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She missed out on 'Mean Girls' 20 years ago — but Busy Philipps got a second chance

Busy Philipps attends the <em>Mean Girls</em> premiere in New York City on Jan. 8, 2024.
Arturo Holmes
Getty Images
Busy Philipps attends the Mean Girls premiere in New York City on Jan. 8, 2024.

When the 2004 blockbuster Mean Girls came out, Busy Philipps was irked. "I was jealous that I wasn't in it, to be honest," she says. "I couldn't even audition for it because I was filming White Chicks."

Twenty years later, Philipps is making up for that missed opportunity, playing Mrs. George, mother of queen bee Regina George, in the new musical film version of Mean Girls. A mother of two, Philipps says she found Mrs. George's quest for her daughter's approval particularly relatable.

"I am famous. People think I'm cool. But you [are] just never cool to your kids. Ever," she jokes.

Philipps says she feels especially lucky for the chance to work with Mean Girls writer and actor Tina Fey. In the comedy series Girls5eva, which Fey also co-produced, Philipps plays a member of a girl group trying to make it decades after their one hit.

Philipps got her start in Hollywood when she was 19, playing tough girl Kim Kelly on the critically acclaimed — but short-lived — series Freaks and Geeks. She says Fey and Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig are among the few producers who never asked her to change her body for a role.

"God, so many things were asked of me," she says of her previous Hollywood roles. "I've been asked to lose weight like a billion times. I was told at one point to consider having all my moles removed from my neck and face and my body."

Philipps reflected on her career and the sexism she faced in Hollywood in the 2018 memoir, This Will Only Hurt a Little.

Interview Highlight

On playing Mrs. George in the 2024 musical movie Mean Girls

I'm in the Mean Girls movie for, I don't know, 10 minutes? I have no idea, not that long, but I love figuring out what makes that character kind of heartbreaking too. ... How can I show the full range of personhood [for] these characters that [are] kind of two dimensional on the page? ...

I tried the best I could to sort of imbue the character with that thing of, like, she's been waiting her whole life to have girlfriends who love her, and she has these girls around her, and she's still on the outside looking in, and she's like, even as a mom, what's wrong with me? I just think it's so deeply relatable and sad and just kind of breaks your heart. So that was how I approached this comedic role.

On working with Tina Fey on the new Mean Girls and Girls5eva

I did spend so much of my early career wanting to be in the boys' club of comedy, and always feeling like I don't understand why I'm not. I just don't get it. Why am I not in this club?

I don't know how I got so lucky, except that I'll take it and I'm so glad. I'm so grateful for it, because I did spend so much of my early career wanting to be in the boys' club of comedy, and always feeling like I don't understand why I'm not. I just don't get it. Why am I not in this club? ...

I was such a huge, huge fan of hers. Of course her career meant everything to me. Like there was nothing better than 30 Rock. It made me laugh so hard. And I didn't understand how there were so many jokes. It's so dense. I mean, that's what sometimes on Girls5eva, I'm like, I don't even know what this is, but I'm going to say it because I assume it's a joke. ...

I've gotten to work with her in so many different capacities, both as a producer who's pitching me jokes for my show, helping us break it and figure out what it is, and then handing me these amazing roles: Summer on Girls5Eva and now Mrs. George.

On how her lisp as a child led her to performing

I had a lisp when I was little. I was like Cindy Brady. ... I couldn't say my R's or my Th's or my S's, in first grade and second grade. And then I got a speech therapist. ... But my mom kind of convinced me to do this poem in the talent show, which had a lot of the aforementioned letters that were hard for me. But I worked so hard on it because I wanted to do really well, and I wanted to make people laugh. It was like a silly poem. And I did it and it felt so good. And then I was like, "Oh, this is the thing. Everybody has to look at me. And if I do it right, they're gonna laugh and they're gonna clap and everybody's gonna be looking at me."

On the collaborative environment on the Freaks and Geeks set

I was 19 when I did the pilot of Freaks and Geeks. The set was incredible. Everyone was really young. Judd Apatow and Paul Feig and Jake Kasdan were at the helm, and they were so respectful of all of us kids as being valid and having a voice in what we were doing. I didn't understand that that's not how television worked, or movies or entertainment for that matter, because it felt so collaborative. ... The way that they made that show was with such heart and such love for the characters, and they really extended that to us in a way that was so I know now rare and and so generous.

Heidi Saman and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ann Marie Baldonado
Ann Marie Baldonado is an interview contributor and long-time producer at Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She is currently Fresh Air's Director of Talent Development. She got her start in radio in 1997 as a production assistant at WHYY and joined Fresh Air in 1998. For over 20 years, she has focused on the show's TV and film interviews. She became a contributing interviewer in 2015, talking with comedians, actors, directors and musicians like Ali Wong, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cho and Jeff Tweedy. In 2020, Baldonado hosted the limited-run podcast Parent Trapped, about the struggles of parenting during the pandemic. She talked to Julie Andrews about encouraging creativity in your kids, and comedian W. Kamau Bell about what to watch with them.