Busy Philipps was pulling up her Spanx in a private dining room in midtown when we met on an October afternoon. “Are we in a Goodfellas movie?” she asked, using an expletive and laughing as she took in the ostentatiously luxe cherry-wood-walled space. “What is about to happen?”
She was about halfway through a frenetic day of publicity, having knocked out an appearance on Good Morning America to promote her candid new memoir, This Will Only Hurt a Little, and preparing for multiple appearances after lunch.
The book is a freewheeling tour through Philipps’ career, relationships and on-and-off-again stardom. Although she began writing it before the #MeToo movement took off last year, it has already generated some related headlines, including resurrecting an old story about a time James Franco was rough with her on the set of Freaks and Geeks.
The book’s release is just part of what is the biggest month of Philipps’ career so far. On November 4, she will debut Busy Tonight, her new talk show on E!. Executive produced by Tina Fey, it will pair the usual topical comedy and nightly guests with the charmingly unfiltered perspective that has turned Philipps into a social media powerhouse.
She was an early adopter of Instagram Stories, and the unvarnished glimpses of her workouts, private moments with her screenwriter husband, Marc Silverstein, and her daughters, Birdie and Cricket, and more general shenanigans (her Lindsay Lohan Mykonos dance impression) have transformed her into a bona fide “influencer” with more than 1.3 million followers — numbers that led to the book and TV deals.
When you live truly and when you speak your truth, only positive things will happen.”
- BUSY PHILIPPS
Philipps, 39, is a case study for her own “sparkly human” theory — something she invented a few years ago. It refers to someone who isn’t necessarily the most famous, but radiates self-confidence in a way that the world opens up to them.
Since landing her first major role as the tough “freak” Kim Kelly on Freaks and Geeks, she has cycled through Hollywood highs (a six-year run on Cougar Town) and lows (during the housing crash, she was unemployed and so indebted that she auditioned for Glee one week after giving birth) but never stopped willing her way though the industry.
She persuaded the craft chain Michaels to invent a spokeswoman position for her because she was such a fan. When her male co-stars started directing episodes of Cougar Town, she did the same out of principle. And when TV opportunities dried up despite her award-winning resume, which also includes Dawson’s Creek and ER, she created the equivalent of her own personal sitcom on Instagram.
“When you live truly and when you speak your truth, only positive things will happen,” she said, citing Oprah Winfrey as an inspiration. “When I started doing that, everything kind of shifted in my life.”
She’s been less thrilled by how many websites latched on to a Freaks and Geeks anecdote from the book, in which her co-star Franco shoved her to the ground on the set in response to her hitting him at the director’s request. Philipps has shared the story over the years but the memoir gave it new life online. When I brought it up, she sighed.
“I feel like this kind of celebrity clickbait takes away from how good my book is, how hard I worked on it and what I’m actually trying to say,” she said, using another expletive in a conversation sprinkled with them. “James and I are fine. I’m fine about that situation.” (Franco’s representatives did not respond to a request for comment.)
When I asked Philipps about the sexual misconduct allegations that have surfaced about Franco in the past year, she responded with uncertainty and resigned exhaustion. “In the last year I have not been surprised by anything,” she said. He has denied the accusations.
In another revelation from the book, on September 27 — as Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and presented, in heart-wrenching detail, her accusation that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers — Philipps posted a teenage photo of herself on Instagram. “This is me at 14. The age I was raped,” she wrote.
It was the first time she had shared the story publicly — she posted it then because she felt a responsibility to help women realise that they don’t need to carry their trauma alone. “When I think about these dudes that get off scot-free, I’m like, ‘Go live your life, dude who raped me when I was 14,’” she said, tearing up. “I still have problems with sex. I’m 39 years old.”
The bulk of This Will Only Hurt a Little reflects on previously untold stories of her Hollywood career, friendships and toxic situations.
Readers will also learn about, among other things, the night actor Chad Michael Murray held her hand on the floor of a bar after she had drunkenly injured her knee; the disheartening time she posed for a Maxim cover to help her acting career; the day, in 2008, she flew across the country to be with her best friend, Michelle Williams, after Heath Ledger, the father of Williams’ daughter, died of an overdose. At times she revisits grudges, as when asserting she co-wrote the film Blades of Glory with her childhood friends Craig and Jeff Cox, only to see her name removed from the script when it was sold. (She eventually received a story credit. “We don’t have any comment but wish Busy lots of success with her book and Busy Tonight,” Jeff Cox wrote in an email in response to a request for comment.)
Such frustrations, failed pilots and other false starts ultimately persuaded Philipps to focus on building a brand around being unabashedly herself.
“Years ago, people had floated the idea of me doing a talk show, and I always sort of railed against it because I felt like I’m an actor, and that’s what I love,” she said. But at a some point, she said, “you have to lean into” what you’re good at. “Not that I’m not good at acting. I think I am, but it’s just so hard to do.”
Philipps’ personality is what persuaded Fey, whose production company, Little Stranger, cast Philipps in an ultimately unsuccessful pilot last year, to produce Busy Tonight.
Philipps is “so warm and instantly likable and refreshing when you talk to her,” Fey said. “I always sort of gravitate toward things that I myself would be interested in as a viewer. I felt like her presence is funny, natural and positive in a way — she’s not shying away from talking about difficult things in her life, or in the world.”
Despite her successes, Philipps remains grounded by the fact that she’s “well aware of how it all works and goes down.” But she’s found comfort in how her authenticity has resonated with people.
“I’ve just been around for so long, seeing so many people that are having their big moments that are so quickly not a big moment at all,” she said. But “it’s really flattering that people have responded so strongly to me, Busy Philipps, as opposed to a character.”
Don’t miss it
Busy Tonight airs in the UAE every Sunday to Wednesday on E! at 10pm.