Paget poses with the author's niece.
Paget starred on the FOX series The Andy Richter Show, and appeared in the films Let's Talk About Sex and Skippy. She also had a recurring role for a year on the TV series Friends as Kathy, the medical assistant/actress who came between Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry). "The other women auditioning were stunning, like supermodel gorgeous," she told TV Guide. "I came in and said, 'I must be your runty alternate.' Perry said the moment I called myself a runt, I got the job!"

When Paget auditioned for the role of Frances in Desperate But Not Serious, it changed the movie. As written in earlier drafts, Frances wasn't very smart; she was easily manipulated, alcoholic, and probably bipolar. She was Lily's "problem friend." Christine Taylor read with a lot of actresses in auditions—a lot of really good people—but nobody clicked. Then Paget arrived. Her take was different: She presented Frances as the smartest one in the room. Every action, every word, had an ulterior motive. (For instance, in the earlier script, Frances gets thrown out of a liquor store for angrily breaking a bottle of beer; in the finished film, she breaks it as a distraction because she has hidden another bottle in her purse.) Within minutes, we knew that Paget was perfect for the part; Frances was now Lily's equal and you could see how they would have been best friends in high school—but now they were living in different worlds, with different goals. It took a couple of weeks to officially cast Paget, but as soon as that audition was over, the part was being rewritten for her. One morning, I took three screwball comediess (Nothing Sacred, My Man Godfrey, and To Be or Not to Be) to Paget's trailer because she claimed she'd never seen a Carole Lombard movie, and because we all thought she could be that good. To this day, although Paget's become a very successful actress in dramas like Criminal Minds, nobody has ever given her the comedy that she deserves. They tried with several sitcoms, but for some tragic reason she was always the straight man. (She should have been Lucy, not Ethel!) Paget should be making timeless movies like Lombard, for all of us to enjoy—not formulaic crime dramas. She is the absolute best.

Paget Valerie Brewster was born on March 10, 1969 in Concord, Massachusetts. Her mother, Hathaway Brewster (née Tew), worked as a government official, and her father, Galen Brewster, worked as a school administrator. Paget grew up at a New England boarding school with her younger brother, Ivan (great names in this family!), where their dad worked. Paget then spent a year at Parsons School of Design in New York but "failed out." She was in a band that had a few club hits in New York, then worked with friends on independent films. She performed improvisational skits in Central Park before moving to San Francisco.

Paget was bartending in San Francisco when a talent agent convinced her to try her own local talk show. She then achieved cult status when she hosted The Paget Show on CBS TV in San Francisco from 1994 to '95. "We were the little show that could," she said. "We had no money—five of us did the whole show—but it was great. We did 'My Boyfriend Is a Louse' shows, and we did serious shows as well. I'm sure clips will come back and haunt me."

A year later, she moved to Los Angeles, in order to pursue a career in acting. Unlike the character of Frances in DBNS, Paget's talent was undeniable, and her rise in the entertainment industry was comparatively fast—although it probably didn't seem like it at the time: When asked by The Chicago Tribune to share a worst moment from her career, she told writer Nina Metz about a hectic day when she had just moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1996, two years before DBNS. "I had done plays in San Francisco, but I had never had an agent. So suddenly I'm at UTA and my agent is sending me out on auditions. On this one day I had two auditions and I'm thinking, 'oh yeah, now things are cooking! I'm gonna be a star!'"

"The first audition was for a prostitute, which is what every actress goes out for until you're 35. So I went down to Hollywood Boulevard and I got the fake patent leather thigh-high 'Pretty Woman' boots and hot pants... I got in my car, I had this really old Volvo with a broken gas gauge, and went all the way over west in Los Angeles and auditioned for the prostitute—I don't remember what (show or film) it was for—got back in the car to drive home and change, but the car died because it had no gas in it. So I had to walk five blocks down Pico Boulevard with a gas can dressed like a hooker—people are honking at me—because I didn't know enough to have a change of clothes in the car... I get the gas, go back to the Volvo and fill it up and now I have to get the next audition, no time to go home and change clothes. And I get there and I probably said something like, 'Listen, I know I shouldn't be dressed like this but I had another audition and I just couldn't get home in between.' I was auditioning to play a nanny in a made-for-TV movie and I should have been in a gingham Laura Ashley dress for this. And instead I'm trying to cover the bottom of my (butt) cheeks because I was wearing short shorts and high plastic boots... But I'm proud of that naive, scrappy little dum-dum who had just moved to LA and got gas looking like a hooker and still went to the audition."¹

