Spitfire Jaime Pressly Chooses Her Own Path
Like all moms, Jaime Pressly, 31, can eat lunch, talk animatedly to several people at once, and yet out of the corner of her eye still track her energetic, wide-eyed, 23-month-old son, Dezi James. “Watch out,” she says to him with a smile, knowing exactly when to shoot out a guiding hand as Dezi turns a low concrete curb into a little boy’s version of a tightrope. It’s a maternal gesture that one could never imagine coming from Joy Turner, the trash-talking trailer-park queen Jaime brings to life on NBC’s sitcom My Name Is Earl. But Jaime, who hails from small-town Kinston, NC, understood the ex-Mrs. Earl Hickey from the moment she first read the script, in 2005. “We’re both strong, and there’s something that all Southern women have in common — the survivor instinct,” she says.
In 2007, Jaime won an Emmy for her squinty-eyed, hellzapoppin’ performance as Joy, which has expanded Hollywood’s perceptions of the blonde bombshell, who got her start as a model. To wit: She’s now landing buzzworthy roles like Denise, the smart, bossy best friend of Zooey (Rashida Jones) in the bro-mantic comedy I Love You, Man. The film, which also stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, follows in the quirky tradition of laugh-out-loud blockbusters like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
In March, Jaime published a memoir. It’s Not Necessarily Not the Truth: Dreaming Bigger Than the Town You’re From
chronicles her ups and downs on the path from Kinston to Earl. It also reveals the astonishing amount of life she’s packed into just more than three decades, including her legal emancipation from her parents at age 15. She describes the book as “not an autobiography. It’s stories from my life, about how I got to where I am, coming from such a small place.” What’s not in the book? Last November, she and Dezi’s dad, DJ Eric Cubiche, parted ways amicably after several years together. “We both still love each other, and the most important thing is our son,” Jaime says. “We want to make sure he’s happy and taken care of.”
The photo shoot’s now over, Dezi’s been sent home with the nanny, and Jaime’s slipped into comfy gray velour warm-ups and a T-shirt that says, “Pink Is Gangsta.” “There’s really no rhyme or reason in our generation as to how things are supposed to work,” she says. “I don’t believe in the words supposed to. I believe in everybody having their own path and their own learning experience. To each his own.” Here’s hers:
You’ve always had a foul-mouthed, take-no-prisoners, just-one-of-the-boys persona on the set of Earl. Is that different now that you’re a mother?
Are you kidding, lady? I’m so one of the boys on the show! Lord, yes. Why stop the fun? I had a child; I didn’t die. [Costars] Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee are like my brothers. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten through my pregnancy. They’re both fathers, and they were very understanding. When I got pregnant, they already knew I was a spitfire, so they were all a little afraid. I had my emotional moments. But no crazy yelling or anything like that. Honestly, when you’re surrounded by people who are supportive, you don’t feel like you need to explain yourself, therefore you don’t act out.
These days, you’re so well known as Joy. Was it nice to take on a different persona in Denise, your character in I Love You, Man?
I read the script and immediately took to Denise: She’s comic relief. I’m not crazy about playing the straight man. I like being funny. I like playing characters. I don’t really want to play myself. And Denise, yes, she’s strong-minded, but she’s also very preppy, extremely intelligent. That’s different than how you’re used to seeing me.
At the shoot today, your son seemed like quite the talker. What are his favorite utterances?
[Jaime imitates Dezi by smacking her forehead] “Oh, maaaannnn.” He got that from Dora the Explorer. Mommy was his first word — which I loved. He got Dada soon after. For a while he spoke more Spanish than English because Eric is Cuban. There’s lots of “aqui, aqui” and “comida, Mami,” when he wants to eat. He can count to 10 in English. In Spanish, though, he really likes the word cinco. He’ll say, “Uno, dos, tres, quatro,” then “cinco, cinco, cinco.” He’s a really smart kid, really animated, lots of personality.
Last November, you and Eric split up. How does the parenting arrangement work now?
I have full custody, but when he’s in town, Eric comes and sees Dezi every day. Dezi’s too young right now to go overnight. But Eric’s very much a part of his life; he’s a great father. We make sure that no matter what happens, Dezi is okay and protected and knows that Mom and Daddy love him. We’ve never argued in front of him. We don’t raise our voices around him.
Your own parents separated when you were a teenager. Did that give you insight into how to make Eric’s moving out less traumatic for your son?
It absolutely did. It’s like the old thing: The parents stay together for the kids, but the kids know that you don’t want to be together. The kids would rather you be happy — and separate — than together and miserable. I don’t want my kid to grow up around two parents who just don’t work. Eric and I take him to the park, we take him to eat. We do things together so he’s with us as a family, so he knows Mommy and Daddy still love each other, that it just didn’t work out. Also, I didn’t want to wait until he was older and it affected him more. I was 14, in hormone hell, and in my first year of high school — and I knew my parents were going to separate before they did. They weren’t happy. But even if you know what needs to happen, you still don’t want to go through it.
You’ve said your dad describes you as a “prissy tomboy.” Does that help you as the single mom of a son?
You say “single mom” like he doesn’t have a dad. Eric is involved — if I need him to take care of Dezi, he’s there at the drop of a dime. It’s still not easy, of course, because you want to be able to raise your kid with the family together. But I do think being a prissy tomboy helps me in raising a son in general. I wrestle with him, play ball, play in the sandbox with him. As a mom, you get bruises, scrapes on your knee. He bit me the other day. Not a mean bite. More like, “Oh, I love you so much!” Chomp! He’ll play sports, and his dad and I will both be involved in that. But I’ll also teach him how to open a door for a lady, how to cook. I want him to know give and take.
