Melissa Rauch plays the adorably squeaky-voiced Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski on the hugely popular sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” The 35-year-old New Jersey native has a background in standup comedy and has earned critical acclaim for her one-woman show, “The Miss Education of Jenna Bush,” about the former President’s daughter. Rauch has also cowritten (with her husband Winston Rauch) and stars in “The Bronze,” opening March 18, in which she plays a very nasty Olympic medalist living off past glory.
Your character in “The Bronze,” Hope Greggory, is a former Olympic medalist in gymnastics who has fallen on hard times. She’s sort of a foul-mouthed version of Bernadette, the character you play on “The Big Bang Theory.” Do you see the similarities?
It wasn’t intentional in the writing, but looking back, they’re kind of the opposite of each other. Bernie is calm on the outside, but boils inside, whereas Hope is angry on the outside, and sweet on the inside.
Are you a gymnastics fan? Is that one reason why you made the film?
I’m a huge gymnastics fan, and I definitely did my homework. I don’t have a gymnastics background, but my husband and I are season ticket holders to the UCLA women’s gymnastics team. We went to see how these athletes perform, but also to catch the technical aspects. And I watched as much as I could of historical performances, like Olga Korbut (who appears in the film), and I took some gymnastic lessons before we started shooting. I had this lovely Romanian coach who was coaching a bunch of young girls, and couldn’t seem to understand why this grown woman was coming in.
There’s an outrageous scene where you have wild sex, and it looks like a gymnastics routine. How did that come about?
In the original outline for the film, the sex scene was not in there. Then we got to plugging in the dialogue, we looked at each other and smiled and said of course this is what they would do. So we underlined the most crazy epic gymnastic sex scene ever. And we shot in a handicap-accessible hotel room, which already had the rings there. We were so thrilled that happened. We had an amazing gymnastics coordinator who choreographed the sex scene, which ended up like a sex ballet. Myself and Sebastian [Stan, who plays her sex partner] both had body doubles. I had a Cirque du Soleil performer, and I was in awe. I hope this will lead to creative sex in hotel rooms across the country.
We’re speaking on the day “The Big Bang Theory” will broadcast its 200th episode. How has the show remained fresh for so long?
I really credit the writing. Their writing really informs every episode, the fact they have created 200 heartfelt episodes, it’s the greatest gift to this cast. You feel like you’re getting this incredible present, the story arcs they come up with, these characters are so nuanced.
What about your character on the show? Do you ever get tired of her?
When you are working on a character there is this emotional connection to it, it becomes a part of you. It’s not different than talking to anyone, it’s another form of yourself. When doing Bernadette, I’m excited to put on her clothes and her glasses.
You started in the business doing standup. Any terrible moments that stand out?
One night onstage there was a Sweet 16 party that came in, and somehow they got alcohol, and they were just out of control. It sent me back to high school, I felt I was being picked on by the cool girls, and they intimidated me so much.
Who are your comedy idols?
Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, Gilda Radner, I had pictures of them in my room. I had records my grandmom gave me, and I listened to Bob Newhart. And watching Comic Relief with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. I started becoming obsessed with Whoopi at the time, she had a special that was on HBO, and I memorized it verbatim.
You grew up in Central New Jersey, which is Bruce Springsteen territory. Is there still a lot of Jersey in you?
Jersey runs through my blood. It’s in every part of me. I had a Jersey accent, and when I went to college, I started to do “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and I had this thick Jersey accent, and the teacher said “No, no, no.” I went to speech class right away. I feel I’m a spray can and a bottle of hair dye away from being Snooki. And I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.