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The Untapped and Overqualified Anna Faris

The actress’s new memoir and her podcast are a revealing look at the beginning and end of her storybook marriage to Chris Pratt, how Hollywood boxes in aging women, and where to go after 40

Brian Taylor illustration

I will admit that the initial reason I picked up Anna Faris’s new book, Unqualified, was a little dubious, though probably not rare: I wanted to see what she had to say about Chris Pratt. This August, the affable, generally well-liked celebrity couple—both known, in Pratt’s words, for portraying “intelligently played idiots”—announced that they were splitting up after eight years of marriage. Faris had at that point already written a book based on her popular relationship-advice podcast Anna Faris Is Unqualified. After they announced their split, there was something morbidly intriguing about the fact that the book’s publication seemed to be going ahead as scheduled, especially since neither had spoken directly about their breakup in the months since first sharing the news on social media. Unqualified arrived in stores Tuesday, with a big, red cover line that now feels tragically self-defeating for a relationship-advice book: “FOREWORD BY CHRIS PRATT.” Imagine if, on the eve of Bossypants’ release, Tina Fey had been demoted.

Indeed, the first words of Faris’s relationship-advice book come from her ex-husband. “When I was asked to write the [foreword] for Unqualified, Anna’s memoir,” Pratt begins, “I immediately said yes without even thinking about it. And boy did a lot happen between then and now. So much. Like … soooo much.”

But that opening-page wink is misleading. Other than a few sentences about their relationship that seem to have been edited into past tense (Pratt calls her the “person I spent one amazing decade with, and will, for the rest of my life, amicably coparent a human,” referring to their 5-year-old son, Jack) their divorce goes completely unspoken, the elephant in the corner of the couples counseling room. This probably makes the book sound like a disaster—or at the very least foundationally dishonest. I’m pleasantly surprised to report that it’s not. Aside from its lack of salacious details about their split, Unqualified is observant, sharp, and startlingly revealing, not only about Faris’s romantic history, but of the broader discrepancies between modern male and female Hollywood stardom writ large.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read the classic, much-discussed 2011 New Yorker profile of Faris, in which the writer Tad Friend depicted her as a frank, particularly articulate avatar of the unfortunate obstacles women face in Hollywood. (“Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy than experience a woman’s point of view,” Friend wrote, “particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.”) The piece caught Faris at an odd moment in her career, as she prepped the sexually forthright and ultimately doomed romantic comedy What’s Your Number?, in which she costarred with a pre–Captain America Chris Evans. The profile ran shortly before the release of Bridesmaids—the movie that seemed, perhaps more at the time than in retrospect, like a paradigm shift for funny women in Hollywood—and Faris spoke more honestly and intelligently about film industry misogyny than most famous actresses at that time. (“I hated being on that movie so much I was glad when it bombed,” she said, of the cartoonishly sexist My Super Ex-Girlfriend.) The profile was both a bummer and a breath of fresh air.

Anna Faris and Chris Pratt at the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ premiere Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

What’s changed since then? Perhaps not as much for the state of women in Hollywood as for the state of Chris Pratt. When the profile ran, Faris was considerably more famous than her husband. (Friend made note of this: “When Pratt tidies the house, he often finds discarded scripts with cover notes offering his wife a million dollars—which to Pratt, a regular on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, seems like a lot of money.”) After toning up his every-dude physique for a serious role in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, Pratt, now 38, has suddenly catapulted into leading man roles in tentpole blockbusters like Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy. He is, to put it mildly, likely now much less impressed by the idea of a million dollars, but some people also believe that, in becoming a more conventional movie star, he’s abandoned the schlubby charm that made him quintessentially Chris Pratt. Earlier this year, in a sharp critique titled “Chris Pratt Is Not a Movie Star,” The Ringer’s K. Austin Collins wrote that, in more high-budget fare, “Pratt has sometimes been reduced to a cipher: a living, breathing placeholder around which you can build a CGI universe full of dinosaurs, or whichever IP is the flavor of the season.”

