From voicing Della Duck on DuckTales to her recently wrapped up tenure on Criminal Minds, chances are that Paget Brewster’s presence has graced your screen more than once or twice. For someone of her achievement, there’s nothing that she could possibly get in return for being so kind, for researching the hell out of an Australian alt magazine and offering up her time.
“Congratulations, by the way on relaunching,” she shares. On Googling us, she adds: “I hope that’s okay,” she laughs. “I wanted to talk to you.”
To the outside eye, it appears that Brewster has had quite the year. She’s continuing to feature in DuckTales, Criminal Minds aired its final episode, she dropped by BoJack Horseman and she even appeared in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix miniseries Hollywood. But the lead time between filming or voicing a role and actually seeing it come to life for audiences can be longer than you’d expect, and Brewster has actually spent most of her year at home.
“We’re in lockdown, it’s COVID, there’s not work outside of the house,” she explains. “I like raising money for charities, doing script readings or my friend’s podcasts…” She recently appeared on ex-Community colleagues Joel McHale and Ken Jeong’s ‘The Darkest Timeline.’ She continues: “I only see people over Zoom or in recording cartoons here at the house. So, I don’t feel like I’m that busy.”
One woman’s boredom is another man’s treasure, since Brewster’s free time has also seen her drop a song on Spotify this year. ‘Drove To The Ocean’ is a track written by Brewster’s husband, Steve Damstra, who asked her to lend it her voice. Brewster had some of her own bands as a teenager, and currently takes part in a theatre group, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, that have performed down under. As for whether or not she’ll end up in a musical duo with Damstra, the answer, for now, is no.
“We should. And we keep saying we will, and he’s written a bunch of songs and then we actually disagree over how vocals should sound…It’s not worth the marital spat to record songs. This is so embarrassing. So, we’ve put that to the side for now. He’s a great husband. He’s not messy, he’s not gross. Like, I’m very lucky. He does half the work, I do half the work. We have a great marriage.”
There is a moment in Criminal Minds where a picture of Brewster’s character, Emily Prentiss, is dug up, dressed suspiciously like Siouxsie Sioux. That isn’t actually what Brewster looked like as a teenager – she was more going for a Dame Diana Rigg from The Avengers look, featuring a “full body catsuit with go-go boots.”
Whatever the punk spirit is that influenced Brewster’s early life, it certainly continues to prevail with her sense of justice to this day. After she was fired from Criminal Minds alongside co-star AJ Cook, Brewster fought for herself, and her female co-workers, to get what they deserved from an entertainment industry that had shunned them without basis. Brewster describes the practices of the decision makers at the time as a “continual firing of women, year after year.” After Cook had left, CBS ended up asking Brewster to stay. At the time, she refused. “When AJ Cook and I were let go from Criminal Minds, that was Les Moonves that decided, ‘I don’t want the girls anymore, get other girls.’ And he claimed it was a cost cutting measure, but then they paid the other actresses who came on more than they had paid me and AJ.”
“Women have been told, ‘You’re competing with each other to get the man. You’re trying to get a rich guy or a powerful man.’ Now, we’re all looking around going, ‘Wait a minute. I’m working. I am the powerful man.'”
“I loved everyone on the show,” she clarifies. “I was happy with everyone on the show, it wasn’t that; it was the way that CBS had treated us. I was so angry, and so was AJ…” After Thomas Gibson left, Brewster returned for the show’s final seasons, replacing Gibson on the request of not only CBS, but her crew members, in the hope that she would save them from having to work with someone new.
“The whole four years that I wasn’t on the show, I was doing other shows, and it was great. I was having a great time. I was doing mostly comedies, but everywhere I went, in the airport, in the supermarket, walking through the park, fans of Criminal Minds would come up to me and be like, ‘Why are you not on the show?’ It wears you down. So, when I was there and they were like, ‘Oh, my god. Thomas is gone. The network is letting go of him. You have to sign on.’ I was like, ‘Why am I not on this show? I’m pretty good at playing this FBI chick. I love these people.’ We never stopped being friends. I still saw them. I would find out where they were shooting and just drop by, when they were on location, when I wasn’t on the show. These are very close friends. I was like, ‘Yeah, why the hell am I not on that show?'”
At the time, Brewster gave strict conditions to CBS for her return. “I fought really hard to get what I felt was fair pay,” she adds. “It was nowhere near what the men were making, but it was a lot closer. Then, the following year, the other women’s contracts were up and I said, ‘Look, this is what I fought for. You should go get more.’ They were like, ‘Okie doke.’ So, they all went in and they negotiated. People wouldn’t have done that pre the Me Too movement… I also rejoined Criminal Minds when Aisha Tyler was on it and I knew that the network had a history of firing one blonde and putting in another blonde. Fire the brunette, put in another brunette. So, I had it written into my contract that I would rejoin the show, but they could not let go of any other cast member, just in case they tried to pull something shitty.”
It’s evident from that and beyond that Brewster truly is an authentically kind person, the kind of person that you come across only a few times in your life. What she describes isn’t uncommon – Stephanie Beatriz, who plays Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine Nine, said that when she got the call, she wasn’t expecting a role because they had already cast a female Latina.
Brewster respects CBS now, noting that is better than it was before, but not because the “ruling group of men in entertainment have a newfound respect for women.” She adds, “I think the same jerks are doing the same jobs, but they’re afraid of being caught because a bunch of them have been.”
It doesn’t end there – being fired and underpaid; the storyline for Emily Prentiss to be non-heterosexual was also struck out, and the show does boast an underrepresentation of members of the LGBTQI community. “I wish we had been able to represent more people on Criminal Minds, but that unfortunately wasn’t a decision that we were able to make.” As for the long-requested Jemily storyline to come into the fold (Emily Prentiss and AJ Cook’s Jennifer Jareau), Brewster comments that she thinks “Jemily would’ve been a fabulous couple. Our fans are the ones, probably some big Jemily proponents, they’re the people who got AJ and I back on the show. They signed petitions and were vocal and reached out to CBS and ABC. That’s how we were able to have our jobs back. We owe them.”
At the end of the day, Brewster submits that women “have made a better place for us to support each other, as opposed to compete against each other.” She concludes: “Women have been told, ‘You’re competing with each other to get the man. You’re trying to get a rich guy or a powerful man.’ Now, we’re all looking around going, ‘Wait a minute. I’m working. I am the powerful man. I don’t need to fight other women to get a guy.’ It’s been this awakening of knowing what we’re worth.”