By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
Recently I had the great opportunity to interview one of my personal favorites, Courteney Cox, star of DIRT [and that little show about six friends and a coffee shop]. In anticipation of DIRT’s second season, premiering this Sunday March 2 at 10PM on FX, Monica, umm… I mean Courteney was kind enough to spend a half an hour chatting it up with some of the
sleazy and underhanded brilliant and good-looking reporters that DIRT so easily loves to dish about.
I was wondering, this season feels a little bit more ripped from the headlines, and we were just curious to know if that was something of a conscious choice, just following the past year of what’s gone on, or if it was just accidental?
Courtney Cox: No, it’s absolutely a choice. We thought that would be a good way to just start the season, and it is absolutely ripped from the headlines. We usually do a hybrid of celebrities and then add to the story like maybe what happened to cause this to happen to them or sum it up in a different way just for fun. But yes, it’s definitely relatable this year and I think it makes for just a more exciting television show.
Are there any other celebrities, because right now we have some story lines that are a little bit a la Nicole and Paris and David Hasselhoff, are there any other celebrities that we can expect to see something from? Any little tidbits you can give us on that?
Well, there is definitely going to be, in almost every episode you’ll see something that you will recognize, and that’s kind of hopefully the fun of it that you’ll be able to guess who this person we might be talking about, even though it’s not really about them. It could be about, like I said before, just a couple of people or a couple of situations. But yes, every episode there is that relatable kind of relatable story line.
Have any of the celebrities that have been touched upon contacted you guys?
No, I don’t think they’ve seen them yet. We air March 2 and we’ll see. I think there’s a fine line that the producers, even me as a producer, will take. We don’t ever intend to hurt anyone. And as a matter of fact sometimes we make the characters sympathetic just by showing our creative version of what their life must be like or how they got to the place where they did something outrageous. It’s all in fun. It’s much lighter this year and it’s funnier, and I don’t think anyone’s going to get upset. And if they do, that I guess, it wasn’t intentional.
I wanted to ask you, just kind of following up on that last question, how do you kind of keep the show grounded and not go too far and not make the characters too out there? It seems like a show where this must be something you have to think about of making it still relatable. Do you find that difficult as you go into season two?
Well you know you would think that that would be a problem, but really if you just look at any magazine or follow any celebrity that people are fascinated with, they seem to do the outrageous things on their own. We’ll come up with something that we think “okay, now what’s really shocking,” because we want to make good television. So obviously we want to shock people. But then, lo and behold, it ends up happening or something. Life is outrageous enough. I don’t think that we have to worry about making anything seem crazy, because through time if you look at all the tabloids from the last whatever many years it pretty much speaks for itself.
And do you find that true even for your character, that you don’t have to worry about keeping her grounded because just the world she’s in is out there?
Yes, I think that the world of magazines, and I think it’s so competitive that you do have to go to great lengths to get the exclusive story or the perfect picture. It’s just so competitive. So I think that that’s what great about this show and the subject matter, because there are no limits. You could go anywhere and it wouldn’t be—yes, last year we did some things, which I really loved, where Don Konkey, he cut off his finger to get a story, but that’s because he really was loyal to Lucy. He’s also a schizophrenic and wasn’t on medication. I want to be as kind of outrageous but within the realm of reality as possible, and so far it hasn’t proven to be something that’s hard to come up with.
And last year was great when you had Jennifer Aniston on, that was a lot of fun for people. I didn’t know if there are any other guest stars you’re planning on or you can tell us about or hopes you have to?
We have great guest stars this year. We don’t have any cast members of Friends, but we do have, Tom Arnold was on and Rosanna Arquette, my sister-in-law, and Vicki Lewis and Sharon Lawrence and Richard Karn, all just really great actors. And we have recurring role characters and new characters on the show that work in the office. I think it’s been a great season for just really good actors being on the show.
I want to go back on something you just said a few moments ago. You said this year’s going to be lighter and funnier. You seemed to have a great year last year, was there some feedback that made you say we do need to lighten it and funny it a little bit this year?
I think it’s just more making it relatable. Last year I thought was really interesting, and we had kind of the subject was about the Apocalypse and it was heavier. This year we just want it to be a little bit more of a broader appeal. I think the people who loved Dirt last year will hopefully love it this year, but there will be just more of an audience because the people who read US and In Touch and all those tabloid magazines I think will get a kick out of the show.
