'Fuller House' Star on Kimmy Gibbler's Rise From Sidekick to Leading Lady

The role of D.J.'s best friend was supposed to be for one episode. Now, after a 20-year acting hiatus, Andrea Barber talks about resurrecting Kimmy for Netflix's sequel series.
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

When Full House star Andrea Barber hung up Kimmy Gibler's colorful socks in 1995, she thought she was leaving Hollywood behind for good. After the family comedy's sudden cancelation, Barber went to college, then grad school, got married, had kids and was content living a life far away from show business, working in academia.

Then she got a call from original series creator Jeff Franklin about reprising her role as D.J. Tanner's  outrageous, slightly obnoxious but lovable best friend for a sequel series, and those plans went out the window. "This is getting to relive my childhood all over again," Barber tells The Hollywood Reporter.

She now returns as one of the series' three leads – a major promotion from what was only supposed to be a one-episode part when she originally landed the role of Kimmy in 1987. Instead of simply trading barbs with Mr. T or admiring Uncle Jesse from afar, Kimmy is now a single mom and businesswoman trying to help out her newly widowed BFF while also figuring out her own complicated marital status.

Ahead of Fuller House's Friday premiere, Barber spoke with THR about when she knew Kimmy "had arrived," leaving Hollywood and her "moment of panic" about coming back.

Do you remember a moment on the original Full House when you knew Kimmy was really catching on with fans?

Oh gosh, I was so young. I'm not sure I had any awareness of just how big this show had gotten and iconic these characters had become. Really, it's taken 30 years to develop that kind of perspective, seeing now how the fans are still here and there's still a huge demand for this show. It's kind of hitting me now, really, 30 years later. (Laughs) I wasn’t a full-time cast member the first few seasons. I was a recurring character, and it was somewhere during the middle of the run of the show, around season five, when I became a full-time cast member, so by then, Kimmy was involved in more of the storylines. Then, by the time we got to Kimmy's 16th birthday that D.J. forgets and they kind of throw together a haphazard happy birthday with a hash-brown cake and toiler paper streamers, by then, I finally got an A storyline and I knew, "This is fantastic. Kimmy has arrived into the hearts of the viewers."

Do you remember what the original description of the character was?

I originally auditioned for the role of D.J. and got turned down. Fortuitously, they called me back and said, "Well, we want you to read for the role of the wacky neighbor Kimmy Gibbler," and it was supposed to be just like a one-time appearance and it turned into this major role in my life. I think Kimmy was just supposed to be a quirky neighbor at first, but it kind of developed into this really eccentric personality. I think that took a few years, to develop all of her eccentric quirks and her one-liners and her unapologetic insulting of everyone around her. (Laughs) That took some time to develop that character. At first she was just D.J.'s best friend, and then the character took on a life of her own.

Were there certain things that the writers started writing toward for you as they saw you on-screen?

It was a collaborative process once the writers could see the chemistry between the cast. The chemistry was there in the beginning but it just became stronger and stronger as the years went by. Once they saw that I could spar with Bob Saget and we could throw some one-liners back at each other, and Kimmy and Stephanie have always had a good frenemy-ship, as I call it. (Laughs) So I think it was really the chemistry with other cast members that bled into the development of Kimmy's character and her great zingers. One of my favorite parts of playing the character is the one-liners they give me.

Is there one line you hear a lot in particular from fans?

Well, people love the catchphrases. It's so cliché, but people love "Hola, Tanneritos." They want me to say that everywhere I go. (Laughs) We get made fun of for the catchphrases, but people want to hear them. The audience, they lose their shit every time.

Going back to Full House, what was it like when you knew the show wasn't going to come back for a ninth season? What was that transition like for you?

The series ended kind of abruptly. We didn't know we were being canceled for sure until about three weeks before our last taping, so the writers had to throw together a finale and it ended very suddenly for all of us. That last taping was really sad, because we were a family.

But my sadness was mostly about not seeing the castmates again, or at least not seeing them as often. Of course we kept in touch, but it's not the same as working together every day and getting to see each other every week. Actually, the finale of Full House happened at a perfect time in my life personally because I was in my first year of college, so I went straight from the Full House set into the college dorm. I did four years at college and got my bachelor's degree, and then I went on and got a master's degree and I worked in international education, or study abroad, for several years at a university, and that was very fulfilling for me. I left Hollywood, so no sadness about that whatsoever. I was very content to pursue other interests in my life. And I then had kids and was a stay-at-home mom for several years when my kids were babies and toddlers and I found that very fulfilling as well – right up until [creator] Jeff Franklin called me a few years ago asking about reprising the role of Kimmy Gibbler, and that happened at a perfect time too. My kids were entering the elementary school stage and I was ready to go back to work, so the timing has actually been fantastic for me personally. (Laughs) It's all worked out really well. I had never planned to come back to Hollywood, but I came back just for this show. I couldn’t say no. I love this show, I love the legacy and I love the people most of all.

