Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: Paget Brewster is an actress who has, to her credit, proven very difficult to pigeonhole, having started out in sitcoms (Love & Money, Andy Richter Controls The Universe) before transitioning into more dramatic material (Huff) and ultimately scoring a long-term gig on a prime-time procedural (Criminal Minds). Although she’s proven adept at both comedy and drama, Brewster has recently been focusing predominantly on the former, and now that the first season of Another Period has concluded, she’s moving on to her latest full-time endeavor: playing against John Stamos in the new Fox comedy Grandfathered.

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Grandfathered (2015-present)—“Sara”

Paget Brewster: I was shooting Community and it was pilot season, so my agents had sent a couple of scripts, and I didn’t really like anything. And lucky for me, I’ve been around a long time and I’ve saved my money, so I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. And I hope that that doesn’t change, because I’ve been pretty frugal, and I like being able to choose. But then I read the script for Grandfathered and thought it was great. I certainly didn’t think I was going to be cast as John Stamos’ ex-girlfriend, because I figured they’d, like, hire a model and pretend she was older, but I went to the audition because I wanted to meet the writer, who I thought was great, and I just thought, “Well, it’d be great to get in front of these people, even though I’ll never get this.”

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And then the audition went well and they asked me to test for it, and that’s when you sign the seven-year contract: before you audition in front of the studio or a network. I thought, “Well, I’ll sign it. But I’m still not gonna get this.” And then I got it! [Laughs.] I was surprised but thrilled, because it’s a great bunch of people. Danny Chun, the writer, is kind of renowned for being this great prodigy. There are stories about him, like that he had his job on The Simpsons the day he graduated from Harvard. But Chris Koch, I was aware of him because he directed a bunch of Galavant episodes, and he’s great. So I’m very lucky: I fell into a part I never thought I would get.

The A.V. Club: So when you heard about the premise, did you instantly find yourself doing the math to work out if it was even possible that you could be a grandmother?

PB: Oh, it’s absolutely possible. [Laughs.] I’m 46, and Josh [Peck] is playing 26. The idea is that Stamos and I were both kitchen workers in the ’90s on the Sunset Strip and we were in a relationship, but he was totally self-involved and a playboy, so when I got pregnant, I just disappeared on him and didn’t tell him that he had a son. So 26 years later, this guy shows up at Jimmy’s restaurant, where’s he’s this confirmed bachelor, and the guy says, “Hey, I’m your son. And, oh, here’s your daughter, and I need help winning back my baby mama.” It’s a really weird show in the sense that it’s a family comedy but everyone’s single: the restaurant manager, the chef, the restaurant owner, me, my son, his hook-up, and, of course, the baby.

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Strange America (1993-1994)—cast member
The Paget Show (1994-1995)—host

AVC: It looks like your first real on-camera appearance was as the host of your very own talk show.

PB: Yes, that would be The Paget Show. It was in San Francisco in… 1994? We did 65 episodes. I was bartending, and Ricki Lake had just made a ton of money for Garth Ancier and 20th [Century Fox] or something, so every production company was signing anyone in their 20s. I think there were 15 talk shows that year that came out for syndication. There was Tempestt Bledsoe, Carnie Wilson, Mark [L. Walberg]… He went on to host Temptation Island.

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So I was the Westinghouse 25-year-old host to be developed locally—late night in San Francisco, at the CBS station, KPIX—and you can quote this, because all those people are gone, but they wouldn’t let me report my hours or else they said they would let people go. So I was still bartending on the weekends while my show was airing on TV, because otherwise I couldn’t pay my rent! [Laughs.] So I was hosting my show, and while I was bartending everyone wanted to put my show on, which is not great, to be on TV and fetching drinks at the same time.

AVC: So how does one go from never having been on TV to getting your own show?

PB: Well, actually, I had been doing a public access cable show called Strange America. I was bartending at a bar called The Slow Club in Portero Hill, and a guy hung out in my bar—because he lived around the corner—and he was a manager. So I said, “Manage me!” And I just kept bugging him to manage me, as I was going to acting school at the Actors’ Lab in San Francisco, and I think I plied him with a lot of martinis and free French fries, but he said, “Okay, I’ll send you on three auditions.” But I didn’t understand that he represented on-air talent like anchor people, correspondents, and journalists. So I went on three auditions to host stuff… and I got a pilot to host a show! [Laughs.] I had no intention of hosting a show. I just made a video of me at the supermarket juggling, I think, and interviewing people in the street, because I had nothing to lose. I was 24 years old, maybe 25, and I was, like, “Well, why not?” And I got a show!

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AVC: That’s pretty nuts. And what was Strange America?

PB: Strange America was just kind of a sketch comedy show that these two guys… [Hesitates.] My partner was Kris, I can’t remember the other guy’s name, but they were both Sun Systems software guys. They installed Sun computer systems and made an inordinate amount of money, and they wanted to do a TV show, so that guy Kris hung out at my bar and asked me. He left town to go to a Sun Microsystems conference, and he said, “I’m going to give you my video camera.”

For the three or four days he was gone, I did stop-action claymation, and I wrote a sketch where I actually made botulism, which… All you have to do is put pork in a jar of water and leave it out with oxygen inside the jar. It’s actually, like, a serious poison. And then I was terrified because… I mean, how do you get rid of a bowl of botulism? I don’t remember what I did to get rid of it!

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AVC: Can I just ask what on earth made you decide to make botulism? That’s not widely recognized as a go-to comedy bit.

PB: I had seen an episode of Quincy about a bunch of people dying after a baseball game, and he discovers they were poisoned with botulism because someone threw old pork chili into a sink and accidentally made botulism, so I figured I could do that with pork chops in a jar of water. I kept it on my fire escape and time-lapse filmed it as it got grosser and grosser. It started bubbling and festering! I think I called poison control to figure out what to do with it. I was terrified they’d hunt me down.

But when Kris came back from his conference, we ended up doing 10 or 11 episodes. But you can’t find them. And I can’t find The Paget Show on YouTube anywhere, either, which is probably good, because I looked like Ralph Macchio—I had a flattop—but they dressed me in, like, Cosby sweaters. So it was just a bad look all around. Oh, and lots of rings! [Laughs.] You know, it was the ’90s. And a San Francisco Giants hat. I mean, I looked ugly.

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AVC: I feel like I need to put out an open call for anyone who might be able to provide us with some of that footage. Our readers can be very industrious.

PB: Oh, God. I hope you don’t find it!

[We did indeed find footage of Brewster on Strange America, and it is glorious. The quest for a clip from The Paget Show goes on, however, so keep your eyes open.—ed.]

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Friends (1997-1998)—“Kathy”

AVC: Your first real breakthrough was a recurring role on Friends. Was that just your standard audition situation?

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PB: No! I was terrified! I had moved to Los Angeles and shot one pilot [World On A String] starring Dana Gould, and it didn’t go. And then I auditioned for Kathy at Warner Brothers, and there were, like, three devastatingly beautiful young women in the room—you would know who they were—waiting to go in, so when I went in and Matthew Perry was there… I’d watched Friends, so this was terrifying to me. This was my first job in L.A. that I thought I might get, and suddenly I was going, “I’m never going to get this!” I went, “Clearly, I’m your runty alternate, so let’s get this show on the road!” And Matthew said that was it. He was done. Matthew told me later that he and [executive producer] Kevin Bright… Matthew had said, “Well, that’s the funniest one, she’s the one,” and they hired me to do it. It was four episodes, and then they made it six.

