Interviews

Mayim Bialik on why her new show Call Me Kat, set in a cat café, is purrfection

Mayim Bialik Pic credit: Cr. Pamela Littky/FOX

The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik and Jim Parsons team up once again. This time on Call Me Kat, a new sitcom for FOX, but only Bialik will appear onscreen as Parsons’ sole role is as an executive producer.

That said, it was he who brought the project to Bialik to star in and executive produce alongside him and showrunner Darlene Hunt.

Call Me Kat is based on the British TV series Miranda and is the story of a woman who struggles every day against society and her mother to prove that she can live a happy and fulfilling life despite still being single at 39.

As the story begins, Kat’s father has died, which makes her realize that life is too short, so she quits her job as a math professor and follows her dream, opening Kat’s Cat Café.

“We are showing a very nonconventional female, and I miss seeing women like this on television,” Bialik said at a press junket for her new series. “I grew up really admiring quirky, multifaceted women, and comediennes who weren’t afraid to be silly and sloppy and do pratfalls and things like that. So, I’m really grateful that we are showing a woman who is owning all of herself.”

Bialik’s co-stars in the series include Kyla Pratt, who plays Randi, a confident millennial and self-proclaimed “non” cat person who works at the café; and Leslie Jordan, who plays Phil, her baker, who has just been ditched by his partner.

Also, in the cast are Swoosie Kurtz as Kat’s mother and Cheyenne Jackson as Max, her former crush and good friend recently returned to town who takes a job as a bartender at the piano bar across the street, working with his friend, Carter, played by Julian Gant.

When Kat lays eyes on Max, her longtime college crush on him returns, and she hopes that a spark will ignite with him as well, despite the fact that the majority of her past relationships have just petered out. After all, the one thing her mother wants more than anything is to see Kat married and “settled.”

“It’s not so much that she’s uncomfortable with dating,” Bialik says. “She’s uncomfortable with the expectations that have been laid out for her, and, I think that a lot of people will resonate with that. What I love is that this is not a show about a woman trying to find someone. It’s a show about a woman trying to be happy finding herself and seeing what happens along the way.”

During her interview, Bialik also discussed what it is like to launch a series from scratch since she joined The Big Bang Theory at the end of season three; how this show may be compared to Fleabag and why it isn’t so; how she chose acting over a career in science; and more.

Leslie Jordan, Kyla Pratt, Julian Gant, Mayim Bialik, Swoosie Kurtz and Cheyenne Jackson Pic credit: Cr. Pamela Littky/FOX

 Monsters & Critics: Talk about starting this show off as the star and executive producer as opposed to joining The Big Bang Theory’s ensemble after that show had already been established.

Mayim Bialik: Joining The Big Bang Theory in the finale of Season 3 was like coming into the last semester of the last year at a new high school where you knew no one and there wasn’t even a locker left. You had to just carry your books around.

The Big Bang Theory was a finely oiled machine when I got there, which was really fantastic because there was very little pressure. They already knew exactly what they were doing. There were all of these beautiful rhythms, and I essentially imitated Jim Parsons for the first couple of years, and that seemed to work.

What we have here is we get to build from the ground up. Darlene Hunt has created the best playground ever for us. And besides the fact that we also are just so excited to be working and not in our houses anymore, we have material and characters that we all love to play with, and it’s definitely a learning curve for us.

We are learning the system that works best for all of us, but it is a lot more pressure on me personally; I’ll say that. But, also, it’s been just such a joy. I’ve never had a job like this.

I can absolutely say that my time on The Big Bang Theory was fantastic and life‑changing, and my time on Blossom was fantastic and life‑changing, but the way that we get to work and these actors that you see and our writers and just this whole team has made this, for me personally, the greatest job I’ve ever had, and that even includes being a mother because that’s really rough most days.

M&C: Are you concerned about the comparisons this show is going to draw to Fleabag with the curly‑haired lead breaking the fourth wall?  

