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October 23, 2014

Mary Lynn Rajskub on the End of '24,' Being a Mom and Her Stage Show

by Joel Keller, posted Jul 27th 2010 12:02PM
Mary Lynn RajskubWhen I spoke to Mary Lynn Rajskub last month, my originally scheduled interview time was pushed back a day because her publicist forgot that it was her birthday. So the publicist decided to give her a "day off," which she used to hang out with her husband and 23-month-old son.

It's the kind of birthday celebration she probably never imagined she'd have when she was in her twenties. "When I was younger, you used to look at your parents and be like, 'Why don't they want to go out?'" she said. "Now I realize, oh, it's not because they're boring, it's because once you're a parent, the best time is when you're just at home, the kid's asleep. That's an exciting night out. Why would I go anywhere?"

Parenthood is on the mind of Rajskub, who just wrapped up her run as CTU tech Chloe O'Brian on '24.' She's gone back to her comedy roots, starring in 'Mary Lynn Spreads Her Legs' at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles, which runs through August. In the very personal stage show, Rajskub talks about getting pregnant and the difficulty of being a new mother.

We talked about the show, how the character of Chloe developed, and why it's tough for her to get jobs. But first, I wanted to know what she used to do on her birthday before becoming a mom.

What's the pre-parenthood birthday experience that stuck out in your mind?
It was, you know, there were a lot of bar parties. I remember one that involved getting a pair roller skates and drinking shots of whiskey, things like that (laughs)

On the roller skates?
Yeah, it was pretty fun. I'm a pretty good roller skater, I never learned how to roller blade, but I'm actually a good roller skater.

So even a little drunk you could roller skate OK?
Well you know, we don't need to talk about anything like that.

Okay, so you're just a good roller skater.
You could say a little whiskey, let's not use the word "drunk" and "roller skate" in the same sentence. Be careful of the image that we are projecting.

Talk a little bit about the stage show.
Well when the baby was first born I was not having a good time with it. I didn't really enjoy it, and I think that that's a pretty common thing. I thought that "I can't be the only one who is having a miserable time," So I took some notes and made comedy out of it.

Because it's a very conflicted time, the baby is beautiful and amazing, but it's also not fun. It changes your life and you're not sleeping, and for me, my husband and I, our relationship was still fairly new, and so I ended up writing a show about that, starting from a place of all the conflicts that happen when you love your baby. I don't think anyone is ever really ready for it, and I don't think you can ever really plan for it, no matter which point you're at in your life, so I wanted to talk about it.

T
here's been some essays out there that have kind of talked a lot about this, did you read any of that stuff, any of the essays, the mommy blogs or anything else like that before you wrote the show, or was this totally on your own experience?
No, not at all, it's based on my own experience, it's a really personal story, It's a truthful story in some aspects, and some aspects are exaggerated for comedic affect. But it's a very personal story and I've always done stand-up so I addressed the audience and the thing that's different about this show from my stand-up is that I worked with a director, and we worked really hard to clarify theses characters and what was going on, so it's part stand up show and part... a bit of a play telling the story through these characters. The baby is a character, though the baby cries all the time and my boyfriend now husband is a character, and my mother's a character, the doctor factors in.

What kind of feedback have you been hearing?
I've gotten really amazing feedback in the first night, Friday night, was an amazing night. There were a lot of people that I knew, and I warned my husband about some stuff that I say about him. And again, like I said, there's a kernel of truth and then there's some stuff that I told him, there's a part where I'm really mean, there's parts when your penis gets talked about, there are parts that get kind of raunchy, and there are parts that get really dark, and parts that are touching. But first and foremost, it's funny.

Was your husband the hardest person you had to talk to about this? Or was it your mom?
Well I haven't talked to my mom about it yet, in fact I've got to call her, probably right now, to let her know that... I take solace in the fact that my character, I'm pretty over the top in this play, and it's definitely based on my true feelings, and as the viewer, maybe at some point I don't think it's important, which things are true or not..

But there's a lot of stuff with my mom that's very exaggerated. So the show is very interesting, because it is my stand-up and it is my personal story but it kind of takes a departure into a different land at some points.

Were you working on it while you were finishing up '24' or was this something that came after?
Yeah, I was working on it a lot and all of a sudden I'm just thinking I'd like to take a vacation. I wanted to transition off '24' but I didn't want to jump on another show, I wanted it to be the right thing, and it's hard to know what that is. But for me, I've always performed so it was an easy choice for me to jump right into that.

How tough was that to do when you have to do the normal stuff you do for '24,' learning lines, getting it shot, was there enough time?
Oh, it was intense, I mean definitely the live show went on hold sometimes, so we did it when we could. But working on the show towards the end of '24,' it was a really emotional time.

Because you didn't know whether that would be the last time around for the series at that point?
Well we kind of knew, we all suspected it throughout the year, but we weren't told until really late in the game. And creatively, it's sad. The hardest part for me was leaving all the people. It's scary too because that was an amazing job and one of the hugest milestones in my life.

Have you heard anything about the '24' movie, is it in the works?
I keep telling people that if they hear anything about it to let me know, because I've heard nothing.