But I had a black bob, and when I got Friends, I started rehearsing that week, and the hair people cut all my hair off and dyed it red—it took six hours of lightening to dye it red—and then when Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane came down to watch the first day, Kevin Bright starts screaming. “I hired her because she had a black bob! You can’t do this!” And as he’s screaming at the hair guy, I just went upstairs, I put my magazines in my bag, and I just sat and waited, like, “I lost my best job I’ve ever gotten.” And then Kevin Bright came in the room and he went, “I didn’t hire you because of your hair! I just can’t have them making changes without them telling me!” It turned out that the next girl that Chandler was going to fall for was Monica, and the hair guy had said, “I needed her to not look so much like Courteney [Cox].” So that’s why he dyed my hair. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that story!

The Trouble With Normal (2000-2001)—“Claire Garletti”

PB: Wait, what was my name?

AVC: Reportedly, it was Claire Garletti.

PB: Garletti? Or was it Garcetti? You know, I don’t remember. But it was with David Krumholtz, Brad Raider, Larry Joe Campbell, and Jon Cryer. And that was Victor Fresco. That was the first time I worked with Victor.

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AVC: I’ve heard that the network kept making changes on the series behind the scenes.

PB: Victor would never be the kind of showrunner who would freak out his cast with anything negative from the network. He is as stoic as he is funny, and that means he’s one stoic son of a gun! You know, I don’t really remember that much about that time. Although I do remember Maria Bamford played a character named Freaky Deaky 64. For some reason, that stuck with me. [Does a Maria Bamford impression.] “Freaky Deaky 64!” She’s got that voice! But, yeah, that’s where I met Cryer, and we became really good friends.

Two And A Half Men (2005)—“Jamie Eckleberry”

AVC: So did Cryer call you and ask you to do Two And A Half Men?

PB: If he had spoken to Chuck [Lorre] about it, I didn’t know. He may have, actually, because Jon and I were friends. You know, Jon was on Two And A Half Men after we worked together, going through a divorce in real life that no one knew about, having to say these lines about divorce on the show, and he was heartbroken about the dissolution of his marriage. So I became his platonic date for about a year, where I’d go to the Emmys with him and maybe the Golden Globes, and it meant a lot to me to be able to be there for him during that time. But it was interesting doing Two And A Half Men knowing what he had gone through there. Jon’s so unusual. That’s why I love his book so much. Like, I’m sure you’ve met—or at least you’ve known about—actors who won’t discuss or will not address a certain film or show, where they’re, like, “I’ve done other things!” They’re angry that they’re known for that.

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AVC: You’d be surprised how rarely that happens during this feature.

PB: Well, I think you probably have a nose for who’s interested and happy and fulfilled.

AVC: That, and I tend to wait until the end to ask about anything potentially controversial.

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PB: Oh, good! I can’t wait to see what you ask me! [Laughs.] There are some actors who won’t sign photos of certain work they’ve done, they won’t talk about it. That’s not Jon. Before he got Two And A Half Men, people were calling him a show-killer—he was doing pilots that weren’t going or they got going and then they got canceled. But Jon Cryer has not had one day where he hasn’t had people in cars just screaming at him, “DUCKY!” And he turns around and waves. He is the most kind, happy, thoughtful guy. He has no skeletons in the closet, he’s not hiding anything, he doesn’t have an ego about anything. He’s a really genuine guy, a real prince of a man. He’s great.

Community (2014/2015)—“Debra Chambers”/“Francesca ‘Frankie’ Dart”

AVC: When we started talking about Grandfathered, you mentioned offhandedly that you’d been working on Community at the time. You were a regular in season six, but you’d actually been a guest star during the fifth season as a completely different character.

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PB: I had, yeah. As the IT lady in the basement! And then Dan Harmon wrote something to address that. When I joined as Frankie Dart for season six, Harmon wrote a line where Frankie was trying to reach Debra, the IT lady in the basement, and Frankie says, “I call, but I just hear a strange echo and a high-pitched whine, and then my nose starts bleeding.” [Laughs.] Only Dan Harmon would handle that situation by writing a line that explains it as being this weird Ringu parallel-universe thing.

AVC: So how did the upgrade from guest to regular come about? Did they just come to you and say, “We’d like to make you a regular,” and then it turned into a different character?

PB: I got a call from my agent, because I’d known Dan socially from a long time ago. I dated a friend of his, and I had done Channel 101 for him and Rob Schrab with Chris Tallman, so I’d known him from a long time ago, and I’d seen him around. But when my agent called, he said, “Dan Harmon asked if you would join Community for season six on Yahoo.” And I said, “Yes. Yes!” And they said [Uncertainly.] “Well, do you want to sit down and meet him?” I said, “I don’t need to. I know what everyone says, but I want to do it. I want to do it! So just say ‘yes.’”

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And I called Gillian [Jacobs], who I’d done a live stage show with, and asked her, “Hey, listen, do I want to do this? Am I going to enjoy this? Is there anything you want to tell me right now? I just want to make sure. Because I said ‘yes.’ I just want to know if there’s anything I should be aware of.” And Gillian said, “It’s the best bunch of people, you’ll have the time of your life, and the hours are really long.” And she was right. She was right. I mean, Harmon’s nuts. And he knows he’s nuts.

AVC: It’s not exactly a well-kept Hollywood secret.

PB: I knew that, but his process is worth it. I mean, I’d do a season seven of Community. I’d do a movie. Those guys are great and enjoyable, and I was honored to be asked, and I just prayed everyday that I would be able to pull it off and join them without ruining it, because I think it’s a really special show, and it’s a really special bunch of people. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud that they asked me to do it and that I didn’t fuck it up. I mean, do you think I fucked it up? [Laughs.] I think I held my own.

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AVC: I do not think you fucked it up.

PB: Okay, good, thanks. [Laughs.] I’m really proud of that. It was scary! Because it’s a very specific world. But I love those guys. We’re all on a giant text chain, texting each other all the time. They’re great.

Let’s Talk About Sex (1998)—“Michelle”

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PB: [Looking horrified.] Oh, man, come on. You can’t hold that against me. Because that was my first movie.

AVC: I’m just looking for stories, man.

PB: Oh, no. There’s too many stories. There’s stories that end in litigation if I’m not careful. [Takes a deep breath.] So that was my first movie. I was in an acting class in Los Angeles. Someone in my class was involved with that movie. I auditioned for it and got the part of Michelle. We went to Miami. Um… I’m trying to be careful. I had never been on location, and I had never done a movie, and there was a person involved in the film who was a horrifying person, a truly and exceptionally cruel and horrible human being. And a lot of people in the crew—and some of the actors—were cheating on their spouses. There was just a phrase that was something like, “On location doesn’t count.”

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Meanwhile, I was dating an improviser in Los Angeles who, while I was in Miami, cheated on me! And then I was accused by someone of sleeping with the director of photography, who was a woman. And then I was accused by someone else in the cast of sleeping with her husband! And I was, like, “I’m not sleeping with anybody! And now my boyfriend is cheating on me, and all of you guys are cheating…” I was just, like, “I’ve made a huge mistake. Actors are assholes, producers are assholes, movies are a disgusting Petri dish of cheating, lying, abusive motherfuckers… Hollywood is bullshit! I’ve made the wrong choice!” But then I was, like, “Well, what am I going to do? Am I going to go back to bartending? Should I try to host another show?” I mean, it was hands down the worst experience I’ve ever had. I feel bad for the director and writer: Troy [Beyer] is lovely, and I feel bad saying that all that happened. But she was there. She knows. It was bad, man. It was bad.

