Maybe you know her as Mary Katherine Gallagher, the awkward, spindly Catholic-school student with a penchant for sniffing her armpits. Perhaps you remember her parodies of Courtney Love, Liza Minnelli and Monica Lewinski on “Saturday Night Live.”
Molly Shannon spent six years getting laughs on “SNL,” and after leaving the show in 2002 made comedic contributions in films including “Mean Girls,” “Scary Movie 4,” “Little Man” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and on TV in “Scrubs,” “Will & Grace” and “Sex and the City.”
But in her new film, “Year of the Dog,” opening nationwide Friday, Shannon gets really serious. Darkly so. She plays a corporate secretary living a comfortable life with her loving dog, until it suddenly dies, sending her spiraling out of control.
Shannon, 42, married three years and the mother of two young children, is returning on May 12 to “Saturday Night Live,” as host. She talked this week with The Associated Press about her post-“SNL” life and why this juicy new role is just what she needed.
AP: What appealed to you about this character?
Shannon: I really like how she struggles through things to find herself. ... A lot of people don’t want to do that. They want the easy route. ... They’ll live marginalized lives just because it’s comfortable. But she does really struggle through it and change and find herself. I admire how she comes eventually to say, “This is me, this is what I love, this is what makes my heart sing.” It’s a very messy process, but she struggles through it to find a better life for herself, with more meaning. ... I like that it’s a woman’s story, and all the other wonderful characters. I just think it’s beautiful. It’s just so well-observed by (writer-director) Mike White.
AP: He wrote this part for you. Why this kind of role?
Shannon: He knows me in a deeper way because were close friends in real life, so he sees me in a different way. I think he understands that I’m more than just the girl who sniffs her armpits. I read that that’s how he put it so I’m just repeating what he said. But because he knows me personally, I think he felt he wanted to give me a chance to extend myself a little more as a performer.
AP: What was it like to play such a dark part?
Shannon: As a performer it was just the greatest. I loved it. It was just incredibly, deeply fulfilling. It was cathartic and I really enjoyed it. I don’t stay in those dark places for too long. I wouldn’t be able to do that. But certainly for the amount of time that I could do it and come out of it, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
AP: How did “Saturday Night Live” prepare you for this part, or for show-business in general?
Shannon: It’s kind of like a comedy writing camp. You have to, week after week, think of ideas and perform them and get together with writers. As a performer it’s just great because you’re constantly practicing your comedy writing and you’re performing every week. You just learn a lot, as a performer and as a writer, because you’re constantly having to put yourself out there. ... A lot of the people from (“SNL”) tend to have careers after the show because they’re able to treat Hollywood in the same way, where they’ll generate stuff for themselves.
AP: You have a drama background. How did you come to comedy?
Shannon: I went to drama school at New York University. I actually went to college with Adam Sandler. He was a dramatic actor, too! Isn’t that funny? Basically I took all these very serious acting classes and it was all very intense. You do sense-memory and body work and all these crying scenes. I think my third year there they were casting for a comedy show called “The Follies” ... and it was like a revue show where they cast a bunch of performers and we would make fun of the teacher and do skits. ... That’s when I really was like, “Wow, I really like this comedy thing.” It came very naturally to me and I really like that it was so spontaneous and you could improvise ... I created Mary Katherine Gallagher in that show, and Adam Sandler was in that show too.
AP: What are your career aspirations?
Shannon: I really like the way it’s going right now because I’m able to work and take lots of time off so I can be with my kids. I like both movies and TV, so I don’t have some big grand plan. ... I just kind of take it case by case. I wouldn’t say I have some big master plan. But I do try to really balance both of them together so I don’t feel like I’m just working too much. I really love having lots of down time with my kids.
AP: So it’s a good life?
Shannon: I worked really hard to get to this point where I could just take a deep breath and pick and choose so I feel really fortunate. I really am trying to embrace how great this time is and I’m happy it all came together, my personal life with the work life. I feel really grateful, that’s how I feel these days.