It’s a cool normal day in December, just before Christmas. We’re sitting in a strip mall sushi restaurant in Hollywood, one of the Elman’s favorite sushi stops, about to eat our hard earned meal after a long day of shooting. I’m sitting across from Jenna Elfman and her husband of 27 years, Bodhi.
I first met Jenna Elfman a few hours ago, but it feels like I’m hanging out with an old buddy. That Jenna is extremely affable should come as no surprise to those who’ve seen her act. She’s a real human-scale star--comparatively adorable, funny and magnetic, she has that ability to make good-heartedness come across as endearing rather than sappy. She first became a household name after five seasons portraying the goofy but loveable Dharma in the TV show “Dharma & Greg” from 1997-2002, garnering her a Golden Globe win. Then she got top billing in 1999’s McConaughey flick “Edtv” followed by starring roles in dozens of movies and television shows. Of the fifty-two characters Jenna has played in the past twenty-five years, Elfman is most like her Dharma character--high spirited, quirky, dynamic and full of warmth.
She’s back on the silver screen starring in ABC's comedy series “Imaginary Mary” which takes a new, hilarious spin on the fabled imaginary friend syndrome.
Additionally her current passion is her Nerdist podcast “Kicking & Screaming” that she creates with her husband. In 1995, Jenna met fellow actor Bodhi Elfman at an audition and the two wed later that year when Jenna was just 19 years-old. When I first ask them about how they’ve navigated a marriage that long and still seem to really like each other, she flashes me a grin--that terrific, enormous Jenna Elfman grin--and they spend the rest of dinner talking to me about that question and all the others surrounding it.
ROGUE: Why did you guys decide to do a podcast together in 2012?
Jenna: The whole thing started when people would find out how long we’ve been together and then ask how we make it work. It’s been 27 years and people’s eyes usually pop out when they hear that--they are absolutely baffled and confused. They ask, “How do you do that in Hollywood? HOW DO YOU DO IT?” Our answer was “kicking and screaming” because that has been the nature of our relationship for 27 years. We are kind of unique and we talk a lot about our marriage to one another, so we have articulated a lot of our dynamic to each other. Relationships are funny and marriage is so weird and wonderful and excellent and awful at the same time, but we don’t feel we’ve ever seen it captured on television in a way that we feel like it's been for us. So we thought we should do a TV show, but I kept working on primetime network shows and then didn’t have time to get to it. So Bodhi [suggested] we do a podcast where we keep this dialogue going so it could become a library of content for the writers if we eventually do the show. Originally we never meant it to be its own thing, it was just like a research project--but then people started enjoying it, so it expanded into the podcast it is today and it’s just been growing and growing.
Bodhi: For us it's kind of an exploration in the humor of relationships because they're funny, at least ours is. She still makes me laugh more than anyone I know. The subject of relationships is funny because a human being doesn't need to be with anybody. It doesn't need to. But yet you make this decision to share your entire life with another person and it's such a bizarre thing to do. I'm going to burp in front of you, fart in front of you, shit in front of you, and then make love to you.
What’s your trick to keeping it alive for so long, for not getting bored with each other?
Bodhi: You're asking a question that we get asked all the time. I honestly can't give you an answer. I think that there was some sort of decision with Jenna and I where something magical happened and we just came together and went "you--for the rest of my life!” And there's a million things we do to keep it that way, but that isn't easy. That initial bond is what’s important. She is my best friend.
Jenna: To this day when I walk into a room it doesn't matter how much I want to divorce him in that moment--I'm still excited that he walked into the room. There's just no way to describe it. There's so many things about each other that drive us crazy but it's the best partnership.
Bodhi: Jenna and I had a really far out realization the other day: I think a lot of people make their relationship something that's just there so that they can make art. Since day one Jenna and I have made a relationship the art. I don't think it was a conscious decision, I don't think it's something we openly stated we were going to do, it was just a natural organic creation for us that we made our relationship the art. I think a painter gets inspired by the canvas and Jenna has always inspired me. She's always been like a canvas but I don't even think we both knew that until recently. As in how inspiring our relationship is to each other. I still get a kick out of it. I enjoy having clashes with her and having dialogue with her and making love to her. Like, I genuinely enjoy it. My wife is a total kook, she's a total weirdo, she's very eccentric…
Jenna: I think there's another word for it too…
Bodhi: I don't think people realize because she's so fucking down to earth and she's so loving, like she really digs people, but she's a little weirdo. And I fucking love it.
Jenna: I dare you to articulate my weirdo-ness [laughs].
Bodhi: She's just a great weirdo and I fucking love it. She's a good person. She likes people and she likes to help people. She is my painting.
Jenna: You're going to come up far better in this interview than I am.
