Molly Shannon Opened Up About The Tragedy That Shaped Her Most Famous ‘SNL’ Character

Molly Shannon has been on a streak lately, with two big HBO Max shows this month: The Other Two, which is about to return, and The White Lotus, where she played the terrible mom of Jack Lacy’s terrible son. (Though she arguably wasn’t even the show’s worst character.) It’s a reminder of how she first broke through: on SNL in the mid-‘90s, thanks in part to her most famous character, intense Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher. Now Shannon has opened up about how that character was partly inspired by an unspeakable tragedy that happened to her when she was young.

In a new interview with The Los Angeles Times, the performer talked about how when she was four years old, her mother, younger sister, and a cousin were all killed in a car accident. Her father, who had been driving, was under the influence at the time. He survived but was left with major injuries.

“I was very heartbroken and very sad and just trying to hold it all together as a kid,” Shannon said. “There’s no way that you could feel that type of deep pain about your mother and your sister being dead, so you just hold it all in, and it comes up later in life.”

Years later, in an improv class during college, Shannon created Gallagher, who was unpopular, moody, accident prone, fitfully hyper, and confident in her eccentricities. Shannon eventually brought it to SNL, where the character appeared nearly 20 times between 1995 and 2001, and twice more in the ensuing years. She even got her own movie, Superstar, in 1999.

Shannon revealed that the character “was really based on me, how I felt after the accident — really nervous, accident-prone, wanting to please, f— up but full of hope,” she told the paper. “I just exaggerated everything I felt as a little girl and turned it into a character.”

She would get so into the role that she’d do her own stunts, claiming she felt no pain when she threw herself into stage furniture and props, only to wake up the next morning wondering where all the bruises came from.

“Isn’t that weird?” Shannon said. “I didn’t care if I cut myself or I made myself bleed. I did not give a s—. I looked at it like punk rock. I was reckless, and because of what I went through, I just didn’t care about anything.”

(Via The Los Angeles Times)