Actress Busy Philipps plays Laurie Keller, the brassy assistant of Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), on the ABC comedy Cougar Town. Prior to that, she had memorable roles on such TV series as Dawson’s Creek, E.R., Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Love Inc., Undeclared and the critically acclaimed Freaks and Geeks, from Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, and in such feature films as He’s Just Not That Into You, Made of Honor and White Chicks. Now, she can also be seen in the new Atom.com web series, Jason Nash Is Married, in which comedian Jason Nash takes vignettes from his popular one-man show about married life as a struggling artist.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, Busy Philipps talked about the freedom and creativity in doing a web series, the escapism she gets through her hilarious character on Cougar Town, their upcoming Halloween and Thanksgiving episodes, and juggling her career with motherhood. She also reminisced about how incredible it is to still be remembered for her work as Kim Kelly on Freaks and Geeks, which she did over 10 years ago. Check out what she had to say after the jump. You can click here to watch the first episode of Jason Nash Is Married.
How did you get involved with this web series, Jason Nash Is Married?
BUSY PHILIPPS: Jason Nash is a friend of mine, and I love doing suff like this. I’ve done some other things for friends. I just like working with people that I respect and think are really funny. I had done a similar thing with him a couple years ago that was more like a pilot presentation that he shot himself and was shopping around. I believe that’s what Atom bought the web series off of.
Jason is just someone that I’ve known socially and through his stand-up, seeing him do different comedy shows, and I just really like him. I think he’s a funny guy and he has a unique perspective on being a dad and a husband. So, when he asked me to do it and I read the scripts and they made me laugh out loud, I told my husband, “This is so weird and kind of dark, and I love it!” It worked out timing wise because I was on my hiatus from Cougar Town and I didn’t really want to work over the summer, since I have a child myself who’s just two. It was a couple days of work and I got to hang out with friends, have fun and laugh. It was just a win-win situation.
How did you initially become aware of Jason Nash and his comedy?
PHILIPPS: What’s really strange is that I can’t honestly remember how we met. Possibly this guy Derek Waters, who’s a comedian, introduced us. I know him socially and had also done another web series with him, Derek and Simon: The Show, that Bob Odenkirk directed. Or, it was through UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). I’m not really sure. But, for people who enjoy being funny, it’s not that large of a community and everyone sort of knows each other. Even though I do a more traditional type of being funny on television, I still know a lot of comedians and stand-ups and improv actors.
Once you had worked with him, did you find that your comedy complemented each other?
PHILIPPS: I think it does. I’m essentially playing his wife, who’s a real person, and part of why their relationship is so funny is because he just spins his wheels, and she keeps very grounded and reminds him that he’s a father and a husband and he has responsibilities. It’s a very relatable portrayal of a relationship and marriage. It’s a little unusual, only in that in our web series, the wife is the one that’s the breadwinner of the family. She’s the head of the household and is whipping him into shape.
In playing someone who is a real person, did you talk to her at all about how she would want to be portrayed?
PHILIPPS: No, it still is a character. I’m not doing an impression or anything, and it’s more my take on it. It’s kind of like how I am as a wife, a little bit. You have to call each other out on your shit in a successful marriage, and that’s what I do in this instance.
Do you think that everyone can relate to this viewpoint of marriage, or is it a very obvious male point of view?
PHILIPPS: I don’t know. I found it relatable with the kind of marriage and relationship I’m in. It certainly is from Jason’s perspective, so he does have some fantasies and dream sequences that are clearly inside his character’s head, but I think we can all relate to that.
Do you get a lot of creative freedom in doing a web series? Is there also a lot of improvisation involved?
PHILIPPS: For sure, yeah. As an actor, it’s always fun when you’re able to feel like there’s freedom to explore things and try out jokes and be funny. Certainly, when you are shooting things like these web series, which generally don’t cost a whole lot of money to produce and make, you have more time and more freedom. It’s a very limited crew. I think there was a camera guy, a director and a sound guy on set, as opposed to the production here at ABC’s Cougar Town, which has hundreds of people, so yeah, it is freeing. You feel like you’re able to explore things and try things out. Also, it’s just fun. It’s just exercise. It’s just, “Let’s not take it too seriously. Let’s have a good time.” It is what it is and I hope people enjoy it and respond, but if they don’t, that’s fine too.
