Started From the Bottom Now She’s Here

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For anyone who’s seen footage of her live performances—or her recent appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—this is hard to believe. She is, quite simply, a force. An Amazonian beauty with a powerhouse set of pipes and a penchant for chardonnay, the woman known as the Cabaret Hurricane runs around the room motorboating and mounting audience members, whether they like it or not. (They usually like it.) The word confident could spring to mind, though it feels like a little sissy of an adjective given the off-the-wall artistic cataclysm that is a Bridget Everett show.

But when it came to playing the hard-living Barb Dombrowski in the drama Patti Cake$ (out now), she felt wobbly. “I basically did everything I could not to do it,” Everett says of writer-director Geremy Jasper’s invitation to workshop the script at Sundance Labs in 2014. “Not because I didn’t want to and not because I didn’t think it was a great opportunity , but because I thought I would bomb.”

Jasper had no such misgivings: “I’d been looking for Barbara Dombrowski, and I hadn’t found any actresses that seemed right for the role. Then suddenly I saw her face, and I was like, ‘That’s Barb.’ ”

Which is hilarious when you find out that he first saw her face when she was belting out the song “Titties” on Inside Amy Schumer. “It’s ridiculous to be like, ‘That performance [made me think], I want you for this dramatic role,’ ” says Jasper. “But then she did one of her monologues and I could tell there was just this unbelievable depth and melancholy, and it felt very real to me. She seemed to have this deep inner world, and this big reservoir of emotion.”

Barb is unlike anyone Everett, 45, has played before: She’s mom to the titular Patti, a young woman trying to escape her dead-end New Jersey town by becoming a rap star. Life hasn’t been kind to Barb. Her guy walked out, her dad died, her mom (played, wonderfully, by Cathy Moriarty) is convalescing in the living room. And she believes that Patti’s birth quashed her own musical aspirations—a sentiment she takes pains to remind her daughter whenever she can. Yet Everett is somehow able to make Barb magnetic as well as repulsive.

“At Sundance, she was just a four-letter C-word with exclamation points,” Everett says. “[Geremy] and I talked about it, and we both thought it would serve the film better if we showed a few more colors of Barb. When you play anybody, you bring a little of yourself to the role. I can be a total cunt and I can be the person on top of the bar, but I looked at Barb and was like, ‘She was for sure trapped and lonely and can’t express love to her daughter. But she realizes that she wants to.’ ”

That music figures so heavily in Barb’s character—she does karaoke down at the local bar and fronts a cop cover band called NJPD Blues—was the key to unlocking her potential. A classically trained singer originally from Manhattan, Kan., Everett found security in the musical numbers. “Those were the only moments when I felt centered and in control. The one thing I thought I had going for me with this part is that I can sing. So [after Sundance Labs], I felt like if the movie went forward, that might give me an opportunity to not get booted out by a boldfaced name. I remember having nightmares of who was going to replace me. And I was just like, ‘That bitch can’t sing, and that bitch can’t sing…’ ”

As soon as she wrapped Patti Cake$, Everett shot Fun Mom Dinner, about four women (Everett, Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, and Katie Aselton) who go out, get stoned, and meet a hot bartender played by Adam Levine. It was another role she was sure she wouldn’t land. “[Screenwriter] Julie Rudd was like, ‘I have this part for you, but the producers want you to do a table read.’ And I was like, ‘If you’re asking me to audition, I’m not going to get it because I will choke.’ And I went in and did the table read, and they offered me the part right away.”

Next up are Little Evil, a comedy-thriller starring Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly, set to hit Netflix on Sept. 1, and Love You More, an Amazon pilot she co-wrote with Bobcat Gold- thwait and Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City, 2 Broke Girls), produced by Carolyn Strauss (Game of Thrones). In it Everett plays Karen Best, a “big girl with a really big heart and a messy life,” who works in a home for young adults with Down syndrome. “I would never have been able to do the kind of work in that pilot if I had not had the experience of Patti Cake$,” she says. “It opened me up and gave me a lot of faith in myself.” She’ll also bring back her live show with her band, the Tender Moments (Beastie Boys’ Adam Horo- vitz is a member), to Joe’s Pub in NYC this fall.

For now, after “25 years slugging it out,” Everett is giving herself the briefest of breaks; when I talk to her she’s poolside in the Hamptons. “Now I work hard and I get to treat myself,” she says. “And the best part is I can pull out my credit card and not have to call Chase Bank beforehand to make sure she’ll fly.” All signs point to this finally being the Year of Bridget—just don’t try telling her that. ◆

This article originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly. For more from the interview, go to