TV networks have been battling for her services ever since. After Friends, she starred in the CBS show Love and Money and ABC's The Trouble With Normal. That led to Richter and an upcoming Showtime series. Paget has now also added theater to her credits: She appeared onstage recently in Tartuffe at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

On the set of Desperate, Paget showed an amazing ability to transform herself into a chain-smoking, fast-talking, unsuccessful actress from her real self—a chain-smoking, fast-talking, successful actress. Her performance won raves from everyone involved with the project. With any luck, young girls across the country will soon use the lovable character of Frances as their promiscuous, alcoholic role model. As a horrified, white-knuckled reporter scribbled into her notepad for the Internet's Female Celebrity Smoking List, the "movie opens with many many scenes of her smoking. Even smoking while brushing her teeth—brush, drag, brush." (Editor's note: THAT'S A JOKE, not a lifestyle tip!) "Full inhales and exhales. Smoking while driving. Lots and lots of scenes with her smoking in the first half of the movie, much less in the second half. Quick scene where she apparently has just taken a drag from a joint. None of this was particularly 'glamourous' to my taste." Have no fear, angry reporter: Paget is now starring in Agent 15, in which she no longer holds any cigarettes... only guns, and knives, and bombs. Your diligent reporting has paid off!²

Another anecdote to show you how brilliant this woman is: During preproduction, we'd all meet at Fallout for read-throughs. Paget showed up the first day, acting a little nervous and hesitant, holding her script. The reason was because there was a typo in one line of her dialogue (I can't remember exactly wat it was, it's been many years). Anyway, here's how amazing, how talented, how lovely she was: Instead of confronting the writers on their poor typing skills, she turned the typo into a pretty funny joke, that actually made sense for her character! Think about this—it's hard enough to write a funny joke on its own, but she did it based on a typo, to improve the script and to keep from embarrassing us. I was floored by her generosity and her skill (she was both a better typist and a better writer than me).

I've read that Paget doesn't like this movie.³ I hope it isn't true... Now, I realize this film is a just a couple weeks worth of work out of an amazing 20-year career with hundreds of projects and huge network shows with amazing performances, and she wouldn't even think about this role unless it was brought up to her. But man, was it amazing to watch her work. I want her to feel some of the joy I get when I watch her scam her way into clubs, smash Daytime Emmys, and recommend Tony Robbins as she throws up in the back of a convertible. There was a lot more stuff in the script that we never got to see her do (because Franchise engaged in some questionabe financial practices), but what is there from Paget is absolutely terrific.

¹—Metz, Nina. My worst moment: 'Criminal Minds' star Paget Brewster and the clothing snafu (Chicago Tribune, Febrary 4, 2020): When asked to share a worst moment from her career, it was a hectic day early in her career that Brewster recalled, when she had just relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1996.

"I had done plays in San Francisco, but I had never had an agent. So suddenly I'm at UTA and my agent is sending me out on auditions. On this one day I had two auditions and I'm thinking, 'oh yeah, now things are cooking! I'm gonna be a star!'"

"The first audition was for a prostitute, which is what every actress goes out for until you're 35. So I went down to Hollywood Boulevard and I got the fake patent leather thigh-high 'Pretty Woman' boots and hot pants."

"I got in my car, I had this really old Volvo with a broken gas gauge, and went all the way over west in Los Angeles and auditioned for the prostitute—I don't remember what (show or film) it was for—got back in the car to drive home and change, but the car died because it had no gas in it."