And can you just talk a little bit about doing the double duty of both starring and being exec producer. Can you wear both hats at the same time or do you have to at one point say okay, I’m now thinking as the star and now I’m thinking as the producer?
No, I would say I wear the hat all the time. But the only difference is because I’m an actor I probably have a lot more, I mean I have probably not more compassion, but I definitely am for the actor always. Just because I’ve been there and I understand, and trying to take care of their needs I think is really important to me. But no, this job was something that I love every hat that I wear and it’s been fantastic.
I love the character Ian Hart plays. I love your secondary characters that you’ve cast in the show. Don Konkey—
Yes, he’s wonderful.
I was wondering how you found him and the whole subject of schizophrenia your writers treat with humanity and humor, and it’s not pandered to. A lot of mental illnesses are treated in these extreme arcs. And I just wanted to know what was the story behind him and how you found him?
Well, how we found Ian was he came in to read, and Ian’s an amazing actor and he’s done tons of stuff, but he came into our office at Coquette, our production company, and read as well as all the rest of the cast that we hired, but he just was so unique and interesting. And what happened was, when we originally pitched the show to FX we had a very outrageous paparazzo, but he didn’t have schizophrenia. And when we hired Matthew Carnahan, who ended up writing and creating the show, he put that character trait to Don Konkey. It wasn’t there originally in the first pitch. And I just think it made it so great because you had sympathy for him, so he kind of got away and can get away with doing even more kind of strange things.
And Ian has such heart and walks such a fine line of making his character not seem—I mean just making him real. Actually, Ian knows a lot. He’s got a few—well, I don’t know if I can say this, but I guess he does—he’s got a couple family members that have schizophrenia or had schizophrenia and so he knows it really well. So he’s never overdoing it, and he’s just playing it as real as possible.
It’s very well done. I’ve noticed that your show that I’ve watched it, it sort of exposes the dividing line in the celebrity world from serious celebrities who are in it as a career versus the people who are in it for the party and the photo events. Do you feel that your show is paparazzi sort of like their say or their side exposing celebrities that kind of manipulate them for these photo opportunities and these outrageous situations or for a quick buck versus the serious actors who just want to work? I want to know your opinion if your show illuminates paparazzi in a kinder light?
Oh illuminates, okay in a kinder light. Well no, I don’t think we’re trying to show them in a more positive light. The only thing that you can say is how many there are and how competitive it is, but no, I don’t think anyone in our show really comes off smelling like a rose. And I think that we’re showing the humanity of everyone, but no one’s looking great, whether it’s Lucy who’s out to, you know she’s having more fun this year at getting the stories and she’s loving her job more. She may be a little lighter on her staff than she was last year, but she almost died and I think she just has a different outlook on life. But she still will go pretty far to get what she needs.
I guess I missed making my point. I think that to me just as an observer—no, it’s my fault. It seems like there are celebrities out there in the real world that are in it just for the celebrity … photo op and manipulate the paparazzi, and then there’s real serious actors, the majority of actors, who lead quiet lives and just want to work. I don’t know. It feels like your show, to me, when I watch it illuminates that reality, and I didn’t know if you felt strongly about that.
We are illuminating those people because that’s the stories that you read about. So in making a fun television show you want people to be able to relate and go “Oh my God, is that so and so? Oh wait a minute, but didn’t that happen to that girl?” And then we kind of are combining them and making just really for fun television. But yes, we are highlighting those people because they’re the ones that are in the headlines of these magazines. Did that answer it?
I’m just curious, what has been your favorite story line so far that you’ve filmed?
Okay, let me think about that, my favorite story line. We have this character on the show this year that will definitely resemble someone that’s in the press all the time, but she’s a recurring character. And I won’t say who she’s portraying, because you’ll be able to figure it out relatively early on, but what I like about it is it kind of shows a side to this person’s character like what could have happened or maybe there’s a different side to the story that we don’t know about. And we give another version and I think it’s been really interesting. Her name is Sharlee Cates [played by Ashley Johnson]. An amazing actor.
My question for you is, has your role as Lucy affected your views or your feelings at all towards the paparazzi or towards tabloids?
