In the first chapter of Busy Philipps' memoir, This Will Only Hurt A Little, out October 16, she writes about a gross, but exceptionally unexceptional encounter with Harvey Weinstein. She's talking about how women are treated in Hollywood, running through a highlight reel of the absolute worst interactions she's had. There's the time an actor told her she needed to be on the cover of Maxim to get more roles (she did it; it didn't work), or the time another guy told her she'd be hotter if she talked less. And then there was the time she was "listening to Harvey Weinstein tell me what model he was currently having a relationship with, obviously not knowing the full extent of his depravity and horribleness. As he would casually objectify whatever woman it was, tell me that he fucked her, I would nod and mumble, 'Oh. Cool. She's beautiful.' And then I would try to lose him as fast as I could."
Reading this, I cringed, not only because I know what kind of man Weinstein allegedly is, but because it was her telling the story. Philipps isn't like other celebrities boasting millions of followers on social media, like a Hadid or a Kardashian or fellow A-Listers Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman, who have recently joined Instagram. She's Busy Philipps — actress, writer, and Instagram stories OG, and nothing bad should ever happen to her. But, like most women, famous or not, bad things have happened to her (although thankfully, that was her only Weinstein story) — as well as weird stuff, jaw-dropping stuff, and heartwarming stuff. Over her 20 years in the industry, she's seen it all, and she's here to share it all in her candid, thoughtful, and hilarious book debut.
Some of Philipps' most personal stories have already made headlines ahead of the book's release, and ahead of our interview. There's the story about James Franco hitting her on the set of Freaks and Geeks (he later apologised, and she accepted), and the gut-wrenching story of her rape, which she opened up about for the first time publicly on Instagram to honour Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Later that week, a story about Philipps meeting the Pope (yes, the actual Pope in Vatican City) after having an abortion would go viral, too. But this is why she wrote the book — to talk about the tough times, in addition to the great ones.
A master of micro storytelling, Philipp's long-form debut is just as amusing and authentic, taking the reader from her roots in Arizona to her branches out in Los Angeles. I was able to catch her over the phone after her SoulCycle class (she went with her husband, screenwriter Marc Silverstein — his one thousandth), during her commute into the office (L.A. traffic noises included), and right before a meeting for her new talk show Busy Tonight (which premieres October 28 on E!).
She's busy, she's sparkly, and she's here to tell her stories — this time, in more than 60 seconds.
Refinery29: Are you so excited that the book is finally out? Are you nervous? You have so much happening right now.
"It’s all [deep breath] it’s all… I keep thinking of that Spoon song, 'Everything Hits At Once', and it definitely feels like it is all hitting at one time. I’ve been working for 20 years in this business, so I am okay with the amount that is happening. But in terms of the book, it was something I worked on for over a year, and I am ready to release it into the world.
It was definitely stressful writing it, and it was a different skill set than I was used to working with. I’ve always been a writer, so it wasn’t outside my wheelhouse because it’s always something I thought I would do at some point. It’s been wild. And of course you do these creative pursuits and put it into the world, and you really can’t control what people think of it and how they respond to it. I feel really grateful right now that people have been responding very positively to the book and the things I decided to put in there."
Did you read a lot of celebrity memoirs, or did you decide, ‘This is my story, so I know how to tell it.’’
"I’m an avid reader, but I didn’t read a lot while writing the book by choice because I am a little bit of a sponge. I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh that doesn’t sound like you, that sounds like Amy Sedaris or Amy Poehler, or... any Amy.'"
One of my favourite parts is your sparkly human theory.
"It’s so funny because this morning in my SoulCycle class, my trainer Angela was going on and on about [how] people who are destined for greatness have always known that they are great. I came up with this 'sparkly human theory' a few years ago, but there are just some people in the world who sparkle from the inside out. When you are one of those types of people, the world responds positively to you. I make sure to say, because I think this is very true and bears repeating, that a sparkly human is not someone that will necessarily become famous, or become a performer. Sparkly humans exist all over the place in all different professions and ways of life. Once you start thinking about it you’re like, ‘Oh, I know a sparkly human.’ Or, ‘Wait, am I a sparkly human?” You’re either a person that is sparkly and it seems like things are happening for you in a way that you want them to or,...well actually, it’s a little bit of what Abby and Marc put in their movie, I Feel Pretty. When you are one of those people that just exude confidence and just believe in yourself, the world just opens up to you."
It's relentless optimism, but without the naivety.
"Right, it’s not naivety. It’s ‘I’m a fucking badass, and you guys can either come on this journey or not.’"
I watched your appearance on The Ellen Show, and you said you were teetering on whether or not you would include some of the more sensitive parts of the book. Were the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement and everything else happening right now a catalyst for you to include it, or was that part of the trepidation?
