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Kristen Wiig was studying for a degree in art at the University of Arizona when she stumbled across her vocation.

She'd just been offered a summer job as a graphic artist at a cosmetic surgery practice, which involved showing prospective patients what they might look like after their procedure.

The day before she was due to start, she later recalled, "I remember looking around and thinking, 'I don't want this to be my life.' Then I looked in the mirror and was like, 'OK, if you could do anything, what would it be?

In LA, she worked at a clothing store, a hot-dog stand and a farmers' market.

She answered phones at a law firm, arranged flowers, decorated interiors and even waited tables in the executive dining room at Universal Studios.

These days, however, those same executives are buying her lunch.

Bridesmaids, Wiig's first film as writer and star, opened in the UK this week, and has already made more than $140m (£88m) for Universal in the US – almost five times its budget.

It was produced by comedy impresario Judd Apatow, whose films are often accused of being interested solely in the male point of view. Wiig plays Annie, a thirtysomething whose love life is failing almost as spectacularly as her cupcake business.

When her best friend announces her engagement, Annie has to help her prepare for the happiest day of her life, while desperately trying to keep her own from falling apart.

And if that doesn't sound like a situation ripe with comic possibility, then imagine six women suffering from simultaneous food poisoning, and trapped in a high-class bridal parlour with just one loo between them. Like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler before her, she is an alumna of the long-running US comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live; all three were highly respected TV comedians before they broadened their range on the big screen.

SNL was once known as a factory for male comedy stars: John Belushi, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd.

Now its best known performers are female – and Wiig is the veteran of the current cast.

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