Oh! [Sighs.] Oh, man. Someone else involved in the movie was sleeping with Madonna’s ex-girlfriend. Remember when Madonna dated that hot model, Ingrid something? And Madonna found out and started pulling our permits in Miami, so we couldn’t shoot in certain locations! It was an independent movie, but the making of this independent movie is an independent movie! It was so bad! And I don’t mean to be ungrateful. It was so crazy. And then the poster? They put my head on someone else’s body! I mean, it just never ended. And yet I learned so much…obviously! You learn from the worst stuff. So I learned a lot! [Laughs.] But I’m glad I didn’t give up on acting, because I really thought, “These people… This is a mess. There’s so many crappy people in this business. I need to get out.”

Ghost Cop (1998)—“Annette”

AVC: So did all of this awfulness on Let’s Talk About Sex happen before or after you did the pilot for Ghost Cop?

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PB: Oh. My. God. [Laughs.] All of that was before. But, no, Ghost Cop was funny! That was Alexis Denisof, and… [Straightens up in her seat.] Okay. Ghost Cop. A Fox pilot. He’s a ghost. I’m a cop. [Bursts out laughing.] I mean, come on: it sells itself! But here’s the thing: the writer… You know Michael Davies, the guy who created Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and a bunch of other reality shows? His brother wrote it. Will Davies wrote it, and I play a cop. And CCH Pounder was our captain, and she had a little dental-floss pick in her pocket all the time. Like, not for her character, but for CC. For her to pick her teeth. I guess she just thought, “Well, I’ll just keep it here. I mean, I am the chief.”

AVC: Probably she just thought, “Fuck it: It’s Ghost Cop.”

PB: [Solemnly.] “Fuck it: It’s Ghost Cop.” [Laughs.] But we shot that in Canada with Alexis Denisof, who then went on to Buffy The Vampire Slayer… and Angel, too, right? Alexis had been on vacation in Los Angeles, and while he was on vacation, his agent called—from London, because he lived in London—and said, “Hey, go in for this audition.” So Alexis comes in to audition for Ghost Cop, he gets it on Friday, and we flew to Canada on Monday. It was almost immediate.

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After the pilot, he comes back to L.A. and is cast immediately in a Noah’s Ark movie with Mary Steenburgen. So he lives in Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s guest house before they fly to Australia to shoot for three months. And then immediately after that, he got another movie! Alexis Denisof came to Los Angeles for a one-and-a-half or two-week vacation, and he didn’t return to his apartment in London for a year. A year! He’s great.

The Specials (2000)—“Ms. Indestructible”

AVC: Funnily enough, we just talked to The Weevil for this feature.

PB: [Laughs.] You did? Wait a minute, the Weevil… That was Rob Lowe! Yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s right. Yeah, that was James Gunn who wrote that, who’s now… I mean, geez, good for him! I still think that that script was so great, and I loved being in that. Thomas Haden Church was great, and Sean Gunn and Rob. And Judy Greer was Deadly Girl! It was great. Jim Zulevic was in it, too, who’s passed on. It was a great cast, and everybody got it. And no one made any money. We shot in a really decrepit, low-income area, because we were the lesser superheroes. But I think it’s a really solid movie . I love it. And I think what happened was that Mystery Men was so close, and that cost $70 million or something and had more famous people in it, and I guess… I don’t know, did we both come out at the same time? I’m not sure. But I do believe in that film, I like the work that all of us did in it, and I think that it holds up. So if any of your readers that haven’t seen it want to try and find it, please do, because I think you’ll like it.

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AVC: In fact, a couple of our readers specifically requested that we ask you about it.

PB: Oh, really? Well, I’m very proud of it. And Rob was great. He’s really great in that. And you know what he taught me? When we shot that movie, he taught me about white eyeliner on the inside of your eyes will make your eyes look bigger. Rob Lowe: He knows tricks. [Laughs.]

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012/2013)—“Lana Lang”
Justice League: Gods And Monsters (2015)—“Lois Lane”

PB: My husband was already a huge fan of Bruce Timm, and now that I know him, I am, too. That guy… I didn’t know what a big deal he was, but we just went to Comic-Con, and he’s like a god! [Laughs.] And he’s hilarious!

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AVC: So if you didn’t really know Bruce Timm, did you know that you’d achieved something by portraying both Lois Lane and Lana Lang?

PB: No, I really didn’t! I didn’t know how important that was, and I didn’t realized that I’d achieved something by voicing both of them. Honestly, I don’t know as much about that world as my husband. He knows everything, but it’s not my area. I was always going to Comic-Con to buy original art from Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine and, like, that Fantagraphics look. That whole thing. But I hadn’t followed that stuff. I just love that job. Doing voices is great. And then Andrea Romano, who was the director, she just inspires loyalty, so she had asked me to come in and do, like, webisode stuff for Gods And Monsters, and anything she asks me to do, I’ll do. But I don’t know a tenth of what the fans know.

Andy Richter Controls The Universe (2002-2004)—“Jessica Green”

PB: I knew Andy Richter and his wife, Sarah, socially, and they were talking about moving to L.A. I had done The Trouble With Normal with Victor Fresco, and both Andy and Victor called me separately and asked, “What do you think about” about each other. You know, Andy asked me, “What do you think about Victor?” and Victor asked me, “What do you think about Andy?” And I said to both of them, “I think you should absolutely meet. You have similar senses of humor. Definitely you guys should meet.” So they met and figured out the idea of Andy Richter Controls The Universe. Victor said that he wrote the part of Jessica for me, but before their pilot got picked up, I signed on for an NBC pilot [Slightly Damaged People, created by Chuck Lorre], so I was tied up there.

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So they shot the pilot for Andy Richter Controls The Universe, it got picked up, then my NBC pilot didn’t get picked up, and Fox wanted to replace the girl who played Jessica, so Victor and Andy brought me into Fox to test for it. And Fox kept saying, “No, no, she’s not right,” and they would fly in a bunch of famous actresses from New York, and we’d go through this test again. So I ended up testing for the part three times, and then I guess Andy and Victor finally just turned around and said to the executives, “Can we just have her? We’ve auditioned 50 or 60 people. Can we just have her?” And they said, “Fine, whatever.”

And then when Andy Richter got picked up, the president of Fox at the time—who was really cool—he and his wife came up to me at one of those big network launching-the-new-shows parties and took me aside and said, “I didn’t get it. I didn’t get you. When you were auditioning, I didn’t think you were right for it. And I was completely wrong. You’re great. And my wife told me I was wrong, and she’s right, and we both just think you’re fantastic in this part.” And I thought that showed a lot of courage, for any network executive to say they were wrong about something.

AVC: Since you already knew Andy socially, did that help you find quick chemistry with him in front of the camera?

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PB: Oh, definitely. But, you know, honestly, Andy is a lot like Jon Cryer: such a nice guy, so smart, so kind and generous and enjoyable to be around. There isn’t really a way to not have chemistry with Andy. He’s just so much fun and so smart that you’re just so happy to be around him.

AVC: Were you surprised that Fox gave the series the ax after two seasons, or given its quirkiness, were you just surprised that they picked it up at all?

