Some people find the key to happiness on a mountaintop. Others on a meditation cushion or a yoga mat. For Maya Rudolph, the epiphany that changed her life took place in the makeup trailer of the 2011 blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids.
“In my younger years,” the actress-comedian and mother of four begins as she recounts the turning point, “I was always searching for happiness, always looking for a better moment. I used to think that happiness was something that you could bump against or a room that you walked into. Knowing how to be present and happy with where you are and who you’re with and what you’ve got was an important lesson for me and the biggest thing I want to teach my children.”
The Bridesmaids' epiphany
Fast forward to the making of Bridesmaids. With Maya as a bride-to-be, Kristen Wiig as her maid of honor and Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey as the rest of her bridal party, getting ready for each day’s shoot was like prepping for a real-life wedding.
“We had this insanely long makeup trailer where the six of us would get our hair and makeup done,” Maya says. “You’re always tired because the call time was an ungodly 5:30 or 6 a.m. I was especially grumpy because I’m not a morning person, and my second daughter was only 7 months old so it was hard for me to be away from her.
I'm in charge of making myself happy."
“People would come in all the time and complain, ‘I’m sooo tired. I don’t want to be here.’ But I noticed that what I liked was when the door opened and the person who came in made you happy and made you feel good. Something in my mind clicked and I went, oh, I don’t have to react to other people walking into the trailer in a bad mood. And, I don’t have to wait for the person who comes in and is positive and uplifting. I can be that person who says a bright good morning and makes you feel good.
“Recognizing that you can create your own happiness, especially when we’re getting all these different messages about what happiness is, was a shift that made a big difference in my life. It’s like emotional insurance. If I’m going to be at work and away from my kids and I’m working with people I love, then, OK, I’m going to make this day good. I’m in charge of making myself happy.”
Live from New York
As Maya shares this story, taking charge of her happiness is an easy task. She’s ensconced in a Manhattan hotel while she works on her new NBC comedy and music show, Maya & Marty, with Martin Short, a fellow Saturday Night Live veteran. The doorbell rings and room service delivers her breakfast—two poached eggs, gluten-free toast, jam and coffee. When the server asks if he can pour her coffee, Maya responds “Sure, why not?” with childlike delight. “This is insanely decadent for me,” she explains. “I don’t get to do this at home. I’ll take it. I appreciate it.”
Maya’s glee in the morning’s peacefulness is understandable. Her three daughters and son, who range in age from 2½ to 10, are back home in Los Angeles with her husband, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Oscar-nominated director of films that include There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love and Inherent Vice. Until her family joins her in a few weeks, Maya is enjoying life in a time machine that’s transporting her back to her late 20s.
“I used to live and work in New York as a single person, pre-kids, so when I’m here working that old version of me kicks in,” Maya says. “I get a bit more sleep, which is rare, and I actually get to see friends, which is also rare. When I’m home with my family, the only priority is them. My kids always come first, and I don’t make much time for anything else. I don’t mind that at all. But this is a very nice way to focus on work without the usual guilt I’m riddled with. My kids are home and they’re in their routine. That makes me feel good.”
Back to her comedic roots
It’s been nearly a decade since Maya left SNL, where her repertoire of characters included Beyoncé, Donatella Versace, Oprah, Charo and, in the hilarious “Bronx Beat” sketches, Jodi to Amy Poehler’s Betty. After seven years on SNL, Maya went on to films that included comedies like Sisters, Friends With Kids, The Way, Way Back and Grown Ups 2, and animated pics like Shrek the Third, The Nut Job, Big Hero 6 and this summer’s The Angry Birds Movie. She also co-starred opposite Christina Applegate and Will Arnett in the short-lived NBC sitcom Up All Night.
Now Maya is thrilled to be doing a variety show again, the perfect fodder for a self-described ham. “It really is the format I love the best,” she says. “After being away from SNL for so many years, I was craving performing in front of an audience again. There’s an incredible adrenaline rush you get from the immediacy of an audience response.”
The new show is something of a follow-up to her 2014 comic-variety special The Maya Rudolph Show. But being paired with Martin Short gives her, she says, “such a great amount of confidence and joy. I feel this strange kind of calm that it’s all going to be all right. I’ve always loved and admired Marty, and he’s one of the loveliest human beings on earth. When he worked with my husband on Inherent Vice, I was severely pregnant and I came waddling down to the set just to watch him. He’s so lovable and so much fun to be with. I’d do anything with him.”
Marty returns the compliment. The two performed together in February 2015 on The SNL 40th Anniversary Special, with Maya reprising her role as Beyoncé. “I thought our chemistry was kind of remarkable,” Marty says. “It was pure joy and fun and I thought, why not do more of this?”
To read the rest of our feature on Maya Rudolph, pick up the September 2016 issue of Live Happy at a store or newsstand near you.