Edi Patterson Loves Playing a “Wild Animal” on The Righteous Gemstones

From Stephanie Tanner to Lisa Simpson, being a TV family’s middle child usually comes with a lot of baggage. for Edi Patterson, playing Judy Gemstone—the loudmouth daughter of a megachurch preacher on HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones*—*means channeling a bit of that stereotypical frustration at being overlooked, and turning it all up to 11. “The way that I like to come at Judy is, I think she is in all of us,” Patterson says. “The volume is louder on certain things, but we all feel like we want certain things and have certain things to prove.”

Judy is easily the most profane character on a show that takes its liberty with premium cable’s famously loose language requirements. Some of her most hilarious moments come out of Patterson’s glee at twisting a particularly gross line in her mouth, and even its emotionally tense conversations lean toward the obscene when Judy is involved. (Her response to a potentially deadly shoot-out is to angrily ask if her sister-in-law Amber (Cassidy Freeman) caused it. “Did Amber stand up in her car seat and press her ass against the window and flash her bleached butthole?” she says, to shudders.) “The complexity and the freedom and the humanity that I’m allowed to infuse into someone so wild, I can’t even tell you what a blast it is,” Patterson says. “It’s literally a huge joy of my life.”

What kept Judy from seeming too out-there in the show’s first season was her relationship with shy, incorruptible BJ (Tim Baltz), who was the closest thing to a comedic straight man in a cast full of odd characters. “It seemed really fun to us to play with it in an opposites-attract way,” Patterson says. “They’re like a cosmic love for the ages. I think they see something in each other—they see the true heart of each other through a lot of weird layers.”

In the show’s second season, BJ got closer to her energetic heights, while Patterson was given a few more opportunities to show Judy’s emotional range without sacrificing her “wild animal” characteristics. When BJ decides to be baptized into the Gemstone church, Judy takes the opportunity to throw a ceremony in the vein of a glitzy 1980s prom—and confronts her BJ’s liberal family. Over the course of the season, the couple take her pregnant aunt, Tiffany (Valyn Hall), under their wing, which leads Judy to embrace her maternal side and culminates in an over-the-top emotional monologue on a long-distance bus.

The show was created by Danny McBride, who got a reputation for writing and playing compellingly screwed-up white men from Eastbound & Down, which first aired in 2009. Patterson, who has writing credits on two episodes of The Righteous Gemstones, praised McBride’s ability to find absurdity and complexity in his characters. “I could see what he was doing pretty early on with his character on eastbound,” she says.”It’s such a statement on machismo and macho-man thinking, and the way he comes at it of just embodying that guy without judgment is such a funny way.”

Patterson and McBride first worked together on his last HBO show, Vice Principals, and he wrote Judy with her in mind. “I just think that something about the way his brain dele works really, really tickles my brain,” she says of McBride, who used a COVID production delay to rewrite season two nearly from scratch.

“A lot of times if I’m writing, if something is awesome, something in me wants to go like, it’s awesome. Let’s stop. I’m ready to shoot,” Patterson says. “But he’s really good about churning it over and over and over and going actually this could be better. And I can’t think of a time he is wrong.”

A core element of the series is the unhinged physical comedy between the Gemstone siblings—Patterson, McBride as eldest son Jesse, and Adam DeVine, who plays the youngest brother Kelvin. “It’s the best because they’re both fairly fearless as well as physical comedy,” Patterson says of their group chemistry. “Neither one of them afraid to look ‘dumb’ or to go too far or to be embarrassed.”

She has a background in improv comedy, and during her time with the LA improv troupe the Groundlings, she learned that her appearance changes “absolutely” with a wig or drastic hairstyle shift—sometimes members audience couldn’t identify her when she was in character during the show. To become Judy, Patterson puts on a curly corkscrew wig that somehow renders her unrecognizable. “The curly hair is my favorite part of the physical shift,” she says. “That’s the part of the physical shift that puts me in the headspace, because it bounces a certain way. With the way my body moves, there comes an inherent slightness with all of it.”

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