Busy Philipps on Cougar Town, On-Set Drinking and Her Axl Rose Inspired Glee Audition
In a town full of funny, feisty, blond actresses, Busy Philipps has climbed to the top of the heap. After acquainting herself with teenage audiences in Freaks and Geeks and Dawson's Creek, the Arizona-raised actress (real name: Elizabeth Jean Philipps) has matured with her audience, trading detention arcs for maturing roles in ER, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and now ABC's Cougar Town. As Laurie Keller, the youngest, bubbliest and (again) blondest member of the Cul-de-sac crew, Philipps regularly lands the funniest lines and story arcs of any given episode -- like in last night's "The Same Old You," when Laurie posed as a transfer student at Travis's college just so that she could join a sorority. Well, maybe her characters haven't matured that much.
Last week, Philipps dialed Movieline during a break in Culver City to talk about her disastrous Glee audition many moons ago, drinking in Cougar Town and how Courteney Cox has fostered a Friends-like atmosphere on set.
How responsible were you for shaping your Cougar Town character?
Listen, I have to say that I think characters are rarely fully formed when you come to a project unless you are doing like an Aaron Sorkin thing and even then, I imagine there is still some room. But [Cougar Town creators ] Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel are very open to input from all different directions and that's one of the reasons why the show is such a joy to be part of.
So what did you envision for Laurie Keller?
I immediately thought about Laurie's hair, makeup and wardrobe -- which I think is such an important part of playing a young girl in her 20s. Any character, for me, always comes together in the hair, makeup and wardrobe. Shoes especially. For some reason, shoes really do it for me because they help me figure out how the character walks. Now I'm just getting weird and actor-y but anyway, I had a very specific idea of who this person was and who her style icons were.
Laurie definitely has a very specific style. Who are her icons?
[Laughs] I cut out a lot of pictures of Jessica Simpson to give to the wardrobe and hair departments. Like I said, I had a very specific idea of who Laurie was.
Are you able to pitch lines for Laurie on set?
Yeah, which is another reason why being on set is so great. A lot of Laurie's voice has been a collaboration between all of us. Not that [the writers] don't come up with most of the hilarious lines -- because they do. I feel like I played a part in creating this character's look and voice though.
Is there one joke that you're particularly proud of improvising?
I was proud of coming up with "imaginary opera gloves" in the first episode of the season. We did like ten different takes with "imaginary monocle," imaginary this and imaginary that. Opera gloves was mine but I'm not trying to keep score. Occasionally, my friends and I will watch the show on Wednesday nights together and I'll get really excited when I see that my joke made it into the final cut. It makes me feel really good about myself.
Sometimes you see actors pretend to be friends on-screen but it seems like they would never hang out in real life. That's not the case with Cougar Town though. Did the cast just gel immediately?
Well, if you go back to the first season I think that you can actually see the progression on camera of us all becoming closer. When we cut now, we're giving each other a hard time and joking around. Christa's giving me parenting advice. I think that intimacy just translates on camera. We're people that genuinely like to hang out with each other. Courteney really fosters that atmosphere. Before we even shot the pilot, Courteney was inviting us all over to her house in Malibu for barbecues and pushing us to hang out socially. Whether she was doing it on purpose -- so that our relationships would translate better onscreen -- or whether she was doing it intuitively, I don't know.
So no one gets on anyone's nerves? I don't believe that.
Not yet! We were working so much together and even after that, we started going to lunch together everyday which is rare, let me tell you. Usually people have their own business to do during those breaks. We started going to this bar in Culver City on Wednesday because we got out late. We started hanging out on Friday nights. As you fall in love with friends, you want to spend more and more time with each other.
Let's talk wine. Your characters drink so much during the show. Are you ever actually drinking during those scenes?
No. I wish! When you film those scenes though, in the morning you're glad to have the grape juice. Courteney hates the taste of grape juice though so she drinks this fake wine that has no alcohol in it.
That sounds vile.
It's disgusting. It's so gross. Last year, my character drank non-alcoholic beer. I liked the idea that Laurie was in her 20s and didn't care about her weight yet but this year she is drinking wine so I'm on the grape juice train. Once in a blue moon though, when the timing is right and it is late at night, we may have some real wine in our glasses but I can't say for certain. I don't want to get in any trouble.
I read that you auditioned for Glee. Had you ended up on that show, you probably wouldn't have gotten the same kind of alcohol privileges.
Not at all. It's funny you bring up Glee because that is something that I just tweeted. I'm big into my Twitter account. By the way though, I have auditioned for everything. I've been on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of auditions in my life so it's not unusual that I went in for Glee. What was unusual is that it was a week, exactly, after I had given birth. It was crazy. I should not have been let out of the house because I was just a big blubbering mess. I think the audition went OK though. [Laughs] They said they really liked me?
What did you sing?
"Sweet Child O' Mine."
Well, Cougar Town really showcases your comic timing. Do you think that is something that actors can learn over time?
Honestly, I don't think that is something you can teach. I've worked with a lot of a people and you've either got it or you don't. I feel really lucky that people think that I have it.
Finally, Entertainment Weekly nominated you for Most Under-Appreciated Entertainer of the Year. Is that a good thing?
Yeah, I'm not going to win that but that was nice. Yeah, I mean, it's better than being someone who people watch and say, "Ugh, not that girl again!" It's all flattering. I don't know. I always feel under-appreciated everywhere, in every aspect of my life so I don't think acting should be any different. [Laughs] No, I don't feel that way! I feel very appreciated.