The reason so many people are so desperate to read the tea leaves of Pratt and Faris’s separation is that it seems to tell a familiar, eternally juicy Hollywood tale: Two actors break up when one becomes considerably more famous than the other. It feels unfairly simplistic to suggest that in the past few years, Pratt and Faris’s fortunes have reversed, especially since those are the few years since Faris gave birth to her son. But in broad strokes at least, it’s true: Faris now has the steady gig on a network sitcom, starring alongside Allison Janney on CBS’s Mom, and Pratt is busy making one on-location blockbuster after another. Part of the intrigue about their split comes from a lingering sense of gendered Hollywood injustice: Something about Pratt’s rise to superstardom feels easy, stumbled-into, and by default, while the party line on Faris is often that she, as a funny and talented actress, deserved more opportunities than provided in a system rigged against women.

Perhaps the most revealing chapter in Unqualified is one that was clearly written before the breakup, a dialogue between Faris and Pratt titled “She Said, He Said: What It’s Like to Be a Couple in Hollywood.” Pratt recalls that when they met, in 2007, “I was early on in my career at that point, and mine began totally differently than yours did. You crushed it right away and hit it big right out of the gate. I didn’t have that. And there were definitely moments when I felt like Jason Segel’s character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, like the boyfriend who held the purse on the sidelines and people didn’t really see me. Not that you ever made me feel like that, it was the people you introduced me to.”

He adds, with a shrug, “But that’s the nature of Hollywood, to be honest.”

In her book, Faris describes herself as a shy, awkward, and exceptionally short child who was occasionally bullied by the richer and more popular “mean girls” in her suburb outside of Seattle because she liked to do weird things like “play boat,” a game in which she sat on her bed in an inflatable raft and pretended she was traversing whitewater rapids. (In a poignantly funny early chapter, she attempts to get over her third-grade crush by writing his name on an orange and chucking the fruit into a nearby forest. Cathartic!) Young Anna was imaginative but self-serious; her early acting gigs were in Seattle-adjacent theater productions, and she once gave a local radio interview holding forth on “the industry” and her “passion” for acting, embarrassing her parents because they thought she sounded terribly pretentious for a sixth-grader. Although it’s somewhat surprising, given her innate comic talent and exceptional timing, she was not trained in stand-up or improv and had no intention of being a comedian. She was not even sure until her early twenties that she wanted to pursue acting professionally; she studied English at the University of Washington and, until she graduated in 1999, did little more than local commercials. Her first big movie role came as a fluke, and it surprised even the people who knew her best. When she was cast as the wide-eyed Cindy Campbell in 2000’s surprise smash Scary Movie, she recalls breaking the news over the phone to her best friend, who responded not with joy but concern. “But Anna,” she said, “you’re not funny.”

She is though, wildly so—and it’s all the more remarkable that Anna Faris discovered this at the same moment as the rest of the world. Faris has a knack for embodying stereotypically degraded feminine roles—a hapless Playboy bunny, a vapid pop star, an airheaded stoner—with a warm fullness of character and an anarchic energy. This was not quite yet on display in the Scary Movie franchise (she appeared in installments 1 through 4), and director Keenen Ivory Wayans later admitted to her that the reason he hired her was, “Because you had no idea what you were doing.” Scary Movie afforded her visibility; proving her chops was another matter. As she appeared in early-aughts fare like The Hot Chick, her mother often softened her praise with a bittersweet refrain: “You are so untapped, Anna.”

Anna Faris standing next to a poster for ‘The House Bunny’ Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Faris stretched her range as a scene-stealer. She was brilliant in a mostly improvised bit part in 2003’s Lost in Translation, satirizing a ditzy actress; an impressed Bill Murray kept asking director Sofia Coppola, “Why don’t I have more scenes with her?” She turned down the lead in the romantic comedy Just Friends to play a more comedically meaty role as a ridiculous, Britney-esque pop star. (“There’s a lot of liberation in playing supporting characters and not the lead,” she writes in Unqualified.) When she was finally ready to helm a film on her own, though, she wanted to make sure she had some degree of creative control. She brought the idea of The House Bunny to Legally Blonde writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith (a close friend who now appears regularly on Faris’s podcast), and they pitched it 19 times before it was picked up by Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison Productions. When it was released, it earned $70 million worldwide—an especially respectable sum for an ensemble comedy about women released in 2008.