PB: Well, I mean, all of us—Irene [Molloy] and James [Patrick Stewart] and [Jonathan] Slavin and Andy—we had a great time on that show, but I remember when it started airing, and we thought it was funny. We were cracking ourselves up all the time, and Victor Hammer, our director of photography, and our camera operator, we’d all laugh in the middle of takes. We thought we were hilarious. [Laughs.] We were having a great time.

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But when the reviews started coming out, they were so positive. And maybe we were all just sort of so excited that we were all doing exactly what we wanted and enjoyed each other and we loved the show and thought it was funny, but at the time, the critics were just so overwhelmingly positive about the show that we were looking at each other and we’d be, like, “We’re not that good, right?” It was like these guys got together and just decided that they were gonna pick a show that they all thought was funny. We really started thinking that there was some sort of conspiracy. [Laughs.] I mean, we were enjoying it, but actors just don’t get praise that often. I mean, not regular working people like us. So we sort of suspected there was a conspiracy. But then we got nominated for an Emmy for writing!

But then our numbers, I think we got, like, 4 million viewers, which today you’d stay on the air, but back then you were canceled. For all that, we only did, like, 19 episodes. So it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. [Laughs.] It was a bummer to be canceled! That was very upsetting. It was sad.

Modern Family (2014)—“Trish”

PB: Oh, yeah! That was really nice. They just offered the part, to do one episode as Benjamin Bratt’s smart girlfriend, and that was a blast. That show, Modern Family, it runs so well. Those guys, for a single-camera comedy, they don’t work longer than nine or 10 hours a day. Usually with single-camera you’re there at least 12 hours, usually 14 or 15 hours a day. But that show runs so well, they just are really flawless. And everyone’s having such a great time! And Sofia Vergara is genuinely so funny, but I’m not sure she speaks as much English as we think she does. Like, she’s partly funny because she’s saying [Does a Sofia Vergara impression.] “Ay, I don’t know, what is this?” And it’s hilarious! But they all love each other, they really enjoy each other, and I was just really impressed by everyone there. They’re having a great time.

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My Big Fat Independent Movie (2005)—“Julianne”
Man Of The House (2005)—“Binky Beauregard”

PB: Man Of The House was… an experience. [Laughs.] Again, I auditioned, and then I found out, like, a month or two later. You know, you get a call saying, “Okay, you got the part of Binky,” and you think, “What? Binky? What’s that? What did I… Oh! Binky!”

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We shot in Austin, Texas, and that was the biggest film I’ve ever shot, as far as budget. And, you know, Tommy Lee Jones is a huge star, and it shot over the course of, like, months. Usually I do independent films which shoot in three weeks. Or, you know, five weeks, tops. But that was a big-budget movie, so that probably took three months to shoot. And I was shooting another movie called My Big Fat Independent Movie in Lancaster, California. So I would shoot in Austin, Texas and then give up my hotel room at the Omni, give it back to production to trade for a flight back to L.A., and then drive up to Lancaster to shoot on the other movie, and then fly back to Austin when they needed me for Man Of The House. And then months after we finished shooting that, they re-shot half the movie with Cedric The Entertainer! Like, they rewrote a bunch of stuff and shot it with Cedric.

But I’m working with now with Christina Milian in Grandfathered… and she was one of those cheerleaders! And Brian Van Holt was in Man Of The House, too, and we were just living Austin. We were hanging out, going to bars. Quentin Tarantino was there for some reason, and he was hanging out with one of the cheerleaders. So we were all going out, listening to music, and Brian wanted to buy a house in Austin, and all the Longhorns cheerleaders were throwing themselves at him, and it was pretty great. It was really fun. Even though it seemed sort of strange that they re-shot half the movie!

AVC: What was it like squaring off against Tommy Lee? That moment in the trailer where you’re telling him, “Put on your happy face!” is kind of awesome.

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PB: Oh, I was scared. Because I had to smack him on the ass! And he’s intimidating. Listen, Tommy Lee Jones is a gruff, intimidating guy. You’re just scared of him. Before you meet him, you’re scared of him. But he was great. I think he’s more brusque with men. I think he enjoyed being around ladies, so he was very nice to me. [Laughs.] But he just has this accent. [Does a Tommy Lee Jones impression.] “Paget! Where’ve you been? We’ve been shooting without you. What’ve you been up to?” He’s just funny. So that ended up being nice, because I was so afraid of him, but he’s just a curmudgeon. He’s a curmudgeon, but he likes being around ladies. So it ended up being really fun.

Love & Money (1999-2000)—“Allison Conklin”

PB: [Dan] Staley and [Rob] Long wrote that, and… Wait a minute, isn’t that Brian Van Holt, too? That was before Man Of The House, but Brian Van Holt was my love interest in Love & Money! That was one that had gone through a lot of cast changes. I replaced… an actress. [Laughs.] Who was very good, but for whatever reason they wanted to replace her. And then it was me, Judy Greer, and John Livingston, and Frank Langella played our dad, but then Frank didn’t want to do a gag. He was delightful, but he and the writers just couldn’t come to agreement on it, so he was, like, “I think I should go,” and they said, “Okay.”

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And then we got David Ogden Stiers to play our dad, but then the guy in the pilot who originally played the janitor’s son—who was also a great actor who everyone loves and who has gone on to do exceptionally well—he was replaced! So we shot that pilot three times! But Swoosie Kurtz played my mom, and that series gave me my favorite review, even though it was negative. You know how Entertainment Weekly has a paragraph about each new show and they break down what it is and whether or not you should watch it? Our Entertainment Weekly review was, “Love & Money: She’s rich, he’s poor, who cares?” Which I thought was so succinct and hilarious that, even though it was against the show, you kind of have to admire the economy of that review. [Laughs.] That still cracks me up. I don’t remember who wrote it, but I thought it was hilarious. But I think we only aired, I don’t know, three or four episodes? We shot 13, but I think we were canceled fairly quickly.

An interesting thing came out of shooting that. It was a multi-camera, it was in front of an audience, and what happened was that Rob Long and Dan Staley told me they had realized a crucial mistake in the creation of the pilot. My character is going to marry this rich guy, and then I realize that I still have a crush on the janitor’s son, but the pilot mostly takes place in the apartment and in the foyer of what is supposed to be this Donald Trump-esque—that level of wealth—penthouse apartment in Manhattan. So to shoot the pilot, they built this elaborate foyer set, which cost… whatever. Half a million. Who knows what it cost. But that dictated that for the rest of the show we had to shoot most of our stuff in the foyer, because that was our main set. Like, Friends had two apartments and the coffee shop as their main sets, but you can shoot the whole show in two apartments and a coffee shop. You can’t shoot a whole family comedy in the entryway to a large apartment. [Laughs.]

So I always thought that was so interesting, just from a creative standpoint: You have to be aware of what world the show is going to live in and where it’s going to live in the future. It’s not just about, “We’ve got to sell the pilot, and we need this wedding sequence on this enormous staircase.” You have to think about more than that. And I thought it was very generous of Rob and Dan to say when we got canceled, “Look, this is what happened: We had to put everything in the foyer.” [Laughs.] It was very sweet of them to say, “It’s not you guys, we did the best we could, but we did it to ourselves.” It was interesting to be told that.

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AVC: And educational, no doubt.

