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LIFE OF THE PARTY

About The Production
OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW LIFE

"Mom, you're a college girl now, and we've gotta make some changes!"

Definitely the last words Deanna ever expected to hear. And certainly not a situation this newly single mother of a college senior, newly enrolled college senior herself, ever expected to find herself in at fortysomething. Having dropped out to raise her daughter before earning her own degree, Deanna is finally thinking of her own future...minus her thoughtless husband, Dan.

The story was devised by writer/director/producer Ben Falcone and his partner in all things, writer/producer/star Melissa McCarthy. "Melissa and I love to write together. I come up with the structure and she makes it funny," Falcone deadpans. In all seriousness, though, it was Falcone who suggested the idea after a visit from his mother-in-law. "At one point when Melissa's mom, Sandy, was over, I began to imagine what it would have been like for her if, when she was 40, she'd gone back to school with Melissa at 18. I've always loved college-based movies, and combining that with the idea of restarting life because it's never too late was intriguing. I brought it up to Melissa and we were off and running."

"Ben said to me, 'I think you should go back to school...in a movie.' And this story has so many other elements that interest me," McCarthy offers. "Like the idea that someone who is suddenly thrown a huge curveball in life can be so upset at first, but then with a little distance, a little perspective, realize what they've really been given is a second chance. Or the fact that if you're 50, you may live to be 100; you may not even be halfway done! Life certainly isn't over because you're not 19 anymore, right? We wanted to create a story that encourages people to believe it is okay to suddenly say, 'I'm middle-aged and I'm moving to another country, I'm starting a vineyard or learning to bake bread.' It's never too late to redefine your life and to say, out loud, 'What about me?'"

The powerhouse team was joined once again by producer Chris Henchy, who previously collaborated with McCarthy and Falcone on "The Boss" and "Tammy." He relates, "This is the third movie we've all been on together and so we have a good shorthand, a good working relationship, and know how to anticipate each other."

McCarthy, especially, was eager to recreate the college experience for the film. "I did not appreciate college when I was in it. I think I wasn't ready for it; it was too structured for me then. After 12 years of Catholic school, I just wanted to be freer, maybe?" she grins. "Really, I just wanted to go to New York City. If I could just go to a history class or a math class now...that seems like a dream. And the thought of doing that with my mom? I think it would be a blast!"

While the busy actress may never have the opportunity, Falcone admires the character they created, who is at last putting herself first. "Deanna takes that step many of us think about doing but never actually do it. We get to see her fulfill a dream she'd given up on, which leads her on this really fun and, in some ways, totally unexpected adventure."

In addition to highlighting some of the more spirited and stimulating ways in which Deanna finds her campus experience one not to be missed-such as fending off mean girls and rediscovering sex-Henchy says, "'Life of the Party' includes a great message that no matter where you are in life, you can hit the reset button, or pick up something that you haven't done before but always wished you had. Melissa's Deanna is a perfect example of somebody who you normally would not see in a bursar's office paying for two more semesters of class, but there she is."

Hot-rollered hairdo, sparkly appliqué smock and all.

DEANNA

Somebody's mom just enrolled in college!

Deanna Miles is a wife and mother who lives to be a wife and mother. But upon dropping her daughter off at college, still feeling the sting of that temporary separation keenly, she is promptly informed that her other role in life-that of wife-has been cut. Permanently. Effective immediately.

"Suddenly, she's set adrift," McCarthy observes of her character.

After unburdening herself to her folks, her friends and her Uber driver, Deanna's first move is to relieve herself of the burden of her soon-to-be-ex-husband's things...vis-a-vis a small, backyard bonfire. Mission: accomplished. But now what? What does a housewife who is soon to have neither the title nor the property to her name, do with her life? Coming across an old photo of herself with the Decatur University Archaeology Club, she lets herself think, probably for the first time in 20 years, about what might have been.

Inspired into action, the next time Deanna sees her daughter, Maddie, she tells her, "I don't regret staying home and being your mom, but I regret not getting my degree," revealing to her that she is now Decatur U's newest re-enrollee.

