It’s hard to extrapolate Rachael Harris from Melissa, the world’s most hellacious girlfriend, who she portrayed with piercing precision in 2009’s The Hangover. But beneath that flaxen hair, the everywoman good looks and Megan Mullally-esque timbre exists a woman as comfortable playing a sex-hungry evangelist as she is Bradley Cooper’s straight man.
When we caught up with Harris—whose wrenchingly satisfying drama, Natural Selection, opens in New York today and elsewhere May 20—she was on break from filming on the Warner Brothers lot. Despite the spotty connection, it was clear that the hard-to-define film was a labor of love. Shot over eighteen days (“Three six-day weeks,” she explains), Harris disappears into Linda, an affected, but ultimately likeable, Texas Christian who finds herself chasing after her ailing husband’s biological sperm baby. Naturally.
ELLE: You went to a Christian college. Were you able to pull from that experience?
Rachael Harris: It wasn’t pervasive in the culture [at Otterbein]. The school was definitely Lutheran, but we didn’t take any classes in religion. I also wasn’t really raised in a very religious household, but when I was young, my dad moved to Alabama, where he was very involved in his Christianity. I spent a lot of time going to church with him.
ELLE: You and costar Matt O’Leary had palpable chemistry. He is nearly twenty years your junior…what was that like?
RH: We just really liked each other from the get-go. We didn’t read together before we shot the film so Robbie [Pickering, the director] was like, ‘I hope this works!’ The key to it was that Matt and I both knew we had a short amount of time to get it done. We just had to jump in. We had to have each other’s back.
ELLE: Would you ever go for a much younger man in real life?
RH: I have dated younger men. It’s interesting because in the beginning you’re like, ‘Age doesn’t matter,’ and then you realize you’re in really different places. My best friend [Curb Your Enthusiasm's] Cheryl Hines once said that when it comes to dating younger men, ‘You will always be the older woman, looking over your shoulder. When someone is older than you, you will always be the young one.’ I like older men, but never say never.
ELLE: Linda’s wardrobe was so spot on…how important was getting her wardrobe just right?
RH: It was vitally important. A lot of those clothes belonged to Robbie’s mother. How creepy is that? We made Linda’s ‘Death by Chocolate’ t-shirt based on one his mom wore. It was really important to be able to wear those jeans, but not make them jokey. Linda doesn’t look in the mirror; her clothes were purely for comfort.
ELLE: What’s one thing you want people to know about this movie?
RH: A lot of people see the trailer and think it’s a drama, but it’s more than that. It’s life. It’s real. Whatever you think this movie is, I guarantee you, you will be surprised.
ELLE: Bonus question. How in the world did you keep a straight face during the “Paging Dr. Fa**ot” scene in The Hangover?
RH: It was really hard. When we were filming, I could actually hear Bradley saying it through the window. What it comes down to is that I respected [director] Todd [Phillips] so much that I didn’t want to break in front of him. I was just scared. I didn’t want Todd to be like, ‘Amateur.’