"She lives these lives; she doesn't just read these lines,"
-Screenwriter Steve Koren on working with Molly Shannon
Actress Molly Shannon, director Bruce McCulloch, and screenwriter Steve Koren stopped by for a discussion following the May 20, 2016 screening of their comedy Superstar at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The Alamo Drafthouse partnered with the American Cinematheque for the occasion. Shannon, McCulloch, and Koren let fans in on their favorite scenes, talked about kissing trees, and gave away why Drew Barrymore was crucial for the making of the movie.
Superstar is based on Molly Shannon’s Saturday Night Live character Mary Katherine Gallagher, a quirky catholic school girl eager to become a superstar and get kissed for the first time. Shannon, a cast member on SNL from 1995 to 2001, wasn’t thinking about female empowerment when she developed hyper-active Mary Katherine Gallagher: “When I did the character in a stage show before I even brought it to SNL, I basically just did a version of myself, how I felt when I was little, and exaggerated it,” Shannon, who went to Catholic school, remembered. “It was really just coming from inside.”
Screenwriter Steve Koren drew applause from the audience when he pointed out how Shannon and Mary Katherine Gallagher gave women on SNL more exposure: “It was really a boy-dominated show at the time and this sketch was at the end of dress rehearsal because a lot of people didn't believe.” Koren told the audience. Things changed when people saw what Shannon could do with Mary Katherine Gallagher. “She just exploded… everybody started paying attention and it went from the bottom of the show to the top,” Koren said. “Talk about women taking over the show. She really did.” "I have a very positive attitude about show business. She's a very strong character - I felt very lucky," said Molly Shannon when discussing having the character selected for an SNL-sourced feature. On leaving Saturday Night Live, Shannon said, "I left on such a good note; it felt like the right time. Like I had to pass the baton to someone else"
While Shannon is the star of Superstar, the movie wouldn't exist as we know it today if it wasn't for Drew Barrymore. Barrymore was filming Never Been Kissed with Shannon when the latter learned that McCulloch refused to direct Superstar. “She was like ‘what?’ You have to call him!” Shannon said, imitating an over-excited Barrymore and making the audience laugh. Barrymore at one point suggested stopping the director’s plane in order to change his mind, but finally settled for a phone call. “She wrote down what I should say and stayed in the room while I made the call,” Shannon remembered. Barrymore’s persistence paid off, McCulloch agreed to take on the project and the movie came out in 1999.
The director used the opportunity to explain why he needed some convincing: “The script was great and I love Molly. The only reason I had thought of turning it down was because I was scared I couldn't deliver…When you take on a person’s project, you’re taking on their life.”
When asked about her favorite scene in the movie, Shannon didn't hesitate: “My favorite scene ever, ever, is the breast scene in the mirror,” she said before the audience’s laughter cut her off. Referring to a scene where her character, fully dressed, evaluates her breasts in the mirror while talking to herself, Shannon admitted that as a young girl, she’d thought a lot about bras and breasts, drawing giggles from the audience because she used the word “boobs” several times in a sentence.
One of the questions the audience had for Shannon circled around another famous scene from the movie: the moment when Mary Katherine Gallagher kisses a tree, pretending it is a boy. One person wanted to know if the tree had been disinfected prior to filming. “No,” Shannon said decidedly, and it was McCulloch who got the whole house laughing when he added: “We had to pull her off that goddamn tree!”
Asked about a possible sequel to Superstar, Shannon, McCulloch and Koren said they were open to the idea and joked about crowd-founding as a possible way of financing the endeavor. In the meantime, they’re keeping busy with their own projects. Koren is a writer on Veep, McCulloch does a lot of TV, and Shannon just finished filming the first ten episodes of the show Divorce which features Sarah Jessica Parker and will air on HBO in the fall. She also has the movie Other People coming out in September.
Steering the conversation back to Mary Katherine Gallagher, one audience member was curious to know what the character would be up to today. “She’d be in a lot of therapy,” laughed Shannon. “I hope that she would have found love.”