Busy Philipps knows how headlines work.
She’s been in the business for 20 years. Her best friend is Michelle Williams. She’s had headlines pegged to her movies and TV shows, about nostalgic cast reunions (they don’t get more nostalgic than Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek, do they?), and, lately, about her Instagram.
And because Busy Philipps knows headlines, she’s in an anxiety spiral.
“I’m sorry that I just said ‘go fuck yourself’ about that woman…” she says, rolling her eyes at herself as she dives for a large gulp of her extra-large iced coffee. “I’m going to spiral about this for the next three days.”
Philipps was reacting to said woman’s flippant, uncompassionate reaction to her new film I Feel Pretty, which Philipps co-stars in alongside Amy Schumer, and which her husband Marc Silverstein co-wrote. There’s been a lot of those flippant, uncompassionate responses to the film. Well, more specifically, to its trailer that, because it’s only a 90-second tease of the film, failed to accurately and entirely represent its movie’s message.
Because we know Philipps from her resume of best-friend roles on screen (add Cougar Town to the aforementioned Freaks and Geeks and Creek), from headlines about her famous best-friendship (she and Michelle Williams are going 16-years strong), and our own digital intimacy through her conversational Instagram Stories, we’ve all been expecting Philipps to be that perfect combination of breezy, smart, and relatable, as best friends are, when talking about I Feel Pretty, its misperceptions, and its backlash. And, to be honest, Philipps is all those things when we ask her about it.
But also, that woman can go fuck herself.
I Feel Pretty stars Schumer as Renee, a low-level employee at an aspirational beauty company whose adoration for it contrasts with her own crippling insecurities over what she perceives as her unattractiveness. Philipps plays Jane, a friend as baffled as the audience is over Renee’s reaction to what she sees in the mirror. But that’s the thing about mirrors: no one knows what the person staring into it sees reflected back.
At a SoulCycle class—a spin studio that Philipps has her own complicated (and expensive) relationship with—Renee hits her head in an accident, and wakes up thinking she’s the most beautiful person on earth. Because she suddenly likes what she sees in the mirror, she now has the confidence to, basically, kill it in every aspect of her life. The lesson: it’s hard to feel confident in your own skin, but when you journey to a place of acceptance, the world is your oyster.
Read reactions to the trailer however, and you’d think the film had a very different lesson: of body-shaming, that Amy Schumer isn’t attractive, that ugly women need head trauma to think they’re beautiful. And so now Philipps finds herself on a press tour setting the record straight and addressing that backlash. Candidly, that’s not the position she’d thought she be in right now, talking about a movie she genuinely loves with a message she really believes in.
“Did. Not,” she says, her mile-a-minute rasp punctuating in dramatic staccato when we ask if she expected the reaction to the film to be this intense and polarized. “I’m excited for the conversation to happen, but it bums me out a little bit.”
“For me the bummer is only that people started the discussion off a 20-second trailer of an hour-and-a-half film that they didn’t see yet, which a) is unfair and b) is the nature of the time we’re living in, where snap judgments are everybody’s bread and butter,” she says. “As you know writing for The Daily Beast”—clocked!—“the constant need for content on every website and everything, you want as much clickbait as possible. So the thing that’s the most salacious or the biggest headline is going to get the most views, right?”
So Philipps hit the road, traveling across the country to screen the movie and engage with audiences in Q&As, including one the night before we met at the SoHo-based fierce-female-professionals social club, The Wing. “People fucking love the movie,” Philipps says when I ask how it went. “I think once people see it, they understand that the joke is not on Amy and her looks.”
The idea is that no matter what part of the spectrum of attractiveness you may perceive yourself to fall on—even if you are Amy Schumer decked out in a flirty studio-film rom-com wardrobe—you might have self-imposed insecurities that you need to work through. Theoretically, that’s something universally relatable. That woman who can go fuck herself, however, did not see it that way.
