Briga Heelan on the Close-Knit Relationship Between the Women of “Great News”

Heelan in “Great News

Actress Briga Heelan has appeared in the likes of “Love,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Ground Floor,” “Happy Endings,” and “Cougar Town.” But it’s her latest project, the Tracey Wigfield-created, Tina Fey-executive produced NBC comedy series “Great News,” that she describes as truly life-changing. Heelan stars as Katie, a hardworking producer at a small cable news station whose job becomes even more hectic when her mother comes on board as an intern.

During a break from shooting, Heelan spoke to Women and Hollywood about working with the women of “Great News,” motherhood, and the state of show business in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations.

The second season of “Great News” aired its fall finale last week. It will return in early 2018.

W&H: First of all, congrats on the success of “Great News.” It’s great to see a show (mostly) produced by and about women. But I do have to start with this question: What’s it like to be a woman in Hollywood these days?

Bh: It’s a time where a feeling of unity is starting to emerge in a new way that hasn’t before, making me feel very empowered. We’re in an offensive position in a really exciting way, as opposed to being in a defensive one like before. Now I feel as though as I’m one among many, and the many are very, very strong.

W&H: What kinds of conversations are you having with your peers about what’s going on in Hollywood?

Bh: There is just so much disbelief. We come in every day and something else big and upsetting happens.

But I feel so uplifted and supported by this particular group of women. Andrea Martin and Nicole Richie are the two other women in the show’s ensemble cast. And there’s also Tracey Wigfield — she’s the creator, writer, and [recurs] on the show. I have definitely learned a lot from them as well as my other female colleagues.

Nicole and Andrea have really taught me to own myself in a new way at the age I’m at. I know that I do not have to apologize for things. I’ve also learned to find the joy in both what I’m good and bad at. I’ve also learned to show up. I feel like I show up truly as myself every day because those women let me and support me. They make it such a comfortable environment. I honestly feel like I have women I can tell almost anything to at any given time.

It’s also a great time to be doing comedy. I feel like I have a feeling of safety with those three ladies, and because of that, we can take stabs at insanely funny jokes. We also support one another in the different choices we’re making. There is really a feeling of unity amongst the four of us.

W&H: “Great News” had an episode about sexual harassment in the workplace a few weeks ago. How important is it to you that your show touches on current and relevant issues?

Bh: We went into it not purposefully making anything super specifically topical. But the fact of the matter is that we’re doing a workplace show, and sexual harassment is an element of the workplace.

I really liked how the writers flipped the two roles and Katie was the one asking the pointed questions to the men like, “What were you wearing?” and “What time was it?” These all are questions that when a woman’s asking them, it’s often a joke because of how completely insane we realize it is that these are the questions women are being asked. I loved being the character who got to highlight how absurd it is that we speak that way about sexual harassment.

W&H: You have a long list of TV credits, including roles on Netflix’s “Love,” TBS’ “Ground Floor,” and ABC Family’s “Jane by Design,” as well as “Man Up,” “Happy Endings,” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” How does your experience at “Great News” compare to other shows you’ve worked on?

Bh: I think Katie is a really different character for me. We were finding her throughout Season 1 and I think that coming back to Season 2, there’s a much clearer idea of who she is. I love playing a woman who’s currently finding her voice. I’ve played more confident characters until now, so it’s nice to play someone who’s fumbling a little bit. She is overly confident about some things and viciously insecure about other things. She’s horrible at covering up anything so both of those extremes are at play in her character all the time.

Andrea Martin and Heelan in “Great News”: Tyler Golden/NBC

W&H: Let’s talk about your relationship with Andrea Martin, who plays your mom, Carol. What in particular are you learning from her?

Bh: Andrea has become a very close personal friend. We didn’t meet one another before we were cast. It really was instant chemistry by the end of the pilot episode. We just clicked on a very personal level. She’s somebody I can really be onscreen with, doing our thing, playing mother-daughter. Then offscreen, I can really talk to her. I use her as a mom, friend, and coworker. She and I really delve into all those aspects of our relationship.

There’s also truly never a moment where something amusing isn’t happening. We strike a nice balance with one another. We’re over-sharers, so we’re really chipping away at the boundaries in that way.

W&H: As someone with a young child, how do you balance being a mom and shooting a TV show?

Bh: The most honest answer is that I still don’t know. It’s truly a one-day-at-a-time thing and I think for me, I’m still really learning. It’s kind of backward because I know that keeping this little, beautiful person safe is my №1 priority. It absolutely is. But I was lucky enough to learn before I had her that my own personal foundation had to be strong [so I could] show up for her. Whether it’s stressful at home or at work, I just think about showing up for myself in this moment and that allows me to show up for her.

W&H: How has “Great News” inspired you?

Bh: I truly know I can do a lot now. I have definitely built some confidence in terms of the amount of work that can be on my plate, as well as the amount I can show up for. “Great News” is the most fun I’ve ever had doing anything in my entire life. I realize that life is short and kids grow up quickly, so my goal is to love the company I’m in and respect the company that I’m in.

I would absolutely love to do drama and stage work again, but it boils down to one thing: that I’m excited to work with the company and if there is something to learn there. Comedy, too, is just incredible — to get to show up and just know you’re going to laugh. Each day I know I’m going to work and I’m going to laugh. I’ve never not left this job feeling better than when I showed up. It may all sound fantastical — butterflies and rainbows — but it’s really set the bar for me in terms of how I can feel at work. I want to continue to have that positive feeling and good energy.

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Briga Heelan on the Close-Knit Relationship Between the Women of “Great News” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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