I'd Like to Thank the Little People …
If not for Barbie, Busy Philipps might never have become a star. Today a standout performer in the brilliant ensemble cast of ABC's "Cougar Town," and a veteran of two enduring cult hit shows — "Freaks and Geeks" and "Dawson's Creek" — it wasn't so long ago that Philipps was just an aspiring actor stuck in a planned community in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then, one day Barbie came knocking.
"My parents were very, um, adamant that I stay in school and that we stay in Arizona," says Philipps. "In high school I was getting real itchy. I wanted to be an actress, and so my mom relented and let me hire this local agent. And there was a casting call for young women to play live Barbie dolls at the Mattel Toy Fair, which was held in Scottsdale every year. They dress all these girls up like the live version of the doll that they're trying to sell."
Philipps, then 17 years old, auditioned for the job and got it, and continued literally playing dolls into her freshman year of college. Mattel liked her work enough to ask her to a toy fair in New York, where a fellow actress introduced her to a manager, who promptly signed her. Four months later, Busy Philipps was on "Freaks and Geeks," and feeling somewhat bewildered by how quickly and surely the pieces had fallen into place.
"People ask me all the time, 'What do I do? How do I get representation?'" says Philipps. "And the truth is, I don't know."
Listening to her, it's readily apparent that the secret of her success is pretty much the only thing that eludes Busy Philipps' understanding. She's smart and curious ("Educated-ish," she jokes), makes career choices from her heart (she took on "Freaks and Geeks" mostly so she could work with her friend Linda Cardellini), and is pragmatic about the unpredictable nature of her profession.
"The birth of my daughter was a great turning point in my career," she says. "I just sort of had this epiphany, which was that the work will come. When I find out I don't get jobs now, it's a lot easier for me to say 'OK' to my agent, hang up the phone, and then go make dinner and go play with my kid, rather than hanging up the phone and sobbing for hours, 'Why wasn't I good enough? I have to lose 10 more pounds.'"
That being said, Philipps isn't one to let opportunities go unfulfilled. She's guest-starred on virtually every television show you can name, from "ER" to "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23." She has a story credit for the Will Ferrell comedy "Blades of Glory" that probably won't be her last. And more recently, she's been thinking of following her "Cougar Town" co-star to the director's chair. "Courteney Cox has been directing for the past year," says Philipps. "It's been incredible to work with her. She's really inspired me to pursue that."
And when Busy Philipps pursues something, she usually gets it — even if she's eying Hollywood from a toy show in Arizona.
"I just decided, at like age 7, that I was going to be an actress in television and movies," says Philipps. "Now I'm doing it. I never gave myself another alternative."