I would say that playing this character and working on this show has definitely shown me how hard it is and how competitive it is. It’s just really hard to run a successful magazine. I get that. And I’ve gotten just how many paparazzi there are out there and how hard it is to get the exclusive picture. So yes, I guess I’ve learned, it doesn’t mean that I agree with it all, and I definitely don’t agree with the obsession on certain celebrities. I understand the fascination, but when it gets obsessive I think it gets dangerous. So I haven’t changed my view, but definitely I’ve learned all sides of it, for sure.
I wanted to go back to something someone asked earlier about the sort of ripped from the headlines aspect. Do you ever worry that real life is almost stranger than fiction at this point?
Well, I think that there’s a fine line in deciding what is appropriate, what’s just good entertaining television, and what is exploitive and hurtful. But I feel like what’s been really interesting is that we come up with these story lines, and sometimes we think wow, no way this could happen, but man would it make for a good episode, and then you find out after you filmed it, you’ve written it, that something even more outrageous has happened, or they’ve done exactly what you thought they were going to do. When you sit in a writer’s review you go okay, what is the wildest thing that you could imagine this character doing? Sometimes it actually happens, because people are just really unpredictable. So it doesn’t scare me, but I definitely feel sometimes that people will see things on our show and say oh my God, they just took that right from what happened, and we actually may have filmed it before it even happened. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.
One of my favorite things about Dirt is the relationship between Lucy and Don, and I was wondering if we are going to get more of that this season and how it’s going to evolve?
Well there definitely is more of it this season, and I think they’re kind of the core of the show, and that relationship is really important. And Don this year has taken, he’s on medication now so his schizophrenia has been toned way back and he’s much more in control, which makes him have to look at what he’s do for a living and how far he goes for Lucy. So they’ve kind of reversed roles a little bit. As opposed to her taking care of him, he’s taking care, did I say that right, yes, he’s taking care of her more. And so it’s an interesting change this year.
I just wanted to know, I’m also a big fan of your character Gail Weathers in the Scream series. And I wanted to know if there was any inspiration, because you were kind of a ruthless editor in that, or ruthless reporter, and now you’re a ruthless editor.
Well it’s an interesting parallel because Monica was a ruthless competitive, competitor or whatever, girl, but I guess I have that streak in my personality. Gail Weathers though, was really campy. I think we’re making a fun show, but I don’t think it’s campy, so that would be the big difference. In Scream 3 I did have the worst hairdo in the world, so other than that. I can’t believe it’s forever on film, brutal.
You touched on this a little bit earlier, but I just wanted to ask if you can talk a little bit more about how and if Lucy has changed this season after being stabbed, after almost dying. Does she come back with a different outlook or is she the same ruthless person we saw in season one?
She is ruthless, but she definitely has a different outlook on life. She doesn’t take it quite so seriously. I think she’s a little more appreciative of what she has and how great—I think she just likes her job more as opposed to needing to tell the truth for some personal reason. It’s more like hey, I’ve got a great job. This is fun. I want to be the best I can be at it. And I think that she’s a little more daring in certain ways, but for a better reason, just for a more fun outlook as opposed to for, like I said before, some personal vendetta against people.
What about playing the editor-in-chief of a tabloid magazine appealed to you?
Well, just playing a character that is strong, that is very ruthless, but with a heart. When I originally pitched this show to FX it didn’t even have a woman character in it. It was really about a Hollywood young actor who was willing to kind of sell his soul to a paparazzo to kind of keep up in the world of Hollywood; FX came up with the idea of making it centered around a female at a tabloid magazine. And it sounded so good the way John Landgraff pitched it back to us that I was like, wow, maybe I should be playing this character, and that’s how it kind of happened. I know this world, so I thought it would be a fun character to play, and it turned out it is.
Now I’m curious, you guys ended season one with that great cliffhanger, and I heard that you guys were only able to complete seven episodes this year because of the strike. And I’m wondering about the through line over the course of the season, does it just sort of drop off at the end or is there going to be another great cliffhanger? What’s going to be happening?
