For Miranda Cosgrove, inspiration came from a fifth-grade infatuation. In Despicable Me 2, out Wednesday, 20-year-old Cosgrove voices a tween named Margo who falls hard and fast for a slick, leather-jacketed boy named Antonio. Cosgrove says the performance was informed by a true fifth-grade crush on a kid named Curtis, who, crushingly, moved to Florida and left her in Los Angeles. She's been trying to find him on Facebook.
"I was so excited he was going to be in middle school with me, and then he moved right before," she said. Thankfully, she didn't have to miss him every day at school because she never attended sixth grade — she switched to homeschooling, allowing her the time to be a series regular on Drake & Josh and, later, the star of iCarly.
"Definitely I've had that feeling before where you just think someone's so cute, and you can't really speak; you keep messing up everything that you're saying because you just like somebody so much," Cosgrove says of her and Margo's shared stutter.
After Margo gets her heart broken in the movie, she puts on a large hat made of tortilla chips, with a guacamole-filled brim. Cosgrove herself has never drowned her sorrows in guacamole, "But I really want one of those hats."
Cosgrove is at a pretty different life stage from lovelorn Margo — she just finished her first year at the University of Southern California, where she's studying film and, in the time-honored former child star tradition, looking for more adult roles.
"With this movie, a lot of adults like it. It has a little bit of an edge to it, which makes it cool," Cosgrove says.
Some of the edge of the first Despicable Me came from the nontraditional family structure it heartwarmingly portrayed. Supervillain Gru becomes a single dad with three adopted daughters, and the movie ends with Gru narrating a story about himself: "And now he knows he could never part from those three little kittens that changed his heart," he says. There's nothing to suggest that their family is incomplete, and yet in Despicable Me 2, Gru is looking for love and marriage. Incidentally, Cosgrove's character in iCarly also had a nontraditional family — Carly lived in an apartment with her older brother, so she's done some meditating on two-parent homes.
"I definitely liked that about the first movie, that it's kind of all about how you don't have to have certain pieces to have a family," Cosgrove says. "A family can be a lot of different things."
Still, Cosgrove says she was glad Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig played Gru's love interest. "If they were going to have Gru get married, then she was the best person they could have chosen."
The formulaic tendency of family-oriented movies is one of the things Cosgrove is trying to get away from.
"I definitely would like to be a part of TV shows and movies that have interesting storylines that are kind of different from some of the stuff I've done in the past, now that I'm older," she said.
She's moving in that direction already, having signed on to an as-yet unaired pilot ordered by NBC called Girlfriend in a Coma, a dark comedy in which she plays a moody teenager whose mother gave birth to her while comatose, and eventually wakes up when her daughter, Cosgrove's character, is 17. The show, she says, is the first thing she's done that's geared toward an adult audience.
"It was a different character than anything I've done," she said. "She's much angrier. I really liked that about it."