10 Qs: Jessica St. Clair on Playing House, Friendsbians, and Anne of Green Gables Parties
There are very few people who actually get to work with their best friend every day. With Playing House — currently airing Tuesdays on USA — real life besties Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham get to do just that. In their second series together, Parham and St. Clair play friends — Maggie and Emma — who turn to each other when Maggie's marriage ends during her pregnancy. Following a number of roles in ensemble comedies, such as HBO's Veep and Bridesmaids, St. Clair is ready for the spotlight. Or rather, ready to share it with her best friend and co-star, Parham.
While on a break from filming, St. Clair took the time to answer our 10 most burning questions about reality TV, working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and a new term she's coined for female friendships: "friendsbians."
Out: How do you and Lennon Parham deal with real life conflict? Does that ever interfere or get in the way of the show?
Jessica St. Clair: It’s funny because Lennon and I always say that we are the most healthy, non-sexual, romantic relationship you could ever find. We actually, I think because we work so closely together and for so many hours, we don’t have time to let a conflict simmer. What we’ve been forced to do is deal with it right away. And in a very healthy way, where I say my feelings and then she says her feelings and we both say, 'OK, and we understand and we hug and we make sure everything it OK and then we get back to acting. And sometimes that has to happen, literally: We have to step off set and have it in five minutes and then step back in. All the men in our crew are like “Oh god, this should be crazy.” Its kind of like the conversation you dream about having with your husband, but you never will be able to because men don’t do it that way — in a heterosexual relationship anyway. But you know, it’s really a wonderful thing to get to work with your best friend because you always know that she has your back … Let's say this — we do not go to bed angry.
Best Friends Forever, the previous show you two did together, was canceled. Were you both nervous about doing another show that explored your relationship together?
We had such a good time writing BFF and working on it. We felt like we really learned how to do a TV show. And so, when it ended, I was like, “This cannot be the end of this. We have to just reboot this thing.” But we knew we wanted to write about what was going on in our lives at the time. BFF was really about what was happening for us at that time —newly married, and how you kind of work your “best friendship” into that marriage. We were kind of in a different phase of our lives. And babies were sort of on the brains. Neither one of us was pregnant, but we knew that was the next frontier. So, as much as the show is still about our “best friendship”—and kind of a romantic comedy starring two women—the issues that we are dealing with are very different. So the show feels very different to us.
Do you two ever get mistaken for a couple?
The phrase “friendsbians” has been used before, which is like — we had never heard of it. We had to “urban dictionary it.” But yeah, we are so close, but we’ve never been mistaken for a lesbian couple. But you know, the other day my dad saw two women walking down the street, holding hands, and my dad goes: “Ha! Look, the real 'playing house' situation.” And I go: “What? Lennon and I aren’t lesbians.” And he goes, “But aren’t you though?”
So, we haven’t actually been. You know, to be honest, no one except my father has said that. But my husband definitely calls Lennon his other wife — his wife and his other wife. I say we are more 'sister wives' than anything.
It’s funny that you mentioned “friendsbian” because we’ve been trying to find a term for two super best female friends. For guys, we call them “bromantic” — but there really isn’t a term for women.
I guess now I’m trying to put “friendsbians” out there. I hope it’s not offensive in anyway. But the relationship, the best friendship between women, it truly is romantic. I mean, you truly are each other’s everything. We all have husbands and they are a wonderful part of our lives. But we share a part of ourselves with other women that I feel like men would be shocked if they saw how deep it actually goes. You know, we share our fears, our dreams, all of that stuff. We are very much a part of each other’s day to day. Like, Lennon knows what I had on my tuna sandwich. My husband doesn’t give a shit! [Laughs] So, thank God I have her because we need that outlet, you know?
Do you think gal pals work out so well because there’s no sexual tension?
Yeah! I honestly feel like, with a good female friendship, you are there to make sure that that person is leading her best life. The show that we wanted to tell was really about childhood best friends because we were fascinated by the idea that those best friends were there when your personality formed. So they can really tell you, as an adult, if you are either pursuing the dreams that you had as a child—like who you were meant to be—or you are not. So the story we wanted to tell was about these two people, these adult friends, who have come back together and, because they have known each other for that long, they can be the ones that can really call each other out on their shit and encourage them to lead their best life. I think that’s what’s really special.
You’ve had a number of roles in ensemble comedies. Was there one actor that made you laugh the hardest or just constantly made you break?
Well I have to say that the person that I am most in love with is — I did a season of Veep — and I got to be in lot of scenes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Her body be banging, like no joke. She is the nicest people. And on top of that, she is straight up the funniest. Like, she is a true comedian. I actually met her doing Nicole Holofcener’s movie, Enough Said. She had to give me a four-hour massage because that was her job in the movie. I think there was something about her that I instantly wanted to make her break. My job was to improvise being this horrible “Brentwood woman,” and I think I talked about her boobs a bunch and she just couldn’t stop [laughing] and she was just like, “Please stop.”
On Veep, I kept saying that I had just gastric bypass surgery and that I had been a really big, fat woman before I started my lingerie business. But she was like, “Please, gastric bypass is one of those things that I cannot hear about — it makes me feel sick. So just please don’t improvise that.” So every single thing that came out of my mouth had to be about gastric bypass surgery. But anyway, JLD is the best. I mean, she was like — I can’t even.
Is there a secret backroom for female comedians where you guys just kind of do a handshake and give each other a head nod?
You want to share this weird detail? So I’m like obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables book series. I became obsessed with it and all things olden days, but mostly Anne of Green Gables. I like obsessively read it. I dragged my entire family there three times to visit the house. It was super weird. Anyway, Lennon is also obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables books. I found out when we became friends, and then we decided to host this really weird olden-days Christmas party where Lennon made wassail. We’d shoot up all of the Christmas-themed scenes of the Anne of Green Gables miniseries, and we made gingerbread cookies. When I started to put it out there, I realized that almost all of my close comedian girlfriends — June Diane Raphael, Danielle Schneider, Casey Wilson — were also obsessed with Anne of Green Gables. I guess we were all girl nerds in a certain specific type of way, and then we all just became obsessed with this book. But that’s our secret club.
Oh, so this is the greatest: June shows up dressed like an extra from Big Love. And she was like, “Guys, this outfit went awry!” She tried to dress like in the olden days, and she ended up looking like a sister wife.
Lennon is a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Are there any shows you are really obsessed with?
I have to say what my guilty pleasure is right now is Nashville … Every week someone is either shot, put in a coma, or has a mental breakdown and has to go to an insane asylum. And then, next week, they just forget it ever happened.
Zach Woods is on Playing House and now he’s on Silicon Valley. Do you have any plans or hope to do a guest spot on Silicon Valley?
Oh my god, that would be my dream! Zach started taking classes at the UCB when he was 16. So when we were in our twenties, this little 16-year-old — who was like the thinnest man we’d ever seen — would arrive on the bus and be like, “OK, guys, let's improvise!” And then he was the funniest guy we’d ever met in our entire lives. So we knew when we’d got our own show that we would write him a part as Lennon’s brother because there is just something about the two of them that we love. So, yeah, of course let's do a crossover! We should do like one of those old-school ‘70s shows, where we show up in their set and they show up in ours — like we are having a BBQ!
What is your spirit animal?
Oh, what’s my spirit animal! A miniature schnauzer! I named my character after my mini schnauzer, Emma. She was my first baby, and you know what — I aspire to be a miniature schnauzer!
Playing House airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on USA.