Well, we didn’t know that we were going to not finish, but the strike kind of changed all of that. So luckily, what works in our favor this year, which would have not have worked last year at all, is that each episode is self-contained, even though there may be a character that goes over a few episodes you can watch each one and feel like you’ve wrapped up a story. So luckily, episode seven, which is the one that we finished on, if you didn’t know it wasn’t, no one’s getting stabbed, but it’s still an exciting episode. I mean, do we have bigger plans? Sure, but does it work? Yes.
I wanted to see if you could touch on the new hires in the office and how they’re going to be changing the dynamic in the workplace?
Well, I think the whole show this year takes place, not solely, but much more, well maybe solely, in the offices of Dirt now and what it takes to run this magazine. So we have new cast members that are enriching that world. And I think that it’s great. It just kind of keeps it all within the office, and you’ll see love triangles and personal issues and stuff. We have a new character named Farber, and his name is Ryan Eggold, and he’s just a great actor and a great asset to the show. He’s got a little love thing going on with another character. I think it just makes for a much more enriched world within the walls of Dirt.
My question touches on relationships, and I like that you mentioned the Lucy and Don relationship and how great it is, and I’m a fan of Lucy and Holt as a romantic relationship. Do you think that they ever will have some kind of healthy relationship, and is Lucy able to have a healthy relationship?
That’s definitely something that we were going to explore, and we did. I like Holt and Lucy too. I think it’s really interesting. Two kind of lost souls trying to make it, and the way they come together. I think that’s kind of what we were going to explore and we started to. And we’ve continued to explore it in season three, if we get picked up. So she definitely has her fears and intimacy issues, as many of us do, but I don’t know, I like that you like that and I think we’re going to explore it more.
I was actually wondering if you were personally really affected by the paparazzi in your past life, and if this show’s a really good and fun retaliation like producing all the scripts, getting back at the paparazzi a little bit?
Well, you know it’s funny because I definitely have a lot of experience with the paparazzi, but I don’t feel like it’s really a retaliation. I feel like we’re just kind of—I’ve said this before, but I really mean it, I think that no one’s really a good guy in this. I think it really shows the dark side of magazines, it shows the dark side of paparazzi and it also shows, I think we humanize everyone too. So it kind of is, I think, a little bit of an accurate portrayal of these kinds of characters.
I’m near the tail end here so a lot of the stuff I was kind of thinking of asking has obviously been asked. But one thing I did want to pick your brain about was Kenny, and the kind of running gag of your assistants being kind of insecure, and obviously we know what happened to Kenny last season. I had the opportunity to watch the first episode for this season a little earlier today, and you have a new Kenny.
Yes. He’s great.
And you kind of have fun with him at the expense of his problems, and I‘m just kind of curious if we’re going to see some more humorous moments between you and him as the season progresses?
Absolutely. He is such a great character, and there is a condition like that where people get really nervous and need to self-soothe. But yes, I think he adds for a lot of comic relief and he continues to be throughout the whole season. He’s great, just a really great actor [Kevin Wheatley]
I read that in the season premiere that Holt’s fame is rising and Willa wants to take on a bigger role at the magazine. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
This is for season two. What happens at the end is that I get stabbed, we open it up with me in the hospital, and at this point Holt is extremely famous. He’s kind of gotten all of his wishes come true except for he has a lot of baggage that came with it. And Willa, who was wanting to take over my job, she kind of has a revelation that maybe it’s harder than she thought. But she’s now not the young, new reporter, she’s much more savvy this year and she’s just become really smart. And Don Konkey is on medication, so there’s been a bunch of changes this year.
I watched the first two episodes, thankfully for the screeners and I think you guys fixed everything about the show that didn’t work for me last year in like the first 20 minutes. You made a lot of great changes. Absolutely. And some of them I won’t say, because I don’t want to ruin it for … The most important one is the kind of relocation, refocusing at the Dirt offices, which you’ve already mentioned. As the executive producer, what else is important for you to change when coming back for the second season?
I would say to make it more relatable so it wasn’t alienating. I think the fans that liked it last year, hopefully they will be like you and hopefully they will enjoy the changes that we’ve made. But I felt like last year it was dark and it was serious, and it was really interesting and I loved it. But I think this year it’ll be more of a fun show to watch, where you’re kind of guessing who are we talking about. And it’s stuff that people know about, and then we can give you a different perspective on it. We have new characters that I think add humor. It’s just an all over more fun, lighter tone, but hopefully still outrageous.