What do you enjoy most about playing Laurie, the brazen assistant of Courteney Cox’s character on Cougar Town?
I consider this my breakout role. Laurie is ridiculous and really fun to play. I love going to work, and I love playing this silly, silly girl.
You’re godmother to Michelle Williams’s daughter, Matilda. Did being a godmother prepare you to become a mom?
Yes, for sure. When you see your friends going through it, you think, I can do this. It was easier when my husband and I decided to start trying because I felt like I had just gone through two and a half years of Matilda being a tiny baby and holding her when she was a week old. Michelle and I are very like-minded in the way that we raise our babies, and seeing how Michelle managed it and managed her career was informative for sure.
Does your fame affect your 2-year-old, Birdie?
I always tell Birdie if she wants to take red carpet pictures, she can, but she doesn’t have to. She’s usually into it. I feel we’re really lucky because we’re not hounded by paparazzi. For Matilda, it’s a totally different experience, and it can be upsetting.
Is Birdie like you?
She talks with her hands like me and loves to sing and perform. She’s silly, funny and such a joy. Every day my husband and I look at each other and say, “Can you believe this? How lucky did we get? She’s awesome.”
You’ve spoken about gaining 75 pounds when you were pregnant. How did you lose the weight?
I breastfed for 14 months. The first 20 or so pounds came off fairly easily, and then it was a battle. I’d hike carrying Birdie in a pack. I had a mother’s helper two or three times a week so I could go to the gym or walk. I did lose a job shortly after Birdie was born. It took me a year and a half to lose all the weight. It was hard, but thank God for Spanx.
Was it hard to go back to work?
Last year was easier than this year. Now that she’s 2, Birdie’s really hyper aware of when I’m around and when I’m not, so it’s tough. I feel a lot of guilt. But my dressing room is kind of like a playroom with lots of toys. She likes coming to Cougar Town, but she has her own schedule now, too.
How do you handle the guilt when you can’t be with her?
With varying degrees of difficulty. My husband really talks me down off the ledge when I feel guilty. But I think it’s important for my daughter to know that I get so much out of my job as an actor and that it fulfills a creative need in me. I tell her that I’m lucky because I have two amazing jobs. The most important is being her mom. The second one is equally cool because acting is what I love to do and it’s my passion.
Who is Birdie named after?
After Lady Bird Johnson passed away, my husband [screenwriter Marc Silverstein] and I heard a story about her on the radio, and Marc commented that she was such a cool lady and if we ever had a daughter, her name would be something to consider. Then when my daughter was born, I saw her and I just thought she was a Birdie.
How did your pregnancy affect your career?
I actually lost a job because I got pregnant. They wanted to rewrite the part and have me be pregnant in the movie, but the production company wouldn’t pay for the extra insurance for me to play the part while I was pregnant. So that was disheartening. But I ended up getting to relax during most of my pregnancy. Towards the end, I did several episodes of my friend’s series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where I played a pregnant woman, obviously, because there was no concealing how giant I was. And it’s fun to have it on film, being giant and pregnant. But it was exhausting—it was really hard. In retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t working. I think it all worked out for the best.
Did you take time off after Birdie was born?
I got really lucky because I didn’t work the whole first year of her life. I only shot the pilot of Cougar Town, which was four days of work. The rest of the time I was a stay-at-home mom. I was able to spend every day with her. It was great.
But, being an actor, you always have this fear that you’re never going to get another job. From my friends who’ve been nominated for Academy Awards down to friends who just guest-star on shows, every actor fears that this job could be their last. So I did go through those dark periods of time where I was really afraid that I wasn’t going to get another job. I was auditioning. But once I did the pilot of Cougar Town, I felt pretty secure. And when we found out it was getting picked up, I knew that I wanted to just relax and hang out with Birdie until I went back to work.
When you can’t take Birdie with you to work, how do you handle tough goodbyes?
The tough part for me is that the bedtime routine is really my jam. I’ve always put her to sleep. A couple of weeks ago, there was a solid five days in a row where I didn’t put her down for her nap or bedtime. And she was mad at me! I had to have a discussion with her about how hard it is for me, too, but how lucky she is that she gets to spend that time with her daddy, and that Mommy’s thinking of her. She’s a smart kid, and I feel like she gets it. But it’s hard for both of us. She says, “But I want you, Mama, I want you. Mama, I need you!”
You and your co-stars Courteney Cox and Christa Miller are all moms. Have they given you any parenting advice?
