Busy Philipps interview: “Hollywood has just been fired”

Wthen she was 21 Busy Philipps was cast in the fifth season of the groundbreaking Nineteen teen series Dawson’s Creek, playing Katie Holmes’ hedonistic college roommate. She brought a much-needed vim to a flickering series, but behind the scenes came under scrutiny. The message from certain members of the crew was clear: she had to change the way she looked. She did not understand. On her previous series, Freaks and Geeks, another pioneering if less soap opera and wonderful teen series, she was asked to be nothing but herself. She and the rest of her cast members – future stars such as Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and James Franco – were hired. because of their grains, their bodies and their perceived authenticity, not because they might look great in a Gap advertisement. There were occasional things on the cast – Franco was a bully, she wrote in her 2018 memoir, This is only going to hurt – but otherwise it was happy.

“I was surrounded by creators who didn’t appreciate the kinds of things other showrunners and networks were pushing on young women at the time,” Philipps recalls today over Zoom, her sticky West Coast pull just slightly obscured by the police sirens outside her. Manhattan apartment. “And then I went into a [show] where was like: oh, wait, my body is not in order with you? My beauty marks are ugly? Do I have too many of them? Do you want me to change? “

The 42-year-old says her “innate sense of self” prevented her from fully decaying the messaging of some of the show’s crew. What was fixed, however, was that these things were asked of her altogether. We’re talking about that time – the late nineties and early nineties – because of Philipps ’current series, a gloriously carefree comedy called Girls5Eva. She poses as one-fifth of the fictional girl group of the title. One minute they were the most popular band of 2001, the next they released a single called “Quit Flying Planes at My Heart” a day before 9/11. Twenty years later, one of the five died in an accident in an endless swimming pool, while the other four are forgotten remnants of Y2K nonsense. Of course, they are planning a return.

The show bears all the hallmarks of producer Tina Fey, in her fast-paced dialogue, manic pop culture references and a penchant for the bizarre (Philipps Summer’s character credits her outrageously tense new face not to surgical thread lift but to “Japanese sweet potatoes and gratitude”; Wickie by Renée Elise Goldsberry – is terrified that the celebrity foot fetish website Wikifeet has finally spotted her deformed right foot). But it is also a spectacle of the trauma of being a young woman during the new millennium. In repeated flashbacks, we see the group sexed by a sensible press and forced into inappropriate interviews, misogynistic rivalries, and endless self-loathing. “Looking back that time as a Gen-X woman,” Philipps sighs, “no wonder we were all a mess!”

Philipps is amazing Girls5Eva, giving Summer a critically sleepy speech pattern that brings to mind a helium balloon filled with vodka. She should be unbearable, but Philipps gives her soul. That was always her gift as an actor, though. How Freaks and Geeks‘s resident bully Kim Kelly, she is a gum-wearing monster who is evil to the show’s hero Lindsay (Cardellini). But it’s all a mask, a clever survival tactic to hide deep insecurity and loneliness. You end up adoring her. Just like her role as Courteney Cox’s drunken, wise beast in the cult comedy Puma City. She’s so funny in the role that it’s not even that weird when she runs off into the sunset with Cox’s college-aged son.

All that said, Philipps wasn’t sure if she wanted to act anymore when Fey contacted her for Girls5Eva in 2020. “Hollywood just made me smaller,” she laughs. “I failed to see the value in it. I did it for so long and I was sick of the feeling it gave me. Acting is my first love and it makes me happy, but I had to say no to all the things in the industry that surround it. The unrealistic expectations of my appearance, my body, how that would make me feel … ”.

I was so vulnerable to the industry. I wished it so badly. I would cry at night longing for a chance to be on a TV show.

Those feelings coincided with her becoming much more famous for being Busy Philipps than for playing fictional characters. Long before any other celebrity started doing it, she turned her Instagram account into a lucrative business. In 2017, she began advertising brands and products to her millions of followers – in the process earning much more money than as an actor – and also sharing her daily life on her Instagram Story. It’s not entirely sincere – days before our interview, she and her husband, screenwriter Marc Silverstein, announced that they had been privately separated for more than a year – but it’s at least a compelling illusion. Before talking to her, I see her walking around New York, dancing in her office dressed in a T-shirt by Tori Amos and listening to Haim, Sufjan Stevens and the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack. She says playing herself is a natural extension of time when she has exclusively played others.

