One on one with the stars of 'Playing House'
Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair star in the critically acclaimed comedy “Playing House,” which returns for its third season June 23 on USA Network. The series is co-written, executive produced and stars these real-life best friends, and centers on their unconventional family arrangement. Parham plays Maggie, a mother who asks her single and career-driven friend Emma (St. Clair) to return home from overseas to help raise her baby after she catches her husband cheating. Both are moms in real life, so we decided to chat with them about parenthood, their show and their friendship. Parham, a native of Lilburn, Georgia, has two children, Saraya, 4, and Kai, 7 months, and St. Clair has one daughter, Isobel, 4.
Season 3 of “Playing House” premieres on June 23 on USA Network. If anyone reading this isn’t familiar with the show, why should they binge watch it before the new season, and more importantly, where can they binge watch it?
Parham: You should watch “Playing House” if you like to laugh, if you have a best friend, if you liked “Laverne & Shirley” and if you want to be the cool one in your group of friends.
St. Clair: If you have a best friend that you love, are a best friend that somebody loves or are in the market for a best friend to love, this is a show for you. If you like comedies that also make you cry, this is a show for you. Each season is written almost like a mini-movie, so curl up on that couch and binge it on a Saturday night! You can find the first two seasons on USA.com, Seeso and all cable video on demand channels. Season three will premiere at 11 p.m. June 23 on USA and the following day, the whole season will be available on demand.
You co-wrote, executive produced and star in the show with your real-life best friend. How close to reality do you keep your characters and storylines?
Parham: We always like to draw from real life for our show because we are real life best friends, but this season is our most personal yet.
St. Clair: Our characters are very close to who we are in real life. Every season we get together with our writers, who are all close, close friends, and share stories about what's happened to us that past year. All the dirty deets! Then Lennon and I improvise everything we write and record ourselves so we can capture the weird way we talk on the show.
What can viewers expect from season 3?
Parham: Season 3 has a little of everything. Romance, drama, Bird Bones, drag queens, hijinks and also Keegan Michael-Key.
St. Clair: This season we really go for it — we're gonna make you laugh harder than you've ever laughed and also cry. Sorry, but it's true, and you have no choice but to submit to this emotional rollercoaster! We tackle the tough subject of my successful battle with breast cancer, but don't worry, we'll still be up to our old shenanigans and end up performing as twin Tina Turner drag queens.
Jessica, you recently penned a heartfelt essay for Stand Up 2 Cancer about being diagnosed with stage 2b estrogen positive breast cancer in 2015. What would you say to all the young parents reading this to encourage them not to take their health for granted?
St. Clair: Being the parent of young children is the most rewarding but also the most exhausting experience, physically and emotionally. It's so important that you do everything you can to not let yourself get run down and that you stay up to date with your checkups. And ladies, get a mammogram starting at 30 — insurance doesn't cover it until you're 40 (don't get me started) but it's the best money you will ever spend.
You seem like a powerhouse duo, and this isn’t the first show you created and starred in together. What drove you two to become writers, producers and actresses for your own projects?
Parham: Jess and I came up at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, which is an improv and sketch powerhouse in the comedy community. We were always encouraged to create our own material, because no one knows how to make you funny better than yourself. So it felt like a natural transition.
St. Clair: The founders (of the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York) really instilled in us the need to develop and nurture your own voice and point of view. We spent our 20s running around the city doing our own sketch shows, just trying to make each other laugh. Both Lennon and I knew we wanted to find a way to portray female friendship in a realistic way that wasn't being done much on television. So we went ahead and wrote it ourselves! It wasn't easy and there were a lot of roadblocks but we somehow persevered and we're so glad we did.
Do you have any advice to other working parents in regards to juggling a career and balancing a positive home life?
Parham: I think the hardest thing to remember is to take care of yourself first. From the time we become mothers, we put our own needs on the back burner. It's biological, but building in those self-care rituals has been incredibly important for me. Even if it's just one hour a week to go to my dance class, it helps me keep my head on straight.
St. Claire: The struggle to not feel guilty when I have to be away from my daughter has been one of the hardest things for me. I try to remind myself that it's okay to really enjoy yourself at work and that everything I do is for my family. When I'm home, I try and not do any work. That's my time to really focus on my family. I find that the American work ethic will always encourage you to sacrifice your personal life for work, but it is not worth it to me! You have to be living a happy life to write about it on TV.
What do you do for your own Mommy time to unwind?
Parham: I meditate, go for a walk with a friend, eat breakfast by myself every once in a while or take a fun exercise class. I also am currently obsessed with "The Great British Bake-Off."
St. Claire: I'm a huge Barefoot Contessa fan. Or anything where people are cooking things with butter. I also like to get together for a night with girlfriends, preferably wearing sweatpants.
Craziest thing you've done because you were sleep-deprived:
Parham: Write an entire season of television.
What’s the funniest thing your child has ever done?
St. Claire: She is a genuine ham so every day something ridiculous is being said or done in my house.
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
Parham: My favorite moment is right after my daughter wakes up, she piles into bed with my husband and I and her new little brother. We just hang out together as my daughter sings and makes him laugh.
If your parenting style was a book, what would it be called?
St. Clair: “Doing the best I can. Please don't judge the stain on my pants.”
What has surprised you most about being a parent?
Parham: How it feels like your heart is outside your body and now jumping on the monkey bars.
One thing that always makes you laugh is…?
St. Claire: When my daughter says something adult like when I offered her some fries and she said "Oh well that got me in the mooooood!"
What is something important life has taught you?
Parham: Not to wait to do the things you want deeply. Go for it. Go for it now.
St. Claire: How fiercely people can love each other. And that when you let your loved ones help you, everything is better.
What is the best gift a parent can give her child?
St. Claire: To love them unconditionally. I say to Bebe something I remember my dad saying to me. "There is nothing you could do that would ever make me love you less."