After spicing up the cast on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek, Busy Philipps brings sass and sunshine to the wine-guzzling gang in Cougar Town. Returning for the sitcom’s fourth season, which begins January 8 on TBS, the 33-year-old actress reveals her Golden Rule on marriage equality and the true nature of her relationship with Michelle Williams.
The Advocate: Do your LGBT fans make themselves known?
Busy Philipps: They do, in public, and they have for years. I totally appreciate it. A guy recently came up and told me, “My boys in West Hollywood have a saying: ‘It’s all about Busy Philipps.’” [Laughs] I was like, “What? That’s a saying? Um, OK!” It’s nice to have the support of the LGBT community, because they’re loyal and they’ll follow you down any career path.
That support also got you invited to be a guest judge on RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race.
That was one of the greatest days of my life. I felt like I had finally arrived when I stepped onto that stage. It felt like all the roads and years had been leading up to that moment. I’m not kidding.
You starred in Freaks and Geeks, which tackled the outsider experience, and Dawson’s Creek, which featured a major gay character. Were you aware of what those shows meant to the LGBT audience?
Yeah, I understood that. I remember dealing with bullies in high school and being put down because I was different. I’ve always felt like an outsider myself, so I related to those themes, and I gravitate toward projects that speak to that demographic. Even Laurie, my character on Cougar Town, is flamboyant and misunderstood.
Kim Kelly, the tough girl you played on Freaks and Geeks, is a particular gay fan favorite.
That’s not surprising. Mike White was a writer on that show, and that was his favorite character. He totally championed Kim and loved to write for her. He really captured her voice.
James Franco played Kim’s boyfriend Daniel on Freaks and Geeks. At some point have all of your gay friends asked you questions about the inside of Franco’s mouth?
Oh, it’s universal. Everybody asks me questions about the inside of James Franco’s mouth. What’s unfortunate is that I’ve never been one of those girls had sexy affairs with my costars. It usually just starts and ends with the on-set make-out sesh. I was only 19, but I remember that Franco and I had a really good time making out. I loved that relationship because Kim and Daniel were so passionate that they just had to stick their tongues down each others’ throats.
You also starred as Russell Henderson’s girlfriend and convicted accessory Chasity Pasley in Anatomy of a Hate Crime, a 2001 TV movie about Matthew Shepard’s murder.
That meant a lot to me. I remember when I first read about Matthew Shepard in Rolling Stone and just being so moved by the tragedy and the fact that he suffered out there all alone. That movie was really intense, but I thought it was important to do. Other movies were done on the subject, but ours was a made-for-TV movie geared toward a very particular audience, and I think it really resonated with young people. It was important for kids to hear that story. After it aired, I had a kid come up to me and say, “Thank you so much for telling that story.” I thought, well, that’s the least I can do.
Have you ever played a lesbian role?
Wait, have I? Oh, no, I just did a short film with Jamie Babbit [“Fucking Love Cleveland,” part of the anthology Cleveland, I Love You], but it was Gillian Jacobs who played a lesbian. No, I’ve never been cast as a lesbian. I don’t know why. I just like telling stories about real people, so I would hope that’s a story I’d be able to tell in the future.
Are there any LGBT storylines in the new season of Cougar Town?
Laurie has a whole theory that Grayson is a touch homophobic, but he claims that’s not true and that he’s confident in his sexuality. So Laurie decides to needle him by turning his bar into a pretty hot gay bar, which makes him admit he’s a metrosexual who enjoys the finer things in life.
That’s a good excuse to have cute gay extras on set.
Yes, and one of our cute gay PAs got to make a cameo in those scenes as well.
The show gives the LGBT community frequent shout-outs, including a healthy amount of same-sex flirtation amongst the characters. Do the writers have that audience specifically in mind?
I don’t know, but I know we all appreciate our gay fans, and there’s certainly a lot for them to enjoy on our show. Perhaps the writers are trolling the Internet late at night and reading the gay fan fiction. I’m all for giving fans what they want.
Would Laurie be more likely to have a hot fling with Courteney Cox’s Jules or Christa Miller’s Ellie?
Ellie, obviously. Hate-sex is always the best, right?
In an upcoming episode, Jules and Ellie discuss the appeal of packing it all in and becoming lesbians. Are these girlfriends representative of average straight female relationships?
As a straight, married woman, I will tell you that some of my girlfriends and I have occasionally had conversations about what would happen if we just left our husbands and raised our children in some sort of communal environment. I don’t know what we’d do about sex, but we’d figure it out. We could definitely make out.
Is there room for a regular gay character on Cougar Town?
I hope so, and I want them to be my character’s best friend. I will want every scene with them. I’m so happy that network television on the whole is embracing more gay characters now than it did when we had Jack on Dawson’s Creek, which was a huge deal at the time. I love that we’ve chipped away at the celluloid closet and have wonderful programs that feature gay and lesbian characters in really rich, fully developed ways.
You recently shot a video for HRC’s Americans for Marriage Equality campaign. Why did you get involved?
It’s ludicrous that my friends in California aren’t able to legally get married. It’s a civil rights issue. In 20 years we’re going to look back at tapes of these antigay people saying ridiculous things on the news and it’s going to sound as antiquated as the newsreels of horrible racists from the ’50s. Why is marriage equality important to me? Because I’m a decent human being.
You mention in the clip that you’re raising your daughter Birdie to live by the Golden Rule. How’s that working out?
We try to stay away from fast food, but my daughter loves Chick-fil-A. One day she overheard me talking to my mother about the whole antigay debacle. Days later, my husband was with her in the car — she was almost 4 at the time — and she said, “Daddy, we can’t eat Chick-fil-A anymore. The guy who owns it is so weird. He thinks a guy can’t marry a guy and a girl can’t marry a girl. But we know better!” She doesn’t get that she’s making a statement. She just thinks the Chick-fil-A man is confused or crazy.
Were you raised with similar values?
I grew up in a liberal family. I was a theater kid in high school, so some of my earliest friends were gay boys. After one of my best friends came out to his parents, there was discussion as to whether or not he’d be allowed to go to church with his family on Easter. I remember that my dad said to me, “I want you to tell him that I would be proud for him to come to church and sit with us.” Both of my parents clearly sent the message to me that a different sexuality doesn’t make someone scary or less than. One of my mom’s best friends growing up was also gay — I think she found out after they went to prom together — and he passed away of AIDS in the early ’80s. It deeply affected my mom, and I think that informed how she raised my sister and me. Now my world is populated with gay people.
Michelle Williams, your BFF, took you as her date to big events during last year’s awards season. How did you react when you heard the lesbian rumor?
Honestly, this is the first I’m hearing it! I get why people would say that about us, though. It does seem plausible. It’s like Oprah and Gayle or Dolly Parton and her best friend. I believe sexuality is fluid, and women can have a deep love and affection for other women. My friendship with Michelle has stood the test of time, and we’ve been together through many different versions of our lives. I love her as deeply as I love almost anyone. But we don’t do it. The gay rumors for me actually started in high school with my best friend Kate. For our senior yearbook page we submitted a cute picture of us being silly, almost kissing, with a caption that read, “The rumors are true.” Unfortunately, the yearbook staff deemed it inappropriate.
I still can’t believe you never read that rumor about you and Michelle.
Sometimes I do have to check the gossip sites to see if, like, Jessica Simpson is pregnant again, but my days of Googling myself have long since passed.