Paget Brewster Dishes On Birdgirl, Hypochondriac, Criminal Minds, And More - Exclusive Interview

Paget Brewster is best known by "Criminal Minds" fans for her long-time role as FBI Agent Emily Prentiss, but she has also played a variety of roles across genres throughout her career. She's had roles in popular sitcoms such as "Friends" and "Community," and you may recognize her voice in cartoons like "Family Guy," "BoJack Horseman," and "American Dad." 


Two of her most recent projects, "Birdgirl" and "Hypochondriac," couldn't be more different from each other. "Birdgirl" is a comedic animated series where she plays Judy Ken Sebben/Birdgirl, an eccentric CEO and superhero; on the other hand, "Hypochondriac" is a psychological horror addressing trauma, in which she plays a psychologist. During an exclusive interview with The List, Brewster gave details on creating "Birdgirl" Season 2 and "Hypochondriac" and revisited past work like "Criminal Minds." She also shared how she chooses her acting projects, how she's had such a diverse career, and her thoughts on the upcoming Paramount+ "Criminal Minds" reboot.

How Birdgirl has grown in Season 2

Do you feel like your character [Birdgirl/Judy] has grown at all going into the second season?

I do, yeah. Also, Birdgirl started in 2005 as a character in an Adult Swim show called "Harvey Birdman." Years later, I was recording a voice for something else, and the showrunner and creator, Erik Richter, said, "Hey, we're going to pitch Birdgirl as its own show." I was like, "Great, all right, let's go." They sold it really quickly, and we started recording it, and it immediately was a very different show from "Harvey Birdman." It's really bizarre. It's kind of trippy and weird. There's a lot of nudity and swearing. I was surprised. [There's] a lot of different forms of animation.


We did the first season, and it was exciting to be able to grow ... They grew, the writers. I just do what the writers tell me. They grew this character so much more than the character it had been on "Harvey Birdman" with this split personality of Judy and Birdgirl, because they're different. Going into Season 2 was even more "How much more can we all add to this?"

Some of that, which is exciting to me, is the engineers who were recording us talking when we weren't recording lines, and they ended up using a lot of little things that I was saying and asking people. There was a line in a script that was that one of the characters said, "Oh, it's good to see pegging is in fashion." When we recorded it, I said, "What is pegging?" I didn't know what it was. They told me in the next recording. They were like, "We used you saying, 'What is pegging?' in the script because it was so funny."


I like being able to play around and improvise, and they let me try whatever I want, and they let me suggest, "Oh, what if I did this sing-song, or what if I ... ?" They're so supportive and funny, and it's such an enjoyable experience to record. If we get a Season 3, it might get even weirder. I don't know. It's a crazy show, and I love it, but it is out there, man! 

I don't get to see it until nine months after I record it, and there's so much going on. I have to pause and rewind for these little jokes, and I'm so proud of the show. It's weird and fun, and it made me feel like, "Am I high? I feel a little high right now" — but in a positive way. I feel positive about the world. I don't know; I can't explain it. Maybe I shouldn't watch myself. Maybe I thought I was going crazy because, to some extent, I'm bingeing myself. That's a little weird.

Making Birdgirl feel real

You mentioned that the show has a really bizarre world; how do you feel you're able to do it where it can go that far, but also not feel too far [out there]?

That's actually the process of recording. You have the script, and you're on ... Because we started out locked in for COVID, I have a Zoom where I can see the director and writers and the production people. I have my script over here on the iPad. What they do is they say, "Okay, line 92," and I do the line three times — slightly different or louder or softer — or I'm trying to figure out what it is, and then say, "Does anyone have any direction? Any ideas?" 


They are editing together what this story is, but it does make more sense the more real you are in this surreal environment because all the weird stuff is ... just happening. You don't have to go weird with it. The weird stuff is happening. It's our job to make it real and genuinely dramatically act out this crazy stuff.

Why playing Birdgirl is like playing two characters

You also mentioned it's like you're playing two characters because there's Birdgirl, who's also Judy. In voice acting, where it's the same person — but also not — how do you approach that?

This is something I had to learn how to do, because they sounded exactly the same a long time ago, and because of this series, once we started "Birdgirl," the story is about this split personality. I did have to start differentiating between Judy and Birdgirl. Basically, Judy is a little neurotic and psychotic and really insecure, but also vain. She's 33, so I try to pitch my voice up a little bit. 


But then Birdgirl is more commanding. She's vain, she's crazy, but she gets the job done. I tried to make Birdgirl ... She's also more sexual. She's more self-actualized and maybe guilty of sexual harassment here and there, whereas Judy is not. Birdgirl has a little bit more growl, almost like I'm trying to steal a little bit of ... Remember when Christian Bale was Batman? He did that. I'm trying to give a little bit of that to Birdgirl that Judy's not capable of.

Do you feel you have anything in common with either version of the character?

Insecure, vain, neurotic? Hmm ... No, I'm as comfortable with my sexuality as Birdgirl is, and I like wearing the color gray like Judy, but I'm not a terrible boss. I'm a team player. I'm an employee. I like it. I don't ever want to direct. I don't want to produce. I don't want to be a boss of anything. I'm a boss in the kitchen. That's where I'm a boss, and no one works for me. I am a little bit of both of them, good and bad. I'm definitely excitable.


Rebooting Criminal Minds

A lot of people also know you for your role in "Criminal Minds," which you were in for a long time. What has it been like for you, going from that much more serious tone to this wacky world for "Birdgirl"?


