Marriage Struggles, Assault and a Heartbreaking Decision: Inside Busy Philipps' Slightly Painful Journey to Lasting Fame

Everyone's favorite best friend, the host of E!'s Busy Tonight has always been an open book. But never has she been quite as real as she is right now.

By Sarah Grossbart Oct 16, 2018 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Busy Philipps Tells What to Expect on New E! Series "Busy Tonight"

Busy Philipps was an open book long before she, well, you know, wrote a book. 

As one of Instagram Stories' earliest adopters, she took to the platform, presenting an unabashed, relatively unfiltered peek into her life. Staring straight into camera (having already taken into account her best angles) she speaks straight to her 1.3 million followers to let them know, you guys, that "the best thing to do while grocery shopping is to put headphones in and pretend you're in a music video playing a depressed housewife shopping," or sharing that, really, like anyone else she could use a solid scream-cry. Or some wine. Possibly some gummy bears. 

"I was an out-of-work actress and being out of work coincided with the start of Instagram Stories," she shared on Good Morning America last week. "And I've always loved, like, reality shows and confessionals. And so I sort of at the end of the night was like, 'Well, why don't I just make this my own reality show?' And I didn't care if anyone watched it. And then people started watching it and it became really fun." 

Busy Philipps' Best Looks

For those catching Philipps' daily download of her sinus congestion woes and beloved LEKfit trampoline-based workouts it can be easy to feel like you know her, that maybe if you lived on the same coast and ran in the same circles, you could truly be pals, maybe hang out together in hotel rooms and dye Michelle Williams' hair the perfect shade of millennial pink. "Everyone think she's their best friend," Williams admitted to The New Yorker last year. "She listens, she's deep and really honest, she has a wicked sense of humor, and a lack of shame about being herself." 

Even if sharing it all is just a touch painful. Long before she was known for playing the best friend on Dawson's Creek and Cougar Town and in films such as I Feel Pretty and being a best friend to half of Hollywood, a trait that has lent itself to her new role as the host of E!'s Busy Tonight, she was going through the type of stuff that you only talk about with your closest of pals.

Jeff Vespa/VF11/Getty Images

But venting it all in her newly released tell-all, This Will Only Hurt a Little was "incredible cathartic," the 39-year-old actress shared on GMA. "Somebody said to me that writing a memoir is like doing 10 years of therapy in a year, which I found to be true. So, yeah, I went deep in the book." 

So, yes, there is much more to learn than the fact that James Franco was kind of a jerk on the Freaks and Geeks set and that he once threw her to the ground. "It wasn't even outrageous," she told The Hollywood Reporter of the anecdote that's become the most-repeated from a book that's brimming with shocking revelations. "At the time, 19 and with my first professional acting job, I was under the impression that this was just the way things were. James and I have talked about it over the years. At one point he apologized to me. I was always acutely aware of my expendability, and so I felt I needed to never complain, always show up on time and not be difficult." 

After all, she'd already been through much, much worse. 


"I don't want to be one of those annoying good-looking people who's like, 'I swear I was such a nerd, guys!'" Philipps writes. But, you guys, she kind of totally was. So that's why it was such a big deal when her mom let her wear drugstore-purchased blue mascara to the seventh grade Valentine's Day dance. Combined with her Lip Smackers strawberry lip gloss and a borrowed pair of purple Guess jeans, "Well! I don't think I need to tell you that I was really feeling myself," she shared. 

Buoyed with extra confidence, she approached the edge of a mosh pit started by a group of eighth grade boys all hyped up by the repeated play of Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit." Everything happened in such a blur, she detailed, "I don't even know why I was on the ground. I just knew I couldn't get up." She panicked and sobbed as searing hot pain worked through her left leg, leaving her unable to untangle herself from the crushing mass of bodies. 

Busy Philipps' Food Tour

Having been rescued by a particular strong cheerleader, her pain turned to mortification as she realized teachers had called the paramedics to treat what turned out to be a dislocated knee. But what was worse was when she finally returned to school and was confronted by a Tracy Flick-esque boy who warned her that if her parents chose to take legal action against the school, they would never be allowed to have another dance and it would be all her fault. "I realize this exchange sounds so f--king arch—like how could some seventh grader even be that horrible?" she wrote. "But it's true." 

And yet he was far from the worst boy that she would encounter in her teens. 

That honor may just belong to Trey, a "fairly dopey-looking" stocky 17-year-old who swept her away from her high school football game when she was 14 and raped her in the back of his SUV. 

"I convinced myself not only that it wasn't a big deal, but also that it was normal and that's what sex was and Trey must be super into me. Like, he must want to be my boyfriend!" she wrote. "How insane! Clearly he loves me! And I guess I love him too? That must be what it means when you have sex with someone like that." 

For years, she shared, she rationalized the entire incident, reimagining Trey as just a bad boyfriend who never treated her particularly well. "My narrative mostly was, 'Oh yeah, when I was fourteen I lost my virginity to some random seventeen-year-old I was dating in his car,'" she recalled. "But then, at my senior prom, I was in a deep red wine-fueled conversation about losing virginities with a friend's date when he abruptly stopped me and said, 'Dude. That guy raped you.'" 

