Kristen Johnston is one of the greatest living sitcom actors and after reading her no-holds-barred memoir, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, it becomes clear how close TV was to losing her. But through guile and gumption, Johnston star not only transformed her life, but reignited her career as the star of TV Land's The Exes.
Tonight brings the second episode of season two, an outing that Johnston feels perfectly showcases the show's strengths: the chemistry between herself and co-leads Donald Faison, Wayne Knight and David Alan Basche. It's refreshing to see that Kristen's candor isn't strictly saved for her memoirs, as the entire interview was peppered with refreshingly honest answers ... and only a few were followed by, "But that's off the record," which always came with a joyous chortle, making it easy to abide.
ETonline: What excites you about season two of The Exes?
Kristen Johnston: I love that the writers are really fleshing out everyone else this year. Honestly, the first season felt a little bit like the Kristen Johnston show -- and that's not what I signed on for. I didn't want to be the John Lithgow [her 3rd Rock from the Sun co-star] of my show. That's too hard, so I started getting a little nervous. In the last five episodes of season one, I was in every single scene, so I'm really glad that it's now becoming so much more of an ensemble and other people are getting to shine. That's very much what this season is about – instead of a billion guest stars, which is also fantastic, season two is about our dynamic and figuring out ways to have us together acting crazy.
ETonline: Well, judging from the clip (above), it's clear how crazy tonight's episode gets!
Johnston: I don't know how it will translate on screens, but when we filmed it, this was the funniest episode of a sitcom I've ever been a part of. The audience freaked out when I walked in on Stuart getting out of the shower, by accident, and learned he has a baby arm for a penis. The episode is about how you don't think learning something like that will change anything, but it changes everything.
ETonline: Like 3rd Rock, you're in front of a live studio audience again, which you seem to eat up.
Johnston: Some people don't think it's a live audience, so let them know that it is and we do not pump up the studio audience at all. Acting with them is absolutely the best gig in the world. I should pay them, it's such a joy. I loved doing 3rd Rock, but it was hard – it was a tough time for me that led me to a very dark place. So I can only compare it to where I was then. After getting all that out of me and coming back to the exact same lot, just one stage over, and having it be just pure joy is incredible. It's the one time you can go home again, and I'm so grateful.
ETonline: Do you think The Exes would be as rich an experience had you not written the book?
Johnston: I wouldn't have had the joy. The book was so important for me to tell the truth and show who I am. It's so freeing to not have to pretend or lie about my history. So now I can really bask in the joy of this experience. I'm so glad to be alive. I know people like me aren't given opportunities like this very often.
ETonline: Your writing style was one of the most praised elements of Guts -- do you have any plans to pen a screenplay?
Johnston: No. I didn't even journal before this book. I'm not a frustrated writer; I just learned how to write within the writing of the book. I just love the mathematics and chemistry of comedy – I love pitching ideas and brainstorming with smart people. But the idea of starting with "Tara walks into a room…: I don't know if I have that in me.
ETonline: If the writers asked for your input as to which of the three guys Holly should date, what would you say?
Johnston: Oh god … I would say, "Oh no, we're being canceled!" [laughs] I think that's how the show ends, and to choose between them would be hell.
ETonline: Nice to see the baby arm didn't factor into your decision at all!
Johnston: [laughs] You know baby, it's the motion of the ocean! Women don't care about that stuff – I swear, it's all about the finesse. But in this case, yea … it's pretty insane.
The Exes airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. on TV Land.