"I had written this [book] before any of the Harvey [Weinstein] stuff came out, and before the movement really started. Collectively, it ties more to the election of Donald Trump for me personally. I just felt like, ‘Wait a minute, what is happening in this world? Does what I went through mean nothing?’ If that’s the case, that’s insane and terrible, and I don’t want that. I have always wanted to include the story. I don’t feel like anyone has to come forward [and tell their story] if they don’t want to. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to come forward, but I will say personally that it felt incredibly freeing. I think that is why people are wanting others to come forward; but at the same time, I always said if I felt like I wasn’t ready when the book was being published, then it didn’t have to go in it."
Even from my end [writing about women in the entertainment industry], almost every conversation I have touches on an aspect of Time’s Up or #MeToo. It is good to talk about, but I never know if — like you were saying — there is a pressure on women to include a story about an experience like that now.
"These conversations are so important to keep having, but if you are someone who is still in the middle of struggling with something and trying to figure it out, maybe it’s not the right time to speak on it. Maybe for your own personal sanity you can figure it out first for yourself before [sharing it]. I think that is what happened with me. I had many, many years to deal with my own trauma in therapy before I wrote about it. And this is the third time I had written about it for myself. I do think that an incredibly helpful way to process trauma is to write about it. You don’t have to publish it… [laughs]... but it can be incredibly helpful."
Did you always know that you were going to write so freely about your experiences on set with privileged, toxic men?
"I started in this business when I was 19 years old in 1998, and that was just what it was. It was all toxic, entitled men, and it has remained that way for a really long time. I write in the very first chapter about an experience I had years ago because I think there’s been a collective shift in consciousness that has been slowly building over time. Women working within this industry, and certainly in a lot of industries, have felt this way for awhile. I am a very candid person, so when I decided to make the leap and write the book, there was no choice for me but to be as honest as I could be. And that meant sharing my truth in the most open way I could. Then people say things like, ‘Naming names’ and whatever, but I don’t owe those people anything at this point. Whatever was perpetrated to me, on me, is my story. They may have their own way of justifying their bad toxic behaviour, but I don’t give a fuck."
Were there any interesting responses or exchanges with the people you included in the book?
"Listen, I gave a few people heads up like, ‘I wrote this thing in the book, and it effects somebody you are friends with, or someone you love. I’m sorry if this is uncomfortable for you, but this is what it is.’ But those are people that I am close with that I wanted to give a little heads up to."
Did you know that you were going to write about Freaks & Geeks when you started writing the book?
"It was my first professional job. It was my first experience. I think it was really informative in terms of the way that things were handled. I have told that story publicly before, and it isn’t a new revelation. James Franco and I were on some panel years ago, and we both talked about it. He kind of owned up to it."
It sounds like the burden was put on you to tolerate [Franco]. I would hope that wouldn’t happen now.
"I was also pretty young. We were kids. I hope things change. A lot of the stuff, like being told to lose weight by networks, I don’t know if that’s changed or if 20-year-olds are still being told that today. Or people telling me that they want to remove or cover up all my moles. Those are the kind of things that happen to women and girls in this business that are demeaning and unacceptable. They obviously don’t happen to dudes. Even Jennifer Lawrence told some crazy story about having to do some screen test. I am so hopeful that all this changes."
Is your late night show going to be similar to your book or your Instagram? Or will it be a hybrid?
"People respond so strongly to me [on Instagram] because they feel like I really bring them in and they are a part of my day-to-day life. I think that is really important in the show, too. If you look at even the evolution of the dudes who have a late night show in the last year and a half, they have found greater success in personally connecting to the audience. We are at a place in our society where people aren’t satisfied with not knowing everything about you. They want in. They want it all. Lucky for them, I am someone willing to give them my all."
Since you already mentioned music earlier in the interview with Spoon, can you speak more about the songs used as chapter titles?
"Music is such an important part of my life, and it always has been. I was thinking about in terms of the soundtrack to my life. The sort-of prologue being 'All Of The Lights', by Kanye West [laughs]. They tie into what I am writing about, and they are all songs that have been really important to me at various times in my life. I mean, I had to do 'I Don’t Want To Wait' by Paula Cole [for the Dawson’s Creek chapter], even though it didn’t really resonate with me. And 'Bad Reputation', [by Joan Jett] for Freaks and Geeks."
Speaking of things that are important to you, I watched Kicking and Screaming after finishing the book [Note: Philipps mentions Noah Baumbach's 1995 directorial debut repeatedly in the book].
I literally just finished it.
"What did you think?"
I love fast talking movies with good dialogue, so I really liked it. What did you love about it so much?
"Right? It’s so smart. And I don’t know, but it was my favourite thing when I was in high school. I just fucking loved that movie so much. I wanted to be that smart and interesting and have those kinds of conversations. I feel like it really captures that moment where you’re graduating high school or college and you’re trying to figure out what is next for you — that ennui of what the fuck is about to happen? And that thing at the end where he tries to do a grand romantic gesture, and he totally fails — it is one of my favourite things. It’s so perfect."
It is. I loved it, and the memoir, and knowing literally everything about you.
[Laughs] "You do know a lot."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.