Interview Wendi McLendon-Covey PIXAR movie “Elemental”

Wendi McLendon-Covey and I chatted a few years ago on the Red Carpet during the Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles; speaking with her in my part of the world, Chicago, was a treat. She was here promoting the new PIXAR animated movie, “Elemental,” in which she stars as the voice of “Gale.”

Sarah Knight Adamson-interviews Wendi-McLendon-Covey, May 25, 2023 “Elemental’ exhibit Yorktown Center, Lombard, IL

In reading the film’s ‘Press Notes” of the film, director Peter Sohn says it’s easy to imagine the wind having attitude or fire being angry or a happy bunch of flowers could brighten the day of a lonely pot of dirt. Also, water might be calm and collected one day and in a big hurry the next. “What if the elements we all know were alive?”

Gale, voiced by Wendi-McLendon-Covey, 2023 PIXAR

Sohn also said the story is very personal to him, and he started with a drawing of a fire character and a water character interacting. He imagined an unexpected friendship between them—a relationship sure to trigger awkwardness, banter, and funny missteps. “I started layering in my relationship with my wife—I’m Korean, and she’s American, half Italian,” Sohn says. “I hid the relationship from my parents at first because they—in an old-school way—wanted me to marry someone Korean. My grandmother’s dying words were literally ‘Marry Korean!'”

Sarah Knight Adamson-visits the “Elemental’ exhibit Yorktown Center, Lombard, IL

Eventually, Sohn’s old-school parents came around, finding they had a lot in common with their ensuing daughter-in-law’s family. They also inspired another important aspect of the story, says the director. “It’s about understanding our parents as people. From that understanding comes an appreciation for their sacrifices for their kids. My parents emigrated from Korea in the early 1970s, so I was born there and raised with Korean traditions, language, and culture in the very American New York City. That led to some culture clashes along the way between the first and second generations. I took for granted the trials and tribulations they must’ve experienced.”

Sarah Knight Adamson-visits the “Elemental’ exhibit Yorktown Center, Lombard, IL

Like Sohn, Ember is a second-generation immigrant—only her parents emigrated from Fireland to Element City, where Ember was born and raised. “She goes on a journey of understanding her own identity and,” says the director, “with that, the meaning of what her parents have given her.”

Having met a few of Wendi’s fellow actors from movies and TV that she worked with; Melissa McCarthy from “Mike and Molly,” and “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, and Jeff Garlin from “The Goldbergs,” we had an amusing interview, and were both laughing out loud at times. As a huge fan of PIXAR films, due to the time and care the writers and cast spend to “get the story right’ their new film, “Elemental,” was in development for seven years.

Wendi McLendon-Covey, ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’

Sarah Knight Adamson: Hi Wendi, it’s so great to talk with you in my part of the world! Can you talk about your time with the Groundlings comedy troupe? I know Melissa and Kristen attended at one time.

Wendi McLendon-Covey: We never did a lot of shows together because once I got in, I started working. I didn’t get to do as many shows as I wanted. I did a lot of shows with Mikayla Watkin and Annie Malo.

SKA: What was your takeaway from Bridesmaids?

Left, Melissa McCarthy,Wendi McLendon-Covey, Elle Kemper, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne 2011

WMC: I talked to someone about this earlier, and they all wanted to know if I thought it would be that successful. I replied, “No, I just thought we were having fun with our friends.” I’m so thrilled that people are still resonating with it, although it’s been 13 years. The fact that it’s still so popular and at the top of people’s minds is amazing to me. It was one of those things that could go either way.

SKA: Was there any scene where you girls just had to have a lot of takes because you could not stop laughing?

WMC: A lot of them came from that restaurant on the scene. Because if you put a bunch of girls together (Wendi laughs) in close quarters for three days, it will get funny. Whether or not it’s supposed to be, it was a very tough scene to get through. (Wendi laughs), you know, and after that, I’m never eating meat again. I cannot look at meat anymore after three days of being with this damn meat.

SKA: How has your background prepared you for your amazing role? You play in Gale Pixar “Elementals?”

WMC: You know, when PIXAR calls you? That’s like the bucket list thing for actors. It’s like, what, you’re coming to me? I said yes before I even knew what it was.

I had no idea what it was. And it was like, I don’t care if I play an ant on a pile of trash, I’ll do it. What a thrill. And our director, Peter (Sohn), the story is based on his life living in the Bronx. He and his parents came from Korea and built this whole new life. To give them a better life. The parallels are interesting. And oh my God, he what made some of the biggest tear-jerker moments. Because it’s PIXAR, so it’s compulsory that you cry happy tears, and you do this in their movies.

