As one of three The Righteous Gemstones siblings, Judy Gemstone might be the one who’s most worth rooting for, given that she (unlike her brothers) fights an uphill battle for her father’s acceptance. Edi Patterson, who portrays Judy, infuses the character with troublesome tendencies and an aching vulnerability, both of which are barely contained by a tough-yet-messy exterior. Of course, audiences already grew to love Patterson-Danny McBride teamwork during HBO’s Vice Principals, and the duo worked so well together that she quickly agreed to Gemstones before knowing any details about McBride’s initial vision for the series.
Patterson, however, doesn’t simply play Judy but also does a fair share of the writing, including for that earworm, “Misbehavin.” That song, along with her work on the series, builds upon a solid foundation of improvisation work that she forged in her native Texas, as well as with the Groundlings sketch comedy troupe and in too many TV appearances to name here. In lockstep with the Gemstones season finale, Patterson was gracious enough to speak with us about Judy’s shenanigans, what it’s like to clog dance with Walton Goggins, and her role in the Rian Johnson’s upcoming Knives Out.
You co-wrote “Misbehavin.” So I kinda have to blame you for having it in my head all day long. And I’m not the only writer here who’s been randomly singing it.
Wow, that’s great! I’ve heard all sorts of iterations of “Misbehavin” getting stuck in your head. Many of them are people, like, adding in things that will happen in their normal life. People will write their own versions and just add things from their house, or they’ll sing it to their kids when they’re acting up. It seems like people are really making it their own, which is fun.
Yep, just walking through the house with a pickle in their mouth and all that.
That’s the greatest. That’s from Joey Stephens after Danny and I sent him a voice memo of me singing the chunk that we had written. Joey sent it back to us the next day, and that lyric was part of it. Wowie, wowie, it’s a great lyric.
You are active on Twitter, so you must have seen the song picking up steam after Jennifer Nettles sang it with Walton Goggins. What was going through your head, knowing that Judy would sing it pretty soon on the show?
You know, I didn’t think so much about it after it came out because I knew that what I’d done already existed, but when we went to record it, Jennifer and Walton had already recorded their version of it. And then Walton and I went to record ours, and it’s really interesting, and I really like where my brain landed with it because I like my voice, and I think I’m a good singer. But she’s like an angel dropped onto the Earth, her voice. Obviously, she’s a very well-known and respected country singer, but what she can do is mindblowing to me. Even just hearing their recording of it, I was like, “Okay, I’m about to go belt this out, and it’s gonna be something, but it’s not gonna be that.” But I liked the vibe, if you will, of knowing that Judy’s version of this is a little more raw and unrefined and trying to be like her [mom], so it all worked in my head.
And obviously, Walton has a long history of clogging experience.
He sure does, and so does Jennifer.
Did you have any experience in that realm? I mean, clogging next to him must be a craaaazy, intimidating experience.
Yeah, it is crazy! They’re both so good at it, and I had zero experience with clogging. I’m a pretty good study with music and melodies and singing in general. I don’t read music, but it sticks in my head, but with dancing, I am not a quick study. I have to do something over and over until it’s not math in my brain anymore, and hopefully, it’s a muscle memory because it’s done 3000 times, but Walton’s been doing it as a kid, and it comes naturally to him, so that him even doing a few steps casually is just beautiful. When we first learned the dance from the professional clogging teachers, it was in Walton’s body so fast, like loose and beautiful, and he’d call me to see if I wanted to get together and run the dance. I had to put that off for a few days because I needed to be like an animal in the garage of the house I was staying in, just to do it until I finally was like, “Okay, I’m a human who knows what step comes next.” And then I could go practice with him.
You were just clogging for Jesus in a garage, basically.
Yes, just clogging for Jesus! With my phone propped up on the wall and messing up and screaming, “Fuck!” And starting over and making Cassidy [Freeman], who’s Amber on the show and my roommate in Charleston, making her come down and do the dance with me and doing Walton’s part.
What Judy goes through elsewhere, it kinda breaks my heart a little, at times. Do you ever feel for her?
Good. I absolutely feel for her, I’m glad you do, too. I hope everyone does. I think she’s doing her best, she really wants to prove herself, and sometimes, she’s getting knocked flat, and that’s crazy.
It doesn’t feel like it’s necessarily a sexist thing with her family because mom was in the limelight, no problem.
I mean, I think she’s shown at this point in the series that she’s….
A little unhinged?
Yes, a little unhinged. Her brothers are also unhinged in their own ways, but they, for all intents and purposes, know how to act in public.
That’s very true, especially with that shopping cart scene. How much fun was that to shoot?
Here’s one little weird sidenote. When we wrote that scene, it thought in my head that a shopping cart rammed into a car would make delicious dents, and it’s gonna be, visually, so satisfying. Then you get an actual shopping cart and a Nissan Cube, and you realize really fast, “Oh right, some cars are made of hard plastic.” And you have to jam it exponentially harder than you thought to make anything happen, and mostly, it’s gonna bounce off the side.