Yes, I look to both of them. Christa has three kids, so she’s sorta seen it all. Birdie actually had an incident in ballet class recently where she was pushing other girls. I turned to Christa because she’d had a similar situation with her youngest son, and she told me to explain to her: The first time you push in class again, you get an immediate time-out; the next time you push, you’re leaving class. And I was like, “But is she too little for that kind of discipline?” She said no, she’s smart and you need to lay down the law. Sure enough, I talked to her all week about it, and then we went to class the next week and no pushing. She did great. So the threat of the time-out was great advice.
Who is in your support network?
We have an amazing nanny that I feel really lucky to have found through a friend. She’s awesome, and she’s great with Birdie and really takes care of the whole family. My husband is a screenwriter, so he’s able to be around a lot and his schedule is very flexible.
Is your husband a hands-on dad?
It’s always so shocking to me anytime I see my friends’ husbands—anytime you see dads with kids—how they play so differently than moms. Marc is very physical with Birdie, and they do a lot of airplane and flying around and tickling and roughhousing. And he taught her to say “uncle” when she’s had enough—it’s pretty funny to hear her scream out “uncle!” So it’s really interesting to see that roughhouse play that they do together, which Birdie and I really don’t do. He likes to take her out to dinner just the two of them, or to breakfast, so they have that kind of time together as well.
Valentine’s Day is this month. How do you and your husband spend your alone time?
We have to remind ourselves to go out just the two of us, because we’re really social, so when we have a night out, we like to go out with friends. But I think it is important to have one-on-one time so you can reconnect and communicate and talk to each other as adults. Normally, we keep it pretty simple. We go out to dinner, see bands play, go to concerts. We used to love seeing movies together when we were dating and before we had Birdie. But now the priority is not to sit in a darkened theater for two hours. We want to have a conversation.
You started acting very young. When did you realize this was what you wanted to do for a career?
I think it was fourth grade, which is so funny. When you see kids who are actually in fourth grade, you see how little they are. I loved doing plays, and I was always starring in my little school productions. In the summertime, I only wanted to go to theater camp. I was a theater geek. And that just remains what I love to do. My parents were so supportive. They said, “Well, if that’s what you want to do, then it’s important to go to college. But that could be your job, sure.” And I never thought it wasn’t a possibility.
Can you tell us a little about the Web series you’re doing and how you got involved with that?
I did a Web series called Jason Nash Is Married, with my friend Jason Nash, who is… … married. And he has two kids. He’s a stand-up comedian, and a lot of his stand-up is parent-based. I just remember reading the script and I turned to Marc and said, “Oh my gosh, this stuff is so dark about being a parent, and so funny.” In one episode, we have a whole conversation about how you can’t kill yourself once you become a parent. Like that’s what’s preventing all people from killing themselves. Then you’d be the asshole that killed himself and left his kids without a dad. It made me laugh in sort of a horrified way. He asked me to be a part of it, and I was thrilled and very excited to do it. It was really easy because those Web series are just, like, two days of work. We had a really good time.
What are Birdie’s favorite things to do with you?
We’re really into arts and crafts. I’ve always been a crafty person. She likes to paint. The other day, we took a cardboard box and we made a fairy house. We painted it, and I wrote “Fairies Welcome” and cut out a little door. I take her to her Mommy & Me school program. When I’m not working, I’m happy to take her to gym and ballet. She’s taking them all by herself now, so she basically goes in and takes the class and I sit outside and watch. I take her to the zoo, I take her to the park. We do the usual mom stuff.
Can you share a recent funny parenting moment with us?
Breakfast is really hard—she wants to get up and play and run around in the morning. One morning, I had made her oatmeal and eggs and sausage and fruit and cereal and she wasn’t eating anything. And she said, “Mama, I want a waffle cone.” And, in my head, I was thinking, Well, it’s sorta like a waffle. When my husband came downstairs and saw her eating a waffle cone, he said, “What is going on?” And I said I just figured it’s no different from her eating a waffle, so I gave her a waffle cone for breakfast. He was like, “That is totally different! You can’t give her a waffle cone for breakfast!” But at least she was eating something!
What is your best advice for working moms?
To not be too hard on yourself. I think that’s the thing that I have to keep reminding myself. It’s so hard, but to give yourself a break and to know that at the end of the day, if you’re fulfilled in your job and your work, ultimately you’ll be able to give your kid the best of you. So it’s important for kids to know that jobs aren’t something we hate, but they’re something that can fulfill us in different ways so we can bring the best of us home to them.