“It’s a pro move”: What Leslie Bibb learned from acting vets, from Robert De Niro to Carol Burnett

“I didn’t go to Second City. I didn’t study improv,” says Leslie Bibb. Yet from her roles as Carley Bobby in Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” to Satan in Melissa McCarthy’s series “God’s Favorite Idiot,” the versatile actor (“Popular,” “Iron Man”) always seems to find herself standing toe-to-toe with some of the most dexterous talents in comedy. Now, in her new movie “About My Father,” she costars with stand-up star Sebastian Maniscalco in a warmhearted culture clash comedy inspired by Maniscalco’s real-life Italian family.

On “Salon Talks,” Bibb shared that she relished the chance to do an ensemble centered on the premise of “a weekend and people coming together and comedy ensues.” But the bigger draw was getting to be “partners in crime” with Maniscalco — and the likes of David Rasche, Kim Catrall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro. “I really love it,” she said.

Bibb talked to us about the comedies that changed her life, working with her idol Carol Burnett for an upcoming project, letting go of perfectionism and how watching Bravo has shaped her as an actor. Watch Leslie Bibb on “Salon Talks” here.

The following conversation has been light edited for clarity and length.

I love this movie “About My Father” so much.

Everybody keeps saying it. I’m like, “Do you really mean that you love it?” But I think people really do. When Kim Cattrall and I were doing the junket together, everybody who came in, they were like, “I love this movie. I went and I called my dad. I called my grandmother. I called my grandfather. My mother just passed away and it made me feel [better],” because it’s a real love story. 

“I watch this movie and I don’t have a critical eye with it, which is unheard of.”

Sebastian Maniscalco and Austen Earl wrote this script together. I heard at one of the screenings, Sebastian said that he and Austen sort of married up. They were these kids that didn’t grow up with a lot of money. They have very loving parents, but not a lot of money. Then they married these girls who had parents who took them to Aspen and had all these traditions and stuff. They were talking about it and then they were like, “We’ve got to write a script about this.” It’s really a love letter to his father. That’s the part that’s really truly Sebastian’s. They shared the commonality about the girlfriends and going to families. I kept saying to Salvo, Sebastian’s dad and who Robert De Niro plays, “How does it feel? It’s such a love letter to you, Salvo.” He was so moved and he said, “Yeah, Leslie, it really is.” In the movie, his mom is dead. Sebastian’s mom is not dead in real life. I was like, “Oh, she got the short end of the stick.”

You had already worked with Maniscalco in the 2018 movie “Tag.”

I did. I had just gotten back from Australia from doing a show with Melissa McCarthy [Netflix’s “God’s Favorite Idiot”]. I got back and I went straight into another job, and they’re like, “We need you to come. You have to go meet a director.” It was 2021, so it was the first meeting I had in person because we were in a pandemic — and we’re still in it. We’re in the thick of it.

But New York was starting to come out, and life felt a little normal. It was kind of a magical summer. I met [director Laura Terruso] on the Upper West Side and we sat for three hours talking about movies and things that we love in film, because she’s a real cinephile. We just got on so well, and I was like, “God, I hope I get to read with Sebastian.” Then they said, “They want you to do a chemistry read with Sebastian.” I was at my sister Kim Bibb’s house, down in Charleston, and I was like, “Kimmy, I’ve got to do this reading.” We did a chemistry read via Zoom, but we’d briefly met on “Tag.” He married Jeremy Renner and myself [in the film], and he was really sweet.

Part of why this movie is already resonating with people is because we all have family. It also very intentionally is a throwback to classic culture clash movies, nodding its head to “Meet the Parents” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

And a little like “Wedding Crashers.” It’s not raunchy in that way, but just the idea of a weekend and people coming together and comedy ensues.

What are the movies that influence you? 

“Adam McKay once said to me, ‘Never stop a take, just keep going. And don’t edit yourself.'”

It runs a gamut. “Tootsie” is one of my all time favorite, favorite, favorites, and I love “Bringing Up Baby” with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. “The Philadelphia Story” with Jimmy Stewart too.

But they’re so mean to her in it.

She holds her own. She’s incredible. She’s so remarkable in those, and Cary Grant to me is just, his timing of everything. He’s great. What else do I love? I love “Private Benjamin.” Goldie Hawn was a big staple. “Nine to Five.” I love Carol Burnett

When I was a kid, my sisters were older than I was, so they didn’t really want me around. I would spend a lot of time by myself and in my imagination. I grew up in the country, so you couldn’t go to your next door neighbor’s house because you didn’t have anybody who was that close or of your age. It wasn’t like a neighborhood block. I would watch “The Carol Burnett Show,” and I remember thinking it was happening then. It sort of was lost on me that it was not current, not in the ’80s. But Carol Burnett and Tracy Ullman were big to me, icons of comedy, that I don’t even realize that it was imprinting so much on me as a child that really did. “Stripes,” that’s a movie that I love so much. There’s so much.

