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Best Friends Forever Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham

This is an interview with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham on March 21, 2012 about the show Best Friends Forever.

Question:
How did you initially get involved with this show?

Jessica St. Clair:
Lennon and I met about 10 years ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York.

Lennon Parham:
We were doing improv comedy back in the day. We were on separate teams. And then we both came out to LA for various and sundry acting gigs. And we sat down one lunch and it was love at first sight essentially, came up with our first television idea.

Jessica St. Clair:
Before this, we wrote a pilot for HBO that was similar scene. It was about best friends who where you know so in love with each other that perhaps they are having trouble making other friends. And then when that didn't go to pilot, we ended up pitching to NBC a version of the show in which one of us was moving back in with the other one. And finding that they have a live-in boyfriend now that we have to deal with, so that's how sort of that came about. But Lennon and I have been performing together for about 10 years now.

Question:
What were some of the biggest challenges for you in bringing your characters to live on screen for the show?

Lennon Parham:
Actually the process for us has been pretty seamless because we are drawing from our real experiences as bet friends and sort of getting inspiration from our relationships with our other best friends.

Jessica St. Clair:
I think the problem will be when it airs and all of our best friends call us and say why did you use that story in our show? That will come later. But for now it's been great.

Lennon Parham:
There will be some tense Christmas dinners.

Jessica St. Clair:
The other thing that's really nice is the way Lennon and I since we began as improvisers. The way we write our scripts is we improvise. And then we tape record ourselves and then we transcribe it. And that becomes our first draft.

Lennon Parham:
So essentially we have the idea for the scene and we act it out in our tiny writer's office.

Jessica St. Clair:
Or in our living room.

Lennon Parham:
Or in our living room when we didn't have a writer's office and record ourselves.

Jessica St. Clair:
So we play all the parts. And Lennon actually plays most of the male parts. And I've got to say, she can say some really romantic things.

Lennon Parham:
It can get really . Our husbands are very disturbed sometimes when they get home from work. They were like, ???you wrote that. That lives in your mind.??? I'm like, ???yeah, say these things to me.???

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes. Why don't you say these things to me.

Question:
What's been your favorite scene of what you taped so far in the show? And why it is your favorite? Jessica St. Claire: My favorite scene is in Episode 2, I butt dial my ex-husband. And he hears me talking about, among other things, an ass rash I've gotten from wearing my yoga pants for too long because I'm so sad. And it sends me into the bathtub to soak for like 5 hours. And Lennon's boyfriend, Joe needs to get in to use the bathroom because I'm living with them. And I refuse to get out of the tub. I just ask Lennon to tell him he can come in. I won't look at him.

And so she says that's not going to work. And she tries to pull me out of the tub. And I end up pulling her into the tub on top of me. And it is one of the weirdest things I ever shot. And it is hilarious to watch two grown women flailing around. I also think Lennon almost drowned me. But she says that's not true.

Lennon Parham:
She is propagating a lie. And I will not stand for it. My favorite scene is in the pilot. And it's when you first get a real glimpse at how these girls are together, like real authentic girlfriends. We're watching Steel Magnolias. And Jessica uses the movie sort of a talk about a tough situation with me.

Jessica St. Clair:
That she shouldn't get married to soon because that would be called pulling a Shelby. You know when Shelby ends up getting pregnant even though she knows her kidneys can't handle it.

Lennon Parham:
And there are like funny friend moments where we act out different things. And then Joe because he's been pushed out comes and sits down on his inflatable Jets chair which always makes a farting noise when he sits in it and tries to like get in on the girl time. And it's very exciting the Lennon. And it's very disturbing to Jessica.

Jessica St. Clair:
Because all he's done is Wikipedia research on the movie. And like the only comment he shares is the fact that is that Darryl Hanna from Splash I'm just like.

Lennon Parham:
And also he takes offense at the use of diabetes because he says you shouldn't give juice to a diabetic because his roommate Barney had full bloom beets in college. And you don't give them juice. That's not how you handle it anyway.

Jessica St. Clair:
I think what we love about those scenes is that it's very specific to how real girls act with each other which I don't know how much we've seen on that on television thus far.

Lennon Parham:
Yes. One of our male comedy friends after a table read, is this how you guys actually behave behind closed doors because it's like Jane Goodall and the Gorillas, like you never get to see it. We act differently when they're not around.

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes.

Question:
What extent if any was you know your show inspired by Laverne & Shirley?

Jessica St. Clair:
Any female comedian is obsessed with Laverne & Shirley as well as Lucy and Ethel. So if someone compared us to them, we would just be over the moon.

