Catching Up With Christa Miller
Get out your wine goblet and prepare to play a game of penny can: The cul-de-sac crew is back on a new network. Cougar Town returns for a fourth season tonight at 10 p.m. on TBS.
Paste recently caught up with Christa Miller, who plays the hilariously acerbic Ellie Torres on the comedy. Miller, who became a familiar TV face during her years on The Drew Carey Show and played Jordan on Scrubs, is married to Cougar Town executive producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City). The New York native and mom of three shared her thoughts on the show’s new season, what it’s like being on TBS and just how much she is like Ellie.
Paste: What do you think about the show’s move to TBS?
Christa Miller: Obviously I knew that it was trying to be put in the works a long time ago, and I thought it was kind of a genius idea. We have so many loyal fans and cultish fans that really think the show is funny, and we all think the show is funny. We really appreciate being able to continue on to do our show. If it was a crap show, my husband wouldn’t have tried to make sure we kept making it. You just wouldn’t fight for something that was crap, so we were excited to keep it going. We have a very tight-knit crew and cast. My husband has been working with the same crew since Scrubs, so we’ve all been together for such a long time. My husband runs an incredible set. He has a “no asshole” policy. People come in and are professional and respectful to everybody and we laugh all day.
Paste: How much of you is in Ellie? Or how much of Ellie is in you?
Miller: She is kind of what I whisper privately to my husband at a dinner party—what I would like to say. What I say to my husband, when we speak privately, about what I really think of people. [For example] I don’t even know if I should say this—at one of my children’s schools, the moms are having a moms’ night out and it’s 10 days before Christmas; I couldn’t be busier. It’s so hectic, just reading the email my eyes are rolling. I can’t say “no” big enough. It just makes me laugh to myself and my husband will say, “What?” and I’ll tell him. Then it will be in the show that I actually said to the moms, “Are you fucking kidding me? That you even bother doing this is annoying me.”
Paste: Well, Ellie is exceedingly honest with people.
Miller: I tend to be outspoken and say the truth. It’s funny, my relationship with [co-star] Courteney [Cox]; she finds me amusing and so does Bill. I don’t consider myself to be a mean person, but I’ll say what’s going on and I tend to have an opinion about things. All my girlfriends speak the truth, and I find I trust them way more than other people because I just don’t have to worry that there’s something hidden going on or that there’s the passive-aggressive thing going on. I find that to be really infuriating. If you asked me to go to dinner and I would say, “I’m too tired.” I can’t keep track of lies. My friends know that I love them, and if my friends really needed me I’ll show up but I would rather just say the truth.
Paste: Last season we met Ellie’s mom and got a little insight into what makes Ellie, well, Ellie. Will we see more of that this season? More vulnerability from Ellie?
Miller: Ellie gets vulnerable. She gets vulnerable with Andy [played by Ian Gomez] and Jules [Cox]. Bill really writes a nice mix of snarky and a show that has heart and is poignant. So it means something. So it’s not just constant farce.
Paste: You are the music supervisor on the show. Have you always been interested in music?
Miller: My mom is a young mom, and my mom is still a Ford model and she was a model growing up, and she always had cool music playing in the house. I was always exposed to cool music growing up. When I was in New York, I used to fill in for the DJ sometimes at this club uptown. I just started doing it on Scrubs. I figured out the music on the Scrubs pilot for Bill and then he wanted me to figure out the music for every episode. But I wasn’t the credited music supervisor.
Paste: But you are the credited music supervisor on Cougar Town.
Miller: Yes, of course, I made sure of it.
Paste: How do you go about figuring out the music for each episode? Do you wait until you’ve finished filming?
Miller: Sometimes I’m thinking of it as we’re shooting and I’ll have a great song in my head and sometimes I’ll know the song and I’ll play it for Bill and he’ll say, “Oh my god I’ll love that song” and we shoot the ending of the episode to that song.
Paste: The show features a lot of newer artists. Where do you find the music?
Miller: During the summer I start accumulating music. I always listen to music in my car. I get music from all different places. There’s a very cool guy at ABC who sees a lot of live music and he’ll pass along a lot of cool music. There’s different blogs. I listen to a lot of satellite stations and hear music that I like. Last week my assistant played a song for my daughter. I said, ‘What is that? That’s a great song.’ And this young singer must have a star shining on her right now because it happens to work exactly with the context of the episode we were working on.
Paste: The title Cougar Town has become a running joke on the series. Each episode, the opening sequence has something new to say about the title. What do you think of the title Cougar Town?
Miller: It’s a deal with the devil. When we premiered everyone knew about the show. It was a very hyped pilot. And then everyone was in a rage over the title and now it’s kind of hard to shake. We stick with the title. Our fans know it’s not what the show is about.
Paste: You and Bill talk to each other quite a bit on Twitter. How did that get started?
Miller: Sometimes he uses it to like laugh me into sex at night when he knows it’s too late. All of a sudden I realize, “Oh he’s so clever. He’s distracted me from my show. It’s 10:30. I’m laughing and now he’s gotten me to fool around with him because I’m up and we’re laughing.”
Although I have to be careful because I don’t love when couples are being too cutesy on Twitter. The only thing we’re doing is making each other laugh. It’s not an act that we’re trying to do to try to make some sort of cutesy point to anyone. Recently I’ve kind of been a little bit off it because I want to be careful about that.
Paste: What can viewers expect this season on Cougar Town?
Miller: I work in a food truck with Bobby [Brian Van Holt] and I’m really mean to people who come up and want to order food. In general, you get in a third or fourth season of a show and you just get into a groove because people know their characters and there’s a chemistry with everybody and a timing and you feel comfortable with your castmates. Being on TBS, we’re a tiny bit racier. Jokes can go a little further. You just can press it a little bit further. It’s just that little bit that sometimes will make a joke really really funny. The show is really funny this season. You’ll like it. You’ll just be happy.