Busy Philipps's performance as Kim Kelly on Freaks and Geeks defined, for an entire generation, the trope of the ride-or-die best friend. In the late '90s, Kelly suffered no fools, was volatile, but she was rocking with her friends until the very bitter end (or, you know, the show’s abrupt cancellation by NBC that thrust it into cult-classic status and launched basically every cast member into future stardom.)
It's of no surprise that Philipps, over the course of her 20-plus near career, has made being Everyone’s Best Friend her brand. She accompanies her best friend Michelle Williams on the red carpet, advocates for abortion access in front of Congress, hosts talk shows and award shows, and regularly gives solid comedic performances on shows like Cougar Town and Peacock’s Girls5eva. Her willingness to be honest and vulnerable about her life on social media was a cultural reset, ushering in a new concept of celebrity access unlike any other. Philipps was gracious enough to take time to talk to Refinery29 about her character on Girls5eva, emotional labour, her love for Olay, and which Y2K fashions she’s happily leaving in the garbage.
Refinery29: I love Girls5eva. We get so few narratives about women over 40, over 35, in Hollywood, where they are the main focus and the story is about them, especially in comedy. I love the episode where Summer goes to the hair salon and she's getting her hair extensions put in and she's like, "I'm going to go with human hair. I need it this time,” … and her husband doesn't even notice because he is too busy taking care of his hermit crabs. There's a lot of commentary about women's unseen emotional labor — getting their makeup done, getting their hair done, just being presentable. Do you find yourself relating to that concept? What takeaway do you hope that women and viewers take away from that moment?
Busy Philipps: Oh, it's so interesting. Listen, I am a person who wants them to realise that, you can't dress for someone else and you can't make yourself look a certain way for someone else, because that's just never going to give you what you're hoping that's going to give you. I truly feel like, in my own style evolution, I've really been motivated sort of purely by myself and what I feel makes me look best and feel best. I don't really spend a ton of time concerned with other people's reaction to it. It's interesting, because I think during the pandemic, a lot of people were like, sweatpants all day. And it's like… I've never loved wearing sweatpants. Like, I don't feel my best wearing sweatpants all day, every day.
So I continued — especially that first lockdown was so funny for me — I continued to get fully dressed every day in outfits. And I think that was very surprising to people. To me, it just felt like, well, I'm actually not getting dressed in these cute outfits to go be seen by someone. I'm getting dressed in these cute outfits because it makes me feel good about myself, you know? And I like it.
If we want to tie it back to Girls5eva — that's Summer's journey, that she needs to realise that the external is never going to match the internal, and is able to love herself, and also figure out who she is without the validation of those outside of herself. You're never going to please everyone. You have to figure out what makes you feel your best and happiest.
R29: I always like to say, I don't frost everybody's cake. But the people whose cake I do frost, really like my frosting. Because I know I don't exist for everybody. I'm a very niche person.
Philipps: I'm in total agreement with you, It's so funny. I think that one thing that happens sort of with social media, is that things get very homogenised and people try to appeal to everyone. Totally anecdotally, I have found that the more specific I am with my experience, the more relatable it is.
You can't try to be all things to all people. You have to just be able to really tap into yourself and who you are, and what makes you feel what you feel like sharing, not like, I need to do this thing because everyone else is doing this thing. The same thing goes for me, for beauty and fashion.
Totally anecdotally, I have found that the more specific I am with my experience, the more relatable it is.
R29: I was watching something where they said, teenage girls do a really good job of expressing their individuality by looking all the same. And I was like, that's just Instagram. That's just Instagram, all of us expressing our individuality while also doing the same thing.
Philipps: I will say, even with my skin-care journey, I definitely thought for a long time that I needed to spend a ton of money and buy the newest, $400 (£300) miracle thing that was going to change my skin in my 20s and early 30s. I returned to Olay, and then ended up working with them and I was like, 'Oh, right. I can use the Olay retinol clean with peptides and my skin loves it, and also I can afford to go out to dinner.'
R29: Exactly, Just use what works for you. Don't use what's popular, or what you see, or what is expensive, especially.
R29: We all have to just accept it.
R29: Speaking of aesthetics, makeup, and skin care, you've played a lot of very aesthetically-forward characters and I'd love to just describe that because, again, I loved Cougar Town. As an actress, how much do you work with hair and makeup, and the people who create the look, to develop your character?
Philipps: I mean, the most wonderful thing to me about this industry, period, is the artistry and creativity that everyone brings to it. So hair, makeup, wardrobe, it's so rarely the vision of one person. I have found it to be always very super collaborative — when it works and when it's great. I've been really lucky to be really collaborative and work with just amazing people.
The great thing about both Laurie [Philipps’ character on CougarTown], and now Summer on Girls5eva, is that a lot of times, especially in the hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments, they find themselves on shows where people just want to look very natural. And by natural, I mean, sometimes I think things on television sort of fall back on just making people sort of look all the same.
Like, in the world, when you're out and about, you see people [who] are flashy dressers, or do full hair and makeup. I pay attention to the people around me. And part of what I love about acting is that when I get into a character or a part, I get to bring in pieces of people that I've seen walking around or people I've met. A lot of times, in my experience with my hair, makeup, and wardrobe on both of those shows, they were just all so excited to get to do something fun. I'm a person who's very down to experiment and try things and see how different things look.
R29: Given that Girls5eva is a throwback to the ‘90s and ‘00s and we’re all coming to terms with the horrifying fact that Y2K fashion is firmly back in style, what trends from back then do you hope to see make a comeback? And which ones are you hoping will stay far, far in the past?
Philipps: I’ve always been a fan of a grunge look. That's who I was, and it's kind of who I've always been. [Editor's Note: Take a look at Phillipps' costuming on Freaks and Geeks and tell me this isn't true.] I'm not opposed to a combat boot with a dress, I still do it. I'm actually doing it right now in the mirror. The Y2K stuff, like low-rise jeans, bedazzled things, I'm ready to move on from that, and I hope that we do.
R29: I hope we do, too.
Philipps: I don't want that to come back. But for younger people maybe? But I'm not going to be doing it.
I mean, my kid, Birdie, wears ... Birdie does a lot of Urban Outfitters shopping, and definitely there are a lot of things that I'm like — I actually think I bought that from Urban Outfitters when I was your age, Birdie. That's so weird. But you know, that's cool, that's for them. It's not for me.
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