Lennon Parham:
Yes.

Jessica St. Clair:
It's certainly something that we've been inspired by from Laverne & Shirley is that the two of them ended up getting in some situations like that and that was really all their show as about is the two of them.

Lennon Parham:
They needed money to go to.

Jessica St. Clair:
To a single's night.

Lennon Parham:
To a single's night where there were going to be eligible bachelors who had a lot of money but they couldn't afford the ticket. So they submitted themselves for scientific research. And Shirley couldn't eat for 24 hours. And Laverne wasn't able to sleep for 24 hours. So when they finally get to the party, Laverne keeps falling down.

Jessica St. Clair:
And Shirley keeps stuffing her face full of baby quiches. Anyway, I kind of feel like Lennon's definitely a Laverne. And I'm Shirley cause I'm a fabulous physical comedian.

Lennon Parham:
I'm a little, I guess a little wilder.

Jessica St. Clair:
She's a little off. I'm a little more intense.

Lennon Parham:
Character is much more uptight, tightly wound.

Jessica St. Clair:
When we we're writing, we would take lunch breaks and just watch all those clips. They still make you laugh.

Lennon Parham:
The other thing I appreciate is the trust in the scenario sort of, like they give it the time that they need to really build the comedy. And so you're there with them you know in the same scene for like 7 minutes which would never happen nowadays. But it doesn't lose any of it's charm.

Jessica St. Clair:
I think also something that's nice and I put like Kate & Allie in this category too is that at the end of the day, no matter what happened to them, they always loved each other. You never felt like it was the end of their relationship. It's like even if Laverne messed up or Shirley messed up or whatever, at the end of the day, they were still going to be family. And that's what we're trying to do with our show as well. Because real girlfriends, you can really push it. And I have. And they'll take you back.

Lennon Parham:
That's the nice. I've taken Jessica back 12 times already this morning. That's the truth.

Question:
Daija Owens as Queenetta is fantastic. She's quite a find. What's it been like working with her?

Jessica St. Clair:
Daija never was on television before she did our pilot. She had never shot anything in her life.

Lennon Parham:
Yes. When we were auditioning for this role, we knew we needed something really raw, like really Brooklyn.

Jessica St. Clair:
Somebody real because when you grew up in New York, you see these little girls on the subway. And if you're wearing a bad outfit, they will tell. And you're just like, ???you're right. I shouldn't have put these pants on.???

Lennon Parham:
So we auditioned a bunch of girls. But they were all too polished. So we went back to the drawing board. Did our own breakdown essentially and picked girls from their sassy like terrible head shots. She came in. She acted shy at first which was hilarious.

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes. That was a put on.

Lennon Parham:
And then all of sudden she breaks into look's who back.

Jessica St. Clair:
I literally fell onto the carpet and started punching the ground, it was so funny.

Lennon Parham:
She's got better timing any other comedic actor on our show.

Jessica St. Clair:
And she improvises. So all of those scenes you see where she butts in something by telling me I need to get real with myself. she's just come up with that on her own. She's only 8 years old.

Lennon Parham:
She's phenomenal.

Jessica St. Clair:
And she's a very sweet little girl.

Lennon Parham:
She's such a heart. So loving. And just can't believe she is so excited. She loves being on set and doing the scenes.

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes. We love her.

Lennon Parham:
We do love her.

Question:
Obviously the show will appeal to woman. But you know to what extent are you hoping that guys give it a chance as well?

Jessica St. Clair:
Well I think what's really nice is having Joe's perspective on the girls I think is something that if you are a man that has a woman that you love in your life, I'm guaranteed you have a best friend that's driving you insane. That you wife or girlfriend has a best friend that you just have to accept as your sister wife. So a couple of our guy friends have said you know, ???God this reminds me of you know when I was told that our Christmas card had already been designed by my wife and her best friend. And I was just supposed to sign off on it.??? You know what I mean.

Lennon Parham:
I think a lot of times woman will sit down to watch the night of television with their husband or boyfriend or whoever and maybe they don't start off like interested. But one of our makeup artists was watching with her husband before we started shooting. And he was laughing out loud at multiple moments and saying, ???yes, that's just how it is.??? And was hooked by like minute 5. So we're hoping that we have you know. And all of our writing staff with the exception of one woman was male. We were really trying to get the Joe and Rob, the male voice really accurate.

Jessica St. Clair:
And where we come from, where we learned to be comedians at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, you really don't think about male or female comedy. You just think about what's funny. So for us, it's like this show may star two women. But to us, it's a comedy. So hopefully it will appeal if it's funny to everybody.

