Kristen Wiig on Wonder Woman, Stepping Out of Her Comfort Zone, and Her Journey to Motherhood
Before I FaceTimed Kristen Wiig for this story, I prepared a handy diagram of my perception of her career on a Post-it note. It read, “In → Nails it → Out → Repeat.” The point is that when Wiig appears on film, onstage — as she did with glorious hilarity alongside Maya Rudolph at this year’s Oscars — or in an at-home monologue for Saturday Night Live, she vibrates with such high-frequency talent, she could land one performance and lie down for a year.
At 47, Wiig, who has routinely flexed between the comedic (SNL, Bridesmaids), the dramatic (The Skeleton Twins, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), and the experimental (a dance performance with Sia at the 2015 Grammys), is set to appear in the biggest film of her life: Wonder Woman 1984, in which she plays Diana’s colleague, nerd-turned-nemesis Barbara Minerva. The film is scheduled to come out this fall, but given COVID-19, whether it does is anyone’s guess.
But Wiig has been more than occupied. In January she and her fiancé, actor and writer Avi Rothman, welcomed twins via surrogate, so they’ve essentially been quarantining in Los Angeles for six months. While Wiig is an exceptionally private person (she’s not on social media and doesn’t do a lot of press), she was struck by the isolation, the strange “underground” nature of the infertility process that included three years of IVF and ultimately led to surrogacy. “I wish I had talked about it more and asked for more help,” she says. Which is why she decided to talk about it here.
LAURA BROWN: What I love about you is that you’re quiet most of the time, but then you appear somewhere like the Oscars to present an award with Maya Rudolph and absolutely kill it. Please explain.
KRISTEN WIIG: Well, I live underground. [laughs] It’s not a conscious choice to be secretive. I just want to exist in real life with my family, my friends, and my dogs. Work is work. With the Oscars, Maya and I were like, “Fuck it, let’s write something super crazy, and, hopefully, we won’t embarrass ourselves.” The longer I’m in this business, the less I care what people think.
LB: What are your nerves like before a live performance of that magnitude?
KW: Terrible. The day before, I’m like, “What have I done?” Maya and I joke that every time we say yes to something, right before doing it we’re like, “This is a terrible idea. Why aren’t we watching this on TV at home?”
LB: Because you had to wear a Valentino Couture dress! That was art, by the way.
KW: Yes, my lasagna dress. I loved it, but I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. My stylist, Karla Welch, said it was sick and that I had to wear it, though, so I did. I felt great in it, and I didn’t see the lasagna [resemblance] until later. [laughs]
LB: We don’t know when you’ll wear your next lasagna dress, because these days, there’s nowhere to go. You’ve been quarantined in L.A. since mid-March, right? How are you feeling about everything?
KW: We’ve sort of been quarantining since January because of the babies. We’re nesting, and we’re tired. Having two 9-month-olds is a lot! But they’re growing, and I can’t wait to see them every morning. It’s not all just lying around and smiling at babies, though. It’s overwhelming to think about everyone else who’s struggling, and it’s hard to be good knowing that.
LB: It is. But it’s kind of a blessing that you welcomed these two at a time when you can be home.
KW: Yes! It was a very long road. But the little munchkins are here. We tried to keep the [surrogacy] process private for as long as possible, because it is a very private thing. Unfortunately, we were photographed with them — and, well, it’s out there! As private as I am and as sacred as this all is, what helped me was reading about other women who went through it and talking to those who have gone through IVF and fertility stuff. It can be the most isolating experience. But I’m trying to find that space where I can keep my privacy and also be there for someone else who may be going through it.
LB: When did you and Avi start the process?
KW: We’ve been together for about five years, and three of them were spent in an IVF haze. Emotionally, spiritually, and medically, it was probably the most difficult time in my life. I wasn’t myself. There are so many emotions that go with it — you’re always waiting by the phone and getting test results, and it was just bad news after bad news. Occasionally there would be a good month, but then it was just more bad news. There was a lot of stress and heartache.
LB: Three years is not nothing. That’s tough.
KW: It was a long fucking time. It got to the point where I just kind of stopped talking about it entirely, because I would get sad whenever someone asked. It was just part of my life. I gave myself shots in airplane bathrooms and at restaurants — and those shots are no joke.
LB: I saw you during that time, and you were just on a lower frequency.
KW: That’s how I felt. It’s hard not to personalize it when you get a negative result. You go through so much self-deprecation, and you feel like your partner may be seeing you in a different way and all this other stuff we make up in our heads. But when I did talk about it, every time I said that I was going through IVF, I would meet someone who was either going through it, about to go through it, or had a friend who just did it. It’s like this underground community that’s talked about but not talked about.
LB: As a successful woman, you’re conditioned to think, “I’m supposed to be able to do it all.” But then your first reaction when you get that negative result is, “I’ve failed.”
KW: I remember when our doctor mentioned going other routes, and I was just like, “Nope. Don’t ever bring that up again. I’m getting pregnant. I’m doing this.” I finally realized that I just needed help. And, thank God, we found the most amazing surrogate.
LB: It’s a huge leap of faith in that you’re invested in someone else’s body. But you also feel completely impotent.
KW: So many things were bittersweet. I was over the moon feeling them kick for the first time, but then I would get in my head and ask myself all these questions, like, “Why couldn’t I do this?” At the same time I would tell myself it didn’t matter. She was giving us the greatest gift, and I just wanted them to get here!