As parents of girls, McCarthy and Falcone were excited to make a film about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. As it turned out, it was the perfect blend of experiences, and lack thereof. McCarthy explains, "I have two daughters, and I wanted to show how good that relationship is, that you can roll your eyes at something your mom says but still get along. And I didn't finish college, but I always thought that was something I would go back to do. In our story, we show both sides: a real girl freaking out that her mom's moved onto her campus, and a grown woman surrounded by 21-year-old people and finding it intimidating but reinvigorating. It really does make Deanna shake off the cobwebs, all that palpable youthful energy."

At first, Deanna's syrupy nature and unbridled enthusiasm make her stand out like a sore thumb amidst the Gen Zers. The character was based largely on McCarthy's own mother. "Deanna is sweet as pie, like my mom, a woman made of marzipan with sugar rolled on top. She's someone who to her very core thinks about other people first, and finds joy in that. I really loved playing her," she smiles.

"Deanna doesn't have a mean bone in her body," Falcone adds. "She's smart, a self-proclaimed 'dig head,' which is her term of endearment for an archaeology nerd, but her life took a different path. Now she doesn't just have to wonder 'what if?' She can find out."

Deanna will still be able to put her well-developed mothering skills to use between classes, for along with her close proximity to Maddie comes a host of Maddie's delightful sorority sisters, as well as her own somewhat enigmatic dorm-mate. McCarthy and Falcone cast a number of familiar faces as the quirky but lovable girls who ultimately take Deanna under their wing: Gillian Jacobs, Jessie Ennis, Adria Arjona, Heidi Gardner, and Molly Gordon as Deanna's daughter, Maddie Miles.

"Molly is so incredibly charming and funny and talented," McCarthy raves. "She walks into a room and everything lights up, like she brings her own electrical current with her. But at the same time, she's grounded, really in her shoes. I am quite sure I was not that together at her age."

"I'm really close to my mom," says the young actress, "so this was very meaningful to me, to be in a movie that shows it's cool and acceptable to be close to your mom."

Of course, it's awkward at first, as Deanna begins to invade Maddie's space. "She feels so bad for her mom, because what she's going through is hard, and it's hard on Maddie, too. Their little family unit is breaking apart," Gordon continues. "She gets that her mom wants- needs-to do something new, but she's a little weirded out by it. Especially when her friends love her mom so much, right off the bat. But she warms up to it."

How could she not? "Melissa made a great mom," Gordon attests. "She's so kind and so accessible; she can just look at you and make you feel so supported...in a scene but also just as a person. Molly and Deanna share a special phrase, 'I got you,' which I thought was so telling."

Gordon felt equally supported by her director. "Ben is an actor, too, so he gets it. When I got the part, he called me and said, 'Anything you need, let me know. I never want you to feel lost or like you can't speak up,' which, for a young actor, is an amazing thing to hear. He and Melissa make an incredible team, and they make you feel like a part of it. It's really inspiring."

For the role of Helen, the filmmakers cast Gillian Jacobs, who offers, "Helen is a little bit older than the other college students because she was in a coma for eight years. Now she's trying to make up for lost time, live that college lifestyle. Just that oddity in her backstory made her really fun to play, and Ben kindly allowed me to make her as bizarre as I liked."

Helen is fiercely protective of her friends and Deanna becomes someone she would fight for. But not against. Jacobs says that one of the draws for her upon reading the script was that "it was a movie about a group of women, and they're not fighting with each other, and they don't hate each other. I thought it had a lot of wonderful messages in it, in addition to being really funny."

Jacobs, something of a prankster, made sure some of the hilarity continued off camera. Co-star Jessie Ennis reveals, "Ben brought a lot of puppets to set, and Gillian would take them and leave ransom notes telling Ben how to search for them, so we'd all be on the hunt for the missing puppets. She's also great at off-camera acting, making faces and gestures you don't expect to get a reaction from you when you're in the scene. It's not only funny but it's also amazing to work off of."

Ennis plays the under-confident Debbie, who can't help but ask if she can ask a question, but whom the girls, Deanna included, help coax out of her uncertainty.

