Busy Philipps landed her first role at nineteen, soon after she moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, where she grew up, to Los Angeles. It was on Judd Apatow’s “Freaks and Geeks,” a TV show that, in one season in 1999, launched the careers of Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Jason Segel. In the decade that followed, Philipps went on to garner roles on TV shows such as “ER,” “Dawson’s Creek,” and “Cougar Town”; in movies, she played parts in romantic comedies like “Made of Honor” and broad action comedies like “White Chicks.” In her twenties, Philipps “auditioned for everything,” she recalled recently. “I auditioned for Alan Ball for Lauren’s part in ‘Six Feet Under.’ In the pilot, she smokes crack, and I think I played it so cracked out and over the top that he was, like, ‘What the fuck? Calm down.’ ” She had her hair done in cornrows to try out for a role in the original “The Fast and the Furious.” The part went to Jordana Brewster, who starred in four of the next seven films. Last spring, Tina Fey produced “The Sackett Sisters,” a sitcom in which Philipps and Casey Wilson starred as estranged sisters. Trade publications touted it as one of the hottest comedies of pilot season. NBC declined to pick it up. More recently, Philipps had to pass on the role of Elizabeth, the high-strung agent in Malcolm D. Lee’s “Girls Trip,” because of a family vacation. The part went to Kate Walsh, and the movie became last summer’s hundred-million-dollar-grossing sleeper hit.
Philipps has the hourglass figure of a lad’s-magazine model and the perfectly expressive face, long and angular, of a comic actress; occasionally, when she has a bug-eyed reaction to a piece of news, she can seem a little deranged. She would make a good David Lynch heroine. “I get jealous of boys, always,” Philipps, who is thirty-eight, said recently. “I just feel like the boys get away with more shit; boys are given the chance. They are allowed to let their freak flag fly and they’re rewarded for it.” Philipps, who is married to the screenwriter Marc Silverstein, with whom she has two daughters, Birdie, who is nine, and Cricket, four, has occasionally threatened to quit acting altogether. In the two years since “Cougar Town” was cancelled, more of her income has come from doing promotions—for Pull-Ups diapers, for Campbell’s Well Yes! soup—than from her acting. She hosts a video series for the craft chain Michaels, called “The Make Off”; in one video, in which she resembles a zanier Martha Stewart on a set like Pee-wee’s Playhouse, she and Rob Lowe face off over dioramas. She also sometimes fills in for Kelly Ripa on the morning show “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” “I really do enjoy that,” she said. “And I think Ryan is the most hardworking person ever. The last time I co-hosted, he just told anecdotally some jokey story about how he legitimately had four jobs.”
Last year, Philipps and Silverstein had a bedroom routine in which Philipps put Cricket to bed and then Silverstein put Birdie to bed. “I would go downstairs and be alone in our bedroom, kind of just waiting for Marc to come down to watch TV,” she recalled. The couple started joking that she should start a podcast called “How Come We Don’t Talk Anymore?” Instead, last November, to pass the time, Philipps started using Instagram’s Stories feature. Stories, which allows users to post images and videos that are sixty seconds or shorter, and which are erased after twenty-four hours, launched in August, 2016; the feature was quite similar—some have used stronger language to describe the resemblance—to Snapchat Stories. “I had tried to do Snapchat,” Philipps said. “I couldn’t figure out how to get anyone to follow me. I was getting literally two hundred people watching.”
As new social-media platforms roll out, there tends to be one early adopter who defines its potential. When the model Chrissy Teigen joined Twitter, in 2009, she revealed her love for sausage-and-egg McMuffins, Pizza Hut, and tater tots, and the medium’s ability to portray a real-time inner monologue. In 2016, DJ Khaled began using Snapchat as a life-coaching platform, often linking success with personal hygiene (washing one’s face, gurgling mouthwash, liberally using cocoa butter), capturing a moment in which thousands felt themselves in need of motivation and “self-care.” “I test out the angles, just to make sure I don’t look like I have a double chin,” Philipps, who has become the breakout star of Instagram Stories, told me recently. “That’s important to me.” Using the short, ephemeral videos, which she shoots herself, she has transformed her daily life as a struggling actor and L.A. mother into an addictive sitcom—imagine “I Love Lucy” mixed with a modern life-style guru—that is often watched by more than a hundred thousand people.
Philipps tends to kick off the videos, in which she is usually sitting on her well-appointed bed or walking down a city street, often flipping her blond hair absentmindedly and talking directly to the camera, with the conspiratorial “You guys.” In them, she has made mac and cheese from a box for her daughters while wearing the rose-gold Johanna Ortiz gown in which she once walked the red carpet. She has filmed herself wearing cat’s-eye sunglasses in a supermarket, advising her audience that “the best thing to do while grocery shopping is to put headphones in and pretend you’re in a music video playing a depressed housewife shopping.” She frequently records herself, sweat dripping down her face, as she does complicated trampoline-based workouts, during which she gazes into the camera with a plaintive expression. The question of whether she should dye her hair pink is given the same weight as the necessity of raising money for hurricane victims. Her anxiety is a theme; in one Story, she says that she keeps running shoes in her car in case there’s an earthquake and she has to find her children.
The work that goes into maintaining oneself for possible acting work is another theme of her Stories, as is her recent lack of acting work. “Here I am in front of the NBC Experience store,” she says in one post, recording from Rockefeller Center. “I’m not part of it. Thanks for nothing, NBC.” In another series of videos she recorded over an afternoon in Boston, she takes an Uber, decides it smells bad and leaves, and then goes to the Palm restaurant to drink wine and eat crab legs by herself. She admires portraits of Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper on the restaurant wall and seems a little envious. In the next Story, she is asked to sign the wall so that the proprietors can have her likeness rendered. “This is the best day of my life,” she says. A few days later, she visits the drawing and finds that “the jaw is a little masculine.”