Bodhi: Good. Because you come off better than I do in life. [laughs]
When you guys are preparing to do an episode, do you sit down first and create a blueprint or do you mostly just improvise?
Jenna: Half of the time we're so busy that we don't even have time to plan it, so we just sort of observe what's been going on with us. But Bodhi is the creative behind the whole podcast. I just show up. It's not edited and we don't pre-agree on things in advance, nothing is scripted.
Bodhi: I like to take something that has happened to us that’s prevalent in our life and then throw it at her and roll the camera on her. Sometimes I'll talk to her about something and I'll see her reaction and then I'll stop and go into the other room to write a note and I won't say anything more about it because I'll want to hash it out during the podcast. We’ll be arguing and something interesting will happen and I'll literally tell her to stop and save it for the podcast but she wants to fight it out because she wants to keep talking...
Jenna: We can't even have a real life fight anymore! Which is better because then it gets sublimated into an actual creative space instead of a life attack. It kind of elevates the relationship and it takes stuff that's normally painful and annoying and kind of turns it on its side and adds a different axis to it when it goes into the podcast.
Sounds like a healthy way to examine arguments in lieu of reacting to them emotionally in the moment--
Bodhi: Exactly. We're taking the things that make one the most concerned in a relationship, the most worried, the most upsetting points and we're making humor and art out of it. There's nothing that can happen to get in our way now of staying in a good relationship now. Because anything that could happen will just be a good episode. If she literally slept with the wide receiver from the Dallas cowboys…
Jenna: Aw man that'd be awesome...
Bodhi: That’d be a great episode. [laughs]
What's the key recipe to success in your relationship?
Jenna: Communication. It's just communication. There's literally nothing that we don't know about each other. Not a single fucking thing- there's not a single issue, thought, consideration and doubt, reservation, or idea that we don't know about each other.
Is it weird not having any mystery, some people feel like they have to retain that in a relationship?
Bodhi: We don't have any secrets from each other but she's still very mysterious to me.
Jenna: It's because you're incapable of comprehending. [laughter]
Bodhi: She’s like deep water running very deep. She's very much a mystery. It's not like she's gallivanting around with people that I don't know about, but she's very mysterious in terms of her artistic side. Her thoughts, her spirituality. She's very mysterious to me. I find out new things about her all the time in terms of her in her life. That's very alluring. I find out new stuff about her all the time in terms of her inner life and thoughts and points of view.
Jenna: I feel like that has more to do with you than me. I feel like I'm an open book but you're not reading so then all of a sudden I seem mysterious but it's just like I'm a fucking dusty book on your shelf and then suddenly you're like "Gasp! Look at this page!" And I'm like I've been here for 27 years. The page has been right there you just haven't opened it and looked. [laughter]
Bodhi: The key to relationships--we say this all the time that the secret to marriage is not getting a divorce. And that's it. It's really simple. The secret to a long marriage is you don't get a divorce!
Speaking of relationships and marriage, Jenna, your new show is all about love…
Jenna: It's absolutely about love. It's a value and the importance of love bringing meaning to your life.
You've been on several shows in your career, what have you gained and learned and how have you evolved from this latest role?
Jenna: I feel like I'm able exercise all of the muscles that I've developed from my career. Every job I've had I've gained a new muscle or learned something and I feel like I'm exercising them all on this show. Which totally keeps me on my toes and you know, I don't know how to articulate this--it's like I'm using every muscle I've learned. What I do best is comedy. So it's been really fun and it's also what I love doing in Kicking and Screaming. This year I felt more able to connect on a truer level, communicating as an artist than I've ever felt. And I don't feel synthetic, I feel truly authentically connected and communicating and it gives me a lot of sensation both on the show and in the podcast.
Do you think Kicking and Screaming formed a bit of that in you?
Jenna: Yeah I think so, it gives me more confidence in my own creativity, I just really don't care what people think anymore. I really give no fucks and I just communicate and connect to my communication as an artist the way I want to do it, because it's the only way it gives me sensation and makes me feel alive.
As an artist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be admired and accepted, but it shouldn’t be about needing the admiration or validation-- when you no longer give any fucks about what people think then you’re free of the desire for approval or acceptance--
Jenna: Exactly. In terms of the pleasure of accomplishment there's more pleasure in knowing oneself and that you truly communicated the way you intended to as an artist. That gives more pleasure than somebody acknowledging how you communicated. So I'm finally able to cross the threshold of giving no fucks. As a character or in Kicking and Screaming, it gives me so much pleasure now, because my integrity is in, so I'm just being true to myself and how I want to be communicating artistically and it just feels really good--that gives me more pleasure than another person's acknowledgment ever could.