Mayim Bialik: We are based on the BBC show Miranda, which is pre‑Fleabag. We like to point that out. With all due respect to Fleabag, Miranda was breaking the fourth wall and had this dynamic, exceedingly eccentric, and really life‑loving woman previously, which is why we are doing this, and why Jim brought this project to me.

Fleabag, obviously, is a different vibe. We are a four‑camera sitcom, and I was tired of straightening my hair all of those years, so I just decided to let it do its natural thing.

We are showing a character who is not lonely, but she does spend a lot of her time in the way that we don’t see a lot of women spend their time on television or really in life. She is alone. She’s alone sometimes with her thoughts and with her fantasies.

Darlene said it to me very early on that the audience is another person in Kat’s life.  And that’s how we treat breaking the fourth wall. It’s not like, “Oh, let’s break the fourth wall because it’s cute and it’s catchy.” What we’ve created is a woman who includes everyone in her world because that’s what makes her world interesting and colorful.

Sometimes those are people that exist, sometimes they are people that don’t exist, and sometimes it’s people who exist in different ways than they actually exist so that it fits better with her world view. But we really see that we are including the audience. They are in on her jokes. They are in on her experiences because that’s how she views the world. Everyone is a part of it.

M&C: You were one of the first celebrities that ever got ambushed by What Not to Wear.  At the time, it seemed like you enjoyed the process, but, here, you make fun of it.

Mayim Bialik: I was on What Not to Wear just after I got my doctorate. I was really out of the industry. And it’s not a complete surprise that they literally ambush you. I didn’t know when it was happening, but I knew that I had been flown to New York and that it was going to happen.

And what’s interesting about that is I had a toddler and a newborn. I think my son was nine months old when I filmed What Not to Wear, and I had long, hippie‑chic hair all the way down my back. I literally didn’t even know what size clothing I was because I had just been a grad student. You put on whatever is laying around. I was completely out of any pop‑culture awareness of anything, which most of the cast would probably say I still am.

But it was What Not to Wear that had me cut off nine inches of my hair. I had my eyebrows tweezed for the first time in my life. That’s how long it took for me to know that, “Oh, it really opens up your face.” It was that that really got me technically back into the industry.

So, this is a Miranda and Darlene creation, this [idea of] “wear what you want.” But I actually said this to my publicist yesterday. I was, like, “How about I’m famous, and now I get to wear what I want?”  I am encouraging that.

M&C: You are a woman who was been offered two possible paths in life. Why did you choose acting?

Mayim Bialik: Well, acting chose me, I guess, when I was a very young woman. I was in Beaches when I was 12. I had just started acting the year before. So, I left the industry because I wanted to have an experience of being appreciated for what was inside and not just what I could offer people. I was 19 when I left the industry, and I was away for 12 years. I got my degree, I had my two sons, and I taught neuroscience for about five years after getting my degree.

The God’s honest truth is I was running out of health insurance, and I went back to acting so that I could literally get enough insurance to cover my toddler and my infant. I had never seen The Big Bang Theory.

It was a day where I nursed my baby like I had been doing every day for the past however many days he had been alive. I went to this audition, and it was a guest spot, possible recurring. I had no idea my life was about to change. And over the course of that first year of being a recurring character on The Big Bang Theory, my teaching became harder to do, and Chuck Lorre said to me, “As long as there’s television, it seems like people want to put your face on it.”

Life is not always what you think it’s going to be. I love being a scientist. I still am a scientist, and I do a lot of other things in science. But making you believe something, making you feel something, and entertaining you seems to be where the universe wants me.

I can’t predict if people are going to love this as much as we love making it, but this is a very, very special environment. This is a very special cast. This is a very special woman. Darlene’s poured her heart and her brain and her life into these characters, and it means a lot to us.

So, this is like a bloom where you are planted, and I keep getting uprooted and replanted and replanted. But now, my kids are 12 and 15, and this is where we all get to be together, and it’s a really blessed place to be. And now I have SAG-AFTRA insurance. For the win, union girl right here.

Call Me Kat premieres Sunday, Jan. 3 on FOX.


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