Are you hoping that Chloe is part of the movie, if there is one?
Of course. I would be really sad if I went to go see the '24' movie and Chloe wasn't in there.

Yeah, I guess that's an obvious answer to that.
Yeah it would be a bummer (laughs).

When '24' started, the role of Chloe was a pretty small one at the time, what were your expectations of the role going into it? Did you ever see it expanding into what it expanded into by the time the show was over?
Absolutely not. I think as an actor, you go out for everything and anything and at that time I hadn't had, barely any, drama auditions, my thing was always comedy. I hung out with comedians, I auditioned for sitcoms, and so to even have the audition was unusual for me.

The best thing about it was that Joel Surnow, the creator, had seen me in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie and liked me in that. He has one of my favorite ways to cast his show and have a vision, that he has a strong enough idea, of "I like that quality about you and I'm going to write a part for you." And I didn't even think it would happen but I thought, "What an amazing experience. I'm not going to necessarily count on this happening knowing the format of the show."

And then when I first started, I thought it was going to be four shows, then six shows, I thought it was going to be over after five or six shows. Once they started writing me being loyal towards Jack and helping him, it got really interesting at that point and really fun, and then the rest is history. It's been my second home, and a really great experience and character, what an amazing show to be a part of.

What was it about the role of Chloe that led the writers to make her that big of an ally to Jack? And did they use any of your personality and insert it into Chloe?
Absolutely, I think it was a 50-50 collaboration. I would come in wondering what they were going to write for me and they were good at writing things that they knew I could pull off. And I became this person that could get away with this odd behavior, this odd aggressive behavior and I think it was just an organic... what's the word... when you go from these heart-thumping sequence to get a little break sometimes.

That's not to say that I didn't have some very dramatic moments, the whole show was very intense. Our acting job would be to start at intense and work in those levels of intensity but I had a really good time in that world, kind of still being that girl at the office who's sort of blunt and annoying but who also happens to be a computer genius who's maybe stopping a nuclear bomb, so all these factors kind of fed into this behavior that was really fun to play.

Was there anything that you wanted Chloe to do that you didn't get to do?
I think to me, the ending was kind of bittersweet. I'm certainly so grateful that we got the run that we got, but towards the end the thing that was bittersweet was that my character really started evolving and I'm glad that that didn't happen to me sooner, because I think she would always remain that annoying Chloe person, or however you want to put it, but the fact that towards the end I got all that responsibility after everybody already very familiar with my character, which was really exciting. I would've liked to have seen that go on a little bit longer.

And her loyalty to Jack was kind of in question through a lot of the finale.
And that was exciting. And that was the only point where in all the time that I was in the show where I really had a talk with Howard Gordon, we sat down and just discussed making sure that transition was believable because I think the head of CTU gets a lot of exposition lines and that automatically, all these pieces have to go into a show like '24' in order to make sense and I wanted to make sure it made sense for the character to be doing that because that was such a weird position for her to be in and I wanted to make sure it had a chance to play out properly. Because some of that character stuff sometimes goes by the wayside because of the plot.

If the writers approached you and said we'd like to spin-off Chloe into her own show, you would accept?
I'm more interested in doing a different character, that's the type of actor I am. I definitely have the factor that... a quality that I"m going to bring to all my characters and I think that there's a whole world to be explored within that.

And for me that's going to be comedy, and as far as anything Chloe-like, it would have to be, that's obviously... it would have to be the right team and the right show, I wouldn't do it to spin-off that character, it would have to be a really special circumstance with people that I knew and trusted with a really groundbreaking interesting idea, like a show like '24' which comes along once in a blue moon

Have you gotten more offers for action/drama type stuff or are people still giving you offers for comedic roles because they remember how funny you are?
I think people are not really sure what to approach me with.... so... I don't know.

Where do you think that comes from?
I think I'm always an odd casting choice. Even though I have this character that a lot of people recognize in this body of work, I'm never a straight casting choice. I hear a lot that "We love her," but (chuckles) it takes a certain person to know what to do with me, so when I find that person then we'll be ready to go again.

Does that come from the way you have gotten your career to this point, all the mix of roles you've done or is there some factor that makes you say you need to find someone that knows what to do with you?
I don't really know... I don't really know (chuckles). I'm kind of stumped. I went to art school for painting, I did performance art, I came to Los Angeles, I did live performances, I guess I was lucky enough in the acting and I certainly believe in my acting ability and respect the craft and I think I'm getting better and better in terms of that, but the business of casting to me is a complete mystery, so I don't really know how to answer what I'm doing or what other people want me to do.

How has parenthood and family life changed how you look at your career?
Well, once you have a kid, all the cliches are kind of true. Everything else, I wouldn't say takes a backseat, I will always work and that's very important to me, or me being a happy person, but all the things that you were worried about in the past, nothing comes even close to the amount of responsibility you have being in charge of a human being.

At a certain point do you think you're going to slow down for a little bit and not do anything for a while, or do you want to keep chugging along and keep the ball rolling?
I'll definitely keep that ball rolling and hopefully be relaxed while doing it. And to be able to have my quality of life, that's my goal. Quality family time, quality work time.

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