PB: Yeah, definitely! I’m always surprised—as evidenced by some of what we’ve discussed already—when people are willing to admit when they’ve made a mistake or that they’ve learned from something. It’s always surprising to me, because it doesn’t really happen all that much. I think generally TV and film is a business where the currencies are money and fear, and most people never want to admit that they’re wrong or that they don’t know someone or that they can’t fix something. So I’m always impressed when people have enough character or sense of self to say, “Oops! I blew it. And here’s where I blew it.” You know what I mean? It can be a creepy business. People can be creepy. I’m sure you’ve interviewed some of them! [Laughs.]

Agent 15 (2001)—“Agent 15”
Brainwarp (2003)—“Lipstikk”
Kidney Thieves (2006)—“Melinda”

AVC: You’ve done several short films over the years, featuring a number of notable comedians: you worked with Jay Johnston in the Agent 15 films and in Brainwarp, and then Paul F. Tompkins was in Brainwarp as well as Kidney Thieves.

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PB: Yeah, Jay and I dated for a long time and lived together for a long time, and Paul was his writing partner. And then when Jay and I broke up, well, you know, when you’re younger and people break up and people take sides, Paul went with Jay for a little bit. [Laughs.] And then I won him back! I won him back like a year later, and we’ve been very, very close ever since.

And Paul still works with Jay. They just did—and I did—a part on With Bob And David. It’s the same group from Mr. Show, but they couldn’t use the name Mr. Show from HBO, so Netflix shot four episodes of With Bob And David. Jay and Paul were originally part of the cast, but I went and did a guest spot on one of them. And then for 10 years Paul and I have done a live stage show here at Largo called The Thrilling Adventure Hour, and we just went to New Zealand and Australia and performed there, and we’re going to perform in Brooklyn in October.

AVC: Of the various shorts, Brainwarp is probably the most bizarre, but Agent 15 definitely seems to have the most memorable promo photo.

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PB: Yeah, Agent 15 was [cinematographer] Don Spiro and his girlfriend at the time, Augusta. They wrote these James Bond parodies with a female James Bond character named Agent 15, and I played Agent 15. We shot those, and I don’t know where they got the money to do it, because they built sets, we had costumes, and I think we shot eight or nine of them. But that was just fun. That was just, like, shooting at people’s houses and asking, “Hey, can we shoot in your backyard?” It won some awards, too. I just can’t remember what! [Laughs.]

And then Brainwarp was Jon Schnepp and Eric Hoffman. Eric Hoffman wrote those and played Brainwarp, and Jon Schnepp directed it. Jon had a green screen in his garage, so we shot everything there. Paul played a character called The Whip or something? I can’t remember, but his head was a whip. [In fact, his name was Whip-Head.—ed.] And I was Lipstikk, and we were just a bunch of supervillains. We shot a couple of those. Wow, you’re going back! [Laughs.]

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Thrilling Adventure Hour Live (2015)—“Sadie Doyle”

AVC: How did The Thrilling Adventure Hour first come about?

PB: Oh, that was Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who just wrote these fake radio shows—Sparks Nevada, Marshall On Mars, and Beyond Belief, with the boozy mediums—and we did it the first time, I think, at the old Largo. Or maybe not. No, we must’ve performed it the first time at M Bar, at Vine And Fountain, which was a supper club, and I think maybe 110 people fit in there. You had to order dinner. [Laughs.] So basically we did dinner theater for five years. And I’m not kidding, the stage was 7 feet across, and we had to get a five-person band on it and all of the actors, sharing three microphones. And it was always an ambitious show: There were always between 10 and 20 cast members. But the cast members who were not on stage would just crowd around the bar, right in the same room. So we would all be dressed up, and from the bar we’d be singing the songs that other people on stage were singing, and then we’d switch places and we’d run up on stage, and the people on stage would run past us and go hang out at the bar. [Laughs.]

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I thought it was delightful. I loved it. I really loved it. I didn’t want to move to the new Largo—the Coronet Theater, in Los Angeles—because I just thought, “Oh, no, no, no! We’re so separated, and it’s not us running through the audience!” But Largo at the Coronet ended up really being great, because we were able to do the show for more people, we were recording podcasts, and we were just able to do it on a larger scale. And although I miss the intimacy of M Bar, I appreciate everything we got to do at Largo, and [Mark] Flanagan, the owner, has been so supportive and great to us.

Right now, Ben and Ben have decided to sort of suspend it. We’re not doing the show we way we did every month, once a month. They’re taking a break. You know, they have day jobs. They’re staff writers on shows, so they got tired of generating so much material. A 90- to 110-page script every month of new material is a lot! So they’ve taken a break, but we—all of the cast members and the fans—are secretly hoping that they’ll start to miss this great world they created and that we’ll be able to do it again, hopefully three or four times a year. So we’re all waiting for that, hoping that they change their minds. [Laughs.]

AVC: You guys did do a concert film not terribly long ago, though.

PB: That’s right! Yeah, we did a Kickstarter campaign a year or two ago and raised enough to do a concert film. And I guess it’s available now, because they were selling them in New Zealand. I had to carry back a suitcase full of DVDs. [Laughs.] So, yes, you can buy one. In fact, you should buy one. Everyone should buy one!

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You know, we’re just a bunch of friends. We’ve been doing it for 10 years live. There’s no money in it. I think for the Armageddon Convention a producer in Australia and New Zealand paid to fly us all there. So, yeah, if you could encourage people to buy the DVD, then maybe we might get our hundred dollars for shooting it. [Laughs.] I think we were supposed to all get paid a hundred bucks. I’m pretty sure no one’s been paid.

AVC: Well, we’ll definitely do our part to help by including a link for readers to purchase a copy of the DVD.

PB: Please! [Laughs.] Thank you!

[To purchase a copy of Thrilling Adventure Hour Live on DVD, click here.]

Unaccompanied Minors (2006)—“Valerie Davenport”

PB: Paul [F. Tompkins] still makes fun of me by singing the theme song. [Starts rapping.] “Unaccompanied minors! / Trapped in the airport!” He loves making fun of me. I think that was Paul Feig’s first studio movie, but… Look, with most film directors, the first movie you make is where you’re gonna learn everything. You’re gonna learn everything because no one can know everything before doing it. You can go to dental school, but until you actually perform dental surgery, you don’t really know.

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So I don’t think Paul is really in love with that movie. I think he learned a lot on it, and I think it was a great experience, but I think he ended up having to make a lot of concessions to the studio. I get the impression that people feel Bridesmaids was his first movie, but that’s fine with me. But like Jon Cryer and Andy Richter, that guy is just a sweetheart and wonderful to everyone and has a great work ethic and is lovely, so whatever that guy wants. If that was not an enjoyable experience for him, then I’m totally fine with it.

We shot in Salt Lake City, and it was, you know, young kids. And he’d obviously done Freaks And Geeks and had worked with teenagers—or people in their earlier 20s playing teenagers—but working with kids is tough. It’s a whole different thing. I’m not even sure I’ve seen it all the way through, so I can’t tell you if I think it’s the best movie I’ve ever done, either. But, look, most movies are not good. That’s the way it goes. It’s really hard to make a movie. Anything artistic is hard. It’s a business. Paintings and dance and theater and television and film… Most of it is bad. It’s no one’s fault. Or it’s everyone’s fault. Who knows? But that’s just the way it is.

The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)—“Jenny Spy”

AVC: This is probably the last one that could be potentially painful.