Why do you think it is that recognizable talent seems to be getting involved with doing web series now?
PHILIPPS: The truth is that anyone can do one. You can be in Ohio and shoot your own web series, if you want. If this had been around when I was in high school, I can guarantee you that my friends and I would have been shooting our own television shows and putting them online and trying to get as many hits as possible. As far as people working in other aspects of the industry doing these as well, I think people are just getting more of their content online. I know so many people who actually just watch television on their computers now and don’t even really watch their TV anymore. I think people are just relying more on the Internet now for all of their entertainment content, and they’re easy to digest and watch because they’re short, so you don’t have to invest as much of your time into watching a show. You can just get a little snippet of funny. As far as recognizable faces are concerned, I think they feel it’s a chance to do something different and show a different side in a very easy way. It’s something that’s really quite painless. You don’t really get paid, but it’s more for the freedom and the fun of it. I’ve done several.
Does working on web series give you the desire to develop your own, at some point, or is it just fun to come in for a couple days and work on someone else’s?
PHILIPPS: My husband (screenwriter Marc Silverstein) is actually doing one right now, with a close friend of ours, that I’m going to probably be in. We’ve talked about doing my own web series before, but truthfully, my job on Cougar Town is a full-time job and being a mom is a full-time job and, in addition to that, I try to make time for things like not going crazy, being a good wife and having a social life, so for me, the priority right now is not to do a web series. That’s why I do like to pop in and help my friends out when I can, or be a part of their projects. For me, the time to invest in it really exceeds the time that I’m capable of giving right now because I want to do all these other things.
Are you looking to do any writing projects with your husband, or do you try to keep work and family separate?
PHILIPPS: My husband has no desire to work with me, don’t get it twisted. He gets paid a lot of money to write giant movies. He’s not into humoring me with my projects. But, that being said, I did have the story credit on Blades of Glory, and writing is something that I’ve always been interested in pursuing more. It’s just, for me, writing is difficult. It’s a time commitment, it’s labor and I’d have to get myself to sit down and actually do the work and outline. I have great ideas, but the follow through is always really difficult for me. As my kid gets a little bit older, if I feel like I have a little bit more time on my hands, I’d like to get more into developing ideas and writing things. But, as it stands, it’s so hard to find the time. I only have one kid and it’s hard with one kid. I can’t imagine people who have more than that. Christa Miller and Bill Lawrence, who are on my show, have three children. That just amazes me.
Is it more difficult for you to play the carefree single girl now that you’re a mom with a family, or can you still relate to that?
PHILIPPS: She’s such an over-the-top character. For this episode, I look like a fembot from the ‘60s, and it’s not our Halloween episode. She’s fun and hilarious and weird, and I get to say ridiculously funny things as Laurie. It’s really great to play that, and to be able to come to work and have that escape. It’s total escapism for me. It’s not any harder or easier than before I had a kid. It’s tough when, like for the past three episodes have really been a lot of work, so I haven’t been able to see my daughter as much and she is really feeling it. I do get a little bogged down in guilt. I feel like a bad mom ‘cause I’m not there for her all the time, but she’s going to be okay. I have faith that she’ll be all right.
Is there anything coming up with your character that you’re looking forward to fans getting to see?
PHILIPPS: We’ve just gone through a couple of really dark episodes when my character got dumped. I said to Bill Lawrence, “This is not fair! I told you that I didn’t want to cry.” And, he had me crying. But, she’s just hanging in there, after her break-up. We have the Halloween episode coming up, and then the Thanksgiving episode. There are lots of “Very Special Cougar Town” episodes about to happen. We’re having a good time and we like our quirky, weird show. We’re glad that people are catching onto it. It’s nice.
Having such a knack for comedy, is it something that’s just always come easy for you? Was there a time that you realized that you were really funny?
PHILIPPS: I don’t know. I’ve always liked being funny and making people laugh. I was a cut-up when I was a kid, and was always doing bits for my friends and family. I remember doing pratfalls on the playground in fourth grade for my friend and really hurting my hip. I think that’s why my hips are still wacky, to this day. And, I always did theater and loved being funny. I actually feel like, for a lot of my career, I wasn’t able to show my comedic range. I did a lot of dramas and dramedies. I was on E.R. That’s not generally thought of as a funny show. So, I’m really grateful for the opportunity now, in the past couple of years, to show my funnier side. I like doing it. For me, coming to work and laughing is so much more preferable than coming to work and having to cry over a corpse or something. That’s a drag. It gets super dark. I did a bunch of intense indie movies when I was starting out in my career and I was always in a bad mood because, when you’re dealing with the subject matter of losing your baby, getting raped and all that stuff, it’s not fun to go through. You really have to go there. So, it’s much easier to come to work, get dressed up like a fembot, shake your boobs a little and make people laugh. I’m just kidding. I’m really being disparaging to what I do.