In The House Bunny, Faris played Shelley, a perky former pin-up who, after she is kicked out of the Playboy Mansion, becomes a sorority house mother. After reading Unqualified, though, the real-life college-age Faris seemed much closer to the dark, rebellious, academic-minded feminist played in the film by Kat Dennings, who constantly frames her forays into sorority life as “research” for her gender studies classes. (In a somewhat self-lacerating chapter called “Proud and Angry,” Faris says that in college she would sometimes perform “field studies” at fraternity parties, pretending to be an underage girl and seeing if men would still try to flirt with her. “I just used it as proof that guys were as scummy as I thought they were,” she writes.) As a woman in Hollywood who’d just turned 30, though, it’s hard not to read some autobiography into Faris’s idea for The House Bunny. In one of the opening scenes, Shelley is cast out of the Playboy Mansion because she’s just turned the decrepit, old age of 27. Explains a male employee of the mansion, “That’s 59 in bunny years.”

A year before The House Bunny, Faris met Chris Pratt on the set of the ’80s rom-com spoof Take Me Home Tonight. She was 30 and had been married for two and a half years to an actor named Ben Indra, although she admits in Unqualified that their relationship was by then falling apart. Pratt was a 27-year-old character actor best known for his role on the CW teen drama Everwood and a stint on the fourth season of The O.C. They clicked instantly, though first as friends. “He was hooking up with some of the cute background actresses,” Faris writes, “and I eventually started acting as his wingwoman.” Faris, though, found herself jealous of these other actresses, and her acknowledgment of her feelings for Pratt led her to accelerate the process of leaving Indra. “We hadn’t been happy for a while,” she writes of her first husband, “but the reality is that if I hadn’t met Chris, my first marriage probably would have lasted until I found a different someone else.”

Reading Unqualified often feels like eavesdropping on a therapy session; Faris does not soften some uncomfortable truths about herself. And so she adds, of her early days with Pratt, “Sure, I get to proclaim I didn’t fuck Chris before I left Ben, but what is there to celebrate in that? It didn’t make me a hero. After all, I wanted to. Desperately. I had feelings for him, obviously, even if I wasn’t honest with myself about what those were. So while I didn’t cheat, I’m not completely innocent, either.”

Still, she and Pratt became serious quickly. They married in 2009, the same year he landed the role of the lovable schlub Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. In the “She Said, He Said” chapter, she tells Pratt of their early years, “You weren’t a household name yet, but I knew it was coming … That’s how I felt when I first met you. Like I was in on something.”

The House Bunny was successful, and it proved that Faris could not only star in a studio film but, as a coproducer, carry an idea to fruition. Still, rather than continuing to ride that trajectory to the A-list, the next few years of Faris’s career were filled with ambitious flops (What’s Your Number?, which she once again coproduced), questionable casting choices (starring opposite Seth Rogen in Observe and Report, which included a disturbingly jokey date rape scene Faris said she later regretted), and, for good measure, a few kids movies (Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) that did not exactly boost her persona as a mature comedic heroine.

Around the same time Faris’s career hit a rough patch, Pratt began his transition, as Entertainment Weekly put it in his first cover-story headline, “from Zero to Hero.” After supporting roles in Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, Pratt got leading dude-toned for his star turn in Guardians of the Galaxy—a smash hit that became 2014’s highest-grossing movie. That year he also voiced the lead in the massively successful The Lego Movie, meaning that he starred in two of the year’s highest-grossing films.

Pratt had an undeniably meteoric 2014, which was the year he turned 35—magazine covers touted his rapid “rise,” as if he were an overnight It Boy. Thirty-five was also a pivotal age for Faris: It’s when she became pregnant with her first child. She was chagrined to learn that being 35 meant that her pregnancy qualified as a “geriatric pregnancy,” a term that she says made her envision “a ninety-year-old grandmother with a watermelon under her girdle.” Jack Pratt was born two months premature, and the most harrowing parts of Unqualified are about his difficult birth and the month the couple spent visiting him in the NICU before they could take him home. (Now 5, Jack is healthy and wears maybe the most adorable glasses in all of Hollywood.)

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the career that I used to, and I do have moments of insecurity about that,” Faris admits to Pratt in that She Said, He Said chapter. “I’m so thrilled and grateful that you are doing the things you are … but it can be hard not to have a moment of self-doubt when my husband is acting with young women in big movies and I’m playing a role in Mom that, while I love it, is incredibly unsexy.”