It seemed like Judy was a little frustrated by the car’s lack of cooperation.
Yeah. It was hard to make a mark, I really had to go for it. But yeah, it was fun to shoot, that episode was with [director] David Gordon Green, and we went for it all day. He’s so good at putting something together and making it, sort-of epic like that. That scene did feel epic at some point.
The sound, the fury, the perm flying everywhere. I kind-of think of that as a rock bottom moment for Judy?
And did she really want BJ back, or is he a fall-back after losing fame?
I think she really did want him back. I also think that Judy and BJ are meant to be together. Yeah, I think he weirdly understands her in a way that not many other people on the Earth can or do or have patience to even try to do.
With that story she told at the Outback Steakhouse, about her former professor-love interest and how she kidnapped his child, how much of that was real?
Hmm, part of me wants to make this like a Radiohead lyric, make of it what you will, but I think it’s true and how it’s played out for her, as deeply troubling as that might be.
Hey, it makes more sense now that she’s held back by her dad after that scene.
Oh, how dare you!
Well, I liked that part in the season finale with Judy and Jesse and Kelvin all giving each other shit but pep-talking each other at the same time. Did you co-write that scene?
Yeah, I was in on the writing of that scene, and then we had a bit of improvising that night. That scene was the closest I’ve come during that whole season, and I think for all three of us, to laughing so hard that I didn’t know if we would be able to finish it. We got so tickled, and I think a few factors were at play. We had all been doing other scenes on other units that day, so by the time we got to that scene, it was night, and we were gonna shoot super late, and so everyone was a bit of slap-happy or punchy. When it started morphing a tiny bit with a little improvising, it was like all bets were off. We were laughing so hard that our faces were wet. And then it was just impossible to even look at them and do your lines unless you just wanted to have tears streaming down your face from laughing. That night was full danger-zone. That scary, laughing-in-church feeling, like “I don’t know if this is going to end, my stomach hurts, my brain is breaking.”
Do you usually get to write a lot of Judy’s dialogue?
It all ends up being kind-of a soup of everything having a contribution in almost every script. I had a lot of input, and all eight or nine of us, me and a bunch of dudes, we would all have a say. So I had quite a bit of input in things Judy said.
A lot of what comes out of her mouth is so shocking, but she delivers it in a deadpan way, so it packs an extra punch.
I think a lot of that stuff is middle-child-to-brother stuff. She’s just a lot like them. All three can be filter-less at times, and she’s no less filter-less just because she’s a girl.
If someone told you that you could only write or only act for the rest of your career, which one would you choose?
What a terrible choice!
Yes, I’m awful for asking that question!
If I had to pick, I would act because I deeply love performing because it’s in the core of me because it’s been with me since a very young age, but everything I just said about acting, I also love about writing. I would pick acting, but I do love to write something and then do it, and knowing I can perform it. That’s really, really cool.
Most actors don’t do that, so yeah, you get some real ownership and can put your fingers all over that material.
It’s weird magic, writing something that maybe came out in some sort-of fever dream, and then all of a sudden, you’re in the Outback Steakhouse with tons of people around, and your brain realizes, “Oh wow, this is real now. This exists in the universe, this thing that I barfed out of my brain one night,” you know?
Now it’s canon, so you’re stuck with it.
I’m happy to be stuck with it! I’m happy to be stuck with Dr. Warren Carmichael.
With season two, do you have any hopes for Judy?
We’re still figuring it all out. I honestly don’t know what we’ll end up doing, but if I’m rooting for her, I hope that she gets to be important, like her brothers are, in “the big show.”
This next question might be off-limits, but I’m asking anyway; you’re in Rian Johnson’s upcoming Knives Out.
Yes, I am!
I really shouldn’t ask if you play the killer.
So, are you playing the killer?
Oh, I cannot tell you.
It doesn’t look like what some people would expect from Rian Johnson these days, but it looks amazing.
Dude, I think I think it’s gonna be really cool and was a very cool experience.
What a phenomenal ensemble cast, too.
A lot of what we shot was in this old house that was in Wellesley [MA]. It’s, as you know, a whodunnit, so there were many days when the green room for everyone was the basement of this house. It was furnished with couches and chairs, but yeah, it was pretty mind-blowing to be sitting around in chairs with Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette and Daniel Craig and Don Johnson and just hearing stories. It was definitely one of those pinch-me, like “what is this?” situations.
Well, there’s so much secrecy on that project, so I’ll stop prying — for now! Good luck with the Gemstones finale reception.
Awesome, and thank you!
‘The Righteous Gemstones’ has been renewed on HBO for a second season, and you can catch Sunday night’s finale on HBO Now and HBO Go.