They're both great. I love comedy, and I've done a lot of sitcoms and comedies. I did "Community" and "Another Period" and "Grandfathered" and "Friends," but when I joined "Criminal Minds," which was in 2005, I was such a fan. I had watched the show. It had been on the air for a year. I loved it. I loved — still do love — "Law & Order" and "SVU," and I loved the crime [shows]. I loved them. I was so excited to join "Criminal Minds," even though it's very contained, there's not a lot of smiling, there are serial killers and guns ... You've got to run around in the woods at 4:00 in the morning with a gun and [be] very serious and dramatic, but it was thrilling.

The first time I went to a crime scene, you see the police tape, and there's a lovely young actress who's playing a dead prostitute, and you walk over, and they're covered in blood, and they're a little blue, and they're lying on the ground. You're like, "Hi, I'm Amy." "Hi, I'm Paget." It's such a fun show to do, even though it's so dark, and maybe it's fun to do because it's so dark.


But we are going to do it again. We're going to start shooting in August. Paramount+ is going to make ten episodes of the reboot of "Criminal Minds," so we're all going right back to work in August and getting the gang back together again and shooting more episodes, which is thrilling because it's ... I've said "thrilling" a lot. My life sounds much more impressive than it is; it's mostly about trying to cook properly. 

But I'm excited about "Criminal Minds." We all are. We all can't wait to get back and do it because we feel people like it, and we all feel like, "Oh, we're really good at this. Let's do some more." That's really nice.

Deciding to join the cast of an indie horror

You're also recently in "Hypochondriac." What made you want to be part of that project?

That was right in the middle of the pandemic, and it was a script written by Addison Heimann. This director wrote a screenplay about a nervous breakdown that he had that was rooted in childhood trauma and culminated in his having body pain that he couldn't get diagnosed. He wrote this script to work through his emotional state after having felt so let down by the American medical system not being able to diagnose what was going on with him, and not treating him with respect because it looked like mental illness. Then he showed it to a friend, and the friend was like, "This should be a movie. This should be made." He sent it out and they got financing, and he was like, "Oh my God, I'm making a movie."


The producer — I had done a movie with him. He sent me [the script], and he said, "You have to read this script and come play a doctor. Please read this." I thought, "Oh, I don't want to leave this house. I'm too scared of COVID. This better be bad. They're not going to pay anything. It's a little indie film. Oh, no." And I read it, and it was great. Zach Villa, who I knew from "American Horror Story," is a phenomenal actor. He was the lead in it. I was like, "I got to do it."

I did it and [we had] the whole testing and face shields and masks, and it was hard. Shooting within COVID parameters is difficult and time-consuming, and you can't hang out with each other the way we all got used to doing pre-COVID. That movie actually premieres July 29 and then [is] going to be on Video On Demand a week later. It's called "Hypochondriac" — again, starring Zach Villa. That's coming up too. The season finale of "Birdgirl" airs on Adult Swim Sunday, July 17 ... at 11:30 at night, and then the next day, it will be on HBO Max, and HBO Max has all of Season 1 and all of Season 2.


How Hypochondriac illustrates trauma

With "Hypochondriac," what were your thoughts on the way it illustrates trauma through the movie?

It's wild. It's beautiful, and it was beautifully shot, and Zach [Villa] is so good, and [there's] Madeline Zima and Adam Busch, and Debra Wilson is the doctor towards the end. It was such an interesting film and so positive about an out gay man in his relationship and coming to terms with what his mental illness is and how to live with it. You see the whole backstory about what happened to him as a kid and that his mother had a mental illness ... It's upsetting but fascinating. 


Watching it as an audience member, [I] felt like I was on this journey with him through trying to figure out what's going on and then starting to lose it and starting to break with reality. I'd never seen anything before that made me feel like, "I understand this fear and desperation and not being understood and his desire to live with what he has to live with." I don't want to give too much away because it's so beautiful, and the last shot of the movie makes me want to cry.

I loved it. I love that movie, and I hope people get to see it, and if you can't go to a theater ... It's going to be in theaters on [July] 29. If you can't, it's going to be somewhere on Video On Demand ... one week later, you'll be able to get it if you want to stay home and watch.


Her thoughts on playing varied roles

You're going back to "Criminal Minds," you're also in a comedy for "Birdgirl," and you've been in this horror-thriller, ["Hypochondriac"]. It's all very different, across all genres ...

It really is!

Do you like doing that, where all your roles are very different from one another, or has that just been how it worked out?


That's such a good question because it also makes me feel really good, like, "Wow, look at me. I'm all over the place." Having been on "Criminal Minds" for ten years, I was able to save money, and that means I can take the jobs that I want, and that is always: What is written well? What is interesting? Who is in it, or who's involved that I like? It ends up being that they're all coming from different places, like an LGBTQ psychological horror film, "Birdgirl," "American Dad," "Criminal Minds." They're very disparate, but it's just, what is good? What do I want to do? What is exciting? I'm very fortunate to be in that position.

I'm old. I'm 53. That's why you hang in there; you get more choices. But saving money is very important if you can. It's a tough world right now, and I'm lucky that I was able to save money so that I don't have to do jobs I don't want to do. I don't have to read a script and go, "Oh, this is the worst. It's offensive, this director's mean, but I have to do it," because I did that. I did plenty of that. 


In my twenties and thirties, I did plenty of stuff that was terrible, and I was terrible because I had to learn how to do it. I didn't know how to do it. Now, that is the reward of getting older and saving money and showing up early and knowing your lines — hopefully, you get to choose things that are different and therefore exciting. It's never boring. It's never dull, but you are also living by the seat of your pants. You can go a long time without a job. It's tricky. It's a tricky profession, and I've been very fortunate.

"Birdgirl" Seasons 1 and 2 are available on HBO Max. "Hypochondriac" will be in theaters July 29, 2022, and on Demand and Digital on August 4, 2022.

This interview was edited for clarity.