According to Philipps, the Stories take advantage of a quality that might seem not to come naturally to a tall, tan woman with expensive-looking blond hair and a great deal of glittering fine jewelry. “I always have had that thing where people do feel like I am one of them,” she told me recently. “I’ve always felt like an outsider in this thing that I’ve chosen to do. That’s why people liked me at award shows, because they felt like they were there, because that’s what they would be like if they were there.” When Philipps attends awards shows, it is usually as the date of her best friend, Michelle Williams, whom she met in 2001, on the set of “Dawson’s Creek,” in Wilmington, North Carolina. Last year, a photo of Philipps taken at the end of the Academy Awards ceremony circulated widely on the Internet; in the photo, which was taken at the moment that “Moonlight” was announced as the real winner of the Best Picture Oscar, over “La La Land,” Philipps has her right hand either making its way to cover her mouth, which is agape, or to grab Ben Affleck, who is seated next to her.
“People say, ‘I’m in love with your best friend,’ ” Williams said on the phone from a movie set in Italy. “I’m, like, I know. Everyone thinks she’s their best friend. She listens, she’s deep and really honest, she has a wicked sense of humor, and a lack of shame about being herself.” Williams, who has no social-media accounts of her own, usually has a fragile, intense screen persona, but does make occasional goofy cameos in Philipps’s Stories—tracking down raccoons having loud sex outside Philipps’s house at night, for instance. “For me, it’s access to another world,” Williams said of Instagram. “But Busy’s brain needs it—it works at the speed of the Internet. She can have an emotional conversation about a lost love and film an Instagram Story about something on the side,” she said. “It’s happened.”
I met Philipps in late July, on the same morning that Silverstein started to film his directorial début, with his longtime creative partner Abby Kohn. Their film, “I Feel Pretty,” stars Amy Schumer as an average woman who believes that her looks have been magically transformed during a SoulCycle session. In the film, Philipps plays one of Schumer’s best friends; Williams plays her boss. Philipps had arranged to meet me for a SoulCyle session at the gym’s SoHo location but hadn’t known that her husband’s film crew was shooting in front of the building that morning. Shortly before we met, she posted three Instagram Stories in which she discussed how she had inadvertently booked bikes for a class with a journalist right where her husband was shooting. At the class, the SoulCycle teacher Parker Radcliffe teased Philipps about the chaos on the street.
After the class, we met Silverstein, who has a robust gray beard and explained that he had been recognized earlier that day, when getting lunch at the café Taïm; an employee told him she was a fan of his wife’s Instagram Stories.
“I like watching them,” he said.
“You used to not,” Philipps said. After wondering if she should change clothes in case she was photographed, she ended up wearing the same outfit she had cycled in.
“I used to not watch them, but, since I’ve been away, it’s been nice to watch them because I get a better idea of what’s happening at home,” he said; most of “I Feel Pretty” was being shot in Boston. Silverstein makes only occasional and sometimes reluctant cameos in Philipps’s Stories. “We had a—” he began.
“A come-to-Jesus moment,” Philipps said.
Silverstein continued, “We had a discussion once they started, because I didn’t want to be in them for a long time. And then we went out one night with two of our friends for dinner, and we got home and she was getting ready for bed, and I just watched the Stories. And I wasn’t in any of them. It made me feel like I didn’t exist.” Now he and Philipps have a general rule that, if Philipps is shooting a “group thing with friends,” Silverstein shouldn’t be the only one not represented.
Philipps recalled how, after she posted a video about being locked out of the house after the Golden Globes ceremony in January, their elder daughter, Birdie, told them that the sixth-grade girls on her bus had told her that her mother was drunk on tequila; Birdie had asked Philipps not to be so embarrassing. “I was, like, ‘No, buddy,’ ” Philipps said. “This is me. I’m embarrassing. My mom embarrassed me in different ways. You’re gonna be fine. It’s unavoidable.” As we walked down Kenmare to the restaurant De Maria, a few people gawked at Philipps; one nervous fan called out her name.
Philipps recently got a deal for an essay collection—an editor at Touchstone was a fan of her Instagram Stories—which, Philipps told me via text, she hopes will put her on the side of Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey in the class divide of women and comedy, as opposed to the reality-star class that includes Tori Spelling and Jenny McCarthy. We settled at a table outside; Philipps ordered a green juice spiked with tequila and a slice of banana bread to share, which she sliced into a grid of tiny squares, the way that Cricket likes it. “I’m thinking about that Lloyd Dobler speech in ‘Say Anything’—‘I don’t want to make anything bought or sold. I don’t want to sell anything that’s made or manufactured,’ ” she said, sounding at once earnest and as though she sensed that she sounded ridiculous. In the 1989 film, Lloyd Dobler is a rebellious, lovelorn teen-ager grappling with what it means to grow up; Philipps is at another kind of crossroads. “I just want to make stuff for myself that I find interesting, and I’m not interested in trying to convince other people to give me jobs or put me on television in any way,” she said, before going on to ask herself whether she was bored of the business of acting or of acting itself. Later, she picked up her extra-large iPhone, in its pill-bottle-shaped case, and headed to the hairdresser, in preparation for her role in “I Feel Pretty.” She tried on several wigs and contemplated whether she needed to dye her hair permanently for the shoot. She and the hairdresser settled on spraying her hair brunette. I know this because it was chronicled on Instagram Stories.