Lennon Parham:
Yes, we're hoping.

Question:
The pilot kind of sets up like a very specific situation but I'm not sure that it's absolutely clear from a person watching the pilot where do we go from here? Like, can you talk about how the dynamic kind of plays out as we go along a little bit?

Jessica St. Clair:
The pilot we kind of thought of as like a mini movie. It's like she arrives. Jessica's character has just recently gotten divorce papers FedExed to her and she's moved back in with Lennon and Joe. Lennon, her best friend who's she lived with for years and years and years before she got married. And so the pilot is all about whether or not Jessica can accept Joe in her life basically with Lennon.

Lennon Parham:
Yes and how Lennon will balance Jessica with Joe now. And then also what Joe's going to do with Jessica.

Jessica St. Clair:
The pilot ends with essentially Jessica realizing that Joe is really the perfect person for Lennon. So she's accepted Joe into her life. Now for the rest of the 6, there's still going to be problems with having your best friend live with you, i.e. they can't have sex because I keep barging into their bedroom. Because I'm used to living there, so like we never had to knock before. It doesn't occur to me that I might need to knock now.

Lennon Parham:
I think for me in my mind, the pilot sets up kind of what the new normal is going to be. And we'll certainly be figuring it out as we move forward, situations that are complicated by Jessica being there, things that Lennon and Joe would have been going through in their life anyway. And now Jessica's there, so she can give perspective or help out with things. Jessica will be beginning her new life. And because Lennon has sort of been her only number 1 for the longest time and now she has Joe, she's going to have to sort of figure out how to let Jessica go a little bit. Even though Jessica is right up in her business.

Jessica St. Clair:
And make her own mistakes. So I kind of fell like the six episodes we kind of thought of it as a mini-series in a way in that it's watching these 3 people learn to become a family. And I think at the end of the sixth, Joe realizes that actually life is better with Jessica here. You know the 3 of them make the perfect person. So that's what we're hoping to do. And I mean there's all these weird situations they get in. Jessica goes on her first date and then realizes that it's a cougar ball episode 4. It's not something you want to be invited to. Just so you know.

Lennon Parham:
Not if you're a young woman.

Question:
Are there any guest stars that you can clue us in on coming up?

Lennon Parham:
In episode 1 and 2 stay pretty close to our core cast. Episode 3 we meet Joe's parents who are played by the incomparable Mimi Kennedy and J.K Simmons.

Jessica St. Clair:
And they we're amazing.

Lennon Parham:
They were amazing.

Jessica St. Clair:
They were just perfect. They arrived and J.K. plays Joe's dad who doesn't say anything in the first three quarters of the show accept where's the can? That's all he ever wants to know where the bathroom is. And literally it's like he was doing a silent monolog. It was the most amazing thing to watch.

Lennon Parham:
Just a phenomenal actor.

Jessica St. Clair:
And then in episode 4, I go on a series of dates. One is with Ryan Hanson from Party Down who's hilarious. And then I'm invited to the Cougar ball by a young actor who's on Desperate Housewives.

Lennon Parham:
Max Carver.

Jessica St. Clair:
Max Carver. And then in episode 5, we actually wrote this episode for this actor because we were so obsessed with him. His name is Adam Campbell. And he's British.

Lennon Parham:
He plays an old choreographer friend that I knew when I studied abroad. And he comes back and sort of takes over the open house that we're throwing for the dance study.

Jessica St. Clair:
He tries to steel Lennon's heart.

Lennon Parham:
Have open.

Jessica St. Clair:
He actually auditions for Joe. And he was so fabulous. But he was British. And so we couldn't' use him for Joe. But we said we have to write this guy a part. He made us laugh so far. A lot of our guest stars, we've written for people in mind are friends from the Upright Citizens Brigade. And they just and Paul Rust in Episode 6 and he just killed us. It's so funny. It was nice to have people who could improvise, come on the set because they made our words even funnier.

Question:
Were you guys surprised when you started to look it up and say there's been no movie, no TV show, anything called this before. Because the terms been around for a while. It seems like a perfect title.

Jessica St. Clair:
I know. We really couldn't believe it. And then we were so excited because for some reason we became obsessed with it. And then any other title just seemed you know just not right. Somebody pitched to us this word that we just heard and looked up on Urban dictionary, friendsbeins which means friends that are so close that they might as well be lesbiens. But they're not having sex.

Question:
So that was your backup?

