It’s a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Paris, and Beth Behrs is giddy with excitement.
Not only has she just been given a private, three-hour tour of Coco Chanel’s famous apartment and boutique on Rue Cambon, but she’s about to purchase a long-coveted souvenir from her trip to the City of Light: a black quilted Chanel handbag. “I seriously can’t believe this day!” she says, flashing a giant smile. “Is this really happening? As if I wasn’t already, I’m now insanely obsessed with everything Chanel!”
On a break from the 14- to 16-hour days she works on 2 Broke Girls, currently in its third season, Behrs deserves a posh (albeit working) vacation and an expensive gift to herself—although that doesn’t mean she has an easy time handing over her credit card.
“Oh, God, it’s a little bit more than I thought,” she chuckles while standing at the cash register. “I just keep thinking, ‘residual checks, residual checks’ ”—referencing the additional money an actor gets when a successful show goes into reruns. (In 2012, TBS snapped up the rights to 2 Broke Girls and will begin airing them in 2015.) Behrs’ adorable mom, Maureen, a first-grade teacher who has come along for the trip, shakes her head with a smile. “Get it. You’ve been working so hard and wanting this for so long.”
A quilted Chanel bag isn’t the only thing Behrs has wanted forever: She’s known since the age of 3 that she wanted to be a performer. “I used to sing all the time,” she says. “I’d watch The Sound of Music and act out the whole movie. From the moment I could walk and talk, I was breathing, eating and sleeping performing.”
It’s no wonder that Behrs is unpretentious, not to mention hesitant about spending thousands of dollars. No one in her family is in the entertainment business, so the “perks” of the job—private shopping excursions, five-star hotels, People’s Choice Awards, getting recognized by mobs of fans at the Louvre—are all new to her. Raised in Virginia and later California, Behrs is the older of two children (her younger sister, Emily, is a student), and both of her parents are in education (her dad is headmaster of a boarding school). School has always come first: Her mom and dad agreed to get her started in local community theater, under one condition: She had to promise to go to college.
While going to high school in Marin County, Behrs set her sights on Broadway, taking voice lessons six to seven hours a week. “I was supergoofy, but I was very academic,” she says. “I got straight A’s.” The only thing she ever got in trouble for was talking. “I’d get sent out of the classroom for being too loud,” she recalls with a laugh. She dated casually, but was more into her “best friend,” Matt Doyle, than anyone else. “He went to another school, but we grew up singing and doing plays together. We were attached at the hip.” To this day, they’re still best friends, and Doyle is currently starring in The Book of Mormon on Broadway.
Behrs studied musical theater, acting, film and TV at UCLA. Between nannying for a family with three kids and waitressing at Chili’s (where on her first day, she dropped a tray of beers on a party of 10 and wound up crying in the bathroom), she’d go on auditions. She was also a bartender at the Geffen Playhouse theater, where she got to see actors she had long admired, such as John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf.
When she got the call in 2011 that she had been cast as Caroline in 2 Broke Girls, Behrs was over the moon. “The process was so drawn out,” she recalls. “The last step was making sure I had chemistry with Kat [Dennings], who had been cast way before me. I’d never met her before that morning, and as she was leaving in the elevator, she was like, ‘If they don’t cast you, call me.’ I love that girl. And we need each other—we work so much, and we’re the only ones who understand each other’s lives. We’re in this together.”
Adds Dennings, “Working with Beth is a dream. She’s the kindest, most fun girl to be around. At this point, we’re sisters. I’m sure our real-life chemistry translates.”
The success enjoyed by 2 Broke Girls—about the misadventures of financially strapped roommates Max and Caroline in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—is a testament to that chemistry. The show premiered in September 2011 to glowing reviews. “Max and Caroline’s Odd Couple interaction is nothing you haven’t seen before,” said USA Today. “But thanks to the show’s two bright young stars, who deliver their shared dialogue with a nice, natural ease, their scenes together have enough charm and humor to make these struggling Girls look like winners.” (Even after she shot the pilot, it should be noted, Behrs kept her job as a nanny, because she was smart enough to know that new TV shows are never a sure thing.)
Luckily for her (but not for the kids she was watching), the show was a hit. And so now here Behrs is, living proof that life can change dramatically in two years. Lunching in the luxurious George V’s garden in Paris, she’s turning heads because: (1) She’s on a huge hit television show and (2) she has a very distinctive voice, which she describes as “pretty grating.” (It’s not.) So starstruck is the guy at the next table, in fact, that he has called a friend and is holding up his iPhone inches from Behrs’ face, so they can not-so-surreptitiously eavesdrop on what she’s saying. “Cray cray,” she mouths when he’s not looking.
On Wednesday—channeling Coco in all-vintage Chanel couture at a shoot with revered French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier at the Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris—Behrs’ feet still have not touched the ground. “Oh, no, this is not strange at all,” she jokes as the hotel’s artistic director, Jeff Leatham, and another employee throw rose petals on her. “My boyfriend [Reckless’ Michael Gladis] does this all the time.”
Behrs spends the entire day in typically chatty fashion, cracking jokes, exclaiming in delight at her good fortune (“This is insane! I feel like I’m in a movie!”) and charming everyone from the concierge to Demarchelier himself. She’s used to working the crowd, since 2 Broke Girls shoots in front of a live audience, like a play, as opposed to a single-camera show, which shoots on a closed set.
“Beth is one of a kind, and we know it,” says show creator Michael Patrick King. “First of all, Beth is funny, and that is the number-one requirement to be successful in a comedy. And to top that off, she is smart, pretty and amazing with physical comedy. Funny, smart, pretty and physical comedy: the Holy Grail of sitcoms. I love her fearlessness. Never have I sat down to write the show and thought, ‘Oh, Beth won’t do that.’ ”
Talking certainly comes naturally to her. As does singing—just check out the handful of online videos in which she sings and plays guitar, and the Lady Antebellum video for “Downtown” that she appeared in earlier this year. Adds King, “I’m pretty sure she was humming show tunes in the womb.”
So could an album be far behind? “Country is my heart and soul,” she says, name-checking Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash as two favorites. “Someday I want to do an album, maybe country, but I want to do it right. I want the respect of those people, and that will take time. I’m a huge singer, and I’d like to do original songs.”
Sounds about right. As her newfound muse, Coco Chanel, once said: “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Originally published in Watch! magazine, April 2014