McCarthy in spotlight after years on sideline

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy star in Seth Gordon’s comedy, Identity Thief.
Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy star in Seth Gordon’s comedy, Identity Thief.

In the world of Hollywood leading ladies, where size zero (Australian size 4) is considered a little chunky, Melissa McCarthy stands out from the crowd of stick figures.

The comedienne – who, as a struggling actor in the 1990s, worked as a nanny and made lattes at Starbucks to pay the bills – has broken the Hollywood mould. She has shown that an actress does not have to look like Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz to be the female lead in a big Hollywood comedy.

‘‘Melissa has turned the genre on its head,’’ said Seth Gordon, the director of McCarthy’s new comedy, Identity Thief.

Today, 40-year-old McCarthy is an Emmy award winner and an Oscar nominee, and is as much in demand as Aniston or Diaz.

It has been a long road for the actress, who was raised on a farm in Plainfield, Illinois. Straight after graduating from high school, she moved to be a stand-up comic in New York, before following her famous cousin, actress and Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, to Los Angeles. The early LA days were tough ones.

‘‘I worked two nanny jobs and [TV or film] production jobs when I could get them,’’ McCarthy recalled.

‘‘I worked at Starbucks. I literally had to get down on the floor of my car to find coins to pay for gas.’’

McCarthy’s first credited role was in her cousin’s 1997 short-lived sitcom Jenny. But her big break came in 2000 when she was cast in the TV series Gilmore Girls playing Sookie St James, the accident-prone best friend of Lauren Graham’s character.

Similar perky sidekick roles continued on TV and film until, exactly a decade later, she was cast as fourth-grade teacher Molly Flynn-Biggs in the hit TV sitcom Mike & Molly – a role that earned her an Emmy Award.

McCarthy was catapulted to the highest echelons of Hollywood in 2011 when she stole plenty of laughs in the comedy blockbuster Bridesmaids.

She also achieved the rare feat of picking up an Oscar nomination for such a hilarious role.

It was at an early screening of Bridesmaids that Jason Bateman – who was producing and planned to star in Identity Thief – was struck by the idea of McCarthy as the female lead.

‘‘She was just so good,’’ Bateman said.

‘‘We had to change a few things, but I knew if we could get Melissa in the role it would be amazing.’’

It proved to be a brilliant move, with the film opening at No. 1 one in North America in February, earning $A33.61 million in its first three days, and going on to collect $122 million on that continent.

In the movie, McCarthy plays Diana, a con artist in Florida, who tricks Denver accountant Sandy Patterson (Bateman) over the phone into divulging his name, date of birth and social security number.

With the information, she steals his identity and drains his bank account.

After getting little help from authorities, Patterson flies to Florida to track Diana down. 

Identity Thief is now screening. 



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