Lennon Parham:
That was an alternate. But yes, we're so happy we get to use Best Friends Forever because that's what it's really about.

Question:
The other thing I wanted to ask was. You know there's been plenty of comedies I the last 2 or 3 years especially that are trying to tap into this kind of young adults market, like sort of a young adults living together probably in and out of a relationship.

Question:
What shows make you guys laugh? And what did you see as your opening? Like when you looked at the TV landscape, what you made you go, ???you know what, I don't see this. So that's our in????

Jessica St. Clair:
Something that we're trying to do that's a little different I think is that our show has really funny moments but also very heartfelt moments. So we tried to do something that's a little more closer to what life is like where you have this ridiculous thing happen to you. And then in the same day, you have like a heartbreaking conversation with somebody. And that's something we feel like can be lacking sometimes on comedies because they just keep everything light and everybody's just punch line, punch line, punch line. So we're trying to do something where people actually care about the characters, a little like what friends did. You really cared about Ross and Rachel. I remember that episode.

The entire world tuned into that. We're they going to get together or not. So our show runner Alexa Young actually wrote for 5 seasons on Friends. And she was very helpful in terms of how to have a comedy that also has emotional through lines that follows people's you know romantic developments. You know what's going to happen with Lennon and Joe in their relationship. What's going to happen between Jessica and her best friend, Rav?

Lennon Parham:
The other thing to me that I think we tried really hard to do with this show is that all of it is very believable. Because I find it's much easier to laugh and get engaged when I really believe that these people are real and that they really care of r each other. And that all the situations are real and what happened in the real world. Even though they're a little heighted, I guess we do take some leaps in reality, suspend your disbelief. We wanted it to feel really grounded.

Jessica St. Clair:
So that people watch it and go, ???My god, that happened with my best friend.??? Or if you're the boyfriend of a wife who has a best friend you go, ???my god, that absolutely happened to the 3 of us.???

Lennon Parham:
And the other thing is I think because we improvised to write, we really try to have it sound like real girls talk or real you know couples talk to each other.

Jessica St. Clair:
Well because all the dialogue we actually said out loud. Like we don't go to a blank page and just write it. We improvise and tape record ourselves. It takes forever by the way. I don't recommend it.

Question:
If you guys had gone to the route of making it almost too heightened it would be impossible to maintain. So it forces you to have it kind of grounded in a way.

Jessica St. Clair:
Right.

Lennon Parham:
There are some shows I think that do that really well. Like Community for instance does that extremely well. Happy Endings is the same way. It's like the mind of the writer, you just see it at work and that's why you tune in to see what amazing things they're going to come up with. But I think our show is a little more sight to life, a little more you know relatable as far as your real life.

Question:
I'm interested in the challenges of juggling all the different roles?

Jessica St. Clair:
This has been the most amazing experience we've ever had.

Lennon Parham:
But it's also literally the most work I've ever done in my entire life. And I taught a high school.

Jessica St. Clair:
We might be piles of dust at the end of this experience. But you know what, we kind of felt like you only get this chance once really to kind of have your vision come to life. And so we decided we we're going to leave it all on the floor.

Lennon Parham:
Yes. And we had our fingers in every patch for sure.

Jessica St. Clair:
Our husbands haven't seen us in six months. But you know, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Lennon Parham:
I sent my husband a picture of myself yesterday.

Jessica St. Clair:
We have opinions about everything.

Lennon Parham:
From the wallpaper to the blockade.

Jessica St. Clair:
You know, we had a binder that Lennon and I have been keeping for 4 years which are all old rip outs of that Domino Magazine, remember that lovely magazine, RIP. And we just had ripped out what we wanted our dream TV apartment to look like. And so you know the set designer was like, ???wow, this is more research than most people can think.???

Lennon Parham:
Yes. The way we also laid out our schedule was a little more friendly to the sort of writer/performer model which is the way that the Always Sunny Guys do it. So there's a writer's room that happens independently of production. And you write everything. In a perfect world, you finish writing everything before you go into production which of course we were perfecting it the morning that we were, you know of the shoot you've seen. But we had a two months in a writers room with our writing staff. We tried to get as much work done as possible there. And then we go into the shoot, we cross forwarded everything. So we shoot all six episodes kind of out of order like based on location.

Jessica St. Clair:
And for a budget. We squeezed a lot more out of the budget that way.

Lennon Parham:
Right. And that enabled us to be you know be in the writers room for the full time. And then be on set the full time.

Jessica St. Clair:
And we tried when we were on set to really just be actors at that point and stop being writers which is hard. We'd slip each other notes while we were in scenes together.

