Acclaimed actor, influencer, author and talk show host Busy Philipps came to LMU for the second annual Alliance of Women Philanthropists (AWP) Speaker Series on Friday to speak on women's health, being a woman in Hollywood and her time as a student at LMU.
The interview, moderated by award-winning journalist and LMU First Lady Carol Costello, began with a conversation about being public with emotions. “It’s okay to be moved; it’s okay to feel sad,” Philipps said. “I feel like crying is an act of defiance.”
She said this during a discussion of what it is like being a woman in the film industry — an industry which has been at the center of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. “I used to not be able to cry. I wanted to be seen as someone strong, someone who could hang with the boys,” she said.
Philipps began working as an actor in the late '90s, during her sophomore year at LMU. She auditioned for over 90 television pilots, crying late at night to her then-boyfriend Colin Hanks (who also attended LMU) that she “need[ed] to be an actress.”
She said, “I started working when I was young — I was an actor-for-hire.” Her first job was on the beloved sitcom “Freaks and Geeks,” created by Judd Apatow. She played the role of Kim Kelly.
“I was lucky that my first job was ‘Freaks and Geeks,'” she said. “[Apatow] encouraged us to do our own things.”
Her hardship as a woman in Hollywood began after “Freaks," Philipps recalled.
“I faced a lot of pressure about my own body as a young woman. I was told to change things that would’ve made me less me,” she said. Philipps said she would often get calls from her agents telling her to lose weight, sometimes bluntly and sometimes in coded messages about wanting her to feel her best.
Through all of this, Philipps said her ideals never faltered. “I thought I was destined to rule the world,” she said. “I really believe my mission in life is to dismantle the patriarchy.”
During a period where she struggled to find work due to her reluctance to travel in order to take care of her child, she discovered a new area where she could dismantle the patriarchy. “There was a deficit in the late-night space for women,” she said.
She walked through the doors of Tina Fey’s production company, where she had done work in the past, and demanded a late night show according to Philipps. She told a story about “bro-y” men at the company passively telling her that they would see what they could do, only for her to firmly restate that she would have a show.
The show created is “Busy Tonight,” which airs on E! four nights a week.
“When I created my own show, I worked to make sure there was diversity,” she said. “Creatively, I believe we are 99 percent female. This was important to me — these decisions were made strategically.”
This is not commonplace in Hollywood, according to Philipps. “I still work [on set] with 100 percent white men,” she said. “It [is] shocking to me … I’[ve] never had a female showrunner.”
“For me, I feel the difference in the writer’s room,” she said.
This event was put on by the AWP, a group that has donated over 100 thousand dollars to scholarships and programing at LMU. The co-chair of the alliance, Karen Knott, said the AWP is “a community of influencers making an impact in this community.”
Dean Bryant Keith Alexander of the College of Communications and Fine Arts said, “I think that the AWP does phenomenal work about women activating society. They engage in social political activism that benefits students.”
At a reception prior to the event, Alexander emphasized how proud he is of Philipps.
Philipps entered LMU in 1997, but never graduated. “It’s crazy being back,” she said. “There are parts of this campus that look exactly the same and parts that are brand new.” Phillips commented on not even knowing the building the event was held in — the Life Sciences Building.
While at LMU, Philipps and Colin Hanks filmed a segment for “Busy Tonight,” which will air at some point in the future.
The overarching theme of the AWP event was disruption. “Part of what motivates me is that I want to disrupt. I am doing things like talking about women’s health in casual ways,” she said. “I’m trying to normalize being a woman.” On her show, Phillips discusses her period, abortion and other women’s health topics. “Being a woman is political,” she said.
The night ended with Costello and Philipps pointing at the audience and saying one word: “disrupt.”