EXCLUSIVE: Melissa McCarthy will soon be offered the female lead in St. Vincent De Van Nuys, the film that Ted Melfi will direct from his script for The Weinstein Company and Chernin Entertainment, with Bill Murray in the starring role. This is a role that all the top comic actresses chased, and it should give McCarthy a chance to show some of her colors as an actress after playing vulgar characters in Identity Thief (which grossed over $116 million domestically) and when she next opens opposite Sandra Bullock in The Heat, helmed by her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig.
Murray plays the title character, a cantankerous train wreck of a neighbor who takes under his corrupt wing the 12-year-old son of a struggling single mother who has moved in next door. McCarthy is the choice to play the single mother and she campaigned hard for this. The project, based on Melfi’s Black List script, has been compared to As Good As It Gets or even TWC’s recent Silver Linings Playbook for the way it mixes comedy and human pathos. Much the way that Jennifer Lawrence Skyped an audition that got her the Oscar-winning role in Silver Linings Playbook even though David O Russell initially thought she might be too young, McCarthy auditioned for this role and her work put her atop the list and will win her this job.
McCarthy will first make Tammy, which she’s directing with her husband and co-writer Ben Falcone. She’s got time from her series Mike & Molly, so the scheduling right after July 4 fits into her wheelhouse.
Of the single mom’s decision to entrust Murray’s character with her son, Melfi called it “the worst parenting decision ever made by this single mom, but she works two shifts at the hospital and the guy next door seems harmless enough.” Melfi told me this when TWC acquired his Black List script, which he’d spent two years developing with Chernin Entertainment. “The relationship transforms both the man and the boy and even though he teaches the kid everything about his decadent lifestyle, from fighting to drinking, gambling and how to cheat lie and steal. And the 12-year-old has such a pure soul that he only extracts the good from all this.”
Melfi makes his directorial debut on the $13 million budget movie, which became a big priority all over town when Murray agreed to play the title character. Shooting begins in July. The film will be produced by Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping, Melfi, Fred Roos and Don Cheadle who is producing via Crescendo Prods. TWC production president Dylan Sellers is overseeing it.
The genesis of the project consisted of two personal episodes in Melfi’s life. Part of it came after Melfi’s brother died tragically five years ago at age 38, and Melfi and his wife adopted his 11-year old daughter. Told to write about someone in her life reminiscent of a saint, she chose Melfi and St. Will of Rochester, the patron saint of adopted children. Later, Melfi’s wife (actress Kimberly Quinn) went to a personal healing seminar, and part of the course forced her to square the ledger with people in her life. That prompted her to reach out to her father, with whom she had not spoken since she was 9. They reconnected and spent a decade growing close before he died. Melfi melded this together, with this unifying theme: “It’s about understanding our value as human beings and saying I love you, now, instead of waiting until someone is dying.”
Melfi’s career course changed when, after undertaking the difficult road of getting a script to Murray, he got a call from the actor.
Said Melfi: “I’m driving one day, the phone rings and it’s Bill Murray, and he says, ‘Ted Melfi, I don’t know who you are, but I love your script.’ He asked me to meet him at LAX and go for a ride as he returned home from a golf tournament. I met him in baggage, we got in a town car. He pulls the script out of an attache case. It’s dog-eared and there are notes all over it. We stop at an In-N-Out Burger, and spent a three-hour drive to I don’t know where discussing the script. He understood everything about the character, and his notes were simple, direct and to the point. He said, this character is who I am at times, and this is how I talk, at times. It was one of those days where you think, if I died tomorrow, it would be OK.”
McCarthy is repped by CAA and The Schiff Company.