She’s on top of the world these days with Oscar buzz for her dramatic new role as a literary forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but there was a time when Melissa McCarthy considered giving up acting. Before her big break on Gilmore Girls, she struggled for years as a stage performer in NYC. She was ready to quit, but her mother, Sandy, knew best. “I started doing other jobs, and I remember my mom calling me and saying, ‘When are you going to get back to what you do?'” Melissa recalled at a recent TimesTalks Q&A. “She was always very sweet and supportive, but it was a real ‘stand your ground and get back in there’ kind of thing, and I think it really changed my trajectory.”

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So did her mom’s reaction when Melissa was in fourth grade and stole a Chunky candy bar from a store in her hometown of Plainfield, IL. Sandy made Melissa return the purloined chocolate and confess her crime. “I was crying hysterically, and I had a big, blue fluffy coat on — I looked like a crying blueberry,” Melissa remembered with a laugh. “The kid in the store was like, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ and my mom was pounding on the glass going, ‘It’s not OK! Don’t tell her it’s OK!’ No one is more surprised that I don’t have a mug shot than myself.”

Now Melissa, 48, tries to set a good example for her daughters Vivian, 11, and Georgette, 8, that she shares with husband, Ben Falcone. “Navigating each day with my two girls, I hope I’m trailblazing,” she exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “At least in the sense of chopping things down and making the path for them a little better.”

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Melissa’s mom isn’t the only person the actress is learning important life lessons from, though. In another recent interview, Melissa revealed the real-life American author that she portrayed in her newest film, Lee Israel, also taught her a lot.

“She didn’t need you to like her,” Melissa told Us Weekly of Lee. “She was fine as she was, and that’s a huge takeaway. I was glad for the reminder. I tell my kids all the time, like, you are the one that determines your self-worth. Not what other people think of you.”

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