We’re still mourning the loss of Happy Endings and missing Eliza Coupe as Jane Kerkovich-Williams. But as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on, even if your show has been canceled: After playing a Sea World trainer in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and a recurring guest spot on Showtime’s House of Lies, Coupe took her quick wit and affinity for self-deprecation to the role of public defender Nina Whitley on USA’s Benched. Now she’s taken a spin on the dysfunctional side for the comedic drama The Last Time You Had Fun (currently available on iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, and Time Warner On Demand). Coupe tells us how going through a divorce at the same time as playing Ida was serendipitously eerie, why Happy Endings will always hold a special place in her heart, and that staying up past 9 pm is a wild night for her.
What attracted you to the role of Ida in The Last Time You Had Fun?
It’s kind of crazy because I was going through a divorce at the time. If you see it, you’re gonna be like, “Wow. You were really going through it.” The energy of that character, how she was just so indecisive and a total mess? That was me, minus the drinking in the desert like a mother. I don’t do that, because my mother lives in New Hampshire and I don’t drink; but other than that, it was very similar — just the craziness. When I read it, I was like, “Fuck. Did they like bug my house? Are they listening to my life right now?”
Your character is not always likable and the role is a little bit more serious than we’ve seen in your comedic past. Did you enjoy taking on a more troubled character?
It was great. Honestly, I want to lean more in that direction. I want to do comedy that has a tragic flaw to a character that is much more grounded. That’s more interesting to me because the characters I’ve always played are very Type-A and very put together. They are just hiding all that stuff because it’s comedy and that’s what you have to do. I want to see a character that is falling apart and has to try and keep it together but we see the falling-apart moment. To me, that’s more realistic and interesting.
These characters are thirtysomethings on a mission to prove that they still have what it takes to have fun. In your own life, can you still handle those wild nights? Or are you happy to leave that to the 20-year-olds?
My idea of a crazy night is staying up past 9 pm. That to me is like, “Whoa!” I’ll look at the clock and be like, “Oh my God. It’s 9! I stayed up late watching The Voice!” I’m personally not a drinker or a pot smoker; I don’t do any of that so that’s not appealing to me — it never really was. But the childlike fun of just running into an ocean in the middle of the night would be great – if it’s not freezing cold like it was when we were shooting.
It’s funny how we don’t bounce back like we used to when we were younger.
I know! If I stay out past midnight for any reason — unless I’m working because in that case adrenaline takes over — then the next day I’m wrecked. I’m like, “Wow. I can’t believe in my 20s and in college, every night I was out till like 1 am.”
What’s the secret to playing convincibly drunk and high as someone who doesn’t indulge?
Believe me, just because I don’t drink now doesn’t mean I didn’t before. In college, I definitely filled the quota. I was also a very controlled drinker. I was always in control when I drank so I could always observe everybody else who was drunk. I had a couple of friends in high school and college… I mean I could write a book on each of them with just how drunk they got and how stupid and silly and how their mannerisms were. I think just being an actor and a mimic, I can just do it and I can really get into it. I can actually feel drunk doing it. It’s pretty fun. So I just had to go back through the rolodex in my head of all the people I know who are a bunch of lushes and I figured it out.
How much do you miss Happy Endings?
I miss going to work every day and laughing because that’s all we did. At least four times a day, somebody in the cast would say, “I can’t believe we are getting paid for this.” It was so fun. I miss that and I miss my castmates. Do I wish that we did a couple more seasons that we could have gotten syndicated and I could have made buckets of money? Yeah. Absolutely. It was fun and I think that it could have even gotten better but for me, I feel like I want to go in a different direction. I was okay with it ending.
Would you do a reunion? And has there been any talk besides the rumor mill?
Oh my God. I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s funny. When all those rumors were going around, everyone was asking me and I was like, “No. None of it’s true. Everybody just needs to settle down. None of it’s true because I think I would know. I’d think I’d know if I were shooting another show.”
What was your first exposure to Playboy?
My dad used to very openly read the articles in them because they were so good. He was very open about it. And then I had a friend whose dad hid stacks of them under the bed and we would go look at them. I’d be like, “Oh my God. I don’t look like that. Should I look like that? Why is there no hair involved?” I didn’t get it. I was probably only like 10.
What movie scared you the most as a child?
Pet Sematary scared the shit out of me. I still cannot to this day get out of bed and put my feet on the ground without thinking that I’m gonna get sliced. Seriously, that movie fucked me up. I saw it once and was like, “I’m never seeing that movie again.”
If you were on Death Row, what would your last meal be?
I’m vegan so it would be fettuccine alfredo with extra cashew cheese and extra sauce and top it off with a Snickers.
What was your first car?
My first car was my dad’s old 1983 3 Series BMW. It was old old old, like rusted out, and I bottomed it out in New Hampshire. I just decided, “Let’s go off-roading in an old BMW. That seems normal.” I think I shipped it out to California and sold it to my friend Ashley. Then it totally broke down on her and I was like, “Yeah. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.” I never took care of it.
What’s your pop culture blind spot?
I am really bad with hip poppy boy music. We watch The Voice and I don’t know any of these people that they are talking about. I’m like, “How do I not know that? That’s embarrassing!” I didn’t know who One Direction was for a very long time. I know a lot of indie cool music but I just do not know that poppy teenybopper music.
What’s the first song that you knew the words to?
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I was obsessed with Mary Poppins, like obsessed. It was Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. I had a real Julie Andrews thing apparently. I would go to my grandmother’s house, eat a lot of sugar and bounce off the wall singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
What’s the biggest lie that you ever told?
I told a lot of people that my dad was William H. Macy for a long time because they looked alike. All the way through college I’d be like, “You don’t know who my dad is?” and then I’d show them a picture and they’d be like, “Oh. That really does look like him.” And I would just show it really quickly. So for a while I just lied and said that my dad was William H. Macy. It made no sense.
Nicole Pajer is an L.A.-based freelance writer published in The New York Times, Woman’s Day, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Men’s Journal, Hemisphere’s, Emmy Magazine, Us Weekly, and The Hollywood Reporter. She tweets at @nicolepajer.