers.

The Boss was a family affair for Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy worked with her husband, Ben Falcone, once more on 2016's The Boss, which the two helped write while he also directed. McCarthy portrays Michelle Darnell, a high-powered businesswoman who falls from grace after a stint in jail for insider trading and looks to rebuild her wealth by giving back to a local Girl Scouts troop. 

The film is based on a character McCarthy created with the Groundlings nearly 16 years before. The couple had "so much fun" filming the flick, which also saw their daughters make their big screen debut, McCarthy told Extra. She explained to E!, "They kept asking and we said no for months and [then] my oldest said, 'Am I not allowed to even try?'" After casting oldest daughter Vivian as a younger version of McCarthy's character, the proud parents allowed their youngest, Georgette, to join as a member of the brownie company. Don't expect either of their girls to launch their own showbiz careers just yet, though, as McCarthy added, "We said, 'You can do it again right after college.'"

At the time, McCarthy made headlines for not only her character but for her change in appearance in the film, as well, reportedly losing 50 pounds. The weight loss, she explained to Extra, was no big secret but merely a result of lifestyle changes: "You don't do anything fun and you go to bed at 7:30 — that's the trick."

Melissa McCarthy knew the importance of her presence in Ghostbusters

In 2016, Melissa McCarthy took on the paranormal with fellow funny women Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in Ghostbusters, an all-female reimagining of the franchise, directed by — who else? — Paul Feig. Unfortunately, the flick faced sexist backlash long before it even hit theatres, The Washington Post reports, largely from internet trolls angered by the completely female team

While Ghostbusters was by no means a financial failure — it made a profit, grossing over $229 million on a $144 million budget (via Box Office Mojo) — the movie was not quite successful enough to warrant a sequel, partially due to the online crusade to banish it (via Yahoo! Entertainment). "If a [remake of a] movie 35 years later is 'ruining your childhood,'" McCarthy told the outlet, "don't blame us — you've got your own issues."

Despite its critics, McCarthy (who portrays paranormal expert Abby Yates in the movie) and her fellow ghostbusting co-stars knew their presence on the big screen would mean all the world to the young women seeing the movie. "When we were shooting, Paul [Feig] would bring in pictures of young girls dressing up, and they had made their own proton packs and jumpsuits," the actress told The New York Times. "And I thought, that's really cool."

Her turn as Sean Spicer on SNL was Emmys-worthy

Melissa McCarthy found herself joining the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live with a recurring role as then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it all started when McCarthy took the same flight as fellow actress Kristen Stewart, who was set to host the show in 2017. After hearing that McCarthy "shamelessly" pitched an idea for the episode to the Twilight star, show writer Kent Sublette had the idea to bring the comedian on board. 

From her very first jaunt behind the podium, McCarthy's impression was a hit, helping the longtime comedy series hit a seven-year high in ratings (via Variety). "[During the first episode] there was this weird, great delay, and first people figure out it's Spicer and then they figure out it's me," McCarthy told The Hollywood Reporter. "You could just feel it in the room."

McCarthy is no stranger to the legendary sketch show, however, and her guest-hosting episodes have a legacy of their own: She was nominated for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series at the Primetime Emmy Awards for her 2014 and 2016 hosting stints. But it was a 2017 appearance — in which McCarthy, as Spicer, hoses down journalists with a fire extinguisher — that finally scored her the award.

A few duds led to Melissa McCarthy's dramatic Oscar-nominated role

2018 was a bit of a mixed bag for Melissa McCarthy — although a few stumbles led to her first-ever Oscars nomination in the best actress category. She first co-wrote and starred in husband Ben Falcone's Life of the Party, portraying Deanna Miles, a divorcee who returns to college for partying and purpose during her daughter's senior year. While the film was a modest success, McCarthy's next movie, The Happytime Murders, failed to break even at the box office (via Box Office Mojo). The R-rated puppet cop film was a long shot even for a capable comedian like McCarthy, and her roles in both movies simultaneously earned her the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actress in 2019. Yikes.

However, this Hollywood star did not have time to overthink the satirical presentation, because she was already on the awards press circuit for a different film: 2018's Can You Ever Forgive Me?. McCarthy's somber and restrained portrayal of Lee Israel, a drunk former biographer who is arrested for forging celebrity letters in the early '90s, marked a departure in tone for the funny lady. 

"Sometimes when you look like someone who isn't L.A.-centric, people in Hollywood don't think it's a real human," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "But I want to play all types of women." She earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her role, although she lost to Glenn Close and Olivia Colman, respectively.

Melissa McCarthy's empire continues to grow

After proving herself as a comedian, dramatic actress, fashion designer, and mother, the world is truly Melissa McCarthy's oyster. While her career only started to truly skyrocket in 2011, it was the product of years of hard work and a journey that gave her a husband, two beautiful daughters, and a ton of perspective. "I think I would have been probably cuckoo [if I'd been successful] at 18," McCarthy, who turned 50 in 2020, admitted to Glamour. "I think the best thing I could have done was struggle until I was 30."

Heading into the 2020s, McCarthy and Falcone both had their hands full with a stacked line-up of projects through On the Day Productions, including Thunder Force (a superhero film for Netflix reportedly starring McCarthy and Octavia Spencer), the action and comedy flick Superintelligence for HBO Max, and The Starling. According to Deadline, Netflix reportedly paid almost $20 million for the rights to the drama, which will star McCarthy and fellow Bridesmaids co-star Chris O'Dowd as a couple trying to fix their relationship. 

If there's anything that McCarthy — who was previously spotted at a 99-Cent Store buying art supplies for her daughters — has shown us, it's that she's just as grounded as her characters ... and just as set on cracking us up, too.