Melissa McCarthy didn't need to look far to find inspiration for her role as a fourth-grade teacher on her new TV show, "Mike and Molly," which airs at 8:30 p.m. Mondays on CBS-TV (Channel 2).
She just had to go back to grade school, where Mrs. Breen, her fifth-grade teacher at St. Mary's Academy in Plainfield, remains lodged in her memory.
"She was the type of teacher who really listened to the kids," McCarthy says. "She was respectful to our opinions. Even my mom has said that I had such an affinity with her. I just love her and sometimes think, I wish I knew where she was."
Breen, whose first name is not known and no longer works at the school now known as St. Mary Immaculate School, was not a "push-over," and neither is Molly, whom McCarthy plays on the new show. "Mike and Molly" revolves around a teacher who finds love with a Chicago cop when they meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.
Interestingly, McCarthy had little interest in acting while she live in Plainfield and went to high school at Joliet Catholic Academy.
"I was in one play and that was it," says McCarthy, 40. "My focus was art; in particular fashion and textiles. I wanted to attend the Art Institute in Chicago (but) ended up majoring in textiles at Southern Illinois University."
It was there that she met shoe designer Brian Atwood, a Joliet native whose shoes have become a recent favorite with celebrities. The two were so close that they ended up moving to New York together to pursue design careers, McCarthy says.
"Brian got me started in comedy," she says. "He told me that he'd booked my first open mic time slot and basically, I better show up."
That began a stint in stand-up comedy, which she followed with acting classes and eight years on the New York stage. When McCarthy decided to give Hollywood a try, she joined the renowned comedy group, The Groundlings, which led to TV work, she said.
Her big break came in 2000, when she landed the role as quirky chef Sookie St. James on the "Gilmore Girls," which she played for seven years. She also had a recurring role for two years on "Samantha Who?" which starred Christina Applegate.
The issue of weight has come up frequently in discussions about "Mike and Molly" because the two lead characters are fighting the battle of the bulge. McCarthy takes exception to those who would make that the focus of the show, saying it's just one aspect of the characters she and Billy Gardell play.
"I think its an element of the show but not the whole thing," McCarthy says. "When you show someone's flaws, whether it be comedy or drama, it's so much more interesting. In this case it's our weight.
"Do I wish myself and Molly didn't have to deal with this? Of course, but it's real and everyone can relate to it in some way. I have a size 2 friend that gets upset because she can't fit into her jeans. So, fair enough. Whether it's 10 pounds or 50, everyone wants to fit into their pants!"
McCarthy says she's excited about the writing of her character, who's portrayed as a strong woman and one who's similar to so many people she knows.
"(Molly) takes care of all these people," she says. "She's confident, gritty - but with substance. She likes herself and for the most part thinks, 'I'm doing a pretty darn good job.'"
These days, McCarthy lives in LosAngeles with her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 7 months. Her cousin, actress Jenny McCarthy, also lives in L.A. Her parents, Mike and Sandy McCarthy, still live in Plainfield.
"You know my town of Plainfield back then was a sweet little farm town," she says. "Now, when I visit, I see that it's grown so much."