Tiffany Haddish, Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss talk all-female casts, box-office hopes and Kool-Aid pickles
Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish are kicking back in the Warner Bros commissary, discussing an American delicacy that, strangely, does not appear on the menu: I taught them about pickles and Kool-Aid, says Haddish proudly, as her two castmates erupt in squeals of revolted laughter.
That shows the true love I have for you, says McCarthy. Because I kept saying no and she kept saying: You have to try it! I was like: I. Dont. Want. To. Do. This. And then the next thing I know, I was eating it and Here, McCarthy, a Saturday Night Live regular and veteran of several blockbuster comedies, pauses before the punchline lands: it was awful!
Haddish shakes her head sadly: I tried to share with yall poor people food, but you its all good.
I was poor! We didnt eat that!
You didnt grow up in the hood, though.
Mercifully, perhaps, neither this culinary experiment nor any others are featured in The Kitchen. Instead, the title of their new film is taken from the DC comic-book series on which its based. It refers both to Hells Kitchen, the traditionally Irish neighbourhood of Manhattan where their characters run a protection racket after their gangster husbands are sent to prison, and also to the 1970s domestic servitude that all the men seem to wish they would scuttle back to. No chance, pal.
I think that this specific story was my story to tell, said director Andrea Berloff firmly when we spoke earlier that day. Berloff has been working steadily as a screenwriter since 2006s World Trade Center, picking up an Oscar nomination for the 2015 NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, and was originally hired to adapt The Kitchen for the screen. This time, though, she put herself forward to direct as well.
Now Berloff says she is determined to direct her next script, too, but will she get the chance? A few days after we meet, The Kitchen goes on general release in the US and fairly predictably, for anyone familiar with the ways of Hollywood it is poorly reviewed. Subsequently, industry paper Variety publishes a piece analysing the films disappointing box office, in which a Warner Bros exec is quoted saying: In the case of this story, we took bold choices that didnt pan out for us. It is hard not to read this as a signal that its back to male-dominated business as usual.
Moss, 37, Haddish, 39, and McCarthy, 49, are three actors all at the peak of their powers, and all very different. Moss is a sunny-natured, self-described Valley girl whos been in the biz since childhood and has the Scientology levels to prove it. Fame is much fresher for Haddish, who spent much of her childhood on the other side of LA, in South Central foster homes, before parlaying a social workers suggestion into a superstar standup career. Shes now busily shooting about 19 movies back to back, like someone who well understands how short-lived the good times can be. McCarthy is a little older, a little calmer; an Illinois farm girl-turned-savvy film-maker who co-produces many of her own blockbuster comedies with her husband of 14 years, Ben Falcone, and regularly appears in Top 10 lists of Hollywoods best-paid actresses. Last year, she added a best actress Oscar nomination to her achievements.
What the three share is a popular appeal that is rooted in talent and not weighted towards looks. That would be an impressive feat for any screen actor, but it is particularly so for women in Hollywood. As McCarthys character Kathy tells her children in one memorable scene from The Kitchen: Pretty doesnt matter; its just a tool women can use.
I love that line, says McCarthy now, although she is not sure she entirely agrees with it. I dont apply that to my life. Not meaning I am or I am not [pretty], its just like, I hope my words mean more than my hairdo.
This take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the male gaze seems to make them all particularly beloved by female audiences. McCarthy and Haddish began their current winning streaks with Bridesmaids (2011) and Girls Trip (2017), respectively, two female-fronted comedies that were said to usher in a new era by proving the box-office bankability of women. Mosss feminist credentials, meanwhile, rest on her lead role in The Handmaids Tale and, before that, playing career gal Peggy Olson in Mad Men. Despite that, a high proportion of those were created and directed by men.
Its irrelevant, says Haddish. You just want somebody good, says McCarthy. [Andrea] always made us feel, I think, that it was our film that we were doing, says Moss. She was with us and we were with her, and we were making it together; we were the four kind of constants. Thats very rare in any director man or woman so that was, I think, a quality that I really valued.
Speaking of collaboration, do they reckon theyve got what it takes to run a protection racket? Haddish answers without hesitation: Hell, yeah! And you believe her too; no one could survive the ordeals outlined in her 2017 memoir, The Last Black Unicorn, without learning how to take control of a situation. Moss mulls it over more earnestly: Ah noooo. Probably not. I think Id nah Well? Definitely not with the killing. While McCarthy offers up the most midwestern mom take imaginable: Like Ive said before with my kids, I think embarrassment goes a long way. I dont want to kill anybody but if its like, you show up and just embarrass the bejesus out of someone? I tell you what, theyre only gonna have that happen a coupla times
The Kitchen makes space for such differing perspectives. In the DC original, all three women are white Irish-Americans, but that didnt feel right to Berloff. The film also engages with what it might have been like for Haddishs character to be a black woman living within a white community in the 70s, in a way that becomes intrinsic to the plot. Thats to Berloffs credit, says Haddish: I was like: Maybe, lets just play it, lets not even acknowledge [race]. And Andrea was like: Oh no, were gonna acknowledge it.
There are also some great male character actors involved, including Domhnall Gleeson, Common and Bill Camp, and Berloff insists that its absolutely a story made for men, too. Well, listen, I genuinely believe that women have been going to see male-driven movies for a hundred years and that theres no reason men cant sit in a theatre and watch amazing actresses do their work.
There is no reason, of course, and yet those same hundred years have socialised women to empathise with mens stories, while male audiences have very rarely been required to make an equivalent imaginative leap. The evidence is at the box office, where poor reviews dont always dent a male-fronted films opening weekend. Wasnt Bridesmaids supposed to have changed all this? I just wasnt that shocked by it, says McCarthy, in reference to that films commercial success. I do think there are a lot of people that are verbally and, I think, in their hearts supporting this equality movement, but youve got to put your money where your mouth is. You have to show up and make it count at the box office or it will go away. And thats a very, very scary thing. Not just because were in the business, but to say youre going to stop representing women, 50% of the population, because theyre not worth telling stories about? That hurts my heart as a mother of two girls.
Like the proverbial Kool-Aid-coated pickle, then, The Kitchen clearly is not going to be to everyones taste, but thats exactly why its important to give it a try when offered. What does it say about us if were not even willing to do that?
The Kitchen is in cinemas from Friday 20 September