Finding two actors with the magic of perfect chemistry is hard. And finding three? Near impossible. But in the underrated, unfortunately titled banter-fest that is Cougar Town, ABC has exactly that. The rapport among Courteney Cox, Christa Miller and Busy Philipps can’t be forced, faked or, yes, bottled. What makes their on-screen partnership work so well? The secret may lie in their easy off-screen camaraderie, evident even when the conversation is about career challenges and Emmy chances. It doesn’t really come from vino. We think. During this interview, they drank iced tea… (We’re pretty sure…)
TVLINE | The truth: Are your performances enhanced by alcohol?
COURTENEY COX | I think so.
BUSY PHILIPPS | I think so, too.
CHRISTA MILLER | Just a little free-er.
TVLINE | Kidding aside, there’s no actual alcohol consumption during shooting, right?
COX | I would not say the word never. At the very end of the day when we don’t have that much left to do, we ask for some “pomegranate tea.” That’s what we call it. I even got the craft services lady to hang a little teabag from my “tea cup.”
MILLER | But only if you have tiny things to say or no dialogue or you’ve finished your coverage.
PHILIPPS | I can’t drink it if I’m going to be talking a lot, because a) I’ll start slurring and nobody wants that, and b) I’m too much of a control freak.
COX | Her brain is very fresh, though. She’s very young so she has a great memory. I can’t remember anything sober, so I definitely can’t drink and [then] speak.
TVLINE | When did you feel the chemistry between the three of you start to click?
PHILIPPS | I don’t remember which episode it was where we were filming at the beach. What’s the name of that beach where the planes take off? Dockweiler Beach?
MILLER | Yeah.
PHILIPPS | Literally, it’s right in the takeoff path of LAX. So you can only film for five minutes at a time and then a jet comes overhead. But I remember doing that scene with the three of us sitting on a blanket and [executive producer and Miller’s husband] Bill [Lawrence] coming over and saying, “I just want you guys to know, this is the show. I love this.” It was the three of us sitting there drinking wine on the beach.
TVLINE | How familiar were you with each other’s work beforehand?
COX | I had personally known Christa years ago. I could tell we were going to become really close friends, and I don’t know what happened. We had all these plans.
MILLER | We had kids.
COX | Life happens. But we immediately were like, “Oh my God, I’ll tell you everything. I’m telling you everything — every secret.” But she has three kids and things happen.
PHILIPPS | Christa and Bill knew me personally from our mutual friend [and fellow actress] Nicole Sullivan (The King of Queens).
MILLER | I obviously can’t help but be very familiar with Courteney’s career. And then you [guested] on Scrubs. I think Bill and Courteney were both trying to see how it was going to be working together. It was like a little test run for both of them. Courteney was such a good sport, because Scrubs is hard to come on. It was such a tight, clique-y kind of group.
COX | I did three episodes in two days. It was the most work I’ve ever done. And Bill was so much fun that I was like, “Oh God, please, I hope we work together.”
TVLINE | Courteney, as a producer on Cougar Town, I’m guessing you had a hand in casting… Did you instantly know Busy was your Laurie?
COX | I knew instantly. We read tons of people. We took a couple of people to the network. But hands down, hand to God, on everything I have inside of me, when she came in, I was like, “I love that girl. I love her energy.” She was my first choice. There wasn’t a question.
PHILIPPS | It was actually one of the crazier testing experiences for me, because the other girl I [competed against] had another test offer, which happens a lot in pilot season… [She was also] up for another job at ABC. Bill came out into the waiting room and he’s like, “OK, so Busy, you’re going to get [this] job,” and he turned to the other girl and he’s like, “And you’re going to get that other show. I already talked to the showrunner. I just want you to know that that’s what’s happening right now. I’m only saying this because I just want to alleviate all the pressure from the room, so Busy, you have [this] and you, you’re getting this other job this afternoon in two hours.” … And he walked away and she was like, “Well that was weird.” I’m like, “Yeah. It was super weird.” She’s like, “I mean, awesome for you.” I was like, “No. Awesome for you too, you have a job too!” It was like one of the greatest testing experiences ever.
COX | I didn’t know that story. That actually is crazy.
PHILIPPS | I have been in many situations before where I’ve been told by showrunners and executive producers going into a network test that I am the first choice, that they will be damned if I don’t get this part. I’ve had more than my fair share of phone calls and e-mails after the fact saying, “I’m just so sorry. They just really feel like this 23-year-old Canadian girl is fresher.”
COX | That happens at the network?
PHILIPPS | Yes. Part of the reason why I had [my daughter] Birdie, this is no joke, is because that happened with me with Kath & Kim [NBC’s short-lived Molly Shannon/Selma Blair-starring adaptation of the Australian sitcom]. I wanted that show so badly. It was the same exact situation, and then the next day, the showrunner wrote me this crazy email. “I don’t feel like this is the end of our story, but [then-NBC president] Ben [Silverman] wants to just go in a different direction and we have to play that out…’’ I just looked at [husband] Mark [Silverstein] and was like, “F— it, should we just have a kid? I can’t do this anymore.”
TVLINE | What is your perspective on the Emmys? Do you think about that stuff?
PHILIPPS | I had a dream the other night that I was not nominated for an Emmy and I was really upset in my dream. So I don’t think about it on a daily basis, but clearly, in my dream world, it affects me.
COX | I’ve never been nominated for an Emmy, and I’ve been doing this for a long time.
TVLINE | Did getting snubbed for Friends all those years harden you to award shows?
COX | No. I’d love to be nominated. God, it would be such an honor. I’d be so excited. I’d probably be one of those people who just cried. I wish I could say I didn’t care about stuff like that. Maybe if I didn’t, it would be some sort of karmic thing for me, but I actually do. I think it’s nice to be recognized. [Not being so] makes me go, “Oh s–t maybe I don’t know what the f— I’m doing.”
PHILIPPS | Sorry, but it’s crazy that you were never nominated.
COX | Now I’m going to get really personal. When the first person [on Friends] was nominated for an Emmy, I think it was [David] Schwimmer, you’re so excited. Then the second person, [still] so excited. The only time I was like, “Whoa!” was [in 2001 when Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow] were both nominated and not me. That’s when it’s like, “I have a lesson to learn here.” I had a hard time not taking it personally when it was both Lisa and Jennifer at the same time. One guy, one girl, whatever. But both girls and not me? It hurt. I’m very sensitive, though.
PHILIPPS | For me, it doesn’t even really seem like a possibility. So, it would be the most exciting thing ever and I would love it. Clearly, my dreams are stating so. But it just doesn’t feel like it’s even going to [be a possibility]… Especially our category is like the hardest ever.
MILLER | You don’t want to look at it. You want to pretend it doesn’t happen, but then there’s that secret part of you that thinks, “Wouldn’t that be the greatest, most fun thing?”
TVLINE | Courteney, what would a nomination mean now versus if you had gotten one during Friends?
COX | It would mean more now. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been great back then. But I think it would mean [now] that I’m on another show that is regarded and is written and performed as well as [Friends] in some ways.
MILLER | Let’s see how much work Michael wants to put in so he can get all three of us nominated.
PHILIPPS | You have a lot of work ahead of you.
MILLER | What would we buy you? I’m going to say a house. Courteney?
COX | Do you like to fly privately?
TVLINE | I’d be happy with just an upgrade to Business.
COX | Done. You’re getting that today.