ATX Television Festival: Playing House

Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham find the comedy in cancer

Jessica St. Clair (right) (photo by Maggie Boyd)

BFFs onscreen and off, Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham debuted the first episode of Playing House’s upcoming third season at the ATX Television Festival on Friday. In a post-screening Q&A, moderator Chris Harnick (E! News) prefaced a question with, “Obviously you guys are close.”

St. Clair cracked back, “Close? We live up each other’s buttholes.”

That closeness comes through in their winning USA Network sitcom, about single mom Maggie (Parham) and her best friend Emma (St. Clair), who returns home to help Maggie raise the baby. The season 3 kickoff continues the show’s terrific mix of wackadoodle comedy and empathetic exploration of female friendship, aging, dating, and more. (It returns to USA on June 23.) There were a few teasers about the third season – St. Clair dropped that “in the finale we get to dance with drag queens” in a Tina Turner “Proud Mary” homage – but much of the conversation revolved around the decision to include St. Clair’s real-life breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in the show’s storyline.

Lennon Parham (photo by Maggie Boyd)

Harnick asked if the women had experienced any hesitation about writing St. Clair’s cancer into the show. 
 "Yes,” replied Parham with zero hesitation. “It had just happened. It wasn’t fun or funny.”

Playing House scripts are built out of the actors’ improvisation, which meant the two had to re-live certain traumatic moments. Ultimately, they found it helped them to process the experience – and gave them some great comic fodder.

St. Clair recounted how Parham, who was there with St. Clair’s husband at every doctor’s appointment, helped her with “new boob shopping” – “She feels each one like a sommelier. ‘It’s number 2.’ And I put that boob in my body without a second thought.”

In the wake of her diagnosis, St. Clair said, “All of a sudden your female friends just surround you.”

“What was so important to me was to have a love letter to my friends. … I wouldn’t have survived without Lennon. I wouldn’t have survived without my friends.”

Through this season's storyline, they wanted to celebrate that support, and love, and tenacity – the toughness of women, full-stop.

“Trump can go fuck himself,” she continued. “You can’t keep these bitches down. You can’t, and you won’t.”

Parham smiled drily. “That’s going to be the quote.”

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ATX Television Festival, ATX TV Fest 2017, Playing House, Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham

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