Kristen Wiig made her final regular appearance on Saturday Night Live last week with a moving send-off that was grander and more heartfelt than the sketch show has given a cast member in quite some time. With half a dozen film projects in the works, Wiig is poised to launch into a long, successful career on the A-list. But then again so was David Spade, Jimmy Fallon, and Tina Fey. While those SNL vets have all flourished in television, Wiig has made no move toward the small screen, and it’s harder to become a bankable star on the level of Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, and Eddie Murphy. Can Wiig leverage her Bridesmaids success to become SNL’s first major female breakout film star? And, if so, where would she fit in the industry? EW reached out to some authorities on the show’s history to determine Wiig’s chances for headliner success.
“It’s a weird thing, having that SNL brand attached to you when you move from the show to movies,” acknowledges Nick Marx, a Media and Cultural Studies Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. “That assumption is there that successful stars of SNL will eventually leave the show and go on into movies. It’s really a decidedly mixed bag as far as whether it’s an advantage or not when you begin a movie career.” So will she go the route of Ferrell or the way of Chris Kattan?
One major factor working against Wiig is her own offbeat sensibility when it comes to character creation. “Some of the stuff she did on Saturday Night Live was like Dada,” says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “What she was really known on Saturday Night Live for was that incredibly trippy, you’ve-got-to-be-high-to-understand characters… always these borderline offensive portrayals of people with really peculiar social tics.” He adds, “The idea of doing a movie about Gilly sounds about as likely for big success as the idea of doing Pat, which they did” – and it bombed.
John Wareham, an SNL aficionado who writes for the Los Angeles Daily News, agrees: “A lot of her characters from the show and from Groundlings were weird. … If she goes too weird, she may pigeonhole herself.” Thompson notes, “When you think of the famous failures… the things that we remember and roll our eyes, they’ve been based on the characters from Saturday Night Live. Remember Night at the Roxbury? I don’t believe that’s on AFI’s list of the greatest films ever made.”
Continues Thompson, “Feature length movies and sketch comedy are two completely different aesthetics, and one has to be careful to be aware of that.” Marx thinks Wiig has made an important step toward foregoing the Corky Romano-, MacGruber-, and Superstar-style flops by “putting some distance, with Bridesmaids, between her own comedic persona and the ones that she developed on Saturday Night Live.”
This conscious distancing is a step above and beyond what many of her male counterparts have had to take to stay fresh. The characters Ferrell and Sandler have made millions on, while not direct SNL correlates, have been predicated upon the same shtick they brought to the show – Ferrell with his teetering-on-the-edge suburban dad, Sandler with his dopey-but-lovable manboy, Myers’ thousand accents, and Murphy’s street-inflected tweaks on Americana. (Also worth nothing, Murphy and Myers’ more recent box office success has rested solely on family friendly fare, which doesn’t seem a good fit for the woman who brought us Bridesmaids – though she’s trying with voice roles in the sequels to Despicable Me and How To Train Your Dragon.)
Wiig, on the other hand, has developed a cache of characters who “are good for Saturday night after midnight in seven-minute sketches” and very little more, as Thompson puts it. Like Mindy Elise Grayson, could Wiig’s greatest stumbling block moving forward be herself?
NEXT: Shattering the celluloid ceiling?