Anna Faris and Allison Janney Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Last year, Pratt experienced his first big-budget flop, the clunky space-flick punchline Passengers, in which his love interest was played by then-26-year-old Jennifer Lawrence. Stoked by little more than pictures of them looking like they were having a good time on the red carpet, rumors flew that Pratt and Lawrence were having an affair. Faris directly dispels them in Unqualified, but she says that, before Pratt and Lawrence even met, her publicist pulled her aside and gave her some tough advice: “Anna, listen, there are going to be paparazzi all over them. There are going to be shots of them laughing together on their way to set. There are going to be stories circulating, and you have to brace yourself for this.” This publicist was correct.

One of the most brutally honest chapters in Faris’s book is titled “Forty,” the age she turned last November. “There is no question that women are strapped to a timeline,” she writes, “and one that is largely dictated by outside forces. The silver lining, if you really look for it, is that ‘the timeline’ can make you even more career-driven and focused, cultivating an eye-on-the-prize mentality that was a benefit to me.” Knowing this, it’s easy to see why someone as ambitious as Anna Faris got famous before Chris Pratt: She was smart enough to know the depressing fact that there is a pressure on women in Hollywood to hustle and get work while they’re young, before all the good roles start to disappear. Pratt, like many actors with his roguish charm, can conduct a career at the pace of someone reluctantly rolling out of bed. He can be a rising star in his late 30s, though it’s harder to imagine many of his female costars enjoying the same luxury of time. Sometimes for better, but largely for worse, a woman always knows what time it is.

“Because today,” Faris writes, from a place of experience, “it’s still completely usual to have a fifteen-year [age] difference [in a movie] and nobody bats an eye. As long as the man is the older one, that is.” A cruel irony hovers over Unqualified: If for some reason it were ever optioned as a film loosely based on its author’s life, they’d probably find someone at least a decade younger to play her. Her ex-husband, presumably, would be allowed to play himself.

On the latest episode of Anna Faris Is Unqualified, Faris discussed the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the conversation that they’ve prompted about sexual misconduct in Hollywood. She took an emotional call from a listener in London who had experienced similar problems in her life, and then Faris told a story about being sexually harassed by a director on one of her films. While she was standing on a ladder, the director slapped her ass in front of the entire crew. “All I could do was giggle,” Faris said. “I remember looking around and I remember seeing the crew members being like, ‘Wait, what are you going to do about that? That seemed weird.’ And that’s how I dismissed it. I was like, ‘Well, this isn’t a thing. Like, it’s not that big of a deal. Buck up, Faris. Like, just giggle.’ But it made me feel small. He wouldn’t have done that to the lead male.”

Anna Faris Is Unqualified often feels like a cross between Savage Love and a UCB improv show. Faris and her celebrity guests play games like “Dealbreakers” and take calls from listeners looking for advice about relationships and sex, and they provide often disarmingly earnest answers. Even when she’s not asking questions, the format allows her guests to reveal incredibly intimate things about themselves: A notorious episode from last year made it quite obvious to anyone listening that Chris Evans and Jenny Slate were dating. Faris’s presence is goofy—as anyone familiar with her voice work knows, she’s got a great, expressive podcast voice—but also deeply committed to the task at hand, and, as with her book, she doesn’t use humor to divert from going too deep emotionally. Across her recent projects, Faris consistently strikes you as a real, flawed, and ultimately likable human being.

The career she’s carved out does not currently seem as splashy or high-profile as Pratt’s, but it seems more personally tailored to her, and in a place as competitive as Hollywood, that’s a too-often overlooked definition of success. She will return to movies next year, when she stars in a remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn vehicle Overboard, and she’s expressed interest in continuing to produce. She wants to give Broadway a try, too. Through the past few weeks, though, the fallout from the Weinstein scandal has at least planted a small hope that irrevocable change may be coming in the movie industry, and it is perhaps only a little naive to think the industry is becoming a more welcoming place for a woman as savvy, hilarious, and bullshit-averse as Anna Faris.

Toward the end of Unqualified, Faris looks back on the past decade as a time of asserting more creative control over her career. When she looks ahead, she’s defiantly hopeful—Hollywood’s timeline be damned.

“But more interesting than my 40s, I think, is thinking about when I’m 60 and imagining what that looks like,” she writes. “I’ll channel Annette Bening, who is the most stunning almost-60-year-old in existence. My strategy will be to fake it till I make it and just be brimming with sexual confidence.”

She adds, with earned optimism, “I’ve got 20 years to get there.”