EXCLUSIVE: June Diane Raphael Explains Why TV Is a Great Place for Women

by James Patrick Herman 6:45 AM PDT, May 20, 2016
Photo: Netflix

At the moment, actress and writer June Diane Raphael appears to be more in demand on Netflix than Chelsea Handler. A search of her name turns up not only past projects such as the sketch show, The Birthday Boys, and the teen comedy, Bad Night, but also the latest season of Grace and Frankie -- Raphael plays Brianna, the stylish but filter-free daughter of Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda who took over the family beauty business -- as well as the new series, Lady Dynamite, which premieres on May 20. But Raphael's most exciting project? Her second child with husband, frequent collaborator and comic Paul Scheer -- but just don’t expect to see her baby bump onscreen anytime soon.

ET spoke with the working mom about the revolution of women in comedy, her obsession with Gwyneth Paltrow and why she has no desire to be America's sweetheart.

ET: Season two of Grace and Frankie recently premiered and the team is already taping season three. What's it like to go back to work on a series that some fans are still catching up on?

June Diane Raphael: It's so interesting. Last year, when we were shooting season two, season one had aired months earlier. This year, we're shooting season three and, you know, people just watched all of season two last weekend. Some people watched it all in one weekend, which is crazy. Its actually really fun because the response has been quite wonderful. So there's a nice energy on set and everybody is excited.

Is that Dolly Parton cameo finally going to happen?

Oh, my God. I don't know. I can tell you that I'm a couple episodes into season three, and I don't see her anywhere. Believe me, I don't think anyone has got their eye out more than I do. I'm scanning parts that are like three lines long: "Is this for Dolly? Is she playing waitress number four?" So I, unfortunately, can't report that she's in it, but who knows? Who knows?

What was your favorite scene from season two?

I have a scene with Lily in my office where we sit down to a formal business meeting and discuss her organic yam lube. It's sort of this physical moment where neither one of us is sitting down -- she is waiting for me to sit down and I am waiting for her to sit down. It's this strange power play between the two of us. And that was one of my favorite moments to shoot because it was not scripted; it was totally something that we found on the day. Lily is one of my comedy idols, so to be able to find something in the moment and improvise with her was a total dream come true. There may have been a kernel of that idea in the script. But I remember Lily asking the director: "Can we have some time? Don't cut. We may want to play with this." And we did. And it ended up in the show.

How crazy is it that Gwyneth Paltrow now has her own line of yam-based lube inspired by Grace and Frankie?

It's wild stuff. I mean, to see Grace and Frankie on the Goop website, which is my go-to aspirational website where I don't really buy anything. I just look -- it's a total window-shopping experience. That was a real moment. Hey, look! The show is dealing with issues that women are really dealing with, you know? Vaginal lubricants being one of them.

Goop also features a $15,000 24-karat gold vibrator.

These things aren't gonna come cheap.

Would you try her lube at home?

Of course, especially because it's edible and I love yams.

You have a lot of faith in Gwyneth.

I guess I do. Well, I believe she owns the Juice Beauty line because it's on the website. And when I say, "I believe," it's because I have researched it. And that's a product line I use, so I am already a customer.

June Diane Raphael with Lily Tomlin and Baron Vaughn in Grace and Frankie. Photo: Netflix

What has been the greatest lesson you have learned from working with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin?

To not be precious about the work. I have been inspired by how open they are to the directors and feedback and notes and trying things a different way -- and not being afraid of messing up or doing it wrong. There is such a commitment to creating something special and there's no fear of failure. That is something I am taking in and that's the way I want to work, too. Which is not being worried about doing it right but rather creating something awesome. That kind of fearless, f**k-it-all [attitude] is something that comes with age -- especially for women, it is a nice lesson in not having to be good. And I see that in both of them. They don't really care. It's more about being great, actually, which they are. Nobody is worried about embarrassing themselves or trying something that didn't work. That kind of playful energy is what I am trying to learn through the process of osmosis.

That energy comes across on screen. What surprised you the most about Jane and Lily?

How kind they are. There is such a generosity of spirit. And knowing who they are -- I mean, they're royalty -- and yet they work hard to make everyone feel comfortable, especially the civilians like myself. They're easy to talk to and to work with because they are relaxed. This is why the show is a success: They're really friends and really enjoy each other. There are so many takes where they are cracking each other up. I'll look around and be like, "Where are they? Are they running late?" And they're in a corner looking at one another's phones and laughing hysterically together. There is such a girlish kind of love and friendship for each other and it's just so damn cute.

I am secretly disappointed that there aren't any rumors about Jane and Lily having big diva fights backstage.

I know. I mean, look, I have tried to incite them. I've tried to get them going. I've spread some nasty rumors to try and start that but, unfortunately, they've risen above it every time.

How will your pregnancy affect the story in season three?