"Debbie has really high anxiety, and really low self-esteem," Ennis relates. "She's having a tough time with all of that. She means well and really cares what people think about her, but also assumes that other people will always be nice, which they're not."

Generally confident in her own life, Ennis says, "When I started getting into Debbie, I thought, 'Oh gosh, I have to go back to that part of myself,' which then became even funnier to me because, as shooting went along, I found myself thinking, 'Was I good in that take? Did I look okay?' And that led me to think, 'What's happening to me?' Debbie was definitely rubbing off and, while part of me never wanted the movie to wrap because we were having so much fun, at the same time, I couldn't wait to go back to my usual, more confident mindset."

When casting the role of the unexpectedly shy Amanda, McCarthy says, "We knew we would have to find the most beautiful girl in the world who doesn't seem to be aware of her own beauty at all, and Adria is just that. I truly don't think she gets how gorgeous she is, and she brought such a wonderfully fun peculiarity to the character."

Adria Arjona says of her character, "Amanda, like a lot of college-aged girls, is logical, grounded and very sweet, but a bit uncertain of herself. She'd rather be a caretaker, to make sure everyone else is feeling alright, especially Debbie. But Deanna teaches her-and all the girls, really-how to appreciate themselves, how to not just do things to please other people or impress boys. Deanna sets a great example of how to love yourself and how to work on yourself from within, and Amanda takes this great turn because of the confidence that instills in her."

Debby Ryan and Yani Simone portray Decatur U's overly self-assured mean girls, Jennifer and Trina, whom Deanna encounters in her archaeology course. "Life of the Party" marks Atlanta native Simone's feature film debut. Among Ryan's numerous film and TV credits, she played the titular role in the Disney Channel series "Jessie," which was extremely popular in the McCarthyFalcone household.

"My daughters are such huge 'Jessie' fans that when they came to set, I had to explain to them that Debby is not actually Jessie," McCarthy states. "Also, that she's just acting like a very mean girl, because she's really very nice, but also a very skilled actor who can give you such an icy 'I'll rip you one, lady' look, you kind of believe her, even though you know she's really delightful."

"I loved the script," Ryan states. "It takes a real thing that moms deal with, empty nest syndrome, and adds to it a midlife crisis of sorts. And then Melissa McCarthy takes you through it all." The actress says she was already a big fan of the comedienne's work due in part to her own mother. "My mom and I like to schedule dates to see Melissa McCarthy movies when they come out, so getting to work with her was a very cool thing."

Ryan says that to develop Jennifer's snide side, she tapped into experiences in her own life that came close to a brush with meanness. "My best friend was in a sorority, and I think there's something that happens when that many girls live together in one house. You hear things like, 'I know you poured my shampoo down the drain!' or 'I know you did this-or-that, who else would've done it?' or 'You looked at me weird yesterday,'" she laughs. "I just tried to imagine all the sorts of things that would make someone so stressed out she became bitchy all the time. Maybe she was 'all that' in high school, so now she's grasping for power in a place where the playing field is level. That kind of behavior usually comes from a place of insecurity."

And perhaps feeds on the insecurity of others-in Jennifer's case, her friend Trina, a slightly less-mean mean girl. Simone asserts, "I believe Trina looks up to Jennifer and kind of aspires to be her, to be liked by her and as liked as she is by others. I think Trina might be a sweetheart inside, but she's mean because Jennifer is."

Simone's road to the role was an unexpected one. "I went in to read for a featured extra part with just a line or two, which I thought was very cool," she says. "I read and I left. Then I got a call to go back in to audition, and I almost died. Ben was there and I was so nervous, it seemed so unreal. But everyone was so nice and I just had fun with it, still thinking I'd be happy being a featured extra."

Of course, no matter how old you are, every new college student can be a little nervous about meeting their first roommate. As it turns out, Deanna might have reason to be very nervous about Leonor, who appears to spend most...well, all...of her time in her bed. In the dark. In the small space that is their dorm room.

Groundlings alumnus Heidi Gardner plays the role of the girl who is odd enough to set the upbeat, accepting-of-all Deanna a bit off balance. Falcone remembers, "Heidi came in and just crushed it in terms of giving off this strange, eccentric energy."

