No one would ever expect Melissa McCarthy to hold back when it comes to getting laughs. Yet for years, she says, Hollywood had certain expectations for female comedians. Being funny "couldn't be through your personality or actions, you just had to look crazy," she tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.
Sitting down for an exclusive interview with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle (see the video here), McCarthy says her journey has been a lesson in pushing those limits. "I just think that we've gotten rid of, luckily, a lot of those guidelines," she adds. "Funny is funny, and it can come in 8 billion different shades and flavors, so I think it's silly to kind of limit it."
Now with her first summer action film, Spy, opening No. 1 at the box office, McCarthy is proving herself to be one of Hollywood's most bankable stars. "I'm having the time of my life," she says.
The film teamed her up again with her Bridesmaids and The Heat director, Paul Feig, and took McCarthy's love for dress-up to a whole new level. "I just think that wigs and makeup and costumes completely transform me," says the actress, who plays Susan Cooper, an office wallflower-turned-secret agent. "When I read a character that I really, really love, I know immediately what they look like. It's like I want to 100 percent become that person."
McCarthy shares behind-the-scenes secrets of her funniest roles and the bold decisions (like quitting fashion school to become a stand-up comic) that shaped her career. The mom to daughters Vivian, 8, and Georgie, 5, with her husband, actor-director Ben Falcone, 41, also reveals details of her new clothing line, Melissa McCarthy Seven7, which hits stores this fall. It will come in sizes 4 to 28 – "because women do not stop at a size 12" – and is inspired by what she loves to wear. "You look much better when you're comfy," says the star, who's been wowing on red carpets recently in her own designs.
"From grade school until age 20, I had one thought in my head, which was doing women's clothing," McCarthy adds. "To get to come back to it, is kind of crazy. It's pretty dreamy."
For much more of McCarthy's exclusive interview – on fame, fashion and making her own rules in Hollywood – pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Reporting by JESS CAGLE and KATE COYNE