'Righteous Gemstones': Edi Patterson Talks Season 2 Plans, Viral Earworm "Misbehavin'"

Righteous Gemstones - Edi Patterson - HBO Season 1, 2019 -photofest - H 2020
Courtesy of HBO

The actress, who plays volatile Gemstone sibling Judy, also writes for the Danny McBride HBO comedy.

The cast and crew of HBO's The Righteous Gemstones were on the second day of shooting season two in March when the novel coronavirus came to Charleston, S.C. — or, as creator-star Danny McBride characterized it, "Everything got real, real quick." So production on the comedy, about a family of televangelists who seem to misplace their WWJD bracelets for weeks or even years at a time, shut down, uncertain when it would be able to resume.

McBride mentioned this during a recent joint interview with series composer Joseph Stephens about their season one musical collaboration, the breakout earworm "Misbehavin'." But the call was supposed to include another participant: the third credited writer on the song, Edi Patterson.

In addition to playing the mercurial Judy Gemstone — sister to McBride's Jesse and Adam Devine's Kelvin, only beloved daughter to John Goodman's Eli — Patterson is also a writer on the series. She's the only person, aside from McBride, who pulls that specific double duty.

"She's probably off drunk somewhere," McBride joked about 10 minutes into the conference call. But she was not. She was caught in the Houston airport and simply unable to connect. We've all been there. Still, she says, McBride and Stephens "mercilessly ripped" her for missing the interview. They did not — except for the drunk thing. Nevertheless, THR caught up with Patterson — whose other series credits include McBride's Vice Principals and Jordan Peele and John Carcieri's The Last O.G. — a week later to get her thoughts on "Misbehavin'," new plans for season two (which, due to some cast commitments, has been pushed to 2021) and her character, who manages to make her brothers look like the calm eye amid the cat 5 Hurricane Judy. 

I spoke with Adam Devine back before the season one premiere, and he made an interesting observation about your character when I pointed out that he and Danny McBride are both known for playing man-children, for lack of a better term. He said that Kelvin was a chance for him to play against type as more of a straight man for you and Danny, who are the two more volatile Gemstone siblings. So I was curious for your take on that but also whether Judy is against type for you or … not?

I would say Judy is different from other characters I've played — even though all of them are kind of a little off in some way. I would say that she is probably more frustrated than any character I've ever played. And because she knows she's got it in her [to lead a congregation], and her brothers have gotten chances that she's never going to get — and understandably (laughs) given that she's probably the wildest card of all three wild cards. She probably has a tendency to go off in a different and maybe worse way than her two brothers. So you can see why her dad has been skeptical. But also I think her mom dying turned up the frustration because I think she probably felt seen by her mom and understood by her mom. And now she's like, gripping so hard and fighting for a chance to be important. I think it's almost as general as that: She wants to be important and seen and loved and thought awesome. And I think every human being wants that in one way or another, but she wants it real hard because she's not been getting it from some of the people she loves most in the world and respects most in the world.

So along with Judy being the only woman in the immediate Gemstone family now, you're also the only woman in the series' writers room.

It's interesting. I don't feel Judy's frustration as far as writing. Danny and I get along great creatively. I feel like almost 100 percent of the time if I write something that genuinely makes me laugh, I know almost without fail he's gonna get it. Even when it's super weird, or super specific. We have a similar chip, where I know he'll know what I was going for. Thankfully! Thankfully I don't feel Judy's frustration when I'm writing. God, that would be awful! (Laughs.) 

So originally, we were supposed to do a three-way interview with Danny and Joseph and you about "Misbehavin'" but the timing didn't work. And they walked through the process of creating the song, but I did want to ask you as well about what, if anything, surprised you about the reaction to the song? 

It was genuinely and pleasantly surprising that people found it as hook-y as we did. It came together really fast and we were like, "Wowee that is sticking in my head!" So it was just like, "Oh wow, other people think so too!" And then there was that thing of, parts that I think are super funny, it seems like many other people also think are super funny? It was this weird portal where our imaginations were creating the same kind of funny for other people as [they did] for us when we were laughing in a room about it. And then we kept thinking about it and singing it, and it was so easy to remember. And then Danny played it for his kids and they really dug it and wanted to keep singing it. And I've written songs for other stuff before, like for a musical and stuff with the Groundlings and whatever, and I've found that there's something to that, when kids latch on to something. There's some kind of weird magic in it, if a kid gets it even though it's sort of like advanced, comedically. It was like, "Oh wow, maybe we're onto something with this."

You were on day two of filming season two in Charleston when everything shut down? So it went from "We're doing everything completely normally" to "We're shutting it all down indefinitely" in two days?

Totally. I mean our second day of shooting we were on massive sets. Like a period piece set where the whole block had been changed into another city in another time. We were full steam ahead. And from one day to the next it was like, "Hmm. Can't do that."

And was there still a hope at the beginning of coming back quickly?

Yeah, I think there was a hope in the beginning of like, "Oh, we'll just press the pause button for a minute" and, you know, "even if it's a month or a month and a half." and then it just started looking super confusing, and then it became clear like, "Oh, we're gonna have to wait awhile." I'm just so glad that we get to still do it.

So shooting has been pushed to next year at this point, but there is a plan to shoot a Christmas special in August?

That's the plan. I mean, huge fingers crossed! (Laughs.) I'm in Texas right now with my parents, and there's so many states that are going through weird spikes right now. So it's just really hard to tell.

Your show might face an additional layer of challenges when it goes back into production because it's set in a megachurch, so big crowds, lots of extras. So have you had any discussions yet about how things might have to change when you resume, like any stuff from the scripts that will need to be revisited or redone?

I think the plan is to wait and see if we can do what we wrote. But there's just so many unknowns.

So no discussion of going full Lion King Remake with the CGI?

It's interesting because even in the first season there are times when CGI painting is used on crowd, you know, like you said, we're in a megachurch so sometimes the crowds are enormous. I mean we've had so many extras for certain scenes, and still [use] a little bit of painting. But even the massive base number [of extras] we've gotten before, I have no idea how we'll do it. It's so confusing.

So earlier in the pandemic, we were doing a series called "How I'm Living Now" and the last question was: What's the first thing on your to-do list when — do I have to say "if" now? — everything goes back to normal?

My answer is gonna sound so nerdy, but I cannot wait to get back to filming. I feel like I just got that little, tiny hit of the drug. I really want to go start filming what we wrote and keep going on something we worked so hard on and that I'm so proud of.

No, that's a great answer. I think Joey [Stephens] just said, "I want to go to a restaurant."

(Laughs.) Man, it does sound great to sit somewhere and have something delicious in a very sensually lit restaurant for a long time. Like one of those meals where you just sit there for two and a half hours. Sounds great.

The Righteous Gemstones is available for streaming on HBO Max.