Retta may have titled her new book So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know, but for anyone who’s watched her blossom on screen over the past few years, the sentiment might sound a little hard to believe.
Indeed, over the past decade, the comic actress has quietly ascended in Hollywood, beginning with her scene-stealing turn as Donna in Parks and Recreation. She followed that up with a regular role on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce and, this year, an even juicier part: a leading role on the new NBC drama Good Girls, in which she’s given a breakout dramatic performance. (The show has been renewed for a second season.) It’s a good time for Retta to reflect on her career; her new memoir recounts her long road to professional success, from a missed Dreamgirls audition to a strange Taylor Swift encounter, and it features her wry humor and candid honesty.
Speaking with EW about the memoir’s publication and state of her career, Retta could only convey excitement — at her new role on Good Girls, her getting the chance to write (and get paid for) a book, and most importantly, the fact that she’s finally made it in show business. “The other day, I was just thinking, ‘I’m in this business,'” she explained. “When you go to all of these events, and you meet these stars in the industry, and they quietly say, ‘I love the work you’re doing,’ it makes you go, ‘Oh sh—, I am a part of this.'”
Below, you can read EW’s full conversation with Retta. So Close to Being the Sh*t is now available for pre-order, and publishes Tuesday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you decide to write this?
RETTA: I decided to write it because someone offered me money. [Laughs] I’d gotten a call from someone who claimed to be my literary agent, and I was like, “Lit agent? I’ve never written a book!” … [My agent] JL Stermer called me and said, “I’m your lit agent, and there is an editor who thinks you should write a book. Do you want to set up a meeting?” I was like, “Oh, okay!” I went in, had a great meeting, and left thinking about what I would write about. They were like, “Just do a proposal, send it to us, and then we’ll get the ball rolling.” At the time I was working in Vancouver on Girlfriend’s Guide [to Divorce]. The book proposal was hard. I was like, “I can’t concentrate, I can’t get my mind right with this, I’m just going to have to pass and then maybe at a later date, if they still want me to do it, I’ll do it.” JL goes, “Okay. But what if they offer you money? Would you feel obligated to do it then?” I was like, “If they give me money, I’ll do the job.” [Laughs] Of course, they came back and said, “Here’s some money. Write the book.” So that’s how I ended up writing the book!
You begin with a really painful story, about how you were offered an audition for the role of Effie White in the movie Dreamgirls, but ultimately were too nervous to go for it.
The first chapter is the one that really had me thinking about my career and how I have since approached work. It’s not a story that I’d ever told, but it’s something I always thought about. When I was relating this story for the book, I was like, “This was really a turning point in my career and how I approach work.” It gave me even more perspective. Even though it was always in my head, in the back of my mind, to write it out in that chapter, it was like, “Yeah, just say yes to stuff. You’re here to do a job, and don’t be so scared about things.” The rest of it — the other stories — I’ve told more than once, to friends and whatnot. But it was that first chapter that really put me in a place of understanding what I choose to do when it comes to work.
You revisit your time on Parks and Recreation? What was it like, digging through those memories?
Nostalgic. Those were the glory days; I went from being a comic who was appearing on this show to being someone on this show — being a known entity in the business. Writing that chapter just gave me perspective on what did happen and what can happen, and how things can change your life so easily.
You’ve had a pretty big year between this book and Good Girls. What’s the feeling right now?
The other day, I was just thinking, “I’m in this business.” When you go to all of these events, and you meet these stars in the industry, and they quietly say, “I love the work you’re doing,” it makes you go, “Oh sh—, I am a part of this.” I’m appreciative that I did go through that hustle to get where I am now.
Any core message to the book you hope readers take away?
Basically, to face your fears. It’s such a simple and obvious and often-overused phrase. But clichés are clichés for a reason, as they say, and I just wanted to give a solid example of how, once you face your fears, there’s a good chance you’ll get to where you want to go. At least you’ll know you can start on that path. The journey is what it’s worth. Once you get to the end, you’re like, “What do I do know?” It’s the journey that’s the fun part.