When you see somebody like Goldie Hawn, there’s an effortlessness to her when she’s in that. She’s truly on the balls of her feet. As a kid, I was watching these things and realizing that they were very impactful on me.

Leslie, did I hallucinate this or are you going to be working with Carol Burnett?

Yes, I am. Which is crazy, right? I don’t have a lot of scenes with her, but I’m working with Kristen Wiig. I think Kristen’s a genius. 

“I would spend a lot of time by myself and sort of in my imagination.”

The show was called “Mrs. American Pie,” but now it’s called “Palm Royale” and it’s coming out on Apple. It’s Laura Dern, Kristen Wiig, Carol Burnett, Allison Janney, myself, which is bananas, Ricky Martin, Josh Lucas. It’s wild. Abe Sylvia wrote it and showran the show. He did “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” did the George and Tammy show that Jessica Chastain just won the SAG Award for Best Actress for it. She plays Tammy Wynette. 

It’s wild. Last year, I was working with Melissa McCarthy, and it was, it’s just f**king crazy. Sorry, but it is. I literally get to this moment where I don’t know how lucky I got to be in the company of these great actors as of late, but I’m so grateful and I just want to be a sponge and absorb as much as possible.

You’re also working with Robert De Niro, who’s won every award, been in every movie. He’s done comedy, he’s done drama. Then you’re also working with Sebastian. This is his first leading role.

And you know what? He was so great. I can’t imagine what it must be like to not only write it – it’s so deeply personal – but to be No. 1 on the call sheet. He was truly remarkable. He was such a good partner in crime. We have these crazy families that sort of surround us. We’re like ports in a storm, and then each of our respective families are out of their fricking minds. If you weren’t rooting for these two, the movie’s kind of lost. 

It was just easy. Chemistry is this elusive thing. You never know when it’s going to happen. Will it happen? Or if you have it, it doesn’t translate on film. But somehow it did on this movie. I really love it. I always sort of find fault and go, “Oh, you should have done this better. Oh, you could have done that better.” I watch this movie and I don’t have a critical eye with it, which is unheard of.

One of the things I also found so sweet about it is your character’s family is very, very wealthy, but they’re not evil.

Right? Isn’t that the thing? David Rasche, he’s so interesting. I think David and Kim steal the movie in a way. But I think David’s part is really difficult. He could come off so unlikable, and there’s something sweet about him and bumbling. You see that Second City is where he started acting. You really see that with his improv.

There are moments when we were filming and the scene could have gone south because the dog wasn’t doing what he’s supposed to do. In the movie, the dog’s supposed to go right with us and the dog would never do what he was supposed to do. He went left, and [David] was like, “Oh, we don’t like to touch him because we’re scared he’ll kill us. ” It’s such a funny line, but we were able to continue through. As corny as that sounds, it’s a really pro move. 

“Sometimes with Kristen Wiig and with Melissa McCarthy, I’m just holding on for dear life.”

If Bob [De Niro] ever goes up on a line, he just uses it and always stays on course. There’s this dangerous thing that we do as actors when we mess up a take. We go, “Oh, cut.” The perfectionist part of us steps in and the anxiety comes up. I watched Bob do it. He forgot somebody’s name. He was like, “Look at me. I’m forgetting where I am. Your name is this.” I said to Sam [Rockwell], my partner, who’s also an actor, “It was so incredible because he used it and kept the scene going.”

It seems benign to say that, but it’s a pro move. It’s also a move that is fearless because you’re like, “What’s going to happen?” I didn’t go to Second City. I studied acting in New York and it’s Meisner, which is listening and responding, but I didn’t study improv. I remember Adam McKay once said to me, “Never stop a take, just keep going. And don’t edit yourself. Even if it falls flat, the improv, there might be a nugget in there that we can light up.” It was really the most incredible advice to get early on for me because it stops me from editing myself. It stopped me from being like, “Well, how do I do this perfectly? How do I stick this take so it’s perfect, perfect, perfect?” Because a movie is edited and there’s never a take that’s perfect from soup to nuts, from A to Z.

So much of your work is with people who are from the world of improv. You’ve been able to stand and hold your own ground in that company, which is incredible.

Sometimes I feel like I’m holding my ground. Sometimes with Kristen Wiig and with Melissa McCarthy, I’m just holding on for dear life. I’m like, “Just stay on the horse. Just stay on the horse. Just stay on the horse.” Because those women are fast. Sometimes I’ll be in the scene and there’s a part of my body watching how they’re so agile and quick, and then trying not to pee your pants and laugh when you’re doing a take and screw up. You don’t want that to happen.

I imagine that probably also happened a lot on this film, because you’re working with someone who’s worked in the world of stand-up for as long as Maniscalco has.