It won't. My character, Brianna, will not be pregnant. Maybe I'll just hold a giant watermelon in every scene. We'll shoot around it and pretend it's not happening through the magic of TV. It's incredible what they can do and it makes being an actress in your childbearing years much easier. Because there is a lot that can be done. So we don’t have to stand behind laundry baskets. Why would Brianna be carrying a laundry basket? It doesn't make any sense.

Linda Cardellini told Backstage that she couldn't find any work when she was pregnant. Grace and Frankie seems to be an exception considering both you and Brooklyn Decker have been pregnant over the course of the series.

The two leads of our show are feminist icons, so we have that going for us. But also, we are already on the show, so it's a bit easier because our characters have already been established. And there is way more incentive to work with us and the pregnancies. Though, I do think Linda Cardellini makes an excellent point about finding work while you're pregnant, which is, I would say, next to impossible. That is certainly something male actors don't have to deal with and it is a bummer. A lot of actresses have to figure out -- in the prime of their careers -- how to do their family planning and have it not affect their work.

Tell us about your recurring role on Maria Bamford's Netflix series, Lady Dynamite.

Much of the show takes place in her mind and so a lot of characters meld together. I play a woman, Karen Grisham, who is her real estate agent. Jenny Slate plays her life coach. And Ana Gasteyer plays her voiceover agent, and we are all named Karen Grisham. So we're sort of like three heads of the worst woman you have ever met in your entire life. Like, human garbage -- that's who we play. We are so terrible to her in our own specific ways.

Why is your character mean to Maria?

There is this scene where I'm trying to get Maria to buy a house and she can't afford any of the houses I'm showing her. At one point, I show her a house where five people have been murdered and I'm like, "It's definitely haunted and you'll probably die here but I think we should make an offer." She wants her commission so badly. I am very cruel to Maria and it's so much fun. She's like the loveliest person I have ever met, so to rip her to shreds is delightful.

Maria Bamford and June Diane Raphael on Lady Dynamite. Photo: Netflix

You are obviously a nice person, but you have a gift for ripping people to shreds -- even Kermit and Miss Piggy when you were on The Muppets. It has become your forte as an actress.

Thank you. That's one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. Look, the female roles that I am interested in are not the sweet gals. I find that boring. The characters I play are more colorful, but I find all the characters I play to be lovable. Some of Brianna's choices might seem insane, but I always feel like she comes from a place of genuine caring. Does it come off harsh and brutal? Yeah. But I can understand where she is coming from entirely.

You have no desire to be America's sweetheart, in other words?

Well, I think I am America's sweetheart. I see myself that way.

Netflix seems to be a new haven for women in TV -- from comedy specials to scripted series. Do you see a similar trend from your perspective?

Yeah, TV is such an amazing place for women right now. Grace and Frankie is telling these stories that are not often told about an age group that is expected to disappear into the wilderness. These stories would not have a home anywhere else. It is such an exciting time when women are getting to sink their teeth into better roles. I am catching up with The Americans and I'm so obsessed with Keri Russell's role on that show. Again, speaking of a character that is no sweetie, but it's an interesting and fun character to play.

Even Beyoncé plays a woman scorned in her new videos -- Lemonade is sour, not sweet.

Absolutely. [Laughs.] It's so refreshing, isn't it?

You told Vanity Fair you think it's cool that there are so many female podcasters now, especially podcasts featuring comedic actresses such as Anna Faris ("Unqualified"), Lauren Lapkus ("With Special Guest") and yourself ("How Did This Get Made?"). Why do think that is?

I am not sure why it has started to blow up. People are loving the medium. I listen to them all the time when I'm driving. Women are listening to a lot of podcasts now -- I know I am and I know my girlfriends are -- and there is that hunger to hear yourself reflected back. In general, the podcast has become the new one-person show where if you have something to say, it is an easy medium to get your thoughts out there. It's beyond podcasts: The same goes for movies. A lot of studios say that women will follow male narratives but men will not follow female narratives and that's why movies starring women about female issues are never going to be successful. I think that tide is really starting to turn. Women have proven 10 times over that they will go support women at the box office. We want to hear our stories told. With comedies like Bridesmaids and Trainwreck, men are following women, too -- and it is great for all of us.

How much do you and your husband, Paul Scheer, collaborate on projects?

We have definitely worked together before. I did a show that Paul created called NTSF that was on Adult Swim, which was an amazing experience and we had so much fun together. The way we really work best right now is that we are super-supportive: I read everything he writes and he reads everything I write and we work on scenes together. But there is also a healthy separation of church and state. I would never want to feel like if we go out to dinner and have some time alone, we have to work. I am quite comfortable with separating that and making sure that, yes, the boundary is in place -- the podcast aside. But the podcast for both of us is more of a pastime and probably something that we would be doing even if no one was recording it.

Who is funnier: You or Paul?

People always say, it's probably like a barrel of laughs at your place. Not really. Usually it is just the two of us quietly having dinner together and sharing some dark story we heard on the news that day. Paul would probably say I'm funnier than him. And I would probably say that he is way funnier than me. And that's the way marriage should be.

Grace and Frankie and Lady Dynamite are now streaming on Netflix.