Mobster movies generally follow a bunch of macho guys, puffing up their chests at each other and waving guns around before it all goes down in a fiery blaze of glory. Shots are fired, bosses are vanquished, new kings are crowned, and it's all dressed up with an excess of leather and high-end brown liquor. The Kitchen isn't all that different, but instead of said dudes being the ultimate heroes, they're made out to be chumps, bowing down to their new queens.
Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish come together to play the wives of three Irish mobsters, living in New York City — specifically the titular Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. When their three bozo husbands get caught and arrested, the women take it upon themselves to manage Hell's Kitchen and all the criminal activity that comes with it. Naturally, the men who used to run the neighborhood aren't too thrilled and from there The Kitchen gets messy and very, very violent. Ruby (Haddish) works to maintain her authority in the face of small-minded men (and women) who are uncomfortable with a woman of color in power. Claire (Moss) escapes her abusive husband and learns to turn the aggression she's withstood back at her enemies. And their leader, Kathy (McCarthy), tries her best to resist becoming as corrupt and violent as the men around her.
Ahead of the film's August 9 release, Refinery29 caught up with the McCarthy, Moss, and Haddish about getting their hands dirty, messing with the legendary Margo Martindale, and why you might not want to cheer for these mob bosses in the end.
Refinery29: What was it like filming some of the grosser murder scenes? There's so much blood in this movie.
Elisabeth Moss: "For me [I liked] the guy in the bathtub, in the scene where me and Domnall [Gleason] and I are [cutting up his dead body]. He would just be on his phone, in between takes, just like laying there, and then he'd just put his phone down and be dead. (Laughs)"
Melissa McCarthy: "I think even just sometimes talking about it, like when you guys were out in the water [disposing of body parts] and you're having just a very technical conversation. Listening to you guys talk to [the director] Andrea [Berloff] about how if the body parts are floating out and if there's a current going, it's kind of funny. Everybody keeps saying 'body part bags' or 'bags of body parts.' I'm like, 'This is a professional conversation and this is all correct, but this is really weird.'"
The way my character says 'I'm kicking the doors open for my people,' I feel like that in real life.
I feel like we've seen a lot of movies about women who come together to take down a patriarchal system, but this story had a flip to it. How do you feel about this being a "girl power" movie without hitting those beats we've come to expect?
MM: "Yes, it's [about] taking power and it's women working together, but it's not without repercussions. So part of what's not making this crime story too glamorous is that yes, they gain power, they gain money, they take control of their lives, but there are definite repercussions on not only the three of them as a group, but in each one individual. I think that's really important for a story that you want to keep tethered to the world, so it's not like 'And then we all went out and ended in a big blaze of glory in a dance sequence!' Yes, people got what they wanted but at what cost now? It does make you kind of walk out going, 'Am I rooting for you? Now I feel weird rooting for it.' I love that gray area."
Elisabeth, you came from The Handmaid's Tale, about women fighting patriarchal forces. How does June compare to your The Kitchen character Claire?
EM: "With Claire, violence is power. Whoever is hitting the hardest has the strength, so her way of taking back power is to learn how to be more violent than anyone else. I was very interested in that kind of person. How can you how can you murder and cut up body parts and not feel anything? Not even just not be squeamish? How can you not feel anything and be so clinical about it? But that's where she finds her her worth. She finds something that she can do that she's really, really good at that nobody else can do. And she feels valuable and that's essentially all that she wants. I do think there are parallels with June, just extremely different paths. Different time periods, different backdrops, but there are parallels. If you're going to actually win a war and you actually fight back, you have to be more ruthless than your opponent. You have to be crueler and you have to be willing to do anything."
Tiffany, you have one very high stakes moment in the film where you push the Margo Martindale. Without spoiling it completely, what was shooting that scene like?
TH: "Once I pushed her, I walked away and I was smiling really big. And I was like, we should keep that, but Margo said I was seeming too happy to push her. I told her I was strong, but then they brought in the stunt double and so I gave the stunt double a really good push."
So it's actually a stunt double in that scene?
MM: "Or not. Maybe I kicked Margo. It wasn't in the script, we were just hanging out waiting around and I thought, well..."
TH: "Because she's so good, we started beating her up." (Both laugh.)
So the movie is based on a comic — how much of the changes to the original story surprised you?
MM: "The comic was very limited...very small story. So I think Andrea being able to take that as a jumping off point and expand these into three very real, complicated full stories, — these different women that you do believe that their own this kind of neighborhood together — that was a big job. It wasn't like it was already there and we just changed everything for us."
Tiffany's character was a white woman in the comics. How much did the character herself change in the script?
TH: "It didn't change too much of anything for the character except for the dynamics of how she was treated by her mother-in-law and by other people that live in the kitchen who might feel a certain type of way about Black people back then in the '70s. And maybe they feel that way right now, I don't know with this president, people express how they feel more now. It is what it is. But I thought that was really interesting to play in that world. The way my character says 'I'm kicking the doors open for my people' I feel like that in real life. My people are women and anybody that's like me, trying to create a dream come true."
What was your real life relationship like on set?
MM: "For as dark as the movie is, the set life was really fun and just relaxed. We all got along really well. I love the disco scene — like how often do you like dance as hard as you can? That's not a bad day at the office."
How long did that scene take to film?
EM: "The disco scene, unfortunately, was not long enough. Like, this is the most fun scene that we've done in the whole movie and for some reason we're not shooting this for 12 hours. It wasthe only scene we did that day, and they were like, 'That's it, we got it!' Normally we'd all be like super kind of happy to go home and I think we were all like, 'Wait, maybe we should do another one? Just one more twirl around?'"
Is there a scene that you really felt really empowered shooting?
EM: "Anytime I got to walk down the street with either of them, it was really empowering. I felt myself. Any time I got to strut next to Tiffany, I felt like I looked way cooler than I normally would."
MM: "I did like when it was three of us strong, walking. There is something that you can't help but be like, 'I feel kinda cool.'"
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.