Molly Shannon has had iconic roles at Saturday Night Live and been in countless movies, yet she’s still awestruck that a little girl from Cleveland made it in Hollywood.
That’s one of the premises of her new memoir, Hello Molly! (Ecco). The actor delves into life events that shaped her, primarily when she was riding in a car driven by her father at age 4, and the car crashed, killing her mother, baby sister and cousin. Her father tried to heal from the physical and emotional scars of the accident and raised Shannon and her older sister as a fun, goofy dad with unconventional parenting skills.
Later in life, her father came out as gay and Shannon said it was difficult for both of them when she went to college at New York University. She eventually moved to Los Angeles and created a live show that led to her six-season run on SNL starting in 1995.
Since then, she’s worked steadily in TV and film and, as her dad advised her before he died, she’s made the most of even small parts. Her new comedy I Love That for You premieres April 29 on Showtime. Shannon talked recently about sharing family stories, crashing into chairs on SNL, and how she survives Hollywood.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did it feel to write the book and make connections about your life?
I feel so vulnerable. And you open yourself up to people’s reactions and … that stuff really made you think, ‘Oh, well, what do I think?’ Because then you’re hearing everybody else’s perspective…. But ultimately I hope that people can relate to parts of it or feel inspired. I didn’t write it with any agenda…. I kind of just motivated myself. And I also feel like I’m a woman, and I feel like as far as I’m concerned, more women should tell their stories. So just like, ‘Just do it, Molly!’ So I did kind of push through my embarrassment… but I’m very glad I did. I just wanted to be brave and walk through my fear.
Your write about your late father with love and reverence but you also said when you went to college you felt free.
Well, when he was closeted, I was like his confidant and he was like a really fun parent. But I also wanted to go form a life of my own. So I think sometimes when you have a single parent, it’s like a different type of relationship. You get very close. But I did feel that way a little bit… that was really hard for him because he was so close to me and it was hard for me, too. I feel for both of us because I felt like he wasn’t really living his full life as he was meant to be. So that was sad when I left. But I deeply loved and admired my father. I understood him and I understood his struggles.
You write about the physical risks you took to commit to characters on SNL, how did that feel?
I would be so nervous in real life…. and my heart pounding and I was like, ‘OK, I’m Molly Shannon. I’m petrified and I’m going to use my nervous energy and pour it into the character of Mary Katherine Gallagher.’ And a lot of time when I was doing physical stuff, I couldn’t feel anything. When I threw myself into metal chairs, I felt nothing live in the moment, nothing, like just no pain. And I was just kind of wild and I didn’t care. I looked at it as like punk rock kind of like. ‘Ahhhh! (screams)…. Then the next morning I would wake up and see like bruises and cuts, and my muscles would hurt. And I wouldn’t know why! But I just wanted to make people laugh and do crazy things.
You suffered trauma as a child but you always found the positive in Hollywood. Where does that came from?
There’s so much rejection, and I had a revelation, going ‘Well it’s not gonna be as bad as it was when I was little.’ So it gave me a kind of like ability to handle the rejection and kind of bounce-ability with the blows in showbiz. I mean, it’s a hustle for these jobs in the arts: writing, performing, it’s really hard… So I did just have kind of a pretty good attitude like, ‘OK, what do we gotta do? You know, let’s make this happen. At least I’m doing what I love.’
And that attitude has helped you survive show business?
Hollywood can have so much fear. You can feel like you’re only as good as your last gig. But... that’s so exhausting. I just don’t want to buy into that. It’s like all this fear about ageing, give me a break! I feel so grateful I’m healthy and when I saw people who I know who became superstars, but they felt like they were only as good as their last movie, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this never stops, you know?’ And I just don’t want to live that way. I want to enjoy my life on Earth, as a mother and with my friends and my husband.
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