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Emmy Roundtable: TV's Funny Ladies on Farts, Fame and Twitter Fury

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Comedy Actress Portraits
Ramona Rosales

Seven Emmy contenders spill the beans on everything from SNL to pushy paparazzi to their "a-ha" comedy moment — plus their uncensored thoughts on that that A-list showrunner who recently complained about "labial saturation" on TV.

This first appeared in the June 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

To hear these leading Emmy contenders tell it, the offscreen life of a comedy actress isn't too far from what audiences see every week on the small screen: equal parts pratfalls, a you-go-girl attitude and a willingness to do anything (even a fellatio scene with Woody Allen) for a laugh. Gathered at the Hollywood Tower in Los Angeles on May 7, these seven actresses -- Christina Applegate (NBC's Up All Night), 40; Julie Bowen (ABC's Modern Family), 42; Laura Dern (HBO's Enlightened), 45; Zooey Deschanel (Fox's New Girl), 32; Julia Louis-Dreyfus (HBO's Veep), 51; Jane Lynch (Fox's Glee), 51; and Martha Plimpton (Fox's Raising Hope), 41 -- reveal the moments they first knew they were funny, the topic that makes them most angry, how they cope with invasions of privacy and where they would retreat if their acting careers ended tomorrow.

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THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What has been your most embarrassing moment as an actor?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: This is only an hour long? (Laughter.)

Laura Dern: For each story, hopefully.

Jane Lynch: We were doing a scene in Glee, and I let some gas fly. (Laughter.) I blamed it on an extra. I went, "Whew, a drive-by!" I texted Matt Morrison after I got home and said it was me.

Julie Bowen: You had to come clean.

Martha Plimpton: It's going to be hard to top that.

Dern: I really respect the ultimate culpability.

Lynch: I'm a Catholic girl. But the extra still is to blame. (Laughter.)

Bowen: This is a terrible story, and it's going to make you feel better about farting and make my publicist throw herself in front of the camera. But I had to have a full-body cast made for a horror movie once. I'd just arrived in Los Angeles, practically fresh off the boat in the 1990s, and it was this famous Japanese effects guy with full '80s hair-band hair. I think his name was Crazy George. He speaks two words of English. He indicated what they needed. I'm like, "You're indicating that I'm going to need to be naked." I'm pretending to be cool because, of course, I do this all the time. They hand me a jar of Vaseline, and I don't know what's going on. It was supposed to help ensure that parts of me I didn't want to stick to the plaster didn't stick to the plaster. I finally figure that out …

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Dern: Oh my God.

Bowen: I use the barest little [bit of it], and even though I know I should go further, I say, "I'm fine!" and wave them off. Later in the day, when they removed it from my body, it was a painful experience.

Zooey Deschanel: So it was kind of like a waxing?

Plimpton: But with cement and plaster.

Christina Applegate: How's your vagina doing now? (Laughter.)

Bowen: Three kids later, aces. How's yours?

Applegate: Fabulous. I've showed up to work at least twice on Up All Night with my pants on backward because I was so tired. I was like, "Why do they feel so weird?" And I look down, and there are the butt pockets.

Deschanel: I had to do this scene with Justin Long where I had to wear underwear. They had three different options, S&M-type things. The wardrobe fitting was really interesting. They had this leather bondage thing, and Liz [Meriwether], our show creator, nixed it. But there are pictures somewhere.

Applegate: I have them. (Laughter.) You looked really good in what you ended up in, by the way. I was kind of like, "Damn!"

Louis-Dreyfus: I had a bit part in Hannah and Her Sisters, the [1986] Woody Allen movie. I was incredibly nervous and excited. I was in this scene where his character is producing a show and he thinks he has a brain tumor, thinks he hears ringing. He's supposed to say: "Wait, stop. Do you hear that ringing?" I'm his assistant. And so we start to shoot. He says, "Wait, stop …" and I say, "What?" He goes, "No, no, that's the line. (Laughter.) So we go back to the line, start to roll camera. He says, "Wait, stop …" and I say, "What?" again.

Plimpton: I would have been like, "Change the line, Woody!"

Louis-Dreyfus: Then he made some joke about me at my expense to the crew, and he was right to do it. Many years later, I get this call from Juliet Taylor, his casting director, saying Woody's making a new movie [1997's Deconstructing Harry], and he would love for you to do it. And I'm like: "I can't believe it! He forgot about that horrible thing!" I hadn't even read it, and I go: "Yeah, of course I'm going to do it! I mean, unless he's got me blowing him or something."

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Lynch: And you're blowing him.

Louis-Dreyfus: Yep, there's a blow-job scene. (Raucous laughter.)

THR: Who was influential in developing your comedic acting style?

Plimpton: God, do I have one? Many of them are sitting here.

Louis-Dreyfus: Many, but not all of them? (Laughter.)

Plimpton: When I was a kid, Gilda Radner was everything. Madeline Kahn, too. All the women in all of those Mel Brooks movies were huge.

Louis-Dreyfus: Teri Garr.

Plimpton: Yes. Teri Garr in Tootsie is phenomenal! All those women were ridiculous, but there was an honesty about them. And Cloris [Leachman] is, of course, huge. And I get to work with her.

Louis-Dreyfus: Lucky you.

Plimpton: She's out of her mind. Completely and totally out of her mind.

Bowen: I see her waiting outside the park sometimes in a car filled with dogs, and she's reading. I wonder, could you answer that mystery for me?

Plimpton: Well, she's not allowed to drive, so I'm wondering how she got there in that car. (Laughter.)

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THR: Christina, you started acting very young. Was there anyone who set you on the right track?

Applegate: I grew up with Ed O'Neill and Katey Sagal as parents, so anything that I've done well or poorly you can blame pretty much on them. I considered myself really dramatic, one of those angst-ridden 15-year-olds. But being with those two, I learned how to completely let go and that it's OK to look foolish, and to come at it with truth. That all really came from Eddie and Katey.

Bowen: [To Applegate] We've never talked about us both playing Ed's daughters. I don't even think of [our] Ed O'Neill as Al Bundy.

Applegate: It's so different!

Bowen: I'll see him on an episode of Married … With Children, and I'm like, "Oh my God, that's him!"

Dern: My parents [actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd] were hugely influential -- and hilarious to be raised by. They came from a generation of actors who were all about characters full of eccentricities and also protagonists in movies and in television. They deeply influence my longing to play those kinds of characters.