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‘Playing House’ Star Jessica St Clair on Returning to a Hospital Bed to Shoot Cancer Scene

”It was like PTSD — you’re reliving these moments,“ real-life cancer survivor tells TheWrap

If you experienced a range of emotions during Season 3 of USA’s “Playing House,” you’re not alone.

Creators and stars Jessica St. Clair (Emma Crawford) and Lennon Parham (Maggie Caruso) spoke to TheWrap about the recently concluded season of their comedy, which aired its finale on TV earlier this month after the entire run was made available for streaming in June.

This season featured Emma’s cancer diagnosis in a storyline that mirrored St. Clair’s real-life battle with the disease. And as might be expected, filming the hospital scenes brought back tough memories for the actress, who first discussed the illness in May on social media.

“When they put me in that hospital bed and put a fake IV on me, my legs went numb,” St Clair said. “My body thought I was back there — it’s so f—ing weird.” She added with a laugh, “I was like, ‘Why the f— are we doing this now?'”

St. Clair and Parham, longtime pals who previously starred together on NBC’s “Best Friends Forever,” also discussed how they found the humor in cancer, why St. Clair was worried that going public with her battle was a “mistake” and whether there will be a Season 4.

TheWrap: How does it feel now that everyone has gotten to watch Season 3?
Jessica St. Clair: It feels so good. We were obviously in our own little bubble for a very long time, first living it, then writing it, then performing it. In normal seasons, we would be like, “Oh, I hope the ratings are good.” This time, we just were so excited to share it with our real fans, the people who have been with us for years and years. The people who are our fans feel like our friends, and that sounds kind of crazy, but they have been so loving and supportive of us, just from Seasons 1 and 2. It was wonderful to show them not only what we’ve been through, but also that we were OK at the end of it all.

Lennon Parham: It’s been a different experience, too, because the show was immediately binge-able, so some of our fans watched it immediately, and they knew the whole trajectory. And also because Jess’ story was out there ahead of time, people kind of knew what they were in for. Some other fans have only been watching it as it airs live, so it lasts longer, which is really sweet.

JSC: When we made the decision to write about something so personal, it was a very, very difficult decision to make. If it had been met with any kind of cynical criticism or negative energy, we would have been crushed. So I’m just so glad it didn’t go that way.

Was it a tough decision to feature the cancer storyline this year, and was it difficult to maintain the right tone, considering the show is a comedy?
JSJ: When we started the writers’ room, I was in the midst of radiation treatment — this was the main event for us for the last year. We had been so widely changed by this experience. Our friendship had deepened to a point where no two people could be closer, so it felt like, when we’re writing a TV show about our friendship, how could we not include this thing that we went through that literally has brought us closer than we’ve ever been?

At the same time, there was so much of this that was not funny, like me almost dying. I came in feeling like we had no choice, and we had to write about it. Lennon, as she normally is, is the sane one, who’s just like, “Should we write about it? Is it going to be emotionally traumatic for us, and is there a way to make it funny?” And then we had a third person, [showrunner] Anthony King, and he was very convinced we should do it, and was like, “Not only should we do it, it doesn’t have to be the whole season because life is not just about cancer. You have your life leading up to the diagnosis, then you deal with, and then you have life after it.” That to me felt like, “Oh, OK, this is a season I can get behind. It’s not just going to be eight episodes of sad cancer talk.”

I imagine that things were emotional during the writers’ room and on set
JSC: It’s very difficult, weirdly enough, as a comedian to make yourself vulnerable about your real life. Because when you are a comedian, you have a persona. There’s a bit of a distance — you’re always in control of what you’re putting out there. This was asking us to lay bare who we are to people, and there’s a lot of insecurity. Once I even announced that I had had cancer, I was really freaking out that day. I remember saying to Lennon, “This was a mistake. People are not going to be able to laugh anymore with me because they are going to feel badly that I went through this thing.” And very quickly, when I started to get the tweets from people, then it felt like, “Oh, wait a second — we were vulnerable about ourselves. It actually makes it so we can be connected to other people.” That’s been such a life-changing thing for me.

How was it to film the hospital episode?
JSC: It was like PTSD — you’re reliving these moments, but you know on the other side that you’re OK, so it’s weirdly cathartic. It was real intense. We were happy to get to those drag queens [in the finale].

Have you gotten any word on whether there will be a Season 4? And do you have more stories to tell with these characters?
LP: Make no mistake: We would tell these characters’ stories for the rest of our lives if someone would allow us to. With the introduction of Bruce’s [Brad Morris] girlfriend, Cookie, played by Lauren Weedman, we have so many ideas off of that. Maggie’s got some new stuff with a new love interest. Obviously this is the beginning of everything for Emma and Mark (Keegan-Michael Key). We always come in with hundreds of ideas — I think this season, we have even more stuff.

We haven’t heard yet if there will be more, but we’ve got to keep it positive. And the fans are already asking for more, so that’s really good, and hopefully we hear sooner rather than later. The way the show has been released, [USA is] going to give it a little time and see how people are watching it.

JSC: And in the meantime, we’ll be living our “f— yes” life.