"So I had to walk five blocks down Pico Boulevard with a gas can dressed like a hooker—people are honking at me—because I didn't know enough to have a change of clothes in the car. This isn't even the story, I'm telling you the preamble!"

"I get the gas, go back to the Volvo and fill it up and now I have to get the next audition, no time to go home and change clothes. And I get there and I probably said something like, 'Listen, I know I shouldn't be dressed like this but I had another audition and I just couldn't get home in between.' I was auditioning to play a nanny in a made-for-TV movie and I should have been in a gingham Laura Ashley dress for this. And instead I'm trying to cover the bottom of my (butt) cheeks because I was wearing short shorts and high plastic boots.

"The movie was about a nanny that goes to work for a mafia boss to take care of his little kid and they fall in love and then he finds out she's not a nanny, she's an undercover agent, so the audition was the scene where she's confronted by the mob boss"

"So I walk into the room and the casting director is there with a couple other people and they've got a big box of cookies in front of them. And they said, 'Is it OK if we eat?' Which, I didn't realize at the time, casting people are not supposed to eat while they're auditioning you. Now I know better—I'm haunted by the sound of the cookie crunching—but I said, 'Yeah. Go ahead, it's fine.'"

"So I start the scene and I'm giving it my all. The mafia boss is supposed to be strangling me while I say I love him, so now I'm on the floor, on my knees, strangling myself, saying, 'But Antonio, I love you!' And between that and the crunching sound of cookies, I knew it wasn't happening. And I put my hands down on the ground, so I'm all fours, and I look up at them and I said, 'This isn't working, is it?' And they were all like, 'Nope,' and kept eating their cookies."

"It was devastating. And I left feeling depressed and I got in my broken Volvo dressed like a prostitute and cried all the way home. And it was not the last time I cried all the way home. That happens all the time when you're first auditioning and you don't know anything—you have this fantasy that in the room they're going to say, 'You're the one, kid! The part's yours!"

"Weirdly, even though it was so cringe-worthy and I did everything wrong, I'm still kind of proud that despite my inexperience, I still had the courage to go to the audition dressed like that. And that I was able to just call it in the middle of the audition and say, 'This is not working out'—I sometimes wonder if I would do that now as a 50-year-old woman in an audition and actually just go, 'I think we can all agree I'm not getting this part.'"

"But I'm proud of that naive, scrappy little dum-dum who had just moved to LA and got gas looking like a hooker and still went to the audition."

²—Female Celebrity Smoking List: 'Desperate But Not Serious' (1999): "movie opens with many many scenes of her smoking. Even smoking while brushing her teeth--brush, drag, brush. Full inhales and exhales. Smoking while driving. Lots and lots of scenes with her smoking in the first half of the movie, much less in the second half. Quick scene where she apparently has just taken a drag from a joint. None of this was particularly 'glamourous' to my taste."


Will Harris interviews Paget on the making of DBNS
³—Harris, Will. Paget Brewster on leaving 'Criminal Minds' and not fucking up 'Community' (AV Club, September 30, 2015): "That was Bill Fishman, who wrote and directed Tapeheads. He and his brother wrote it—there were other writers, it wasn't just them—and Bill directed it. That was me and Christine Taylor and Claudia Schiffer, and it's one night in L.A. where we're trying to find John Corbett, because Christine's character fell for John's character while they were traveling abroad, and she finds out he's in Los Angeles for one night. Henry Rollins was in it. Unfortunately—and I don't think anyone involved in that film would disagree with me—the flaw of that film is that it's two twentysomething girls in a movie where the humor is specifically pretty clearly for 15- to 18-year-old boys. So that's how it missed the mark, I think."