“A woman said to me yesterday, ‘Well you’ve always been beautiful…’” Philipps recounts. “I’m like, are you fucking kidding me? When I started in this business people told me to remove every mole on my face, to lose 15 pounds. Like, go fuck yourself. I’m allowed to feel insecure as well. Just because you feel like I’m prettier than whatever, that’s the idea, that we’re all sort of fucked and in our own world. It’s hard to look outside of ourselves.”
Our conversation starts to veer toward the “Busy Philipps Is Your Best Friend” meme.
Friendship is really important to her. It’s her thing! The Cut recently said so. “Everybody says that…” Philipps says dryly, a good-natured scoff at her own expense, fully aware of what her brand is and maybe a little insecure about it, too. It’s an idea spun out of her Buzzfeed listicle-worthy relationship with Williams, whom she met on Dawson’s Creek and has celebrated the greatest highs—Award shows! Babies!—and weathered the lowest lows—Williams’s daughter with Heath Ledger was just three years old when he died—since.
“Michelle and I have seen each other through many different bad fashion phases, many haircuts, the times when I’ve done bangs, which I’ve always regretted, when we’ve had babies, and then, you know, had to lose the weight from babies,” Philipps says, interrupting her own laughter to bring it back to the lady who can go fuck herself, because she thinks she regrets saying it. Well, no, she doesn’t regret it. She’s “too old” for that, she says. But she does want to clarify because, again, she knows how headlines work, and she knows “you’re gonna be like ‘Busy Philipps says go fuck yourself a lot’ in your piece.” (She’s not wrong.)
“My only point about this and about the trailer is that I think it’s incredibly reductive to say that one person’s journey is less than because you think that they should feel a different way about themselves,” she says. “Your judgment of someone else’s appearance influencing the way you think they should feel about themselves isn’t fair. That’s my point.”
It’s here, as Philipps riffs on her acute awareness of the press and the content news cycle, that we become slightly fascinated with her own relationship with the press.
Being so closely associated with Williams, she’s witnessed the more callous paparazzi side of the business. But lately, owing to her increasingly popular Instagram Stories—in which she essentially live blogs her day through video, from workout classes to motherhood mayhem—she’s become a staple (victim?) of the web-outlet content frenzy, which spins her Stories into news items and faux controversies.
Recently, for example, she found herself trending after she posted a selfie video on the 10th anniversary of Heath Ledger’s death, in which she, in real time, cycled through the traumatic emotions she was feeling while remembering her lost friend. It was the first time she had ever publicly spoken about her grief over his passing. Some sites simply found her post newsworthy. Others accused of her exploiting Ledger’s death for attention.
“Just being totally honest, I don’t think that was the biggest Instagram Story story…” she says when we bring up how much attention the post got. (She estimates that either her account of a terrifying Uber ride, that time she got locked out of her house while drunk after the Golden Globes, or when she recovered her daughter’s lost teddy bear from Hawaii might actually have gotten the most press.)
She remembers the first time she saw something she said scandalized simply to fuel a news cycle, and her panic over it. It was during a HuffPost Live interview years ago, when she was asked to comment about another actress’s own micro-scandal and her response then, too, got picked up. She freaked. What do I do? Do I make a statement about it? Her husband brought her back to earth.
“Marc was like, you know this doesn’t exist,” she remembers. “This isn’t even real. It’s like the steam off of a kettle. It feels hot, but it disappears in three and a half seconds if you let it.”
Friends, I have never heard modern media described so perfectly.
“Truly, when I started doing the Instagram Stories, it was just a different way for me to communicate and be entertaining. That’s all I wanted it to be. So when people respond to that and they want to post it on People.com, or HuffPo or whatever. That’s so exciting. But it’s not real. It doesn’t exist.”
The Heath Ledger thing? “It’s like, OK, fine…” she groans, exaggeratedly, performing faux outrage: “Oh my god, someone took offense to the fact that I had a relationship with someone who died. Go fuck yourself!”
“Again! Why do I keep saying that!?”