PB: I don’t know if I’ve seen that one all the way through, either. [Laughs.] Here’s what happened. The director was Des McAnuff, I auditioned for the Natasha part, and he called me back, so I went to Hollywood Boulevard and I, uh, went into one of those stripper boutiques on Hollywood Boulevard and had Natasha’s dress made out of rubbery reddish-purple synthetic fabric, and I got the same shoes that the cartoon character wears, those black strappy ones. They’re hideous! And I went and auditioned for that film all told, I think, five times, in front of a room of 20 people. And of course it’s going to go to Rene Russo. I love her. I mean, I watch The Thomas Crown Affair, the one with her and Pierce Brosnan, twice a year. I love her. Of course it should’ve been her that got the part. But then Des said, “Hey, will you play this part of the talk show host?” And because I had done The Paget Show in San Francisco, I was, like, “Sure, I’d love to!”

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That was a big-budget movie, too, and even though I only worked a couple of days, it was still felt like being part of a big-budget movie, because they gave me a voice coach. There was this very fancy, highfalutin voice-coach guy in New York City who called me on the phone. I was living in Beachwood Canyon, in what was actually Matt LeBlanc’s previous apartment, and the voice coach guy called me from New York and taught me how to do that accent. Because it’s Spotsylvania. It’s not Transylvania, it’s not Romanian, it’s not Russian. It’s a very specific Spotsylvanian accent. [Laughs.] So he trained me over the phone, and it just felt very glamorous. That was a really big deal for me.

So that was exciting. And technically I’m in a movie with Robert De Niro, so it’s aces all around. [Laughs.] That’s one of my best parts, because if you look back, I think that’s what connects me to Kevin Bacon. That movie is gold for me. That’s not painful. That was a glorious time!

Desperate But Not Serious a.k.a. Reckless + Wild (2000)—“Frances”

PB: That was Bill Fishman, who wrote and directed Tapeheads. He and his brother wrote it—there were other writers, it wasn’t just them—and Bill directed it. That was me and Christine Taylor and Claudia Schiffer, and it’s one night in L.A. where we’re trying to find John Corbett, because Christine’s character fell for John’s character while they were traveling abroad, and she finds out he’s in Los Angeles for one night. Henry Rollins was in it. Unfortunately—and I don’t think anyone involved in that film would disagree with me—the flaw of that film is that it’s two twentysomething girls in a movie where the humor is specifically pretty clearly for 15- to 18-year-old boys. So that’s how it missed the mark, I think.

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But that was one of the first movies I shot, and, man, I learned a lot on that. And also… [Hesitates.] Ugh. Poor Claudia Schiffer. Ugh. I won’t say who it was, but we had been shooting a week and a half, Christine and I, and the first scene we shot with Claudia Schiffer was at dawn, in a car. We had to shoot specifically at dawn, so you’ve got 20 minutes, maybe? You’ve got a fleet of Pink Dot vehicles driving towards the airport, and Claudia refuses to say the dialogue. We know our dialogue, and she says [Does a Claudia Schiffer impression.] “Oh, no, I’m not going to say that. My acting coach and I, we have rewritten this scene.” We were, like, “What?”

Her acting coach—who, having affected my life to that degree, is a piece of human garbage—basically was sucking money out of this supermodel who was completely innocent. I don’t think Claudia Schiffer has a mean bone in her body. I think she was so desperate to act and not just be a model. I think she really wanted to act and have new experiences and have fun. I mean, she was doing an indie! That was a low-budget movie, and she had the balls to say, “Yeah, I’ll do it. This will be a fun part!” And then her acting coach is just vacuuming money out of Claudia’s account by saying, “We need to rewrite the script.” And she would rehearse Claudia into the ground, and Claudia genuinely thought that she was not speaking with an accent, because this piece-of-crap acting coach had convinced her that she couldn’t change lines, she couldn’t take direction… [Sighs.] So that was a bummer.

I don’t blame Claudia in any way. I think she honestly was trying to do her best and that she was absolutely taken advantage of by someone who wanted a producing credit and wanted a writing credit and wanted to get as much money. I mean, Claudia Schiffer was worth tons of millions of dollars. And this woman just took it, just conned Claudia into thinking she needed this person around all the time. It was just gross and abusive and crappy. And Claudia Schiffer didn’t end up doing a lot of acting, I think, because the reputation that traveled with her was, “You’re going to be stuck with so-and-so, and she’s going to rewrite your script, and…” [Sighs again.] I don’t like that person. Even having never met her, I still don’t like her. You know what I mean? I can’t say who it is. I don’t want to be sued. But I think she’s a piece of crap. And I don’t think Claudia was to blame.

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Huff (2002-2004)—“Beth Huffstodt”

PB: That was great. That was the first real sort of drama show I had done. It was before Criminal Minds. I had really only done comedy up to that point, and I auditioned for it, and Bob Lowry, who wrote it and created it, hired almost exclusively comedic people to do this drama that was sort of based on his mom, in a way. [Laughs.] Blythe Danner was my mother-in-law, Hank Azaria was my husband, Swoosie Kurtz was my mom… again, I should say, having worked with her on Love & Money. Anton Yelchin was a kid! You know, he had already done some movies when he was younger, but he was 16 or 17 by then. And Oliver Platt! I mean, those people are all funny people. So we did two seasons, and Showtime treated us beautifully. That was Bob Greenblatt who was running Showtime then, and he was great.

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AVC: When we talked to Hank Azaria, he said he was disappointed that the show didn’t get picked up for a third season.

PB: Yeah, we all felt that way. And I can’t tell you why I think that happened. [Laughs.] No, I really can’t! I wish I could. But, yeah, it’s a shame we didn’t get a third season.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law (2005-2007)—“Birdgirl / Judy Ken Sebben”

PB: Oh, yeah. Those guys are great, but there’s not much I can say about that, because you basically go into a record studio by yourself. But the fans of Harvey Birdman are extraordinary, and I think that show was hilarious. I wish it hadn’t come to an end. It was just a lot of fun. But they were never able to get the cast all into the studio at the same time, so that was all a case of where you’d record by yourself. There was a guy in the cast, though… Peter MacNicol, who was on Ally McBeal, a couple of times I would come to record Harvey Birdman, and Peter would be leaving, so we would just hang out for a few minutes while they were setting up whatever tapes they needed for me. But that’s the only guy who I ever really got to see from Harvey Birdman!

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AVC: So you never had the opportunity to go up to Stephen Colbert and say, “Hi, Dad”?

PB: [Laughs.] No! I never even met him!

The Venture Brothers (2013 & 2015)—“Amber Gold”

AVC: Did your stint on The Venture Brothers come about because of James Urbaniak being part of Thrilling Adventure Hour?

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PB: And Jackson Publick, also. He always performs with us when we do Thrilling Adventure in New York, because he lives in New York. He’s a member of our WorkJuice Players East. But I think James suggested me to him, and that’s how I’ve done a few of those. Yeah, those guys are nuts. He’s nuts, Jackson Publick. I like him very much. He is his own guy. He’s very funny and very laid back, and then he just works 18 hours a day for seven months straight and goes a little crazy. I mean, he goes crazy. Because you can’t not sleep for that long.

I mean, he doesn’t do anything violent or illegal. [Laughs.] It’s just that once you start recording Venture Brothers, he’s still writing the episodes to come, editing the ones that they’ve already done the voice work for, and approving the drawings that are coming back from Korea or wherever the hell they’re done. He does it. He is a one-man operation. Jackson’s great. He cracks me up. I wish he wouldn’t do that to himself, though. I wish he could delegate responsibility… but that’s not who that guy is! He’s got bags under his eyes, and he’s just so beat, but he’s so far invested. He’s just running on fumes… and he’s still running!

