This interview features spoilers for the final season of “The Righteous Gems”.
It is nearly impossible to find a Judy Gemstone quote that can be spoken aloud in a real church. When the character isn’t cursing or denigrating her siblings, she’s alluding to obscene sexual acts and parts — all things unfit for a house of worship (and print).
But beneath Judy’s abrasive, super weird surface is Edi Patterson, an actress, writer, and producer on HBO’s “The Ri Right Gemstones.” Traded with her straight hair and cool demeanor for a curly wig and a creepy dose of sequins, she transforms into Judy, the stubborn middle child of a family of Southern megachurch preachers, who craves validation and lacks any filter insight.
Patterson, who first worked with the show’s creator, Danny McBride, on the HBO series “Vice Principals” (which he created with Jody Hill) works alongside him and Adam DeVine, who plays as Judy’s older brother and younger brother – both just as stunted by sibling rivalry as she is, maybe more.
Season 2 of the series, which ended Sunday, dives deeper into the Gemstone family drama, making new forays into real estate, motor ninjas and Judy’s relationship with her beta male husband , BJ (Tim Baltz). After a plot to assassinate the family’s patriarch, Eli (John Goodman), which threatens to tear the Gems apart, the season finale brings the clan back together to spawn, some death and of course, one last musical.
It also reveals a softer side of Judy – although her dialogue remains largely unprintable.
“It’s fun when people watch Judy because she’s doing the things they want to do and saying the things they really want to say, and I think it’s fun to watch someone play id,” Patterson said. “I’m really grateful that I can run down the court as fast as I can and let it rip.”
During a recent video call from her hotel room in Winnipeg, Canada, where she was filming “Violent Nights” with David Harbor (“Stranger Things”), Patterson discussed her baptism. BJ, Eli’s near-death experience and why we can’t keep our eyes off Judy. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Where do you think Judy falls in the Gemstone hierarchy, being the middle child and the only daughter?
Sadly, the default in those type systems is very patriarchal, so she has a lot to prove. And she knows that she is equal and good as her brothers. But that’s part of the fun – she’s in a system where she’ll need to prove it, over and over again. So that sums up all her feelings of wanting to prove everything; want to excel; want to be bad; all.
How do you think Judy has changed this season?
Well, she got her big break when she got married at Disney World without her dad. It’s a big, ‘Well, I’ll show them…’ and then she immediately felt bad. She has a lot of teenage emotions and anger.
This season, she may be getting closer to what she wants, with BJ getting more accepted than he is. She also has a bit of an emotional side with Tiffany [Judy’s younger aunt, played by Valyn Hall] – basically, going from feeling like Tiffany is some mold growing on something in her fridge to genuinely caring and loving. It’s a really interesting development. Real people never have a big change you see in the movies, like “Now, I am a different person, and I am completely better”. I love the big emotional ups and downs of Gems.
The plot where Judy and BJ become Tiffany’s parents is a humorous choice. What does it mean to highlight each of them?
We wanted to show Judy’s depth a little bit and show her complex, manly and complex. Like, yes, her barking is loud and intense, and there’s a lot of it going at you. But there’s empathy, too, and she can honestly hurt her feelings, and she can honestly care about whether or not she hurts someone else’s feelings. It’s fun to show that she really isn’t a total narcissist or a sociopath.
Episode 4 really stood out to me as Judy and BJ’s big moment – how was it written, filmed and produced that whole christening?
That episode was a blast. We had to live in that crazy scene for a whole week and a half, and it was a joy and a luxury. Because the scene where we had BJ’s party felt so real and so… I don’t know… have you been to Vegas?
I have not.
Vegas has this quaint, quaint vibe where some hotels can really get blown away to the point where they almost feel cozy. Something in you shows up: “I am safe to cut off and everyone is taking care of me.” And I don’t know, that room is like a cozy Vegas space.
Like Cheesecake factory effect? Where you have so many things happening at once?
Total! Everywhere my eyes look, I see something interesting. So it’s just heaven to stay there for a long time. And Danny directed that episode – it’s the only episode he’s directed this season, and he’s good at it. It’s really fun because, for example, in the bathroom scene where I’m threatening BJ’s sister, Danny is clear about the moment there’s room to play with it and go crazy and find things. And there were a few wild things we noticed while we were doing it, like smoking in the stall or kicking the stall door as a 1980s bully move.
Are particularly memorable lines, such as “You can’t gobble up the cake if you don’t help bake it,” that often come from script or happen randomly in the moment?
A lot of the way they talk is in the crafting process. I wrote the thing “gobble up the cake”—so many times, I knew it was especially fitting for her if it made me laugh and made me say, “Oh my, that’s stupid.” That is the highest praise for me. Maybe it’s true if it makes me interestingly disgusted.
In previous interviews, you mentioned that you watched a lot of horror movies growing up. Where do you think horror fits in with “Gem”?
What’s interesting is that almost all of us who are show writers love horror movies. It is perhaps also a guide, because David Gordon Green and Jody Hill [who have directed most of the episodes] They both like horror movies. They’re really good at making things really thrilling, or really dramatic, or creepy, or really action-packed. The love of horror makes people unable to retreat and exclaim, “Oh, that’s a comedy.” It makes everyone go deeper into all of it.
You also said that Judy was wearing a figure skater when she performed. If you had to make a mood board of things Judy found attractive, what else could be on it?
Oh my, it will be covered with skaters. There will probably be a lot more from Studio 54. Cher will do it all. I feel like the original Madonna will get through them all: It would be a fair amount of this move: [Patterson pulls one shirtsleeve down to reveal a shoulder.]
Much of that will be from Judy’s childish brain about what is sexy and what is cool and powerful. I think a lot of her conception of things is just a stunt.
There was a point in the season where the Eli Gem almost died. What does it mean to evoke in the family?
It just shows up so quickly that even though they all think, “I can do this,” they are all immediately like, “Oh my God, I don’t want it. I just want him here.” They all worship their father. Judy holds a grudge against her father and what he thinks of her. The second terrible thing happens, all she wants is for him to be alive and well. Hence vomiting. [Laughs.]
You grew up in Texas, going to church every week. What do you think your Sunday school teachers would say if they watched this show?
OH. It depends on which Sunday school teacher. I would think that some people from the church I grew up in would be very confused by what I was doing and would probably never watch it – not even because it was about a missionary family, but for being cursed. But a lot of people from the church loved it.
The important thing about our program is that we never make fun of religion, religiously affiliated people or believers. I think all Gems are tokens. They are just messing up a lot.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/27/arts/television/edi-patterson-the-righteous-gemstones.html Edi Patterson on Tapping into Her Id for ‘Legal Gems’