Learn from Melissa McCarthy's mistakes.
Today, she's one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood. But 27 years ago, McCarthy could barely pay her bills. "When I moved to New York at 20, I wish I did not discover that you can just get credit cards," the Life of the Party actress says in the May issue of Glamour (on newsstands May 1). "I had a friend—Brian Atwood, the shoe designer—and I remember him saying, 'What are you going to do, walk around New York in cheap shoes? You go to Bergdorf.'" McCarthy, who grew up in Illinois, didn't know any better. "Brian, I really blame you. I couldn't afford anything in there, but they would just give you a store card, and so we were buying wonderful things. I was like, 'I work really hard. I'll pay this off in increments.' No, you will not."
McCarthy, who dropped out of fashion school to pursue a career in comedy, didn't learn to manage her money properly for several years. "I remember when you could still get a $5 bill out of an ATM and I couldn't get it because [my balance] was under $5. I would never quite have the money for rent, so I would call my mom and dad or my sister and say, 'This is how much I'm short.' They never made me feel guilty, because they knew I wasn't lying around doing nothing. And then I thought, 'I don't want to continue this pattern. I want to be able to pay the phone bill and not panic,'" she says. Eventually, she got a job as a production coordinator, giving her a steady paycheck. "It was the first time I stopped calling my parents...It was an amazing feeling."
After her breakout role in the 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, McCarthy became one of the most sought after stars in Hollywood. While her rate increased, she didn't put much stock into how much "value" was placed upon her. "There were some jobs when I was paid what most [of my co-stars were]. And then people who climbed the ladder with me were suddenly making 15 times what I made. I was like, 'Wait, wait, wait.' I thought, 'This is based on bulls--t. This is not based on anything factual to me.' I hated that feeling of not being in control and not being able to do anything about it. I think that feeling is what keeps the fight in me." When it comes to contract negotiations, "Having a say in something means as much to me as getting a fair price."
More importantly, McCarthy says, "I never want to lose my voice."
"When you finally are like, 'Thanks so much for asking, but I'm going to pass'—that's power. That's easier said as you get a little more power, but as you start up the ladder in whatever field you're in, you have to walk if people won't give you what you're worth," she tells Glamour. "Once people don't respect you enough to give you what you're worth, they're never going to."
Finding success later in life helped McCarthy keep things in perspective. "When you spend 20 years working your butt off, you know yourself better," she says. "If you're handed everything you want at 19 or 20, you may actually believe all of the people who are like, 'You're amazing.'" Considering her dreams came true, "There is not a single day that goes by that I don't think, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.' And there is no world where I confuse the fact that I've gotten lucky with the idea that there's something special about me. I think entitlement is a really, really scary thing to possess. For me, it's like, 'No. I've gotten lucky, and I've worked hard.'"