How did you come to that decision to step away from Hollywood?

I think I knew pretty quickly.… I started acting when I was four, so from ages 4-18, that's 14 years, and so that was my extracurricular activity for the entirety of my childhood. I felt, OK, been there, done that, what's next? There's a lot more out there for me. Over the years, I realized I loved acting; it was the business that I didn't necessarily like. The business side of it and the publicity side of it and marketing yourself and going out on auditions, it's hard. It's a really tough business, and it's tougher now than it was 30 years ago, just because the competition is even more intense than it was back when I was four years old. So I was definitely ready to leave the business behind, even though I've always enjoyed the craft of acting.

What were those initial conversations with Jeff like? Did you have hesitations about stepping back in acting after so many years away?

There was no hesitation for me about coming back, because Jeff Franklin was involved and he was our original creator and executive producer, and I trusted him 100 percent. What we didn't want to do was a cheesy reunion movie that just didn't live up to the hype and was poorly done and poorly written and it was just something that people could make fun of. We wanted to do the legacy proud. 

The only hesitation I had was right before the first taping last summer for Fuller House, I had a moment of panic and I thought, "Oh my God, can I do this? It's been 20 years. What if I lose it? What if I blank out there and I can't do this anymore?" But as soon as I got into the character wardrobe, those lines just came out of me. This character, it's like muscle memory. Kimmy Gibbler never really left me. It's been an effortless return, and I'm really relieved and happy about that.

Kimmy started as a one-time role so there had to have been some fleshing out that needed to happen since she's now one of the three main women on the show. What was that part of the process like?

There's been some slight changes. Kimmy's profession changed a little bit, but Jeff wanted the three of us to be very involved in the character development, and that's how you know, hey, we're the adults now because we get [to have] a lot of feedback. (Laughs) Jeff early values our opinions and he wanted us to be very involved, and that means a lot to me. He would call me on random afternoons and say, "You know what? I think we should dot this differently with Kimmy. How do you feel about that?"

I love that Kimmy is still confidently quirky. She makes no apologies for who she is, but there's definitely a maturity about her, being a mom and being a single mom, and she just wants to raise her daughter right and she wants her daughter to be happy. And Kimmy's an entrepreneur. She's a party planner and owns her own business, and she takes that very seriously too. Despite the quirkiness, Kimmy has grown up, I think, and I hope that the viewers will be able to see that and appreciate it.

What was her original profession supposed to be?

We thought at first maybe she should have a very eclectic background that nobody would expect, like maybe she is a translator for the United Nations and she speaks like four different languages. So she comes in speaking Russian and French and she's a translator for all of these international ambassadors. We thought nobody would see that coming.

Another idea we threw around was Kimmy having a snack-making business at home, like Gibbler's Nibblers. She ran her own cookie business out of the basement of the home. And eventually we settled on party planning just because it fits so well with the character -- there's so much potential there for elaborate parties and parties gone wrong and parties gone right and theme parties. I'm glad we settled on party planner.

Another interesting part of Kimmy's backstory is her complicated relationship with her estranged husband – which is something you don't usually see on a family sitcom.

When they announced the casting of Juan Pablo Di Pace as Fernando, I could practically hear the collective jaw-dropping of Internet about how did Kimmy land such a hot guy as her husband?! (Laughs) So there is some interesting backstory there that the viewers will see on Fuller House.

He's an estranged husband. He's not quite an ex-husband yet, but they're headed that way, but are they headed that way? There's a lot of great storylines coming up for Kimmy and Fernando, and I can't wait for everybody to see it because those are my favorite scenes.

What has it been like to play some of these more adult storylines on Fuller House?

Fuller House is definitely a contemporary show. It's not just Full House 2.0. It's a modern show. Before on the original show, our storylines were all about the first day of middle school and making friends and just say no to drinking and things like that, and it's more complicated now as an adult. Our storylines are now about dating and dating while being moms and having exes in our lives. It's more multi-layered, but they're great storylines. I'm 39 in my real life, and so is Kimmy Gibbler, so I can relate to all of this stuff.

Fuller House's entire first season premieres Friday on Netflix.

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