Edi Patterson Thinks 'The Righteous Gemstones' Could Beat Up the Family From 'Succession'
The divinely funny HBO family comedy is finally back, and Judy Gemstone is playing to win this season.
When Edi Patterson returned to the set of HBO's The Righteous Gemstones after the pandemic shut down production on the show's second season in the beginning of 2020, she felt a wave of pure excitement. After months of waiting, it was a relief to be back with her TV family of scheming megachurch pastors: John Goodman as stern patriarch Eli, creator Danny McBride as the hot-headed eldest son Jesse, and Adam DeVine as the goofball younger brother Kelvin. You'll probably feel a similar joy when you see Patterson strut back on screen as Judy Gemstone, the outrageous middle child known for her misbehaving and her Outback Steakhouse monologuing.
Patterson, who first teamed up with McBride on the dark high school comedy Vice Principals and serves as a writer on Gemstones, takes great pleasure in discovering new nuances to Judy, a character prone to acts of wild bravado, moments of bizarrely relatable self-doubt, and alarming disclosures about her private parts. In a show stacked with comedy stars, she steals scenes with palpable glee. She describes her own eagerness to get back to the role as "almost manic."
With the second season now airing on HBO, Thrillist caught up with Patterson to discuss the shared vision for Judy, her disarmingly sweet dynamic with her onscreen paramour BJ (the equally hilarious Tim Baltz), and how she thinks the Gemstone crew would stack up against HBO's other equally vindictive family of wealthy sickos.
Thrillist: In addition to acting on the show, you're also a writer. What were the early conversations like when you and the other writers were shaping the arc for Judy this season?
Edi Patterson: We knew there were a couple of things that were loosely promised at the end of the first season. "Promised" is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. You see a shot in the final episode of the first season of Judy about to walk on stage with Kelvin. Clearly, you know that's something she's been striving for and bucking up against.
Danny [McBride] has a cool approach: we like to show instead of telling things. So, it seemed more fun to come in on some things having already happened. To come in on Judy doing a song on stage is more fun than showing what the actual steps were to get her to the point where she's doing the song parts of the service. Just show she got what she wanted in that area of her life. That's something we knew: She's got this going and she's involved in the church services, and she really wanted that.
Then I think we really wanted some things to surprise her. We wanted her to be surprised by actually caring about certain things and we wanted her struggle to continue with her trying to get the family to accept BJ.
The dynamic you have with Tim Baltz, the actor who plays BJ, is so funny. How has that evolved for you and Tim as performers?
Weirdly, Tim [Batlz] and I really got it even when he came and tested for the show. I read with him when he came to test and it was just that feeling of, "Oh god, clearly, this guy is BJ." We understood each other and could immediately improvise. We got each other and Tim really, really makes me laugh. Inside of that were surprises in good ways, where we still discover things through performance where I'll realize, "I guess BJ is like that." Or something will come out of my mouth, and I'll go, "I guess that's how Judy is."
I'm always curious about how it works when an actor with a strong improv background like you plays a character like Judy. There have to be lines you've improvised where you're like "I don't know where that came from."
Of course. I'm trying to think of one. Usually when it happens and it surprises you really, really deeply it can be dangerous because maybe you can't stop laughing. There's a scene in the first season where Danny, Adam, and I are together, and Jesse and Judy are consoling Kelvin and he's saying he doesn't know if he's Jesus or the Devil, and there were so many things that all three of us were saying and we were so tired—it was a night shoot—there were things coming out where we were like, "Wow."
I don't know how graphic this can get, but when Judy made them say, "Tell me I'm ok now," and then Jesse says, "You're going to get lots of boyfriends." When I said, "And will they go down on my butthole?" That was something I didn't know mattered to Judy.
That's the process. You have to discover these things!
That's just true now.
It's so clear that you, Danny, and Adam have found this incredible sibling dynamic. I'm trying to think of a smarter way to ask you about it besides just… "Is that fun?"
You can ask it that way.
Is it as fun as it looks?
Dude, I have to say it really, really is. I think a part of it is that Danny cast the show really well and then we lucked out with the chemistry working. I weirdly had an instant comfort with Danny on Vice Principals and then with Adam and John on this. We just lucked into this thing where it immediately felt like a family. I don't quite know how that happens other than giving Danny credit for casting the right people. It's a weird alchemy and I'm so grateful for it.
I imagine you're a pretty confident person, but when you play a character like Judy, do you ever find her specific energy carrying over into your personal life?
Yeah, I've always thought it's really funny when a character is more confident than they should be in certain situations or thinks they're cooler or hotter than they actually are in that moment. Since I was a little kid, I've always found that so funny. It works because there is something aspirational in that, and a reality and a truth. Like, Yeah, fuck it, love who you are and go for it.
All the characters have such distinct personal styles, too. How important are the costumes to figuring out who Judy is and how she moves through the world?
That was huge to me in the beginning because I was surprised by it, honestly. When I first met with Sarah Trost, our costume designer, she had things in the mix that I had not anticipated. I was like, "Oh right, it is a little more church-y and skirt-suits than I thought." Obviously, when Judy busts out, she's dressed like an ice skater. Sarah is pretty much a genius, and she helps me flesh out in my head, "Oh that's who I am." And also, this is part of what I'm bucking against.
It's awesome if your stuff is uncomfortable or not quite right or too tight because it would be that way sometimes. That's human stuff. I love the juxtaposition of Judy's stuff: It's either church professional or literally an ice skater on crack. There are two speeds.
I've seen a lot of people compare the Gemstones and the Roy family from Succession. Do you watch the show, and do you have a read on your other HBO siblings?
Shamefully, I have to tell you, I have not watched it yet. I've had so many friends tell me it's an awesome show. I've had no friends tell me it's anything like the Gemstones—just that it's an awesome show. So, I need to watch it. Sorry, that's such a boring answer to your question.
I was going to ask if you thought the Gemstones could beat up the family from Succession.
Clearly, we could beat them up. I haven't watched the show but clearly, we could beat them up.
This interview has been edited and condensed.