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by Marni Prichard Manko | February 10, 2014 | People
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At first glance, it’s easy to see why Beth Behrs is so believably genteel on CBS’s breakout hit comedy 2 Broke Girls, now in its third season. She plays Caroline Channing, an ex-socialite who went from Upper East Side riches to waitressing in a Brooklyn greasy spoon faster than her shyster Wall Street father could say “indictment.” Yet while this tall, cool blonde convincingly cuts the figure of a Park Avenue princess without even trying, the truth is that the former Miss Marin County is far more the girl next door than the girl you love to hate. Even as she’s being styled for our cover shoot, her sweetness rings with sincerity. “I just can’t get over the clothes,” she says happily. “They’re absolutely incredible.”
The upbeat 27-year-old continues: “One of the things I love the most about the show is that while it’s edgy and out there and really shocking, it’s grounded with heart and reality. It’s about real 20-something girls trying to create a business from nothing. Most of us can relate to the fact that even though they’re not able to pay their rent, they have a dream. And they’re doing what it takes to achieve it.”
Coincidentally, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is what the role of Caroline represents to Behrs. Born in Lancaster, where most of her extended family still lives (“We’d go with my dad’s mom to the Amish markets every Sunday for sugar-covered doughnuts,” she recalls with a smile), Behrs has been acting since she was a tot. When she was in elementary school, her family moved to Virginia, where she played bit roles in local plays and musicals. “I’ve always loved acting and singing and musical theater. It’s my heart,” she says. But it wasn’t until she dressed up like explorer Ferdinand Magellan for her fifth-grade class and ended up on the local news that she realized she had comedic chops. “It’s actually a lot of fun to make people laugh.”
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Her family headed out west, to Northern California’s Marin County, when Behrs was 15, where she studied and performed at the Tony Award–winning American Conservatory Theater, before moving on to UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.
After graduation, she traded her classical vocal and dramatic training and her esteemed work in college productions for whatever gigs the real world would offer her. “When I graduated,” she says, “I had that leveling moment that we all have, where you’re working five different jobs just to get the bills paid.” Supplementing her random day jobs with occasional modeling and commercial bookings for the likes of Old Navy, she eventually scored guest roles on NCIS: Los Angeles and Castle before finally getting her big break with CBS in 2011.
Beth made the character of Caroline possible,” says Whitney Cummings, who is one of the show’s creators and at the time was also starring in and producing her own sitcom, Whitney. “Michael Patrick King and I created the character, but nobody could quite nail it. But when Beth auditioned—and she was up against some huge actresses—she just made the most surprising choices. She didn’t make the character weak or pathetic or bitchy; she didn’t fall into any of the traps. It played to the top of her intelligence and didn’t judge the character. She just did it somehow, and we never saw the work or the wheels turning in her head as an actress.”
“I knew the minute she walked in that she was Caroline,” seconds King, the Emmy Award–winning producer who’s best known as the creative visionary behind Sex and the City. “She’s smart and she’s beautiful, and she has an unlimited funny bone. She knows how to play comedy.”
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But Behrs doesn’t remember the audition process being quite so clearcut. “I was auditioning for pilots and I would get close, but I never booked them. So when the pilot for 2 Broke Girls came through, I figured I would lose out. It was a long process, and Michael and Whitney really put me through the ringer. I had to come back and audition seven times for this role—but once Kat and I started reading together, we knew.”
And it’s that chemistry between Behrs and Kat Dennings—who plays Max, the snarky, jaded foil to Behrs’s ever-peppy Caroline and her cohort in their budding cupcake business—that has helped earn this comedy a third season (through May 2014) when most others have trouble making it past six episodes. “Now that we’re in Season 3 and our characters are more developed, I think the chemistry is up even more because of all the little inside jokes we’ve developed over the first two seasons,” Behrs says. The pair, who are real-life best friends, have even been tapped to cohost the People’s Choice Awards in January.
“I feel like we captured lightning in a bottle,” she adds about the on-and-offscreen synergy among herself, Dennings, and the creators—all of whom have Philly connections. Behrs says she still spends every Christmas in Lancaster, Dennings grew up on the Main Line, King is from Scranton, and Cummings went to the University of Pennsylvania. On the show, Caroline even attended Wharton. “That’s why we all must be such good friends and so close—maybe that’s why it works,” says Behrs, before adding with a laugh, “See, it all comes back to Pennsylvania.” King agrees, noting that “it’s crazy we’re all from Pennsylvania. It’s no coincidence that we’re all really hard workers and committed to getting the job done.”
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Reflecting on her humble roots, Behrs says, “I can’t relate to the wealthy thing, but I can definitely relate to the poor thing and Caroline losing everything and not having money for clothes. That’s really easy to relate to with the way I grew up.”
And it’s this decidedly un-Hollywood-like attitude and groundedness that seep through and help Behrs transform Caroline from a potentially vapid celebutante into a cupcake-wielding eternal optimist the audience can’t help rooting for.
“Beth is a unicorn. She’s a writer’s dream,” says Cummings, ruminating on how Behrs has been an integral part of the show’s success. “She commits so hard to the reality of what’s happening—no matter how ridiculous—that you can’t help but invest with her.”
King is no less effusive. “The amazing thing about Beth is that she doesn’t know how talented she is yet—and I’ve seen a lot of talented actresses,” he says. “People here in Hollywood usually think that they’re better than they are. They think they’re stars and they’re not. Beth is somebody who is going to be a star—she just doesn’t know it yet.”
photography by Andrew Macpherson; Styling by Nicolas Bru at MargaretMaldonado.com; Makeup by Jamie Greenberg for Mark Cosmetics at The Wall Group; Hair by Aviva for Dove Hair Care at StarworksArtists.com; Manicure by Beth Fricke for ABTP.com