Joey Lauren Adams is returning to familiar territory this season on Showtime’s United States of Tara as Pammy, a bartender who dates all the wrong guys until she meets Tara’s male alter, Buck. The sexually ambiguous role is one the actress has experience with, having played a lesbian who falls for Ben Affleck in 1997’s Chasing Amy.
The actress, who said she’s “a big fan” of AfterEllen.com, recently talked to us about Pammy’s sexual identity, playing opposite Emmy winner Toni Collette in what she describes as her “favorite role” in her long career and what it means to be a part of writer-creator Diablo Cody‘s female-centric series.
Caution: Some spoilers ahead!
AfterEllen.com: What was the casting process like?
Joey Lauren Adams: I live in Oxford, Mississippi, and it just came up. I put myself on tape here and they called and said I had it. [Laughs.] I was so happy.
AE: How much did you know about Pammy’s story line at the audition stage?
JLA: They sent me scenes from the first three episodes; one of the scenes I auditioned with was the speech Pammy gives to Buck at the skating rink.
AE: Pammy identifies as straight. How does her relationship with Buck change her sexual identity?
JLA: We never really discussed that. I think it’s really just understood that Pammy just has severe bad luck with love and has dated all the wrong guys that probably just wanted to f–k her and not much else. Buck comes along and he’s just so nice. Pammy also isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. But I don’t think she questioned it. There was no scene where we sit down and talk about it. It just didn’t feel necessary; it didn’t feel like, “Oh, they’re just avoiding that.”
In the first season, Buck said he got his penis blown off in Vietnam [laughs], which, of course, he was never in. [Pammy and Buck] discussed it in private, maybe, but he’s just great. And the sex is great. Which I like about the show — it doesn’t feel like [the writers] feel the need to really make things specific or define it. It’s so well written. And Toni (Collette) is just so great as Buck, she’s so masculine.
AE: Toni just nails each alter so well, especially the new ones this season.
JLA: With Shoshanna, yeah! She’s amazing. When I was doing scenes with [Tara] and then with Buck, it felt like two different actors. There’s Toni as Tara and Toni as Buck and you really felt like you’re working with two different people.
AE: Do you feel like you’ve maintained a lesbian fan base since Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy?
JLA: I’m a gay icon! My friends tease me about that! I get my friends laid if we go to gay bars. [Laughs.] Yeah, because of Chasing Amy. It’s really interesting that as time has gone on, at first, people were sort of outraged over it because she gets together with a guy. Again, with that film, there wasn’t a need to really make it so black and white. I have friends here who go back and forth and who don’t really feel the need to define who they are in that way.
AE: Do you ever feel like you lost out — or even got a part — because you played a lesbian in Chasing Amy?
JLA: Not at all, no. I think the writing was just so good on that film. It wasn’t, “Oh, this is a gay film.” Nothing against gay films, but it was never presented that way.
AE: On TV when characters go gay for sweeps, that’s ridiculous.
JLA: Right, or to have the token gay person. Yeah.
AE: Tara just got the green light for a third season.
JLA: Did it? That’s great!
AE: Any chance we’ll see Pammy return?
JLA: You know, I have no idea. It felt a little bit to me like they were leaving it open where she could come back as a crazy person, a stalker. But I have no idea. I don’t know if they know.
AE: Would you be open to returning?
JLA: Of course! It’s just such a well-oiled machine. Everyone on that show is just so nice and so good at what they do and they have such great directors coming through. You can just feel it on the set, that they were doing something good. No one was insecure, no one was worried. The writers are so good and Diablo (Cody) is very present on set and Toni is very cool and not high strung or anything like that. She sets the tone.
AE: It’s just such a great show for women.
JLA: When the writing is good, you’re not struggling. TV moves so fast, you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and talk about the scene and what’s going on. But because the writing is so good, there’s no questioning of it. That was the thing with this role, when I got it to audition for it, I was so excited. It was seriously my favorite role that I’ve played in 13 years, especially because it was a real character. It wasn’t like I’m the best friend or I’m the girlfriend and I just laugh at their jokes and I’m just there to get their story across. It was a real character: I know what she wears, I know what color her nails are; it was all that, it wasn’t just, “Be pretty.”
AE: You mentioned all the directors in Season 2 and there were some great ones — Penny Marshall and Jamie Babbit among them. How much did you get to work with them?
JLA: Penny did one show and I was in it, which was amazing. She’s incredible. It was interesting for me because I haven’t done a lot of television and the change in directors is weird for me. The first two episodes, Craig Zisk directed and I just had a nickname for him and then he was like, “It was great working with you!” and then the change to have another director come in who wasn’t there for what you shot previously come in and not have them know how we played the scene that happened before this. It was different for me and took a little getting used to.
AE: You just directed Dashboard Confessional’s “Belle of the Boulevard” music video, and you wrote and directed Come Early Morning. Any plans to direct again?
JLA: Yeah, I’m writing a script right now that I want to direct. It’s about too many things right now, which is a problem! It’s a woman story … and it’s really just dealing with reporters and what they see. I’ve met some and the ones that do go to wars and cover that, it’s so hard for them to go cover that and come back and attend, say, a birthday party. And how do you have a relationship where you’re not treating it like the subject?
AE: Would you write, direct and star in it?
JLA: I thought about acting in Come Early Morning but I really love coming to set and not worrying about hair, makeup and wardrobe! [Laughs.] It’s very freeing. And for me, I didn’t go to school to direct, it’s not like it comes super easy for me. I don’t think I could do both and do them well. I love directing actors. I loved working with Ashley (Judd) and originally I wrote that part for me to act in and then decided that I wanted to direct it. It was really hard to give up that part but then when she came on, it was such an amazing experience.
AE: Any upcoming acting projects?
JLA: I did a pilot for a new channel called Epix (Tough Trade, from Weeds executive producer/showrunner Jenji Kohan). It’s Dallas meets Nashville country western music and it’s three generations of country western singers and their families and they all have like four ex-wives and current wives. Chris Offutt wrote it and Sam Shepard plays the lead. We’ll see if it gets picked up.
AE: Do you get to sing?
JLA: No! People thing I can sing because of Chasing Amy but I really can’t!
Read our recaps of United States of Tara every week on AfterEllen.com.