The incident has haunted her for the last 24 years, this amorphous terrible thing that happened to her that's always been hard to quantify but returns to haunt her when she least expects it. "How I feel about it changes yearly and monthly and weekly, sometimes hourly," she said. "My only hope is that my girls grow up in a culture that truly understands consent and that they're never left to question if violence means someone cares for them." 


A first love-type romance should have restored her faith in men. At 15, her feelings for Ben were "all-encompassing," she remembered. "He was all I could think about, the only person I wanted to talk to or see." And when they began to sleep together, "I started to have a creeping feeling like maybe we should use something so I didn't get pregnant, but it never occurred to me to say something to him," she said. "That would be embarrassing. Plus, I was so lucky he loved me. Little unloveable me. I didn't want to bum him out by telling him he should use a condom." 

Of course, though, he should have. Because one night at acting class, using a test her teacher had purchased at the local Walgreens, she learned she was expecting. Though she was forced to endure an uncomfortable, judgment-laced lecture from her boyfriend's mom, the kind that ends with a scared teenager believing they would be doomed to hell, Philipps' own mother swept in to take charge of the situation, making an appointment with an ob-gyn for her to undergo an abortion. "The truth is, my mother is who you want in your corner when s--t goes down," wrote Philipps. "The way she put aside any of her own feelings about what was happening and just supported me and loved me was staggering." 

The WB

Her mom was also behind her as she ventured out into Hollywood, convinced that if she could become famous it would make up for all that she had endured in the years before. Agent secured, Philipps worked hard to break into the industry, enduring some 90 auditions and callbacks in a span of several months in 1998. She landed Freaks and Geeks (and a romance with Colin Hanks, whom she met as a student at Loyola Marymount University) but after its cancellation "work was far and few between," she revealed. "I hadn't made that much money for Freaks and Geeks, and in spite of the fact that the show has been critically acclaimed, it didn't seem to be translating into anything career-wise." 

It would take years of auditioning—and countless rejections—for her to build up her portfolio with work on Dawson's Creek, ER and Cougar Town. By the time she was a household name, her personal life seemed to have sorted itself out as well, as she and husband Marc Silverstein welcomed daughter Birdie Silverstein in 2008 and her sister Cricket Silverstein five years later. But her world wasn't as Instagram perfect as it appeared. 


Beginning to feel invisible in her 11-year marriage, Philipps informed the screenwriter, 47, that she wanted a divorce in late 2016, roughly a month after she watched, heart shattering, as Hillary Clinton was defeated in the presidential election. 

"There was a disconnect," she shared of what led to her decision. "He didn't let me talk when we were out with friends. Or worse, when it was just us, he didn't speak to me at all. I'd started to do a test when we were alone in the car together, where I wouldn't say anything until he did, just to see how long it would take him to talk to me. Some days we rode the whole way in silence. All those years of feeling so alone had started to add up. I'd just assumed that was what marriage was: two people being mildly miserable next to one another." 

A crush on a fellow dad shook her from her stupor and she worked up the nerve to inform Silverstein she was leaving him: "And I told him why, though I left out the part about the other man. He was shocked. But he didn't want to get divorced. He wanted a chance to change. He said I owed our family that." 

Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps' Are Friendship Goals

Even with an agreement to truly devote themselves to therapy, working things out was a struggle, one that led, in part, to Philipps' Instagram fame. "The reason I started the stories—it was because I was lonely. Marc and I weren't talking," she wrote. "I needed to talk to someone. It's who I am. And so I started talking to all of you." 

The notoriety had a downside. "Publicly, people had never been more interested in me and my personal life," she said. "Or whatever version of my personal life I was showing. But when they'd comment about how real I was, how relatable, how authentic, I would cringe. I was leaving this whole other side of myself offscreen." 

Ultimately, she tells E! News, she didn't feel her Instagram feed was the place to get real about how truly tough marriages can be. "I talk about my crying and anxiety I don't need to talk about almost leaving my husband it's not the forum for that," she notes, "but in the contents of the book I felt like I could get to the heart of the matter better." 


And it was Silverstein, their union on the upswing thanks to a commitment to counseling and individual therapy, who encouraged her to truly tell all in her memoir. "I was really struggling with ending the book and he's like well you're not being truthful that's why you can't end the book you're not being honest about what we're going through and what we've been going through that's why you can't end it," she tells E! News. "And that was a real revelation to me and it was true, because the thing that I had been presenting online and my persona I never dealt with any of that our marital issues and deep troubles in our relationship." 

Because what she was feeling, she knew was relatable. "I went through something that I feel like many, many, many, many, many, many married people go through especially when you are in a household where both people are working and you have children and you have these lives," she says. "I felt just really alone in my marriage and like is this what life is, is this worth it for me?" 

But in the real world, with cameras off, there's no happy ending where all of life's problems are tied up in a neat and tidy bow. "That's the thing about life," she tells E! News. "It's a work in progress. I think in my teen years I felt like, 'If only I can get to L.A. and become an actress on TV, then I'll be happy.' Then I was like, 'If only I can meet someone and get married and have children.'...You have to come to terms that you're never gonna get there. It is just a process." 

And Philipps is here to share each step of the journey.