I have become so attached to Lee that I just want people to see her for everything she was: for her talent, her intelligence, her caustic, remarkable wit and to also see her difficult circumstances, her flaws, her broken heart, her anger. I want people to love her as much as I do.
The chance to be so out there and exuberant and willing just to say and do whatever you want is something that I never get to do in my real life. There’s also something beautifully sleazy about Jack, too, which I really like, because I lead a much more sort of moral, upright life. But there is also enormous pathos and poignancy in how things end up for him and his story is quite moving.
I want to be able to tell stories about women who society would otherwise ignore and not look at closely, and Lee is somebody who was certainly very flawed, but also really resourceful and ingenious. Whether or not you agree with what she did—because there’s no doubt what she did was criminal—she used her brains and her gifts to achieve something when all looked lost. She figured out a way to survive and to keep going, and most of all, she had some real fun while doing it.
In CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?, Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, the best-selling celebrity biographer (and cat lover) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estée Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee found herself unable to get published because she had fallen out of step with the marketplace, she turned her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant).