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Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'
Photo credit: Ryan Green / HBO

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Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in ‘The Righteous Gemstones’

‘Everyone is playing the truth of the moment.’

The Righteous Gemstones has been one of the funniest and most true-to-character shows in some time. It makes sense given Danny McBride is the creator, and is also one of the best actors at playing a flawed character that’s so easy to both laugh at and commiserate with. Alongside him is an impeccable cast of characters, some of which also appeared in his previous show, Vice Principals.

One such actress is Edi Patterson, who was phenomenal in Vice Principals and plays McBride’s sister, Judy Gemstone, in the new series. Edi Patterson’s character is the main focus of last night’s episode of Righteous Gemstones, which makes it a perfect time to dig into that as well as talk about the show. I got the chance to talk to Patterson about the show where we talked about her character, the writing process on the show, her upcoming projects, and more! 

AiPT!: I love your character ,Judy Gemstone. She’s like the firecracker of the family, letting everyone know how she feels in the moment. How did you go about fleshing out and finding this character?

Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

Edi Patterson: I think that the main thing with Judy is that she’s really frustrated, clearly. And I think that she’s learned through having a house of brothers and probably through her mom’s passing that her anger brought to action doesn’t quite help all the time. [laughs]. It’s quicker and easier just to jump to the actual feeling.

AiPT!: I have to say rpisode 6 is my favorite episode yet and I think it’s the one you’re in most so far. You sing, you dance, you do it all; in the credits it says you’re a writer for the episode, but I think you’re a writer for the entire show. What was it like putting together this episode?

EP: Oh man, that was so fun. We had figured out this sort of stuff that Judy would go through in this episode. It’s the first glimpse of you seeing like, oh God maybe Judy will get a crack at something. I think it’s just really fun and gives a glimpse of the little kid in her. I think all of these characters are basically still little kids inside and they fight for whatever reason because they grew up in such opulence or because they always had what they wanted. I think maybe that can sort of stunt you emotionally and I think it’s kind of nice and vulnerable to see that maybe Judy is going to get something. And I think for me at least, I really root for her. I really hope she gets what she wants and gets to be as important as her brothers because ultimately it’s what she wants.

It’s such a kids’ desire, but human and real. It was really fun to develop that episode because it involves a lot of elements of her life. It dives into her relationship with BJ, her relationship with her dad and brothers as well as their relationship with their uncle. He gets to sort of explore a bunch of different roads with her antics that I think are really fun, at least to me, really fun little glimpses.

AiPT!: The scene where your character is singing and dancing is so beautifully shot you feel so happy for her at that moment. Have you sung and danced before on screen? You seem really good at it.

EP: I’m not classically trained, but I do sing and have done musicals through my life. Dancing is very, very hard for me, but I’m one of those people who can remember a melody. With dancing, I have to run the choreography over and over and over until it kind of becomes a muscle memory. I have to do it way more times than a normal dancer would. Cut to me in my concrete floor garage in Charleston with clogs on doing it over and over with my phone set up on a piece of wood. 

Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

Edi Patterson and Danny McBride in a scene from Righteous Gemstones episode 6. Photo credit: Ryan Green / HBO

AiPT!: Tapping is not easy.

EP: And what we’re doing is clogging. It’s a different thing because clogs are loose; you’re almost kind of loose-legged, so each move makes four sounds. That was always the big thing for me in that the pro cloggers would come in and teach us. Every move they made would make six sounds. I’d be like, “But wait, I don’t understand!” So then when I would try to do it I would try to move my foot six times to make six sounds. This is not how it works. And Walton Goggins grew up clogging!

 AiPT!: What? No way! He grew up clogging when he was little?

 EP: Yeah, as a kid.

 AiPT!: Did you guys train together?

 EP: Yeah, at a certain point we did. There was a good chunk of time where I, like a dirty animal hiding, needed to go learn it by myself because I had to sort of get the base of it down before I could even be around Walton. When I sort of knew how to do it, yeah we met up a lot. And he is just so naturally good at it.

He had sort of trepidation over the singing. He’s a great singer, and I sort of have trepidation about dancing. So it was good to work together because we both had our slight insecurities about different things.

AiPT!: Can you talk a little bit about writing on the show? Can you talk about the writers room? Is the process similar to that where you’re collaborating with others or are you off doing your own thing?

EP: It’s a little bit of both. There were always between eight and nine of us around the room. And yeah there’d be big chunks of time where we would all be talking about a certain episode and there would be a big chunk of the time when we would go off separately and write and then come together. It’s sort of fluid. There ends up being a lot of different versions of each episode. And you sort of chronologically solidify them in a linear order. So as [episode] 3 is getting solidified there’s still a floating version of 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. And then those like, drastically change the next week. Next week we would be focusing on 4. And then that would be sort of solidified and then there would be new versions of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. There are many versions of each script and it’s sort of a puzzle that comes together in order. If that makes sense.

AiPT!: It’s similar to Vice Principals in that both shows hammer home character and the truth of characters and the drama sometimes works in a stronger way than the comedy. If these series were a trilogy and Vice Principals was the first one and Righteous Gemstones was the second, what would be the third TV show be like?

EP: You’re not counting Eastbound and Down in this? 

AiPT!: I’m not!

EP: OK. Hmmm. We’ve got a school, a megachurch, I mean I guess you got to go to space.

AiPT!: A mission to Mars. 

EP: Yeah, maybe it’s a moon station. Yeah, full sci-fi.

Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

Edi in a scene from Righteous Gemstones episode 6. Photo credit: Ryan Green / HBO

AiPT!: So I want to say you work with so many great actors in this show from Adam DeVine, John Goodman and Tim Baltz. Is the dynamic different on set with each actor? Do you play off each other in different ways?

EP: There’s a baseline of almost respect and awe with all of them. There’s that baseline that makes everything so, so fun. Because you know, let’s get real, you go to set and it doesn’t wear off that you do a scene with John Goodman. Then in between takes Danny and Adam and I are going, “Oh my god can you believe John Goodman is our dad in this?” That doesn’t go away. He’s a full-on, all-caps LEGEND with the coolest career that’s ever existed. Of course, when you’re doing a scene and you look into his eyes you’re in it, and the truth of the scene is happening, but there’s this extra layer of fun. You can’t believe we get to do this. 

AiPT!: I was rewatching Raising Arizona last night and I was amazed by his range. It’s been like 30-40 years of him producing amazing work. It’s crazy!

EP: Yes. Like literally amazing. The dude never sucks and is always amazing. Like you said all our kid brains remember him and our kid brains remember saying, “oh that guy is cool.”

The scripts are really good and we’d always make sure we got what was written. It was always well-written. But sometimes something comes up in the moment that’s just true and being born in the moment and improvising with all those dudes. And everyone is playing the truth of the moment. It’s with everyone on this show. It’s a basic understanding that, “We mean this.” Which to me is always a thousand times funnier and better.

Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

From left: John Goodman, Edi Patterson and Walton Goggins in a scene from Righteous Gemstones episode 6. Photo credit: Ryan Green / HBO

AiPT!: You and Danny you’re very good at, I don’t wanna say the word ugly, but like coming off as like an ugly person in a scene. But in the same episode, we could still love you and hope for the best for you even though in a scene you mention you want to kill somebody or stab them or something, and then like two scenes later you’re worried for Judy. Like you said earlier, they’re still a child so they have a lot of growing up to do.

EP: That’s really nice that you put me in the same box as Danny, I think Danny is one of the greatest of all time at playing someone flawed. The fact of the matter is we’re all flawed people and everyone has good intentions, and even if the good intention is sort of messed up by some sort of weird growing up or some sort of strangely held belief, you can still tell when someone meant to do something right. Even if it’s all messed up.

AiPT!: The show’s been very good at giving characters a moment to show they really do believe in Christianity. It’s just that they’re flawed in so many other ways.

EP: Yeah. I mean you know growing up that wealthy and privileged, I think, will make your brain chemistry a little weird. I think that can exist at the same time as actual belief. I think probably a little spice stirred in believing that you’re allowed to do things other people aren’t because God is allowing you. I think that’s probably stirred in too.

Edi Patterson discusses writing and acting in 'The Righteous Gemstones'

Edi Patterson and Tim Baltz playing golf in Righteous Gemstones episode 6. Photo credit: Ryan Green / HBO

AiPT!: Are there any other projects that you’re working on you’d like to talk about?

EP: I have a couple of things coming out. I did the new Rian Johnson movie Knives Out coming out around Thanksgiving. I also have a little thing in the Between Two Ferns movie.

AiPT!: I can’t wait for that!

EP: I play the cable access station manager. I am also in the movie Troop Zero. That one is cool. That’s by Lucy Alibar, the woman who wrote The Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s a really cool film. It’s almost a Bad News Bears vibe with a flash of Spielberg, like a scout troop led by Allison Janney and Viola Davis.

AiPT!: Oh wow, that’s awesome! This is a great year for you. I have one more question to close us out. If Judy Gemstone had her own TV show, what would it be called and what would it be about?

EP: Wowie, wowie. It would be a very big idea; something like “Judy Gemstone Shows You How To Be Awesome.” It would be a reality show of her going to stuff, like literally going to lunch or going to the store. But her showing you what car she’s driving to it and what clothes you should wear and how you should talk to people. It would almost be a Kardashian style reality show but more blinged out. If you can believe it.

The Righteous Gemstones is currently airing on HBO every Sunday at 10 PM and was recently renewed for a second season. 

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