In Will Ferrell's Nascar send-up Talledega Nights, Leslie Bibb plays Ricky Bobby's "red-hot smoking wife... a stone cold fox who if you were to rate her ass out of 100 it would easily be a 94." Bibb, who was discovered in a modeling search on Oprah in the '90s, again takes on the role of the Hot Girl in the off-Broadway MCC production of Neil LaBute's new play Reasons to Be Happy. Written as a kind-of sequel to LaBute's Broadway play reasons to be pretty, about a quartet of friends who are grappling with what it means to be beautiful and how that affects their relationships, this play -- as the title suggests -- is more about what it means to be happy in a relationship. It follows up with the same characters, the beautiful Carly (Bibb), the "regular-looking" Steph (Jenna Fischer, fresh of the finale of The Office), the aggressive hunk Kent (Fred Weller) and the aimless Greg (Josh Hamilton). It opened last night at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and the New York Times has already dubbed it "the most winning romantic comedy of the summer," and a relaxed departure for the notoriously misogynistic LaBute. Here Bibb chats with us about Skype auditions, Kim Kardashian and what makes her happy...
This is your New York stage debut. Were you apprehensive about it?
There's a part of me, right when I'm about to go onstage, that says, "run." Every single time. I don't do it, but there's a part of me that's like, "What are you doing? This is insanity! This is not natural." People are unkind. Especially with social media. There's no "take two." My boyfriend [Sam Rockwell]'s also an actor and I came home and I was like, "You gotta have balls to do theater!" and he's like "That's right." I mean, I'm tooting my own horn, but you really have to have cajones to go out there in front of people and lay your heart out and then have somebody be like, "I don't like it." But it's a great group of people. Josh Hamilton is one of my boyfriend's dearest friends, so I knew him before this, and Fred Weller is such a lovely actor and Jenna Fischer and I share a dressing room. Everyday I fall a little bit more in love with her. It's kind of fun because we both are having our debut in New York theater and every morning she's like, "How do you feel this morning?"
It's kind of funny thinking about you guys, two very well-known TV and film actresses sharing a tiny dressing room at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Our dressing room is tricked out! There's an Equity rule that you have to have a little mattress to lay down on -- which you do use all the time -- and so I came in, because I'm a nester and I had a blanket for it and I brought pillow cases. I have an air purifier in the room and I'm like Faye Dunaway with the good lights. We always say, "Our side's better than the boys side isn't it?" It's comfy and I have to tell you the boys do come on our side. But [Jenna and I] sit in that dressing room and we just go, "Can we leave? What are we doing? I'm so scared," and then we laugh our asses off. She makes me laugh a lot. She's really fucking funny.
Sounds like a fun group.
Nobody's trying to be too cool for school and that's really refreshing. Sometimes actors can be assholes and pompous and it's like get in line man we're all doing the same thing. We're not like curing cancer or anything.
What's Neil LaBute like?
Neil is fantastic. I adore him. I got the job via Skype, which is kinda cool, and kinda crazy. We talked about the process, talked about the character, and all this stuff, but I remember when I Skyped with him I was expecting this really dark person a la Aaron Eckhart in [LaBute's film] The Company of Men. But he was really sweet. And he loves dogs, which to me is always an immediate test of a good heart. I have a German Shepherd, and I'd bring her to rehearsal. But don't get it twisted -- he's a dark fucker. But I like darkness. I like a dark sense of humor. A joke that other people might groan at, I think is funny and he's all that. But he's also a really genuine, kind, sweet person. I remember I came into rehearsal and our dog had gotten rat poison somehow on the street, so Sam took her to the vet and they were pumping her stomach. So I walked in -- and it's my dog, it's not like it's my fucking kid -- but Neil was like, "What's wrong?" And I was like, "Sadie just ate rat poison" and he's like, "Do you need to go? It's fine." And I know it sounds so silly, but I'm used to television and film, where it's like, "Oh you hurt yourself? That's too bad." I got in a really bad surfing accident once--I had 40 stitches in my ear and twenty in my wrist and my whole head was bandaged and I remember my agent called the producer [of the show I was in] and was like, "Listen she's fucked up... it was a very serious accident." My entire head was bandaged. I looked like a Teletubbie who was auditioning for Girl Interrupted because my arm was bandaged so it looked like I tried to kill myself and I remember the unit production manager said, "Can we wig her?" So, I always say to Jenna, 'This is not, like, normal. This is a really treasured experience that we're having right now.'
This is a follow up to Neil's play reasons to be pretty, and you play Carly, "the pretty one." Is that weird to think about?
It's so weird right? 'The pretty one.' There is this assumption that if you're good-looking or if you're skinny or if you have a good body, that somehow life is easier for you. Do I think that it gets you in doors sometimes? Yeah, of course it does, we're a fucking gross society. Do you think Kim Kardashian, if she weren't pretty, would have what happens to her? No. I think that it does help, it has helped in life, but at the end of the day if you don't have something to back that up it'll only get you so far. I think that was what was interesting about this play for me with Carly. This is a girl who wants somebody to really see her, and nobody sees her because all they see is her looks in this small town where she's a big fish in the looks dept. I think this woman has more to give than that, but nobody's giving her the opportunity or taking a moment to see that. I think this is a really evolved piece for Neil especially for his women. It feels like these four characters have gone deeper. Looks are a part of it, but I think that's only because they're carrying over from reasons to be pretty. This really is about this pursuit for people to be happy and what that means and what choices they're making to make them happy.
Do you know what makes you happy?
It depends on the day. I'm really happy in the morning with Sam and Sadie, in the house having coffee listening to music -- I couldn't be happier then. I'm not fucking happy when I don't get a job I want. My work makes me happy but that's a slippery slope because it's not the fairest business. It's not always that the most-talented or the right person wins the tole, so that conversation, about what makes you happy, has been something I've been talking about forever.
Josh Hamilton and Leslie Bibb in a scene from Reasons to Be Happy photographed by Joan Marcus.