"All these young ladies were funny and kind and brought their own take on things to their roles," McCarthy, a veteran improvisor, says. "That's always my favorite thing to see on set- when someone says something I couldn't have thought of, or spins a scene in a way I wouldn't have gone. And these girls played it so sincere, so genuine, usually not even going for the joke but finding it in places I hadn't even thought to look."

They had just as much fun off set. McCarthy recalls, "They were laughing, music blasting, singing at the top of their lungs in the hair and makeup trailer every morning. It was such a wonderful swell of energy, you could feel it."

While she may not have considered it a requisite course, Deanna's education wouldn't be complete without a least one college flirtation. Enter Jack, Decatur University senior, fraternity boy...and love interest?

Luke Benward took on the part, noting, "When I heard about this role, and that it was opposite Melissa McCarthy, I was like, 'Yes, please sign me up!'"

As with their respective roles, the younger party discovered he had much to benefit from the more experienced individual. "This was my first time with improv and it was a fun challenge. It's so carefree and creative, to just be completely in the moment like that, and she's obviously brilliant at it and gave me so much to play off of. I found myself letting her do her thing and going along for the ride. And it's easy to fall in love with Melissa; she's so kind and smart and so funny," he adds.

Jack is not only linked to Deanna by irresistible chemistry, he is also best friend to Tyler, who happens to be Maddie's boyfriend. Jimmy O. Yang, who plays the part, says, "It was a little awkward for Tyler, at first, partying with his girlfriend's mom at a frat house. I mean, usually that's not a place you let anybody's mom in, let alone your girlfriend's."

Despite the feigned discomfort in the frat house scene, Yang says the feeling on set couldn't have been more fraternal. "Ben and Melissa are a dream team, and working with them, under that umbrella, everything kind of trickles down to a nice, chill, family vibe, and you are part of it because you're in their movie."

Though she's not in class with Deanna, best friend Christine is re-living her own youth vicariously through her. To play the role, Falcone and McCarthy turned to one of their own nearest and dearest pals, and occasional collaborator, Maya Rudolph.

"They have a really solid friendship. Deanna is such a good, earnest person, and Christine brings the levity to it. She considers herself the fun friend and takes a lot of pride in that," Rudolph asserts. "Christine also thinks of herself as an honorary sorority girl. She's so excited for Deanna because she's hanging out with hot 20-year-olds and doing shots at frat parties, while Christine and her husband go out to dinner with boring people their own age who don't do shots."

According to Chris Henchy, Rudolph and McCarthy's longstanding relationship and shared improv backgrounds ensured no take of any scene they were in fell flat, though plenty of them left the crew flat on the floor in laughter. "Maya is just so screamingly funny. It was such a joy to have her on set and to watch her and Melissa work together."

Rudolph adds, "There was so much about the project that felt like a luxury, especially being able to work with people you've known for 20 years, who you can play off of because you speak each other's language so fluently."

If the younger generation has its mean girls, so must Deanna's contemporaries. Unfortunately for Deanna, this one also comes in the form of the woman her husband dumped her for-and the realtor handling the sale of their home-Marcie.

"She takes her husband, she takes her house, and she's hilariously unapologetic about it," Henchy observes. "She's pretty despicable."

Julie Bowen, who plays the role of Marcie, reveled in her wickedness. "Marcie is very successful and driven, and she's apparently had her eye on Dan Miles and all of his raw material," she attests. "She sees a great future there: he's already had his kid, so they don't have to do that. And she's really put together, and he's completely whipped, so she can keep him on a short leash."

In fact, Dan seems to be undergoing quite a transformation under Marcie's tutelage. "She's started to dress him," Bowen continues. "She's got him wearing nice sockless loafers and has encouraged him to get an earring-her vision of young and vibrant."

Having previously worked with McCarthy on "Ghostbusters," comedy veteran Matt Walsh plays Dan. "I was so excited to receive the call from Melissa," he says. "She left me a voicemail asking how I felt about playing her 'jerk' husband in her next film, and I was like, 'Of course!' "When the movie opens, Dan is in the middle of a huge midlife crisis," continues Walsh.