Criminal Minds (2006-2014)—“Emily Prentiss”

PB: How I got that was, I had just finished Man Of The House, I was shooting a made-for-TV movie called A Perfect Day with Rob Lowe in New Orleans, and still flying back to L.A. to shoot My Big Fat Independent Movie, and I realized that I hated shooting movies. Well, not hated it. I just thought, “Oh, you’re not an actor unless you’re doing movies,” and then I actively was pursuing shooting movies. But then I shot four movies in a row and realized, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to live in hotels. I don’t want to fly back and forth.” I got laryngitis, I was constipated… [Laughs.] It’s a lousy life! You’re tired, you never see your friends or family, you’re just flying back and forth and doing your laundry in the bathtub, and I just thought it was lonesome.

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So I called my agents and I said, “Guys, I was wrong. I was totally wrong. I want to do a TV show. I want to work with the same people every day. I just want to do TV. This was a mistake. Traveling around doing films is not the way to go for me: I’m a homebody, and I’ve made peace with that.” And they called back the next day, and I think I was actually watching Criminal Minds! [Laughs.] And they said, “Would you go meet on this show?” And I said, “Yeah!” Because at that time—and I have since grown out of this phase—I was one of those people who had every serial killer book, I knew everything, I watched everything… If there was a book about it, I owned it and had read it. So they said, “Come in and meet with [executive producers] Ed Bernero and Mark Gordon and Simon Mirren.”

So I went, and they said, “This is the second season of our show, the character of Elle Greenaway has moved on, and we’re looking for a female to come into the team. It’s sort of a new person who can now ask questions, so the audience gets the chance to see this cast through new eyes. That’s what we want you to play. And we do work with consultants from the FBI. Like, right now we’re working on a script about a guy who’s got a trailer and it’s outfitted with torture devices, and he’s in the desert, and his girlfriend…” And I said, “Oh, you’re talking about the Toybox Killer.” [Laughs.] And they all were silent.

They looked at me, and I said, “It’s David Parker Ray.” But they were like, “How do you know that?” And I said, “Oh, well, I’ve seen the interviews that he did.” And they were like, “Yeah, but… why?” I said, “I’m one of those people. I just know this stuff. I know what you’re doing, I think you do it really well, and I watch your show. I’m obsessed with serial killers, too.” And they were sort of floored and a little perturbed, but I think they were, like, “Well, at least she knows what we’re doing!” [Laughs.]

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So I left that meeting, I had parked on the street outside Mark Gordon’s production company building, and as I walked out to the car, and it was like the Judy Garland and Fred Astaire movie [Easter Parade], where she’s making faces at people. Fred Astaire is, like, “I need to know if you have it,” and Judy Garland is walking down the street, making faces at the people who are walking toward her, so that they’ll turn around and do a double-take and Fred Astaire will think she’s got that special something. Well, as I’m walking toward my car, I start making faces at people, hoping that the writers from Criminal Minds and Mark Gordon are looking out the window and saying, “Oh, she’s got something!” [Laughs.] Because a guy on a bike, I made a face, and he whistled. But I think he was doing a low whistle, like, “That chick’s crazy!” But I thought, “Yeah! I got one!” Oh, it’s so embarrassing. I asked them later, and they said they weren’t looking out the window. But I ended up getting the job anyway.

AVC: At the end of season five of Criminal Minds, were you blindsided when you got the word about the budget cuts—or whatever was going on—and that they’d dropped you and A.J. Cook from the cast?

PB: Oh, yeah, that wasn’t budget cuts. Inside one of our episodes, we had shot a spinoff with Beau Garrett, Forest Whittaker, Mike Kelly, and Matt Ryan, and—honestly—the next thing we heard, A.J. and I were fired. [Someone from] CBS had just called Ed Bernaro and said, “I want new women.” So we were fired, the fans were upset, there was a petition… A.J. shot an episode to sort of explain where J.J. was going, but my agents had negotiated for me to do 17 episodes and then leave. Because we were fired. So I went to the writers and said, “Just kill my character, give the team something to do, and I’ll leave.” I was heartbroken. I was so happy there. I loved everyone there, and it was easily one of the most hurtful things that’s ever happened, to be fired because they wanted “new women.” Our showrunner quit after that, he was so pissed off. He felt that he couldn’t run his show after we were let go.

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So now A.J.’s gone, I’m training Rachel Nichols to replace me and A.J., I died, and then I shot a pilot that didn’t go… and then it was announced that I was returning to Criminal Minds! And I called my agents, and I said, “I’m not! What do they mean I’m returning to Criminal Minds?” And they said, “Well, they added another year to your contract for you to get those 17 episodes.” And I couldn’t understand that. So I was forced to go back or… terrifying things were inferred. And I was kind of pissed, but then I went back and thought, “I love everyone there!” I hated CBS. [What they did] was just scummy. But everyone at Criminal Minds I really enjoy and I really like and I really care about. So I did that last year, and then I said, “I love everyone here, but I realize now, having left, that my heart isn’t in it.” And that’s what they wrote for Emily Prentiss: They wrote Emily Prentiss saying, “Since I’ve come back, I’ve realized that my heart isn’t in it, and I want to do other things.” And it was true. That was just true from how I was feeling about the situation, and I wanted to do comedy.

You know, Criminal Minds is really hard. It’s 15, 16, 17 hours a day, you shoot until 5, 6, 7 a.m. Saturday morning, and then you go back in at 5 a.m. on Monday. It’s your whole life. And you don’t go anywhere, you don’t see anyone… It takes over everything. And I loved doing it, but I was so soured by the experience of being fired for no reason. Because it wasn’t budget cuts. The person they had hired to replace us got paid twice what we got paid! It’s a network that’s not particularly kind to women. That’s why a lot of women leave those procedurals. Or are fired. It’s tough.

I was hoping that I could do a couple of guest spots this year, but because of Grandfathered, I couldn’t do it. But if there’s a chance in the future for me to guest-star on that show and play Emily Prentiss again, I would love to, because I love our fans, I think it’s a great show, and I was incredibly fortunate to be given that role and to have learned everything I learned and to have friends for the rest of my life. Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Dr. Reid, his best friend is now my husband. [Laughs.] You know, Gubler got ordained for one day. Kirsten [Vangsness] and Joe [Mantegna], those guys were at my wedding three years after I left Criminal Minds. They’re an extraordinary bunch of people, and I miss them and I care about them. But at that time I was so mad. Not at any of them. I was mad at the situation. And I thought A.J. and I were treated poorly, as have several women since. So it was a bummer.

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But I still consider myself part of that show. People come up to me speaking other languages because they think I speak other languages fluently. [Laughs.] And sometimes they think I’m on the show now, because they’re watching season five, or maybe because in other countries it’s on a different schedule. And sometimes people say, “Oh, why did you leave?” But a lot of times people are just happy to see me because they love that show. And that’s kind of an extraordinary feeling. Our fans are wonderful people, and I was really, really lucky to have gotten that experience and been able to do that show.

Another Period (2015)—“Dodo Bellacourt”

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AVC: How did you end up in the ensemble of Another Period?