Having worked in film and television, on the web and even while you were pregnant, do you consider yourself a workaholic, or is it just about the character and the project for you?
PHILIPPS: I just take jobs that will have me. I’m an actress that works. I’m not an actress who’s ever waited. By that, I don’t mean waiting tables. I mean that there are some people that don’t take jobs because they think that they’re too good for them or that they aspire to do something greater than the job that they’re being presented with. I’ve just never been from that school. I wanted to work and I wanted to get better. I think every job that you do gives you the opportunity to learn something new. As hokey as that sounds, that’s why I have a problem saying no to my friends. That’s why I do so many random comedy shows, at midnight at UCB, or my friend’s show at Largo that I love to do. I think it’s all an opportunity to hone your craft and to get better at what you do. This is my job. My job is to work.
Does having a family change your career plan, in any way, or affect the type of roles that you want to play now?
PHILIPPS: It doesn’t affect the type of roles that I want to play, but during my hiatus from Cougar Town this past summer, at first, I was really convinced that I wanted to go do a movie. I actually tested for a movie and didn’t get it. And then, once I didn’t get it, I realized that I was actually more relieved than anything else because I wanted to be with my kid. We had this incredible four months of mommy-baby time where we went to the zoo and I went to all of her class with her and we did all the stuff that I’m not able to do during the year, when I’m shooting the TV show. Wedged in there, I did my two days of work with Jason. That was a happy accident because I was actively pursuing work and then realized that it wasn’t the best idea for me to be working over my hiatus. And, I don’t know what I’ll do this year. I would like to do a movie. I just put myself on tape for a movie that would shoot simultaneously to Cougar Town. I don’t know. I think I’m crazy and out of my mind. But, this is my job and you’ve got to go while people are giving. At some point, it’s going to stop, and then you’re just the sad lady at the grocery store.
Is there a type of role or film that you’d like to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
PHILIPPS: I don’t know. There is definitely a quieter, more realistic acting that I’m capable of, that I rarely get to do in television, but sometimes get to do in movies, so it would probably be more of a film type role. I like being softer and quieter, and more real and toned down. We’ll see how that all pans out. I’d really like to do a play in New York. I perform in these stage shows here in L.A. and, almost every time, I feel like I’m going to throw up. For me, it feels to me like it’s something I need to do, as an actor. I need to work that out. I need to see what that’s about and really do it. I certainly did plays in high school and community theater, and I want to get back on the stage.
When you did Freaks and Geeks more than 10 years ago, could you ever have imagined what kind of lasting impression that show would have with its fans?
PHILIPPS: No. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that was going to happen. At the time, we felt like we were doing something really great, but no one got it and it was too weird and too cool. It was just a bummer for us. I could not get arrested after Freaks and Geeks. I did not work. People didn’t care, in this industry. It wasn’t until several years later, when Judd [Apatow] released the DVDs on his own, then people started coming around. Then, of course, to hear everyone tell the great revisionist history, they were always on board and were such huge fans when the show was on the air. It’s like, “Really? If you were watching, then we would be in our 10th season.”
But, it certainly is incredible to have been a part of that and to have that be a lot of our first job and first television show. It was pretty fantastic. We had a really good time. It was a really fun, special time. There were lots of shows around then where the kids the same age as us were getting a lot more attention and they were getting whatever weird horror movies were happening at the time. We weren’t getting that kind of attention or recognition. [James] Franco was the first one that hit, with the James Dean film. He was born to play that role, at age 19.
It was tough. I remember the general feeling was that we were doing a really cool thing, and our show was really funny and great, and it was a bummer that people weren’t watching it. It was disheartening. It was an amazing lesson and entry into this business that, especially in television, it just doesn’t fucking matter how good it is. At the end of the day, it’s about a couple numbers and how much ad time they can sell.