You’re originally from North Carolina. Will Dezi have Southern manners?
I come from a place where men are gentlemen. My father still says, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” My son will say ma’am and sir.
Do your tomboy skills also mean you’re a Ms. Fix-It?
I’m so used to being with somebody who can’t fix anything or doesn’t want to even if he could. Years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I were on my dad’s boat back home in North Carolina. The boat got flooded. Dad goes, “You got it, Chicken?” I said, “Yes, sir. I’ll fix it.” It was an inboard/outboard motor. So the boyfriend says, “No, I’ll get it.” I didn’t want to embarrass him so I said, “Okay.” He had no clue what to do. It was terrible. Finally, I was like, “Step aside.” I pulled the plug out, separated the tube from the engine, blew into the tube, put it back in and said, “Try it, Dad.” He went, “Works like a charm, Chicken. You still got it.” I was like, Sorry to emasculate the living hell out of you. But are you kidding me? Don’t step up to the plate and say you can fix it if you can’t.
What inspired you to write a memoir?
I wrote it with my little boy in mind. I was kind of stepping into a new phase of my life, turning 30, having my first child, and then I won the Emmy. I just have good stories to tell about the people who shaped me and who I am.
An illegitimate half brother, a gay uncle, a wild adolescence, bulimia, modeling in Japan at 15…all aspects of your life. What parts were easy to remember? What parts were painful to dredge up?
I’m blessed with a great memory. To be honest, a lot of times, being on my own at such a young age, my memories were all I had. I didn’t have many pictures. But I didn’t know how difficult it would be. Reliving it is not comfortable, no. But when you do, it’s very therapeutic. I’m in such a good place now. My amazing little boy is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I know what it is to be unconditionally loved. I have somebody who is always excited to see me when I get home, who can’t wait to give me a hug and a kiss, who doesn’t judge me and loves me no matter what I look like. I’m never alone. Now I think before I speak. I think before I dress. I want to do and be the way any son would want his mother to do and be. I want to give him somebody to be proud of.
What do you remember about the day Dezi was born?
My water broke on a Wednesday, but I didn’t have him until Friday. I was listening to Motown the whole time and had a wonderful delivery — 51 minutes. It was like me and my son were getting ready to meet. I had this relationship with him before he came: Every night I played music on the earphones, and I’d go on walks and talk to him. I was so excited and ready for him.
What’s something that’s surprised you about motherhood?
The amount of guilt. I was so ready for him and just couldn’t wait to be a mother. [She pauses] I could have waited for the guilt I feel. I never said I wanted to be an at-home mom, and I don’t think I could be with my child 24 hours a day, but I don’t enjoy the guilt I feel when I leave him to go to work.
When Dezi was born, you and Eric were still living together. How did you adjust to things being just you and Dezi?
Here’s the thing: I had time to get used to it. When I was pregnant, Eric’s job changed. Before, he was DJ Eric Cubiche on 100.3 The Beat. Then the radio station changed formats, and he left. He became a traveling DJ. So he was gone a lot. That’s how part of the…separation started. We’d been best friends for so long, and now it was kind of like we were leading two separate lives. So not a whole lot changed: At night, even if he was in town, he’d be deejaying. The baby goes to bed at 7:30, and so would I, you know?
How does it feel now that you and Eric really are leading separate lives?
It’s hard because when you’re with somebody for a long time or have a child with someone, you start to expect them to be this person you had in mind. Then if they don’t fill the expectation, resentment starts to come up. It doesn’t mean that one person’s bad and one person is good. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. And you can’t make somebody someone they’re not. You gotta roll with the punches and do what’s going to make you happy, your baby happy, and your significant other happy. We’re always going to be in each other’s lives.
Have you started dating yet?
Do you know what you want out of your next relationship?
I want what I haven’t had. I think we all do. Relationships teach you what you do and don’t want, what you can and can’t put up with, what you do and don’t deserve. I’d like to be with somebody who isn’t afraid to take care of me — whether they have the same financial means as me or not. What’s important is that they realize there are other ways of taking care of me that have [nothing] to do with money. Like cooking me dinner or going to the grocery store or picking up after yourself. You start putting pieces together as you get older. Back in the day, people got married early, then 30 years later, they were like, “Uh, I don’t think I wanted to get married when I was 17. I didn’t know who I was then. Now I do — and I want something different.” In our generation, you don’t have to get married right away. We get our careers situated first. Or some of us have children first.
Are most of your girlfriends also mothers?
The girlfriends I’ve had since high school, they’re almost all moms. I was the last of the Mohicans.
Are they the ones you go to for parenting advice?
Absolutely. We all do that with each other. And it’s nice to have girls’ night every so often, where you can vent about how you were driving in traffic and your child threw up all over the back seat and there was no way of pulling over and there was screaming and crying…. It’s nice to be able to vent to the people who understand and relate to you.
In your book, you changed all the names, but there are stories about friends, ex-boyfriends — including one who was a gang member. Will Kinston ban you or give you a key to the city?
I don’t think either one will happen, really. I’ve always done and said what I wanted. Some people approve, some don’t. But I learned a long time ago that I can’t live my life for everybody else. We learn and we grow from our mistakes, and we get older and more mature. I’m a mother now, for God’s sake. I’ve been on a show for four years. This isn’t me eight years ago. And eight years from now, I won’t be like I am now. I would like to think that the rest of my life I’ll continue to learn and grow.