Melissa Rauch Talks Female Antiheroes and "Beautiful" Gymnastics Sex of 'The Bronze' (Q&A)

Courtesy of Tiffany Laufer/Sony Pictures Classics
'The Bronze'

"We thought, what if anyone who had experienced any sort of fame or celebrity really hung their hat on it?" the 'Big Bang Theory' actress said of playing Hope, who is inspired by a real-life moment.

Melissa Rauch, known as The Big Bang Theory's high-pitched sweetheart Bernadette, seems an unlikely contender for an elaborate gymnastics sex scene with Sebastian Stan.

But like her character in The Bronze — Hope, an Olympic gymnast turned hometown has-been who now accessorizes her uniform with junk food and profanity — Rauch isn't mindful of limits. In fact, the New Jersey native co-wrote the "a ballet o' sex" with her husband, Winston Rauch, "who stood by the monitor in total support: 'It's going great! Let's do another take!'" she tells The Hollywood Reporter.

The scene made headlines after the R-rated comedy — also starring Thomas Middleditch, Cecily Strong, Gary Cole and Haley Lu Richardson — premiered at Sundance last year, as did the vulgar language of Rauch's protagonist. "It was important that we didn't water her down. I know she's hard to take and she's essentially unlikable at that moment, because she doesn't like herself," she explains. "But if a character like this can figure it out, then there's hope for all of us — no pun intended."

Before the March 18 release of the Sony Pictures Classics film — following the terminated Relativity acquisition, and in a slightly different cut than its Sundance debut — Rauch spoke with THR about exploring the effects of fame, rapping with PTAF and tackling the double standard around "raunchy" female-led fare.

What inspired this movie?

When I had one of my first TV jobs, the Wetzel's Pretzels manager at the New Jersey mall, where I'm from, recognized me and gave me a free pretzel. I was so excited. Then, when the show was canceled, the manager sort of pretended like he didn't know me. I was just out of work and worried about where my next job was coming from, and that moment held up a mirror to what I was feeling.

We thought, what if anyone who had experienced any sort of fame or celebrity really hung their hat on it? For Hope, you look at these gymnasts who have gone on to lead well-adjusted lives and do incredible things since they peaked as a teenager. There's been points in my career where I was scared, not knowing if I'd ever work again. Although it's different than what Hope goes through — she's cut off from her passion because of an injury, which is far worse — there's that feeling of fear and being disconnected from what you love.

Was the R rating part of the original plan?

The fact that she uses that language wasn't in our initial outline. But this girl has been told to act a certain way, eat a certain way, speak a certain way while she was training and was a viable option for endorsements. Now that all that's been ripped away and she's in a toxic state of depression, she's now going to rebel against everything she was told to do: She eats whatever the hell she wants, she talks however she wants. It's an emancipation from her younger self. It was important that we didn't water her down. I know she's hard to take and she's essentially unlikable at that moment, because she doesn't like herself.

What's the hardest part about making a female-led, R-rated comedy?

It's a bit of a boys' club. There's been movement away from that — Bridesmaids is a perfect example — but for a while, you'd see an R-rated comedy that is more male-led, and it can be a hard R with very vulgar scenes, and it wouldn't be called "raunchy," but when it's female-driven with a hard R, then all of a sudden, it's a "raunchy" female comedy. And there's a bit of a derogatory tone to that word: "Oh, look at what these bad girls are doing!" You wouldn't necessarily watch The Hangover and say, "Look at these dudes getting raunchy!" It's just "boys being boys." Women want to see these just as much as men do — there's an audience for it. I'm excited that we get to be part of that.

Were you ever worried audiences wouldn't be on board with Hope?

Whenever you put anything out there, there's concern that people won't respond to what you're doing. But we hope people like the story we're telling. With Hope's likability factor and how it grows toward the end, we experienced this as we were trying to get this made — there's this resistance with unlikable female characters. We're seeing more female antiheroes lately, or just women who are flawed. But the movies I've loved over the years have these complex, unapologetic female characters, even going back to Bette Davis in All About Eve.

How did you find playing Hope, especially after Big Bang's Bernadette?

It was so much fun! She has zero filter. As someone who's a bit of a people-pleaser in life, there's definitely freedom in that she does not care at all. Her language is not necessarily how I talk, but it's seeped into my vernacular to the point where I have friends with kids who, whenever I call them, say, "I'm on speakerphone, kids in the car — watch it!"

How did you come to pick first-time director Bryan Buckley?

We didn't want it to look shiny and glossy like a big, broad comedy; we wanted this shot like a drama. We wanted this world to be real. That was the first thing he said: "I want it to look like The Fighter."

Let's talk about that sex scene. Did you know it would dominate the film's conversation out of Sundance?

It's in the script as "the most crazy, epic, gymnastic sex scene ever" — all caps, bolded, underlined and with tons of exclamation points! We didn't know, from the moves we bullet-pointed, if it was actually possible. And we didn't want to show too much or be that in-your-face — it's pretty out there, but everything is shot in the shadows. We wanted it to be done in a beautiful way, like a "ballet o' sex" in some ways. Kristina Baskett is an elite gymnast who did all the gymnastics in the movie, but I don't think [the sex scene] was in the original job description! We got phenomenal Cirque du Soleil performers to be our body doubles — although, Sebastian Stan does as much of it as he can. I'm so thrilled he totally went for this scene. There's a cut that's a little bit longer! And that hotel room in Ohio is available — the rings are there because it's a handicapped-accessible room. People can reenact it if they'd like!

I was proud of that scene and I knew people would enjoy it, but I didn't, for some reason, think, "This is going to be the news story," so I didn't warn my parents. They're so supportive and read every interview, so I called them from the airport after Sundance: "I promise there's more to the movie than the sex scene, although it is fantastic!" My mom was like, "No, this is great! Sex sells!"

What can viewers take away from The Bronze?

Besides a few moves for the bedroom? I think we can all relate, at some point, to feeling stuck. But tomorrow is always a new day, and the best can be yet to come. Not that Hope is Little Orphan Annie by any means, but if a character like this can figure it out, then there's hope for all of us — no pun intended.

That song over the credits — is that you rapping?

It is! I co-wrote that with my husband and the group Pretty Taking All Fades. When they saw the movie to get their approval for their song "Boss Ass Bitch," they asked to do an original song as well. Hope rapping was an afterthought — we added it at the very last minute before Sundance.

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