"He's obviously blamed his unhappiness in life on his wife, and he's ended up having an affair with the local real estate agent. She's convinced him that he's finally reaching his full potential, that his marriage is what was keeping him from being his true, beautiful self."

Though he and Bowen have known each other for years, this is their first time working together. "Working with Julie was awesome, she's a firecracker," he adds. "She's a great comedian and perfect for Marcie."

While Dan wasted no time in shoving Deanna out the door, she is surprised to find a friendly face and kindred spirit when she enters the classroom again for the first time in over 20 years: Mr. Truzack, portrayed by another Groundlings vet, Chris Parnell.

"I wasn't there at the same time as Ben and Melissa, but we all have that connection; I knew them and they knew me," Parnell expounds. "They have a great sense of what is funny and it aligns with what I and a lot of other people find funny. Plus, they are so easy to work with and very collaborative, welcoming input from the other actors, which makes for a pretty idyllic working situation."

In his third at-bat with the filmmakers, having appeared in both "Tammy" and "The Boss," longtime friend and actor Damon Jones plays Christine's husband, Frank. And back for his fourth on-screen go 'round with McCarthy is co-producer Steve Mallory.

To bring things even closer to home, and assist art in imitating life, the filmmakers not only based Deanna's parents on McCarthy's parents, they didn't even bother changing their names to protect the innocent. "My mom and dad in the film are actually not that loosely based on my mom and dad, Mike and Sandy," McCarthy says. "I called them and told them we had written a couple of parts that were somewhat like them, and she said, 'What are their names?' I said, 'Mike and Sandy.' To which she replied, 'Oh, no!' I told her not to worry, Sandy primarily just tries to force feed people sandwiches."

Falcone attests, "Watching Sandy McCarthy make her husband a sandwich is a passion play in 17 acts, so I thought it might be kind of fun to put an element of that artform into a movie."

To play the couple, the filmmakers cast Stephen Root and Jacki Weaver. "I was thrilled," Weaver states. "Like millions of people around the world, I am totally in love with Melissa McCarthy, and the big surprise for me was how gorgeous Ben Falcone is. He's a lovely director and he's hilarious, so I'm in love with him, too, now."

"I'm fairly convinced that Jacki Weaver is some kind of magical creature," McCarthy posits. "She is too delightful to be fully human."

Having the inspiration for his character at hand, Root found opportunities to incorporate some realism into his scenes. "I've wanted to work with both Melissa and Ben for a long time, and that was the biggest draw for me to be in the movie. Then, I got to meet the real Mike and he was just a great person, and we threw in a few lines that he would actually blurt out."

In an even stranger turn, and in spite of having a character based on him played by a professional actor, Mike McCarthy had his own opportunity to appear in a cameo in the movie, alongside Falcone's dad, Steve. Recalling how he got the gig, the elder Falcone says, "Hard work, brains and bribery. Also, yeah, I'm Ben's dad."

Falcone reflects, "This set was just a lot of fun. It was a big cast and we had remarkable talent in every role, with everyone bringing a great attitude to the set as well. For Melissa and me, from Maya to my dad, it was a family affair."

CHRISTINE

You had sex in the library?!

Veteran production designer Rusty Smith reteamed with McCarthy and Falcone for the second time, after working with them on "The Boss." The trio scouted the Atlanta area and, having filmed in Georgia on that film, the filmmakers had a good idea of what they were looking for in what's come to be known as the "Hollywood of the South."

Smith recalls, "We were starting filming at exactly the same time that everybody went back to school, so the challenge was to find a period of time and a school, or a series of schools that we could cobble together, to create the illusion of this big university, which we called Decatur University but, in Ben and Melissa's minds, should have the feel of the University of Illinois." That would be because both Falcone and McCarthy grew up in Illinois college towns-he in Carbondale, she in Plainfield-and Falcone's father was a professor at an area community college.

