TIME

Melissa McCarthy finds the heart of a notorious criminal

Lee (McCarthy) and Jack (Grant) bond over a stiff drink—or 10

LEE ISRAEL WAS AN EXTRAORDINARILY DIFFICULT woman to like, but Melissa McCarthy loved her instantly. Not that they ever actually met; Israel, an author and literary forger, died in 2014. But McCarthy fell hard for the quintessential New Yorker depicted—in all her desperate, curmudgeonly glory—in filmmaker Nicole Holofcener’s script for the big-screen adaptation of Israel’s memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?

“I was shocked that I so quickly cared about her, although I didn’t have a real reason to,” McCarthy says between sips of a latte on a brisk autumn day in Manhattan. Even her friends knew Israel as a bitter woman with a drinking problem—and that was before she turned to crime. Her early successes, with in-depth biographies of women like Estée Lauder and Tallulah Bankhead, had given way to poverty and isolation by the early 1990s. “I wasn’t sure why her actions weren’t matching up to how

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