Interview: Melissa Rauch Finishes First in ‘The Bronze’

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CHICAGO – She’s conquered television, and now it’s time for the movies. Melissa Rauch – also known as Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory” – has created a new, uniquely voiced character named Hope Greggory. The character is a third placed, foul-mouthed Olympic gymnast in the new film “The Bronze.”

The film has an one-of-a-kind angle. Hope Greggory goes to the 2004 Olympics out of Amherst, Ohio, with the help of her Dad Stan (Gary Cole) and Coach Pavlek (Christine Abrahamsen). After a showy injury at the Games, she holds on to take the Bronze medal, and gets seemingly lifelong celebrity in her hometown. Fast forward to 2015 – the shine is off the medal, and a new gymnast sensation in town named Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) is threatening to take Hope’s territory. Hope agrees to coach her, but can lightning strike twice?

Melissa Rauch
Melissa Rauch Goes for the Gold in ‘The Bronze’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Melissa Rauch has captured stardom, and it hasn’t eluded her. After getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Manhattan College, she did stand up comedy in New York City in the mid 2000s, and scored with a one woman show, “The Miss Education of Jenna Bush.” She went to Los Angeles, and made appearances in TV shows such as “The Office” and “True Blood.” During that period she also began her recurring role as Bernadette Rostenkowski on “The Big Bang Theory,” and became a series regular as the girlfriend of the Howard (Simon Helberg) character, who eventually became his wife. After a couple of supporting roles in smaller feature films, she wrote “The Bronze” with her husband Winston, and the film was picked up for distribution at the Sundance Film Festival.

HollywoodChicago.com spoke to Melissa Rauch via phone, as she spoke of the inspiration for the film, and life in the midst of the “Big Bang” popularity.

HollywoodChicago.com: What was the origin of the character of Hope Annabelle Gregory, and how did you and Winston develop the story?

Melissa Rauch: I grew up in New Jersey, and we were at a local mall in my hometown. I had just had my first major TV appearance on VH-1. There was a guy at a pretzel stand who recognized me, and gave me a free pretzel. Time went by, and the show was canceled, and I found myself back at the same mall. The pretzel guy pretended he didn’t know me, and I had to pay for the pretzel.

Winston and I started talking about the psyche of what happens when celebrity goes to your head, and how that would be on a grander scale. The idea came out of that, and since I’m under five feet tall it’s natural I would play a gymnast. When watching the Olympics, I was struck by the phrase, ‘they’ll have to settle for the Bronze.’ That was amazing to me, it’s third best in the world! Everything came from that, and Hope specifically came from the her inability to compete again. That is where her toxic nature comes from, and her attitude.

HollywoodChicago.com: Obviously you studied women gymnasts and how they are treated post their success. What did you discover about that world that even comedy couldn’t exaggerate?

Rauch: It was important for us, as we were writing this, to stay as truthful as we could to that world. Even though there are broad comics moments, we wanted it grounded in a real place. We respected the sport, and hired a gymnastics coordinator to choreograph the routines, and gymnasts have told me it’s very technically accurate.

I’ve never been at a Olympic village, or in the bedroom when two gymnasts have sex, but I’d like to think it happened like it did in the film. [laughs]

HollywoodChicago.com: I found it fascinating that Hope wore her gym jacket through the entire movie, except for a few key scenes. What was the decision behind the way you revealed her true self or vulnerability under that jacket in those scenes?

Rauch: The jacket, the bangs and her whole look is basically symbolic on how stuck she is, and she stays with the look because that is when she felt best. She is trying to hold onto anything that makes her feel relevant. And under that warm-up, she has taped her chest down, which I also did. After she talks with Twitchy [Thomas Middleditch] at the bar, she makes the decision that maybe there is more to life, maybe there is another chapter and maybe there is more to herself than just the gymnastics – that is where the warm up jacket comes off.

Melissa Rauch, Haley Lu Richardson
Melissa Rauch and Haley Lu Richardson in ‘The Bronze’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

HollywoodChicago.com: What was the connection to Amherst, Ohio, that made it become the perfect ‘every-town’ for Hope to live in, and how was it easier to film there than elsewhere?

Rauch: In the script, it was written as Butler, Ohio, which came from a Google search for ‘smallest town in Ohio.’ We wanted to set it in Ohio, in a small town that would keep a celebrity like Hope going, and make the town a character. When we arrived in Butler, it didn’t have the right feel. Amherst was about an hour from Butler and turned out to be perfect. The description in the script was ‘the kind of town where when you drove past the auto body shop, they would wave to you.’ And when we drove into Amherst, that’s exactly what happened. [laughs] This was the perfect town.

HollywoodChicago.com: You did a couple of recurring roles on TV shows before landed the big enchilada of ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ What is those recurring roles helped you when you started to gain a foothold in the number one comedy on television?

Rauch: It’s all working the same muscle, whether it’s theater, or TV, or any other acting situation. I did do some pilots that weren’t picked up, and some shows that never aired. In the guest star situation on a show, it has a feel of a foreign exchange student – you’re worrying the night before wear you’re going to sit for lunch. [laughs]

‘The Big Bang Theory’ was like that. I was suppose only do one episode. What was different was the cast and production staff was so welcoming, even though I was only scheduled for a week. I was thrilled, because I loved the show. I did my best, thinking I’d just move onto the next job, and not to try to be a recurring character or anything. Toward the end of the taping, there were rumblings that I would come back. I was so excited, and couldn’t believe it.

HollywoodChicago.com: What do you think you as a performer personally gave Bernadette that made the character that much more memorable?

Rauch: I have to credit the writers, because they do a great job of creating these layered characters, it’s way more than the tendency to make them one note. She has enough complexities and emotional depth, I was able to grow and evolve and change with her. So I credit the writers for her.

HollywoodChicago.com: If Melissa Rauch was having lunch with Hope Greggory and Bernadette Rostenkowski, who would pick up the check, and what advice would you ask of them?

Rauch: [Laughs] I would pick up the check, because I would be grateful to have the opportunity to have lunch with them. I would ask Hope advice on how to get my bangs like hers, and I’d ask Bernadette to tutor me in science, because I have no idea how to tackle that subject. I need those two pieces of advice.

“The Bronze” has a limited release, including Chicago, on March 18th. Featuring Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Cecily Strong, Haley Lu Richardson, Craig Kilborn and Olga Korbut. Written by Melissa and Winston Rauch. Directed by Bryan Buckley. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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