Dana Edelson/NBCU/Getty
Liam Berry and Mary Green
August 23, 2017 07:25 PM

Before Kate McKinnon was busting ghosts and guts alike she was, like many starry-eyed, young comedians, just trying to get an audition for Saturday Night Live.

The Leap! star reveals in PEOPLE’s new issue the secret behind the nerve-wracking SNL audition that would come to shape her fabulous career. “It was very scary. If you’re a sketch comedian, SNL is the job you want to get,” she says. “It’s so important in the history of American culture, and it was such an important part of my life growing up.”

Even though the stakes were incredibly high for McKinnon, she still felt a sense of wonder from just being there. “The first time you walk in the building, it’s like you’re seeing the Wizard of Oz,” she recalls. “Except he’s not fake, he’s real, he’s sitting at a table, and you’re doing comedy for him. It’s a defining moment in a life.”

FROM PEN: Funniest Confessions Ever! Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon Talk Cat Hair, Naked Binge-Watching and ‘Fashion Sweats’

That wizard in question is likely SNL creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels, who McKinnon says gives aspiring cast members a very limited amount of time to impress him.

Read more about Kate McKinnon’s past, present and future in this week’s PEOPLE Magazine, on newsstands Friday.

“You’ve got five minutes to do whatever you want,” the Rough Night star says of the process. “So I did like five impressions and a couple of characters. I honestly don’t remember all of them. Penelope Cruz was one of them.”

Her Justin Bieber impression was not part of her audition however. “Justin Bieber evolved after years of working on the show,” she says, and still has nothing but total adoration for SNL. “It always feels urgent, and like something amazing is happening,” she says.

The comic stars in the upcoming animated film Leap!, which is about an orphan girl who dreams of being a world-class ballerina. McKinnon, who voices three characters, including the villain Regine, loved not having to worry about hair and makeup while working on the movie. “That is absolutely the best part,” she says. “It’s nice to see a tale about a girl who is not trying to get married. She has a passion and something she wants to accomplish in the world.”

Leap! opens in theaters Aug. 25.

 

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