- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

She swears like a sailor. She does drugs. She steals money from her father. She sleeps around heedlessly and belittles everyone around her.

She is Hope Ann Gregory — and believe it or not, she’s the “hero” of the new film “The Bronze,” opening Friday.

Melissa Rauch, who portrays Bernadette Rostenkowski on “The Big Bang Theory,” stars in “The Bronze” as the hedonistic, mean-spirited Hope Ann, a once-promising gymnast permanently sidelined by a career-killing injury. Hope lives in her small Ohio town with her ever-patient father Stan (Gary Cole), aimlessly assaying through one day after another before the opportunity comes along to tutor promising gymnastics newcomer Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson).

The 35-year-old actress co-wrote the film with her husband, Winston. When asked if there was ever any trepidation about making Hope Ann such a salty grouch, Miss Rauch pointed to a double standard that effectively “allows” male characters to be less than wholesome in movies.

“I think it is a little harder for women to have more of a free pass with being unlikable on camera [and there is] this pressure on female characters to be more likeable than males,” Miss Rauch told The Washington Times. “And some of my favorite antiheroes over the years have been female characters” such as Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” for which the Australian actress won her second Oscar last year.

Miss Rauch said that in Hollywood’s classic era, female leads could in fact be far more unsavory. She cited Bette Davis’ performance in “All About Eve” as one such exemplar.

Hope Ann’s anger and her bitterness “comes from being cut off from what she loves to do, but because of this injury, she’ll never compete again,” Miss Rauch said. “We didn’t want there to be profanity for the sake of profanity.”

In an early scene, Hope Ann gets a free pretzel from a mall salesman who defers to her status as a hometown hero. Miss Rauch said this moment was partly inspired by returning to her own New Jersey hometown after enjoying a little bit of success in Hollywood.

“Then when we came back to the mall a few months later after [the show ‘Best Week Ever’] was canceled, and the manager kind of pretended like he didn’t know me and didn’t give me a pretzel,” Miss Rauch recalls. “It was so sad and I was out of work.”

Miss Rauch and Mr. Rauch transposed the actress’ Garden State hometown for the sleepy burg of Amherst, Ohio, a friendly place where she said locals happily greeted the couple during their location scouting trips. It was the perfect setting, she said, in which to drop Hope Ann’s misery and foul mouth.

“We just talked about celebrity in a small town and what that can do to your psyche in general when you’re not in a good place,” Miss Rauch said of her onscreen avatar. “We really wanted to set it in the sports world, but there’s not that many athletes I could play considering I’m under 5 feet tall. So we decided to make her a gymnast, and then everything was sort of built upon that.”

Miss Rauch credits the District and its political theater with giving her a leg up early in her acting career. She and her husband wrote a play called “The Miss Education of Jenna Bush” about the former first daughter, an effort Miss Rauch evaluates brutally in hindsight as “self-righteous and boring.”

During the writing process, the husband-and-wife duo saw Ms. Bush and twin sister Barbara Pierce Bush giving a speech at the 2004 Republican convention to re-nominate their father for the presidency, during which they jested that their grandmother, former first lady Barbara Bush, thought that “Sex and the City” “is something that only married people do.”

“Her timing was really great, and then at one point she turned to her sister, and you can hear her say on the mic ‘They are loving us!’” Miss Rauch recalls of Ms. Bush.

That sororal interchange inspired the Rauches to write more comedy into the show, with Jenna Bush starting off her fictional nascent career teaching at a charter school in the coming-of-age drama.

The play was not a success, but Miss Rauch said gently ribbing the Bush legacy onstage got her some notices around Washington and in Los Angeles alike.

“It was really one of the first jobs that I’ve had that gave me some traction in this business,” the actress recalls. “So I’m very grateful to Jenna Bush.”

Miss Rauch said she and her husband have plans to write more films, hopefully with “The Bronze” acting as both springboard and calling card for their ambitions. One project she mentioned is about a group of now-grown Girl Scouts who reconvene in their ‘30s.

Even if it doesn’t go quite as planned, she can fall back on the phenomenal ongoing success of “The Big Bang Theory,” the geekfest sitcom now in its ninth season on CBS.

“I don’t know if it’s because the fans of the show can all relate to being an underdog at some point in their life, but they’re all just so wonderful,” Miss Rauch said. “Whenever I’m meeting [fans], I’m the one who gets weird and wants to continue the conversation longer, but I actually think they want to leave,” she added with a laugh.

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