It’s both poignant and beautiful. To have PIXAR on your resume, it’s better than the Olympics. It’s just because their movies are so special and so iconic and such care is taken—they are very fussy about their stories. They don’t want, oh, let’s have two flowers that get together and fall in love. Oh no, it has to be based on something real. Something that has really happened, and there must be a teachable moment. There has to be learning and growth. Anytime you get to do something this special, it’s like, oh, pinch me. I’m so proud to be a part of it.

SKA: Let’s talk about Gail, your character; please tell us about her.

WMC: Gale is a pink fluffy cloud. You would think that she’s just a sweet, cuddly thing. Although, she is kind of a bad boss bitch. She holds an office in the city. When you have a building code violation or something similar, you pay your citation to her. She could be benevolent and tear it up or make you pay and fix it. She’s not a villain, but she is a businesswoman. She has a job to do. She’s more of an obstacle.

She does take the time to, like, give the two lovers their special little moment and, you know, really facilitates that. She’s also very loud. However, that’s what the wind will do. The wind is sometimes very loud.

SKA: Who were some of Gale’s scenes with?

WMC: She interacts quite a bit with the main characters. Wade and Ember.

SKA: Can you tell us one of your favorite lines from the movie?

WMC: At the very end? She’s a big fan of an airball team, and they make tooting sounds. At the end, she toots when she meets a fellow fan. It’s so lame. But I, I think it’s funny. It’s like, okay, Gale’s on the prowl.

SKA: Let’s discuss “Barb and Star go to Vista Delmar.” I met Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) at my Beverly Hills Critic’s Choice Awards show. What was it like to be a part of that movie?

WMC: I was so thrilled even to have a small part in that movie because just watching those two, they’re such good friends, and it comes out in the film and just watching their silliness and their stupidity. Playing girls that go to work in a furniture store sit on their favorite couch on their off days. (Laughs)

They’re in this resort which is so funny as they practice calligraphy and go to bed. I can’t love those two anymore. I wish Barb and Star would go to a different place!

The name needs to rhymes with Barb and Star (laughs). Where would they go? Yes, I’ve got it “Barb and Star Go to Madagascar.”

SKA: (Laughing) Oh…that would be great! That would be amazing.

WMC: But yeah, I mean, they’d play like the big glossies of the town.

SKA: (Laughing) Yes, so funny! I do need to ask you about “The Goldbergs” (TV show); I raised my kids in the eighties and nineties, and the sweaters you wore, I know I wore some of those, especially for the holiday ones.

Wendi McLendon-Covey’s sweater from ‘The Goldbergs’ some of them are now in The Academy Award Museum.

WMC: They were considered cool. They were also expensive sweaters. And what I loved is that some of those stupid sweaters told actual stories like hieroglyphics or something. They would start in one place, and you learn the story of Cinderella. The magic slipper comes on the right under the arm. But I will not miss those (laughs). I’m so happy to not wear those itchy things anymore. Oh yeah. But you know, they were.

SKA: Oh yes, I remember!

WMC: I’m happy not to have my shoulders right here under my ears. (Wendi gestures with her hands how large they are). Yep, no more shoulder pads.

WMC: But what a joy it was. Yeah. It was a really long decade of my life.

SKA: What did that bring to you? Just going to work and being on that show?

WMC: That was one of those pinch-me moments. Because I always thought it was just too weird to be on network television. I thought, oh, I’m going to work in cable for the rest of my life. But to be on that show and play a mom, as I’m not a mom in real life, you can’t give me a better present. Sure. You know, now I get to have, I get to, you know, use all of the feelings about my own mother, you know, who I love so much. Yes, of course. I based a lot of it on her. Because my mother was very overprotective, she would act first and apologize later.

SKA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about Pixar’s movie “Elemental?”

Gale, PIXAR 'Elemental'
In Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental,” fire-woman Ember (voice of Leah Lewis) and water-guy Wade (voice of Mamoudou Athie) track down air-resident and Superfan Gale (voice of Wendi McLendon-Covey)  Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” releases on June 16, 2023. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

WMC: Yes, what I hope people take away from this movie is the beautiful message about the elements. They’re all separate from each other, and they seem like they shouldn’t go together. It seems like fire would burn down the earth, and wind would blow out fire and things like that. But really, like all of us, they can get along. And when you put them together, sometimes something magical, like the warmth of love and friendship, can happen. Take that message out into the world and see where it takes you. Mainly because it’s a really good message, especially for the times that we’re in, yes, we are different, but those differences often compliment each other.

SKA: Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me here.

The film “Elemental” will be released in theaters June 15, 2023.

Sarah Knight Adamson@ May 25, 2023