The Cougar Town actress reflects on the sweet life she’s created for her family and reveals what her pop culture obsessions have to do with it.
“If I could be a combination of Diane Keaton in Baby Boom and Shelley Long in Troop Beverly Hills, I would be the happiest person alive,” Busy Philipps said over the course of an uproarious two-hour lunch at a low-key organic restaurant, Ammo, in Los Angeles.
Rarely does a single quote tell you everything you need to know about a person, but in those mere 26 words, Philipps, a self-described “gay man trapped in a woman’s body,” conveys her appreciation of campy cinema, her culinary wizardry (she makes baby food for her two daughters), and her appreciation of fabulous women in pop culture.
It also summarizes everything Philipps’ fans have come to adore about her in the 15 years since she made her screen debut as Kim Kelly, the tough girl with a candy center, on NBC’s brilliant but canceled Freaks & Geeks.
The single season of Judd Apatow’s beloved high school dramedy premiered on Sept. 25, 1999, and despite lasting only one season, served as the launching pad for a handful of now-household names (James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Philipps played the titular freaks). “I remember so much about that time,” she told BuzzFeed. “That was such an important time in my life because it was the first job I ever had. I mean, my first day on a real set was shooting the pilot.”
Philipps, who dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember, dropped out of Loyola Marymount University following her sophomore year to star in the series, per her parents’ decree. “My parents said I could try and become an actress as long as I went to at least two years of college, which is so arbitrary,” she said. “So I did exactly two years, got Freaks & Geeks, and left school my junior year.”
While Philipps doesn’t suffer any insecurities over her academic abandonment, she does harbor a secret plan to eventually re-enroll. “I have this weird Gilmore Girls fantasy that when Birdie [her 5-year-old daughter with screenwriter Marc Silverstein] goes to college, I’ll go with her. She doesn’t know it yet, and my husband thinks I’m a lunatic for thinking that could happen, but it would be amazing.”
When you take a step back, it’s not all that surprising to hear Philipps, theoretically, modeling her life after Lorelai Gilmore, considering their overwhelming similarities. First, Philipps talks at such a rapid-fire pace, it feels like she’s also been scripted by Gilmore creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Then there’s the pop culture obsessions. In less than two-hours, Philipps gushed — sometimes with the help of verbatim quotes — of her love for Oprah Winfrey, William Shakespeare, Malcolm Gladwell, Sliding Doors, Can’t Buy Me Love, Splash, Hello Again, Frozen, Mad Men, and The Comeback.
Of The Comeback, Philipps describes Halloween in 2005 — the year HBO’s universally ignored, but incredibly beloved show first aired. She admitted to buying DVD copies of the cult classic for her friends and dressing as Aunt Sassy, the character played by Lisa Kudrow’s character, Valerie Cherish, on the show-within-a-show, Room & Bored. “I’m fucking obsessed with that show, but no one had any idea who I was dressed as,” she said, chuckling, reinforcing her “gay man trapped in a woman’s body” assertion.
But Philipps is most like Lorelai Gilmore when it comes to her daughters, Birdie and 8-month-old Cricket. In short, she’s absolutely obsessed with everything they do, say, and think. That infatuation manifested in dozens of proud parental photo-sharing segues throughout our lunch, and her voicing one common complaint all famous mama bears share.
“The paparazzi are absolutely insane,” she said, the perma-grin momentarily retreating from her face. “It’s gross to go to the supermarket and have my kids photographed. I went through it first with my goddaughter [Matilda Ledger, daughter of Michelle Williams and the late Heath Ledger]. You think, ‘We’re going to be civilized people and I’m going to talk to them.’ Their response was, ‘Fuck you, cunt.’ Literally. I just started laughing because it’s the craziest thing anyone has ever said to me. Then I lost it.”
To wit, Philipps has joined Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s Pedorazzi initiative and believes it should be up to parents to disseminate images of their child, via social media or a media outlet of their choosing. And while Philipps has plenty of adorable kid pics to share, her Instagram account is currently a celebrated destination for awe-inspiring images of the sugary confections she whips up — a tradition passed down from her mother, Barbara.
“When my mom was first married to my dad [Joseph], they lived in Hawaii because he was in the Navy,” she said. “He would leave for months at a time on the submarine, and my mom was super bored, so she took a cake decorating class. Then she started making these really intricate cakes for us and I was really the one who got into it with her. I guess I still like to do that kind of old-school mom-ing.”
The next event she’ll tackle is a Full House-themed party for Birdie. “Nick at Nite is playing Full House in heavy rotation right now, and it’s Birdie’s favorite show,” she said, visibly excited to begin sharing pop culture obsessions with her daughter, bringing the duo one step closer to full-fledged Lorelai and Rory Gilmore status. “She loves the sisters and wants a Full House birthday party this year. I think an ’80s-themed birthday party would be so adorable. I’m somehow going to call up John Stamos and ask him to swing by.”
In a moment of “Only In Hollywood” serendipity, not uncommon in Philipps’ life, minutes after verbalizing her love of Full House, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who played Michelle Tanner, sat down a few tables away from us. When I suggested she slip the mini-moguls a party invite, Philipps pondered the possibility before deciding on a better strategy. “I know someone who knows them; I’ll just do that,” she said, half-serious, but completely reinforcing the belief that Philipps is one of the industry’s best-connected people.
It’s a claim she happily accepts. “I’m still in touch with pretty much everyone I’ve ever worked with; I’m basically a hoarder of humans.”
While Philipps has been tempted — and asked — to turn her baking hobby into a full-fledged business, she’s content to, for now, simply be the cake boss in her home because she’s not quite done with this business just yet. “In the beginning of my career, I thought I was going to be a dramatic actress,” she said. “I gravitated to comedy because I’m a funny person, I think. As an actor, I always found the dramatic stuff to be more challenging, so, if I want to keep it interesting and challenging, I would be doing more dramatic work.”
To that end, Philipps hopes that when Cougar Town wraps up its run (“No time soon,” she was quick to add), a cable series lies in her future. “I have nothing against network TV, I just think it’s a hard nut to crack while being true to what it is you want to do.”
It’s rather remarkable that after 15 years in Hollywood, Philipps still lives her life by a single motto: To Thine Own Self Be True. “It was something my mom used to say to me and it really resonated,” she said. “I just feel like you can’t go wrong when you’re being yourself. People are going to like you or they’ll not like you, but at least you know they’re always reacting to the authentic you. It’s hard to know who you are; it’s something that comes with age and experience, but I feel like I have a handle on who I am after all these years.”