October 18, 2006

Good Golly, It's Molly!

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She may be best known as the armpit-sniffing, geeky schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher from her years on "Saturday Night Live," but Molly Shannon is one of the hardest working actors in showbiz.

"I end up playing the role of 'best friend' a lot," she joked during a recent interview. Occasionally Shannon lands juicier parts. Earlier this year she was cast in the upcoming film Marie Antoinette as Louis XVI's Aunt Victoire, an evil palace gossipmonger. Kirsten Dunst plays the controversial French queen. The shooting schedule included much time in Paris at Versailles.

"God, I loved doing that movie," she exclaimed, her words spit out in hyperkinetic style. "We were like kids, tearing around the palace at night, running from room to room!" At the time the actress's son, Nolan, was still a newborn, which made squeezing into those 18th-century outfits a bit of a challenge. "Ooh, those corsets . . . " she gasped, laughing. "And I was still breastfeeding my son, so I had to go like, 'please untie this dress for me' and it was up to the wardrobe people to get me out of it - from time to time."

Shannon said the project was first pitched to her by the movie's director, Sofia Coppola. "She called me up and told me she had me in mind for the role of Aunt Victoire. So, of course, I said yes!"

Shannon also stars in two films that will be screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival this week: Shut Up and Sing and Gray Matters. Shut Up and Sing ("sort of The Big Chill on the beach"), was partially shot at a restaurant on Dune Road in Hampton Bays. Gray Matters, which also stars Heather Graham and Bridget Moynahan, is a story about a woman coming to terms with her own homosexuality. Shannon will be out on the East End this week promoting her films for the HIFF.

The actress and comedienne got her start from years of paying show business dues in the form of commercial work and bit parts on shows like "Seinfeld" and "Ellen." Later, in 1995, Shannon's major break came when she was hired as a feature player on "Saturday Night Live," replacing Janeane Garofalo. There she created characters like the funky "Goth Talk" hostess Circe Nightshade and licensed "joyologist" Helen Madden. Shannon also scored big laughs with her send-up of Monica Lewinsky opposite John Goodman, who played Lewinsky's one-time confidant Linda Tripp.

She described her work on "SNL" (she quit the show in 2001) as technically and creatively difficult. "Live television is hard, much harder than working on a film," she explained. "You write all the sketches yourself and create your own characters, memorize your part. And then there's the pressure of doing live performances week after week. It's demanding!"

In 1999 her beloved "SNL" character Mary Katherine Gallagher jumped to the big screen in the feature film Superstar which was produced by "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels. In the film, Shannon tries to win a kiss from the popular boy at school (Will Ferrell) and Mary Katherine gets in a little practice by smooching with a nearby tree in addition to the occasional stop sign.

She also starred as "best friend" to Kate Beckinsale's character in Serendipity (2001) with John Cusack.

These days, Shannon has more stuff to juggle than just TV and movie roles. She's the mommy of an energetic three-year-old toddler named Stella (with husband Fritz) and 19-month-old Nolan. The family lives in New York City (Shannon originally hails from Cleveland).

So far, Hollywood has been very good to this hardworking and versatile actress. But, she said, "I know I'll never be leading role material. There are prettier girls out there. I remember when I was on an audition in L.A. for a pilot and I'm blow-drying my hair like crazy, trying to get it straight to fit into a role as the quirky-but-pretty-best friend. Then I thought, 'This is crazy!' I think there's too much emphasis on beauty in Hollywood and what's accepted. It's boring! At least Mary Katherine is real."

Real is good. Real Good.

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