Sundance 2015: Melissa Rauch goes from 'Big Bang Theory' to angry gymnast

Melissa Rauch does an about-face from 'Big Bang Theory' to play a foul-mouthed former Olympian in 'The Bronze'

On the surface, Melissa Rauch, a New Jersey-raised ‎actress who in recent years has found success as a pint-sized scientist on "The Big Bang Theory," would have little in common with a washed-up Olympic gymnast intent on milking every last drop of her receding fame.

But when Rauch and husband/writing partner Winston Rauch set out to pen their first feature--"The Bronze," about that very subject -- the actress' background came in surprisingly handy.

‎"When Winston and I would go back to visit my parents when I was just having a little bit of success on TV [years ago], and we'd go to the food court and get a free Wetzel's Pretzel or some garlic knots," Rauch said. "And I was so excited and maybe a little cocky about it And then the show would be canceled and I would go back and there would be a total cut-off on the free pretzels or garlic knots."

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She added that "the whole idea of putting celebrity up on a pedestal‎ and then chewing them up and spitting them out was really fascinating to us."

Hope Annabelle Gregory -- the tracksuit-wearing, vitriol-spewing former bronze medalist played by Rauch -- isn't on too many pedestals in the new film.

Still living with her postman father (Gary Cole, in mustachioed glory) a decade after her 2004 moment of Olympic triumph, she has all the qualities of an angry old man as she pushes around her father, demands respect from anyone she meets in her small Ohio town and generally demonstrates as much patience as a toddler at a curling competition.

But when a former ‎coach dies and leaves instructions in her will for Hope to coach a rising prodigy--with a massive cash prize as compensation--she sets out to help the young talent as only Hope can.

The Rauches say they‎ were fascinated by the idea of a bronze medal as a symbol of mediocrity.

"The bronze medal to Hope Gregory means everything. She was going for the gold and she ended up with this trophy and she is incredibly proud of it," said Winston Rauch--despite it not meaning nearly as much to everyone else. [You can see the full video of the interview with the Rauches above.]

The movie--directed by Bryan Buckley and seeking distribution in Park City--‎has plenty of Easter eggs for Olympic fans (including cameos by the likes of Dominique Moceanu). There's also some stellar supporting work from Thomas Middleditch, who proves he can go from comically overwhelmed Silicon Valley entrepreneur to comically anxious gym operator as cleanly as a Mary Lou Retton dismount.

But it's Rauch who steals the show, morphing her lovable network-TV shrillness into something more unrecognizably dark, and more along the lines of her theater and Upright Citizens Brigade forays.

The actress said she knew what a switch it was from the four-eyed truth bombs of her CBS work (though voice and accent are again a factor).

"I hope they're on board for it," she said of her TV fans. "It was definitely a departure," noting the joys of "stepping into someone else's shoes for a little bit and getting to say thing I wouldn't dream of saying [on the show]."

The film's piece de resistance is a very un-"Big Bang"-like sex scene in which two gymnasts act out an R-rated version of the horizontal bar and pommel horse. There's a Borat-like quality to it--just when the naked antics couldn't go any further, they go further than that.

It was catnip to the Rauches, who note their own foot-plus height disparity gave them some experience with bedroom calisthenics--maybe.

"We like to joke around that it’s writing what we know," Melissa Rauch said. "But it’s all lies‎."

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

 

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