“One of my biggest gifts as an artist …” she begins, before bursting into a grimace. “Sorry, I’m sorry I even said those words. But as a person who creates things, it’s all about communication for me. ”

When she was hired as an actor years ago, usually as the “third or fourth or seventh female character” in a project, she would always try to find something in the role that felt real. “The trick was to link it to something that resonated with me, even if it was stupid or excessive. So on my Instagram, I play a version of myself, but it’s really important for me to always be true to it. “

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Philipps with Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles and Paula Pell on “Girls5Eva”

(Zach Dilgard / Pavo)

I confess that beforeGirls5EvaI missed seeing her act, despite a presence in the media that felt almost constant at one point (interview show; memoir; on the red carpet with her BFF and once). that of Dawson co-star Michelle Williams; panting from the audience at the Academy Awards when La La Land stole briefly Moonlightthe best film Oscar).

Her eyes widen. Not that I was sick of her, I add. “No, I see!” she laughs. She says she was tagged in a stranger’s conversation on social media a few days ago. “This person was like, ‘Ugh, I’ve been following her before, but now she’s just bothering me – she’s too much.’ And I’m like, I get it! I’d also like to not follow myself sometimes, do you know what I mean? ”

Philipps is accustomed to receiving such a reaction. “I had a boyfriend once tell me I laughed too loud,” she says. “And then a friend who told me people would think I was prettier if I was calmer.” She rolls her eyes.

Nicknamed Occupied by a babysitter – her birth name is Elizabeth – Philipps was always moving, walking, refusing to sit still. She gravitated toward acting from an early age, appearing in school plays and begging her parents to help her find an agent. By the time she moved to Los Angeles from her native Arizona in 1998, she was desperate for some success. Freaks and Geeks, her first-ever job, proved to be a safe haven in a time that, in retrospect, left her wide open to exploitation. “I was so lucky to get that at 19 years old,” she says. “Especially at the time, I was so vulnerable to the industry. I wanted it so badly. I would cry at night longing for a chance to be on a TV show.”

While Philipps always worked – no more ER here, a supporting role in the infamous race-sharing comedy White Chicks there – only Instagram she started making real money. Her success on the platform led to her memoir and interview show, Busy Tonight, which ran for a year. She is currently hosting a podcast with her writer friend Caissie St Onge, who is wildly swinging between copious foam and existential despair. Anger over rejection of abortion rights, trans-rights, and health care sits comfortably alongside talk of attending elegant parties and theorizing about Dawson’s Creek restart.

Philipps (middle), along with James Franco, Seth Rogen, Linda Cardellini and Jason Segel in “Freaks and Geeks”

(Dreamworks / Apatow Prod / Kobal / Shutterstock)

Such a whip whip has been on her mind lately. She admits she almost canceled our interview, unsure if she should talk about stupid comedy days after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. “You have these moments where you’re like, what am I going to do now?” Promoting a TV show? “She shakes her head.” It’s like going from talking about Girls5Evawhich is such a light in my life, to have to hold my child because they have a panic attack, and children die in a brutal way here due to the inaction of a small number of people who also systematically strip the straight away from women and transgender people, and is it’s just complicated and very hard to know where to go and how to show up for these things. ”She is breathless.

She still has many of the same struggles as when she bounced between Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek all those years ago. People often expect different things from her: true Busy Philipps, and idealized. Social media has inevitably made this more complicated.

“It’s the truth about me as a person, as an actor, as a mom and wife,” she begins. “Ex-wife or whatever. A friend, an activist, a mouthpiece … and then what it’s all about. Those are two separate things. In a pop culture sense, the idea of ​​’Busy Philipps’ is, as it were, shamelessly honest and, like, ‘Let me tell you how it is!’ But I’m also a real person. And it’s hard sometimes to keep appearing in the same very truthful and honest ways. “

She plays with her necklace and stares from a camera, before snapping back to face me.

“At this point, though,” she sniffs, “like what the fuck do I have to lose?”

The first three episodes of “Girls5Eva” season two arrive on Peacock, exclusively on Sky and NOW, on Monday, June 6, where additional episodes fall weekly.

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