Lennon Parham:
And everyone else.

Jessica St. Clair:
And everyone else but nobody killed us. So I think it went okay.

Lennon Parham:
And now we're in the edit room piecing it all together. But the other thing is we have an amazing support staff and our crew was like knock it out of the park amazing. And everybody was there for the right reasons. And everybody was working harder than they should have had to, based on how much we were all getting paid. But people were passionate about the project and I think that's why everybody was working so hard.

Jessica St. Clair:
It has sort of an Indy movie fell to it. Everybody just like pitched in.

Lennon Parham:
Or like a community theater Summerstock production of Narnia or something.

Jessica St. Clair:
Just because everyone really cared about the show, Lennon and I would cry at least once a day and we were - because we were so touched with how people were going that extra mile. It was really special.

Lennon Parham:
When you walked into episode 5, we see the dance or actually the tag of episode 3, we see the dance studio that Lennon has opened. She's a dance teacher. And when I walked into that space for the first time, I literally burst into tears. I couldn't believe it. Like, when people take the choices that you've made.

Jessica St. Clair:
And make them better.

Lennon Parham:
And make them better and elevate them either with a performance or a production design or you know what Fred Savage did with our words, making them reality. It is like an epiphany.

Jessica St. Clair:
Once in a lifetime, yes.

Lennon Parham:
It really is. There's nothing like that.

Question:
How did you guys initially get involved in your careers? And how do you think I guess the experience and training has helped you?

Jessica St. Clair:
We would literally not be here today without the UCB. And that's the truth. I came to the UCB a year after I graduated college because a friend of mine that I did improv comedy with in school was taking classes there. And that was when they had just opened their first theater on 22nd Street. And so there was only like 60 people in the theater. Now there are how many people in level 1?

Lennon Parham:
It's the largest long form training center in the world now.

Jessica St. Clair:
So at this point, there was 60 of us. And we used to have to go out on the corner in Washington Square Park in the freezing cold and pass out flyers hoping that homeless people would come see us perform.

Lennon Parham:
If they wanted to use their $5 for a show versus dinner.

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes, versus dinner. We talked and they did. And it was also in an old porn theater, so people used to come in looking for other things other than comedy. So at any rate, it was basically like going to grad school for comedy. You learned everything you needed to know about being a performer but also about how to be writer. And so I started doing improve. And then I would write sketch show. And from writing sketch shows is how I got the courage to write my first pilot.

Lennon Parham:
I moved to New York to be an actor. And I started talking class at Second City because I had gone to college with a Mr. Jack McBrayer who you might know as Kenneth from 30 Rock. And he went to Chicago and did Improve Olympic in Second City and I lived in Chicago one summer and saw him do that. And he was like, ???Lennon, you need to do this.??? So when I moved to New York, I sought out Second City. While I was at Second City, I met two amazing ladies who are still my friends today, Leslie Midel and Molly Praser who were on a Harold team at UCB.

And essentially they said if you want to perform regularly, you need to take classes at UCB. So it was through them I heard about it. And then I started taking classes. And by level 2, I was hooked. There's a real like sort of respect for comedy culture that - that grows there and intelligence that I had not seen in a lot of sketch comedy that I really appreciated. And it was pushing me and it became a community. And then it became a family.

Jessica St. Clair:
They also have a real interesting thing where you at the beginning especially, you interned so that you could get your classes for free. And so you were cleaning the bathroom and doing all these other horrible tasks. But you were there at the theater at least 4 night a week.

Lennon Parham:
Seeing the shows.

Jessica St. Clair:
Seeing the shows. So like when I interned, I remember the night that Tuesday nights was when Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch had their sketch show. And I was like blown away. I memorized every line in the show. And I was like this is what I want to do. So we had real mentors there, Amy Polar and all of these UCB Matt Walsh and Matt Betser and Ian Roberts. They gave us our first jobs.

Lennon Parham:
Yes. And it was sort of while we were there that everybody started to breakout on the Daily show and the Office. And now NBC Thursday night's covered with UCB people. And every other commercial has UCB people in it.

Jessica St. Clair:
Yes. It's exciting. But it really is like a family. We love each other in a way that I think like a lot of actors feel very - it can be a very lonely experience because it's just you going to auditions. We never had the feeling because we always had each other. And even if you don't have a job, you know you can go perform on Friday nights. It's a really great feeling.

Lennon Parham:
And it give you your chops. It develops your work ethic. And so that you don't ever want to settle for anything less than the funniest thing you have.

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