LB: Isn’t it crazy that as much progress as we’ve made, when it comes to fertility, we end up throwing ourselves back into this gendered role?
KW: I know. Overall it was a very beautiful thing, and now that I’m on the other side, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’ve always believed that things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, and this is how [our babies] were supposed to get here. I became really close with our surrogate, and it was her first time doing it so we kind of went through everything together. When the children were born, I wanted to make sure she was OK and she wanted to make sure I was OK. It was a lot of navigating through emotions and respecting that she had a connection with them and trying to be really honest about how I was feeling. Ultimately, I realized that I’m very fortunate. I’m grateful. I’m a different person now.
LB: Fertility challenges are the great unifier of women. It is the one thing that so many of us cannot control. How do you feel now, looking back on that time?
KW: I wish I had talked about it more and asked for more help. There’s such a support system out there!
LB: There really is. Another major support system in your life is, of course, your SNL crew. You popped up a few months ago to do a monologue. How often do you like to dip your toes back in that water?
KW: Whenever they ask me to come back. It feels like going home, but to a home you lived in that has been totally renovated and has new furniture and different photos on the walls.
LB: Do you remember how you felt during your SNL audition?
KW: I had never done anything like that before in my life. They said it had to be five minutes, so I bought a stopwatch to use when I rehearsed to make sure I didn’t go over. [laughs] I was onstage like, “Hi! I’m going to talk in voices now!” I heard laughter, but you never walk out thinking you killed it.
LB: Which characters do you miss playing the most?
KW: It felt really good when characters I had done at the Groundlings made it onto the show, like Aunt Linda, who was not happy about reviewing movies on “Weekend Update,” and the Target Lady. I also really liked doing the Surprise Party Lady, but that one was tiring because I always had to jump through a window or something at the end.
LB: Can you go to Target safely? Does anyone yell, “There’s the Target Lady!”?
KW: That’s never happened. [laughs]
LB: What role or project has given you the most pride?
KW: I’m proudest of the things I didn’t think I could do. I was terrified when I started SNL, so I’m proud of doing the show as a whole. [In 2015] I did a Grammy performance with Sia, which was way outside my comfort zone. I released some shit in that dance—I broke down crying when I left the stage.
LB: When did you first feel like you could manage your powers in your career?
KW: The moment I feel like I’ve really got something figured out, it’s time for me to do something else. Living in that uncomfortable, unsteady, nervous place helps me creatively. But as far as knowing that I wasn’t making a mistake in trying to do this for a living, that was at the Groundlings. I felt like my instinct was right. But with any project, you’re taking a chance. I just go with my gut.
LB: Now you have Wonder Woman 1984 coming out, which is huge. How did that happen?
KW: I’m a superhero nerd, so this is my dream. I’ve always wanted to have superpowers. My agent called and said, “Patty Jenkins wants to talk to you. She won’t say what it’s about, but she’s directing another Wonder Woman movie.” It was all very secretive. I went out to London to test for it, which was one of the most nerve-racking things of my life. After that, Patty and I met for a drink and really hit it off. I didn’t hear anything for a while when I got home, so I flipped out when I got the part. I never thought I’d get the chance to be in one of those movies — I’m in my 40s, and I’m not known for being this type of actor. I would look around the set and think, “I can’t believe I’m in this.”
LB: How long did you film?
KW: Eight months in London, but I had to train for a few months at home first. I was excited to get in shape, but it was really fucking hard, and there were no days off. My schedule wasn’t like Gal [Gadot]’s by any means, because she was there all day every day. But I had stunt training, and when they’d show me previews of what I’d have to do, I’d be like, “Are you insane?” By the end I felt strong and had a ton of energy. I felt good — it wasn’t about getting skinny or muscly. But I went through so much Epsom salt. And wine.
LB: What was it like the rest of the time when you weren’t training?
KW: It was pretty great — I’m not going to lie. I had the best time. I love London, and my fiancé was with me, and everyone from the movie got really close and lived in the same little village. I was just so happy to be there. It’s the biggest movie I’ve ever done. And the costumes were on a whole different level. There were so many fittings and then rehearsals with the costumes on.
LB: Did you take pictures of yourself when you first put your gold supervillain costume on?
KW: No, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. This was lockdown. They have it somewhere, and you will see it. But there are different evolutions to my character. I will leave you with that.
LB: You also went to Mexico City last year and shot Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, a comedy that you co-wrote and co-star in with your old friend Annie Mumolo. Tell me more.
KW: Yes! It’s about two sheltered middle-aged Midwestern women who go on their first vacation ever and get tangled up in a villain’s plot. It’s silly humor, sort of like Airplane! meets Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. It’s supposed to come out next summer, so let’s hope.
LB: How have you been approaching work lately? Have there been a lot of asks?
KW: It’s obviously slower now; almost nonexistent. It’s a lot of waiting. But now that I have these two little ones, my mind is just not on work. Even if this global pandemic weren’t going on, I would want to be with my kids. Obviously, some days I get more sleep than others, but it is what it is. And it’s frickin’ awesome.
LB: Really, there’s just more time to catch Bridesmaids airing on TV. Do you ever watch when it’s on?
KW: I’ll watch a bit if I’m channel surfing, but seeing yourself on TV is bizarre. I think, “God, I was young.” [laughs] “Look at my skin.”
Hair: Jenny Cho for A-Frame Agency. Makeup: Melanie Inglessis for Forward Artists. Manicure: Marisa Carmichael for Forward Artists. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download August 21.