"We wanted it to be green and we wanted it to look big," Smith continues, "and Ben and Melissa fell in love with a school in Atlanta called Agnes Scott, which is a beautiful brick campus in a fantastic location. We also filmed at Clayton State University, where we shot on 'The Boss.' It has a stunning campus with a lake and a little bit more modern architecture, which we liked, because the older feel of Angus Scott mixed with the newer feel of Clayton State helped expand the look of our fictional school."

Once the production settled into Atlanta, setting the film in a college atmosphere really hit home for McCarthy and Falcone. "I knew this would be a fun environment for us, in particular, to set a movie," he says.

Fun, indeed. Perhaps taking a cue from the film's title, day one of the production began with a surprise party. Working in the archeology school's lecture hall, director Falcone began to call "action" when the auditorium doors burst open to allow McCarthy to enter, candle-lit cake in hand, singing "Happy Birthday" to her husband. McCarthy's own birthday would fall on the following day, just the second day of filming.

To again accommodate the real class schedules, the production shot scenes in the library on a Saturday. Falcone remembers, "I think that was the only time they would let us in, since it wasn't during school hours. It was a scene with Deanna and Jack in the stacks. So, basically, my wife and Luke Benward, who is 23 and very handsome, had to make out."

The director likely found the sequence even more memorable due to the date it happened to fall in the schedule. "It was my wedding anniversary, and I got to watch them make out over and over again," he laughs. "And, to find ways to make it even funnier, I'd say things like, 'Hey, next time would you grab his butt?' And of course, she was happy to, and Luke was like, 'Happy anniversary, guys!' So, after watching my wife of exactly 11 years in the arms of a very attractive, very nice young man for ten hours, the crew gave us an anniversary cake."

Some of the most pivotal scenes take place at the ΘΜΓ (theta mu gamma) sorority house, where Deanna's daughter, Maddie, and Deanna's newfound girlfriends live. "After looking through the script, I knew we'd have to build the sorority house, because it had a heavy page count. Similarly, I knew we'd want to build the frat house, because not only is that where the character of Deanna becomes the life of the party, we needed the freedom to destroy the place," says Smith.

In designing the Greek houses, Smith explains, "I wanted them to be very contrasting. When I was scouting surrounding universities, I saw the fraternity houses were typically gross with beer stains everywhere with layers of mess, and the sorority houses were very tidy and clean. We wanted our sorority to be a big Southern house with columns and a sort of gothic, Greek revival architecture. In fact, I'd have to say my favorite set would be the sorority house; you just don't get to make that kind of classic architecture very often, and certainly not with that amount of detail."

To service the productions' needs, Smith says, "We took over an entire warehouse space, and ended up building Deanna's dorm room, and the basement set where Deanna is initiated into the sorority, as well as the interior of the fraternity and the interior of the sorority."

Before Deanna enrolls in her new life, we see her briefly in her old one, at the home she shared with her husband of more than two decades. Smith notes, "Our location manager, Curtis Collins, found a neighborhood in the Battle Creek area that feels less like Georgia and more like Anywhere, USA. We saw a house we loved for the interiors, but its exterior was white clapboard with black shutters, like our fraternity. So instead we used a house across the street for our exterior, and the house we loved on the inside for our home. It was already dressed, so really the only items we had to contribute were Dan's things that Deanna throws on the fire."

For an emotional scene at a restaurant, where Deanna runs smack into her future ex's new life, the production utilized The Optimist in West Midtown Atlanta. "One of the great things about Atlanta today is the food," says Smith, who grew up in rural Georgia. "They have really interesting restaurants and a growing food scene. We needed a venue that was big enough to support six or so of our principal characters and a lot of extras, and scouted like 50 restaurants all over town. We'd been to The Optimist to dine when we were shooting 'The Boss,' and we all loved it. They had taken an old warehouse, exposed all of the beams and the architecture to feel rustic but classy at the same time. Tablecloths and candlelight, but not too formal, it also had the proper scale to stage our scene."

Falcone entrusted his "The Boss" cinematographer Julio Macat with capturing Smith's designs for the screen during production. In post, he collaborated with editor Brian Olds, with whom he worked on "Tammy," to cut the film, and to underscore the imagery and performances, he turned to composer Fil Eisler.

