Melissa McCarthy isn’t going for laughs in her latest movie.
In the biographical drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the actress portrays Lee Israel, the best-selling celebrity biographer who once made her living profiling the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Estée Lauder and other stars in the ’70s and ’80s. Unable to get published, Lee began forging letters by deceased actors and writers, abetted by her pal Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant).
E! News’ Zuri Hall caught up with McCarthy over the weekend when the movie premiered at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival, where the actress explained what drew her to the darker role. “I always look to the character. For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s comedic or dramatic. I think you just dive into the character and the story of it. That’s what we’re doing, making movies: You’re just trying to tell really good stories,” McCarthy said. “The more that I read about Lee—and when I read the script by Nicole Holofcener—I thought, ‘This doesn’t come around that much.'”
McCarthy described Lee as “a challenging, incredibly witty, smart, difficult woman”—and a character she rarely sees because women are encouraged “to be cleaned up and more polite.”
“I like that she’s none of those things,” the actress told E! News, “but she’s fascinating.”
To embody Lee, McCarthy underwent a serious makeunder. “I love the process of finding the character,” she said. “I knew everything had to be very utilitarian and of a good quality, but nothing recent, because she’s been down on her luck for a long time. I think piece by piece, every single thing, we really did find her, I felt like. But it was quite a transformation. There were days where I was like, ‘Wow. OK. We’re doing it.’ But I loved it. It helped me portray her.”
McCarthy, who is already generating award season buzz for her performance, also praised Marielle Heller for finally bringing Lee’s story to the big screen and shining a light on her life. “Mari did such a remarkable job directing it,” the actress raved. “She’s just a fantastic director.”
For more from E! News’ exclusive interview with McCarthy, watch the video now.