As a full-time cast member of Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon has one of the most grueling jobs in show business. And it was just the prep she needed for Ghostbusters, where, as one of the four leads, she spent an awful lot of time bringing the funny opposite Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and fellow SNL cast member Leslie Jones. We chatted with Ms. McKinnon during one of her rare breaks from the the SNL set on all things Ghostbusters: her role as Jillian Holtzman, the out-there nuclear engineer, and all things science.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Just how big of a deal was it for you to land this part?
KATE MCKINNON: It was pretty much the biggest deal of my life. Other than getting cast in SNL. Those are the two biggies. I didn’t know of any movie parts that were for a woman who is also a scientist wearing pants. It’s very rare to see a movie part like that. And the second it was happening, I thought that is what I have to do and the only thing I could be doing. It was really fortuitous that [director] Paul [Feig] let me be in his movie.
What was interesting to you specifically about playing Jillian Holtzman?
She hits close to home for me in that she’s kind of on another planet. She’s joyful and friendly and wants to connect, but also [she begs the question], ‘What the heck are you talking about, girl?’ When I was a kid I was obsessed with science and obsessed with circuit boards and taking apart electronics and learning about transistors, capacitors, and diodes. When I got on the set and it was littered with circuit boards, it felt really close to home. This is me. I’m just playing myself with cooler accessories.
How long did this science obsession last?
I guess it lasted until high school was over and I couldn’t bring my box of circuit boards to college because there wasn’t room. I had some other hobbies but that one was a big one for me.
Since you had this knowledge of circuitry, were you able to bring your own flair to this character as well?
I hope I did. It was very much all there in the script. All the science stuff was perfect. They created a total loon who I just loved. I added a few blips here and there but it was really fleshed out. Paul told me once it was based on me. He said that it was sort of inspired by some of my traits.
What’s the coolest thing your character invents?
She’s in charge of inventing all the cool stuff. The proton wand is undergoing a constant evolution. That’s her role, to perfect these machines. She’s obsessed with coming out with different doodads and improving them. I think my colleagues and I would agree that the proton wand was near and dear to all of our hearts. They were very close to us the whole time, on our backs.
What was your relationship to the original film?
I was a huge fan. I loved it. Certainly a childhood favorite. It came out the year I was born. My mom was watching it while she was giving birth to me. I came in around Act 2.
What was it like the first day the four of you showed up in uniform for your camera test?
Oh man, there were tears. There was a collective sigh of ‘Holy mother, I can’t believe we are getting to do this!’ Each one of us was really bowled over and really emotional about it.
Why so emotional?
We’re friggin’ Ghostbusters, ya know? Ghostbusters to me are the best kind of superhero. You don’t have to be born to fly or anything. You can just have some heart and some desire to do good and then you can be a Ghostbuster. And we felt just like superheroes.
What was the most difficult part of the shoot?
It was the physical stunts for me. I like to freestyle dance very much but I’m unable to perform choreographed movement. I’m not that much of an exerciser or a gymnast so the stunt stuff was hard. I didn’t want to look like the uncoordinated mess that I am in real life.
So were you particularly proud of yourself when you were able to do something you didn’t think you could do?
There’s some very coordinated shooting stuff and I was really proud that I made it through that.
Do you have a favorite moment that stands out?
When we wrapped, me and Kristen, Melissa, and Leslie all stood in a circle and cried. It had been such a life-changing experience for all of us. We got so close over the summer. It felt like the last day of camp. But the better camp, the cooler camp.
What made it so life-changing?
When we worked there was a sense of this is a legacy that’s so important and we’re carrying it on. And we’re so grateful we get to do that. And we had the greatest time together and spent so many hours together and just got really, really close.
If a bunch of ghosts did inhabit NYC, which of the four of you would be best equipped to fight them?
I’d send Leslie. She’s got it in her to fight. I’m very timid. Or no, I would send me. I would talk to the ghost. I would find out what they were really bummed about and then I would try to fix it psychologically.
Ghostbusters opens July 15.
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