PB: I knew Natasha and Riki for years before that, and they asked me to do it. I think they were shooting it as a webseries. They asked me to play their mom, but I couldn’t do it. I was shooting something else. And then they shot a presentation reel, and then they took it to Comedy Central, and Comedy Central said, “We’re going to shoot the pilot with this other actress.” So she played Dodo in the pilot, but when the show was picked up, she was on a show and couldn’t do it, so they came back to me.

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So that’s how I ended up playing their mom. I just went to the table read of a couple of the scripts, thinking it was going to be this other actress playing Dodo, but since she was shooting her show, I just did the table read as a favor, as a friend. And then they said, “Well, now she can’t do it, so will you do it?” So I said, “Yeah,” and that’s how it happened! [Laughs.] I think it took a year and a half, maybe two years between originally shooting that first footage with Jeremy Connor, the director who co-created Drunk History, to actually starting to shoot the show.

AVC: Did they have pretty much the entire first season mapped out as far as where they wanted things to go?

PB: Pretty much. Right before we started shooting, I think we read three scripts in a row on one day for them to get notes and get a feeling for what they were doing, but every single cast member besides Natasha and Riki were guest stars. Everybody else was sort of doing other shows and, uh, hiding the fact that we were also shooting Another Period. [Laughs.] And we had 35 days to shoot all 10 episodes. All 10 episodes were shot concurrently, so on any day we would shoot scenes from episode six, episode two, episode nine… It was the only way to get all of that cast in to shoot their parts, because people couldn’t take a day off from their other shows.

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At a certain point, we lost David Wain. I think he started working on Wet Hot American Summer and we lost him. So one day while we were shooting, they were, like, “Okay, we need to get David Wain in a hospital bed so that we can just shoot his reactions and use them throughout the season.” This is something they came up with when Peepers’ American Indian family comes to visit him. They threw an ax into David Wain’s chest, so that he’d end up in the hospital. But they had to make that up on the fly. The through-lines were constantly changing depending on who was available for what, and they’re writing on the fly to get all of the characters into all the scenes, because all of a sudden it’d be, like, “Oh, today we lost Brian Huskey: He can’t make it back, he’s shooting Selfie.” They were incredibly improvisational. Not that we improvised the script, but that they were able to roll with those conditions.

Basically, each episode took three and a half days, and it looks beautiful, but we could only shoot 12 hours a day. We shot everything at the Paramour Mansion in Silverlake, in L.A., and we were only allowed in at 8 a.m., and we had to be out by 8 p.m. That’s heaven, because normally on a single-camera show you’re shooting 14 or 15 hours. And there were no trailers, no nothing. We shared a couch in the carriage house that was the makeup room. And everybody had a blast. It was the opposite of any network show that anyone had ever done. It really felt like what we all were trying to do in high school: making short films with friends. Because pretty much everyone had either worked together or at least knew each other from comedy, from live shows or working together on other shows. So it was perfect. It was a great experience.

I was there just about every day. Anyone who was available the whole time, we could cover the people who had to jump in or jump out. I did shoot a pilot, but I got permission to keep shooting Another Period as long as it didn’t interfere, and I think I ended up missing four days to shoot this pilot. The pilot was set in modern-day Los Angeles, and… I don’t want to say what it was. But the comparisons between shooting this pilot, where they’re, like, “We need to lighten her hair, we need to put her in heels… Oh, but that’ll make her taller than the guy. You know, we just need her to be more attractive!” And then I would go back to Another Period and put on a wig and just have a great time. And I ended up feeling like, “Ugh, Hollywood is bullshit! I’d rather play an old lady in a Victorian outfit up on the hilltop with no trailers!” [Hesitates.] Does that make any sense? It was just such a weird comparison between the two, you know?

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AVC: It does. If you heard me laughing, it’s because I’m pretty sure that’s the second time you’ve uttered the phrase “Hollywood is bullshit” in this interview.

PB: [Laughs.] Well, Hollywood can be bullshit! But if I was still bartending, I’d feel the same way about bartending: That job had some bullshit, too. Most jobs do. But the bullshit is what makes the good stuff so good!

AVC: You spent more time on camera with Michael Ian Black than anyone else. You hadn’t worked with him before, had you?

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PB: Actually, no, I hadn’t even met him before. He lives in Connecticut and was on The Jim Gaffigan Show, and he got permission to do it, too, so they got him an Airbnb apartment in Los Angeles and he was there for the whole thing. So we just ended up spending a lot of time hanging out on set, and he’s great.

I hadn’t read any of his books, but he’s a great writer. One day while we were there, I had brought my Kindle, and I bought his book You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales Of Marriage, Sex, Death, And Other Humiliations, and I read it one day. He was so mortified. He was, like, “Ugh! Should my book have been longer?” I was, like, “No, I just read really fast!” So he was embarrassed, but throughout the day I would walk to him and say things, like, “And the part about your dad? Oh, my God!” He’s a great, great writer. And his next book… He let me read it, but it hasn’t been published yet, so I don’t know what I can say about it, but it’s amazing.

AVC: So did you actually do any research into morphine addiction before tackling your role?

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PB: I’ll be honest with you: I just looked it up on, like, AskADoctor.com. That’s about it. [Laughs.] Because obviously I’ve never done morphine. I don’t even know if you can get your hands on morphine these days… and I’m not Method enough to try!

AVC: Is there a definitive Dodo moment from the first season that leaps to mind, or a favorite moment from the overall Another Period experience?

PB: What’s really cool is that people were watching it while it was airing, and now even more people are watching it on Hulu or maybe the Comedy Central app. My neighbor, who’s a lawyer, will just text me lines that Dodo says. [Laughs.] It’s really striking that so many people I’ve talked to—like a novelist the other night—are saying, “Oh, Another Period!” And then Riki texted that Shonda Rhimes said she wished she’d thought of the idea! But to your point, I did love shooting that bald eagle. I shot a bald eagle with a blow dart and yelled, “Majestic no more!” And that cracked me up. I loved that. I thought that was really funny.

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AVC: You mentioned how you weren’t able to do Criminal Minds because of Grandfathered. How will that affect you doing Another Period? Will you be able to continue?

PB: I don’t know. I think that we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it. Unfortunately, the way networks operate, they have you exclusively, and they don’t let you do other things. The reason I was able to do Another Period and Community… Well, like I said, I shot that pilot, but it was for Amazon, and Amazon’s point of view is, “Oh, absolutely! Go shoot that show, because the more people are watching you, the more people that’ll watch the pilot if we pick it up!” Same thing with Netflix. But the old standards—ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox—when they sign you, they sign you exclusively. And while technically I should be able to do three guest spots, the network can say, “No. You can’t do anything.” So that’s sort of what‘s happened so far.

So I don’t know. We’ll see next year. I hope that networks will sort of take a cue from these new media that say, “There’s enough for everyone.” No one’s watching on a schedule anymore. People are DVR-ing and watching online. I’m hoping we reach a point where nobody is able to hold someone exclusively for a year and a half, so that person can’t work because they shot a pilot. I think it’s an old system that needs to change.

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So I would love to do Another Period. I’m super excited that they got picked up for another season. But like I said, none of us were series regulars except for Natasha and Riki, who created it and own it. All of us had other shows, so we all did it as guest stars. But everyone else was able to do it for the first season, so hopefully that’ll hold true next season. If Grandfathered is successful and we come back next year, I’m hoping there’ll be a way for me to do Another Period as well.