It is. But he has such a dry sense of humor. He has this thing that’s sort of undercut. He says stuff, and it really tickles me. We just had a real dialogue, the two of us. I would look at him sometimes and the director’s like, “What are you two laughing about?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I don’t know how that happened and we got so lucky on this that I felt safe with him, and I think he felt safe with me. We were real partners in crime on this.

One of the first scenes we filmed was the shack when we went for lunch. Sebastian and I had been together for a week. It was just sort of the two of us filming. Then it’s Bob, Kim, David, and Brett [Dier].

Kim and David have this bananas chemistry. There was a rhythm that just started to happen, that they were improvising stuff that wasn’t in the script. Bob had this crazy ring[tone]. When it happened I was like, “What is that ring Bob’s doing?” [Sebastian] goes, “That’s my dad’s ring.” I said, “Of course,” because Bob spent time with the real Salvo, and it was this little nugget that he loaded in to play Salvo. As soon as it happened, I looked at Sebastian and I was like, “We’re fine. This movie’s going to work.” Then Brett pulled out his crystals and was putting his crystals on.

You have these characters that could become caricatures, but somehow all the actors really rooted it, and you root for them. These families, though seemingly very different — one comes from money, one doesn’t come from money — they’re two different immigrant stories in a way. What you realize is that they’re both people that love their children. There’s a scene that Bob and Kim Cattrall have, right before a haircut, and they’re like, “Oh, I see you.”

“My mother’s not even with me anymore, and I still will sometimes go, ‘Would she like this?'”

I remember when I took Sam’s mom home to visit my mother for one Thanksgiving. I live in Virginia. Sam’s mom lives in New York. I was very nervous and I was like, “They’re so different. They’re so different.” His mother is an artist and she’s wild and fun. My mom is fun, but she’s just worked in politics and had this nine-to-five job. I thought, “This is going to be a disaster.” I brought my best friend and her husband with us. I was like, I need a buffer. They’re amazing and the easiest humans. I was so nervous. I remember we’re sitting in the living room and I look over and my mom and Sam’s mom, Penny, are just on a couch, huddled up having this great talk, laughing. I was like, “Oh, both of our mothers are crazy. They get on. They seem different, but they’re both nut jobs.” Very strong women, different backgrounds, different ways of growing up. But crazy was the tether for them, in a good way, crazy.

I love that in this movie, you are not playing 23-year-olds. You’re playing people who are over a certain age and still need their parents’ approval.

Don’t you always though? My mother’s not even with me anymore, and I still will sometimes go, “Would she like this?” I mean, I just referenced her. I was like, “Well aren’t you a trick?”

My father passed away when I was three, but he’s storied in my mind. He’s like this romantic hero. I always look at Sam and I go, “My dad would really like you.” I think that, even though he would be like, “You’re living in New York, what’s happening?” But I think you always do.

This is what I found, after pandemic. We spent so much time alone. What’s nice about this film is that we realize that we do need people. We need a family, if you’re lucky enough to have a mom and dad or have a parent. If you don’t have a blood family you can have a chosen family, but we need that. We need this, we need a community. We can’t do it alone. I’m tired of doing it alone. I’m tired of Zoom. It’s so nice to sit in a room.

You are a big Bravo fan. You know all the Housewives. I know almost nothing.

I started my Bravo obsession under the guise of research. When I was doing “Talladega,” “Being Bobby Brown” was on. It was one of the first reality shows. Somehow my manager got a few episodes that they sent to me. I don’t even know what network it was. I thought there was something, a chemistry, a thing that Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston had in that show that they really loved each other. It was a little codependent, but I rooted for them. It was very strange. But I was fascinated by them. I pitched it to Will. I don’t know if he remembers this. I was like, “There’s a show and they’re sometimes inappropriate, but I love that they love each other and there’s this thing.” So I sort of rooted a little Carley Bobby on Whitney Houston.

Well, now I can’t unsee it.

I did a little bit of that for “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Rachel Zoe had a reality show on Bravo. I put on the hat of, I’m doing research, but then suddenly it also felt easy. Sometimes when I watch a movie, I’m watching like, “That’s an interesting moment. Maybe there’s something,” because you’re constantly stealing from great actors. You’re like, “That’s something I want to try to recreate or put into something else.” Sometimes with Bravo, it just seems benign and I will let it wash over me. But it started as I’m doing research. I don’t think I based anything recently on them, but now it is just like it’s crack cocaine.

Where should I start if I’m afraid to jump in?

If you’re afraid to begin, I feel like you go old school to “Real Housewives of New York” with Bethenny Frankel and Luann [de Lesseps] and all of that. I love that. Sometimes you watch it and you’re like, “This is a lot,” but sometimes it’s really good television.

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“Salon Talks” for movies about family


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