"But that was one of the first movies I shot, and, man, I learned a lot on that. And also... [Hesitates.] Ugh. Poor Claudia Schiffer. Ugh. I won't say who it was, but we had been shooting a week and a half, Christine and I, and the first scene we shot with Claudia Schiffer was at dawn, in a car. We had to shoot specifically at dawn, so you've got 20 minutes, maybe? You've got a fleet of Pink Dot vehicles driving towards the airport, and Claudia refuses to say the dialogue. We know our dialogue, and she says [Does a Claudia Schiffer impression.] 'Oh, no, I'm not going to say that. My acting coach and I, we have rewritten this scene.' We were, like, 'What?'"

"Her acting coach—who, having affected my life to that degree, is a piece of human garbage—basically was sucking money out of this supermodel who was completely innocent. I don't think Claudia Schiffer has a mean bone in her body. I think she was so desperate to act and not just be a model. I think she really wanted to act and have new experiences and have fun. I mean, she was doing an indie! That was a low-budget movie, and she had the balls to say, 'Yeah, I'll do it. This will be a fun part!' And then her acting coach is just vacuuming money out of Claudia's account by saying, 'We need to rewrite the script.' And she would rehearse Claudia into the ground, and Claudia genuinely thought that she was not speaking with an accent, because this piece-of-crap acting coach had convinced her that she couldn't change lines, she couldn't take direction...[Sighs.] So that was a bummer."

"I don't blame Claudia in any way. I think she honestly was trying to do her best and that she was absolutely taken advantage of by someone who wanted a producing credit and wanted a writing credit and wanted to get as much money. I mean, Claudia Schiffer was worth tons of millions of dollars. And this woman just took it, just conned Claudia into thinking she needed this person around all the time. It was just gross and abusive and crappy. And Claudia Schiffer didn't end up doing a lot of acting, I think, because the reputation that traveled with her was, 'You're going to be stuck with so-and-so, and she's going to rewrite your script, and...' [Sighs again.] I don't like that person. Even having never met her, I still don't like her. You know what I mean? I can't say who it is. I don't want to be sued. But I think she's a piece of crap. And I don't think Claudia was to blame."

MY RESPONSE: Yes, it had raunchy humor, but it wasn't designed just for 15- to 18-year-old boys. Nobody pitched an idea saying, "You know what 15-year-old boys would find funny, here?" (Although speaking as a former 15- to 18-year-old boy, I think most would have been pretty eager to follow Christine and Paget around for a night.) We hoped other people would find it funny, too. There was a movement at the time to make a raunchy female version of There's Something About Mary, with films like The Sweetest Thing. The original DBNS screenplay (by Coady & Eaton) was described as Sleepless in Seattle meets Swingers (but was influenced by the Farrelly's as well: The only thing I ever saw from that script was the last scene, which ended with Frances in a trash dumpster). The next draft (by the Fishman brothers and Abbe Wool) re-framed the story as a '90s version of After Hours, in Los Angeles—complete with Griffin Dunne, appearing as himself. Everybody acknowledged that the story still had problems; there was a sameness from scene to scene, and it didn't build (Lily and Jonathan kept just missing each other and Todd kept humiliating Frances, over and over). When we were brought on, we were working on a project called BachelorMan with producer Charlie Wessler, who had made Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary with the Farrelly brothers, and it was hoped that we would bring some of that style of comedy to the film. Separately, Dave Hines and I had just finished working with Ivan Reitman, had sold a half-animated project to Interscope, and were working on a big supernatural fantasy project with Barry Sonnenfeld's company, as well, so we were approaching this film from a pretty broad comedy background. (They also were going to broaden it through casting, as well, by having SNL-vet Rob Schneider play Paget's boyfriend, Todd, but he dropped out.) A lot of what we wanted to do was shot down by Franchise Pictures for being too expensive (paying actors to come back for new scenes) or time-intensive (it was a very limited shooting schedule), but the truth of the matter is that the Executive Producer had some dubious financial practices, and wouldn't spend the money to make it better. It's been an ongoing struggle for the people involved: to accept what the movie is, as opposed to what it could have been. But the good news us that Paget and Christine are terrific in their roles and make viewing the film a positive experience. I hope Paget understands how good she is in this, and how much she carries the film.

And, yes, Claudia's acting coach was a nightmare.






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