"I feel so lucky," says Molly Shannon - remarkable words from the mouth of someone who suffered the kind of catastrophic childhood tragedy that would have embittered many people, even three decades later, at the age of 34.
But Shannon seems not at all bitter. Far from it. A flawless spring day has sent the hyperkinetic comedian and actress into overdrive.
We visit three different coffee shops in the space of an hour, her gestures growing wilder, her dimples flashing deeper as the crazy caffeine caper progresses.
"I love this weather!" she cries as we pause to catch our breath amid the daffodils in a tiny park near her Greenwich Village apartment. "Don't you just love it? And I love being in New York! This is the best place to be."
Molly Shannon is having a very good couple of weeks. For the first time in her career, she's in a movie with her name above the title. It's "Never Been Kissed," in which Shannon plays Drew Barrymore's best friend, "sort of an office tramp who goes about looking for love by sleeping around."
"I couldn't believe it when I saw my name on the poster," she says. "I was like, 'Woo-hoo!'"
And she just landed a very plum assignment. In June, she starts rehearsals with Jim Carrey in Ron Howard's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the budget of which is rumored to be in "Titanic" territory.
She's also just finished filming "Superstar," a feature-length vehicle for her most famous "SNL" character, the overzealous and klutzy Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher.
The character, born while Shannon was studying at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, was first introduced to "SNL" audiences on Oct. 28, 1995. People warmed to this armpit-sniffing, underpants-flashing nerd, a crude antidote to the glossy teens pervading mainstream media. A girl a lot like Molly Shannon.
"When I first did her I was nervous a lot, and so I'd use a lot of that nervous energy for the character," she says. "She's the kind of girl who always thinks she's in trouble. She's feeling like at any moment there could be an explosion somewhere nearby, so she's very erratic, things aren't steady.
"She comes from a very troubled background, and some of it's made up, some of it's not."
Shannon knows about troubled childhoods. In 1969, when she was four years old and growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, she was driving with her father, James, her mother, Peg, her two sisters and a 25-year-old cousin, when the car was involved in a horrific accident. Her mother, little sister and cousin were all killed. Shannon and another sister grew up with their father.
"Mary Katherine Gallagher is not feminine at all and, well, that's a product of not having a mother," she says. "That's, like, something went wrong there. It's a fictionalized version of me."
While losing her mother and sister was a devastating blow from which she will never fully recover, Shannon says the experience gave her strength.
"It's a horrible thing that throws off your whole map of how the world should be," she says. "But it made me tough. All the rejections I had to deal with, nothing could be as bad as that. It gave me a kind of bounce-ability."
Shannon, who also has a memorable bit at the beginning of "Analyze This," as psychiatrist Billy Crystal's maddeningly whiny patient, is ambivalent about the joys of celebrity. She pauses for more than a beat when asked whether the fame game lives up to her expectations.
"On a good day, I'm like, 'This is a hoot!'" she says. "You get limousines, and you're always getting flower deliveries, and you get to stay in fancy hotels.
"But on a bad day, you're working really hard, and you don't have much free time. And you know, fame doesn't fix anything. It doesn't make you blissfully happy forever."
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