"Collaborating with Ben was such a lovely process, and writing this score was an interesting challenge," Eisler notes. "We really found out that, to ultimately get to the heart of the characters, the music had to be very minimal in terms of melody and instrumentation. Ben and I started working with something much more complex, and kept stripping away layers until it just felt right. Sometimes you don't need all the bells and whistles, just a good tune will do the trick."

AMANDA

I think those guys just checked you out...

DEANNA

They're just looking at my smock, it tends to catch the light.

To translate Deanna's inner transformation outwardly via the character's fashion sense, the filmmakers turned to costume designer Louise Mingenbach, who had briefly worked with McCarthy once before, for her undeniably memorable appearance in "The Hangover Part III."

McCarthy relates, "After making the decision to return to her alma mater, Deanna starts to rediscover herself and learn to let loose. Louise helped me create this frumpy, Midwestern mom who transforms into a total nerd decked out in school spirit before becoming a fun and lively free spirit."

"Melissa studied fashion design and of course has her own line of clothing," Mingenbach notes. "She is very knowledgeable, and has an amazing sense of how to use the medium to create a character, which makes her a great partner. For a costume designer, working with someone who contributes so much and has such a great respect for the work, as well as an understanding of much it matters to the final outcome, is a dream."

The two collaborated closely, starting with Deanna's opening look. "The character's initial designs were inspired by Melissa's memories of her mom and grandmother's fashions, paired with her own interest in crafts-and yes, bedazzling-as a child," Mingenbach offers.

In fact, one of her favorite "finds," the designer says, came from an Atlanta antique shop. "There are a lot of those in the area, good ones, and Melissa and I both enjoy sifting through them. I went to one and found one of those old puff paint kits from back in the '80s or so, unopened, and I immediately thought, 'I know who needs this!'

"We had our own arts and crafts sessions in the costume department," she continues. "I loved how much it delighted Melissa to place the bows and sparkles on those Decatur University sweatshirts."

For a scene involving a 1980s-themed party at the frat house, Mingenbach says McCarthy "wanted a 'Dynasty'-inspired piece, and as we went through the design and fittings, she kept asking me, 'How much bigger can my shoulder pads be?'"

The final design, a jumpsuit created in a deep blue sequined fabric and embellished with gold epaulets, teed-off the looks for the other girls, allowing the designer free reign to incorporate as many sparkles and as much lamé as she could find.

Shoulder pad size aside, it was critical for McCarthy to be able to move-really move-in that outfit, because she and Falcone had incorporated a "dance off" into the party sequence. After learning some preliminary dance moves in L.A., courtesy of choreographer Stephen "tWitch" Boss, the filmmakers recruited dance coach Marc "Marvelous" Inniss to the "Life of the Party" onset team in Atlanta, to help give Deanna her groove back.

"It was Melissa's character Deanna's chance to showcase her hip hop skills, which she probably learned at her local YMCA," Innis laughs.

In truth, though, he adds, "People need to understand that she actually does know how to dance, I barely had to do any work there. And her energy was electric. She was in there showing me steps and encouraging dancing from everyone in the room. She's extremely collaborative; we came up with the funniest ideas and she killed it every time."

At one point, McCarthy approached Inniss with just such a scheme. "She came and she told me nonchalantly, 'I'm going to do the worm,' and I was like, 'Okay, you know how to do that?' "Sure enough," he continues, "I brought her some mats for rehearsal and I'm thinking, 'Let me see what we're working with...' But she really does the worm! In rehearsal, she did it at least five times straight across. She's awesome."

"When did I stop being 25?" the ever-youthful McCarthy jokes. "Doing what you love, you tend to lose track of the time. But there are people who, at a certain age, are still trying to define who they are for the first time, and I love that. I love stories of self-discovery, and if you can tell one and make people laugh with you along the way, that's the best feeling."

But how will she feel when it's her own kids beginning that journey? Falcone surmises, "We're in a state of denial about our daughters ever leaving home. I could see one of our daughters opening up her closet in her dorm room and Melissa just waiting in there, like, 'Hi, honey! Need anything? A hug?' It's going to be dicey."

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