03.24.09

TV's Funniest New Moms

Two beloved sitcomediennes from In the Motherhood—Megan Mullally and Cheryl Hines—talk about Tina Fey, Larry David, Lindsay Lohan, and aging humorously in Hollywood.

In the Motherhood was born as web series but has grown into a highly anticipated sitcom with a dream cast of improv theater and sitcom vets, including Megan Mullally and Cheryl Hines. If Desperate Housewives and 30 Rock could procreate, the bundle of joy would be wrapped up In the Motherhood.

Hines—best-known for playing Larry David’s ever-tolerant wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm—is about to take on a role she knows very well: working mother. The 43-year-old improv veteran plays Jane, a divorced architect who must also juggle a rowdy brood of children, a full-time “manny,” and, in her copious spare time, a love life. Hines—herself a mother of a five-year-old daughter—talked about doing “women’s TV,” the new season of Curb, and hiding from the babysitter.

Mullally—who won two Emmys as the shrill boozehound Karen Walker on Will & Grace—returns to prime-time as Rosemary, an utterly inept, free-spirited mom, whose teenaged son inexplicably turns out perfectly sweet and doting. The 50-year-old Mullally talked about discovering SNL star Bill Hader, the unfair perks bestowed on pregnant women, and her thoughts on Proposition 8.

What kind of mother do you play on the show?

CHERYL HINES: I am a single mom of two. I have a career, I’m an architect—and I’m just barely getting through the day. I ran out of diapers two days ago and we’ve been using paper towels and tape. Whatever gets you through, you know? My house is usually a mess. Horatio Sanz plays my male nanny.

“I like to think of myself as a nontraditional mom. I listen to rap music with my daughter, and we sing along to Justin Timberlake. Timbaland? Timberlake. See, I’m barely getting through the day.”

And how does this relate to your own experience of parenthood?

It’s actually a close reflection of what’s going on in my life. There is a scene I just filmed where I’ve been working all day, and just as I’m walking into the house, and my friends call to ask me if I can meet them for drinks, and I have to say no, I have to relieve the nanny, and I need to see my kids. And then I open the door, and it’s chaos, it’s a pile of laundry, and the kids are screaming, and the dog is barking, and I quietly close the door and I go back out, because no one’s seen me come in yet. The same day that I shot that, I had at least a 12-hour day, and I came home and sort of hid from the babysitter in the kitchen, because I hadn’t yet been spotted.

Were you worried about being pigeonholed in a show all about women’s issues?

Well I’m not setting out to make a woman-driven show. But I like the idea of a show about motherhood, because it’s really pretty funny. When you’re in the middle of it, somehow it doesn’t seem that funny, when your baby is still crying for two hours. But to have a show where you see these moms who are still fun people, funny characters, but just trying to navigate the waters, that’s great. I want to be part of that show. But I didn’t start out to make a “Yay for women,” show or anything like that.

And you’re also in an upcoming movie with Lindsay Lohan— Labor Pains—that’s about faking pregnancy. So you’re doing a lot of motherhood work lately.

Right. Yeah, it just happened to work out that way. I did start to ask myself, am I now going to be this spokesmom for everything? But then I look around, and loads of the people I know are parents—even if we don’t like to think of ourselves as moms or dads, because it makes us seem old, or we think “Oh, well I’m not like them. I’m actually a cool mom.” So it’s not like I’m really going that far out of the box with these projects.

Do you think of yourself as a cool mom?

I don’t know if I’d go so far as cool. I like to think of myself as a nontraditional mom. I think that’s probably how most of our generation feels. I listen to rap music with my daughter, and we sing along to Justin Timberlake. Timbaland? Timberlake. See, I’m barely getting through the day. I have a lot of fun with my daughter. I’d like to think I’m the mom that says, “Yeah, a little chocolate breakfast is not gonna kill you.”

How is In the Motherhood different from Curb Your Enthusiasm?

They are very different vibes. Curb, well we’ve been doing it for a while, so it’s a very easy world to step into. It’s all about Larry David, and I just show up, and I do a little hair and makeup, and shoot. And it’s—I don’t want to say easy—but it goes easily. In Motherhood, it’s a scripted show, an ensemble cast. The production is big, we’ve got a huge big set, soundstages. With Curb Your Enthusiasm, I’m mostly working with guys, and Motherhood I’m mostly working with women. But interestingly enough, that’s not a big difference there.

The news broke that the whole cast of Seinfeld was going to be on the next season of Curb. Have you shot any episodes with them? Is that a dream thing to have happen?

I have worked with the cast of Seinfeld, yes, but that’s all I can tell you. It’s super top-secret stuff.

What do you think about Larry’s next Woody Allen film, where his romantic interest is a girl in her early twenties [Evan Rachel Wood]?

Well, Woody Allen has his thing that he does, and he does really well. It doesn’t shock me that much, because that plotline is very Woody Allen-esque. But it’s very exciting to see Larry in it. Larry in a Woody Allen film is absolutely perfect.

In the Motherhood has a great cast, so how much fun is it being on set? You can lie if it’s terrible.

MEGAN MULLALLY: [Laughs] It’s actually really fun. We had a lot of fun on Will & Grace and I feel like we’re having that kind of fun on this show. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it’s not dropping. I think it’s a great group, everybody is really funny, and we have great chemistry together. The crew is laughing a lot, which I think is even a better sign—it takes a lot for those guys to laugh, because they’re standing around for 14-hour days and they don’t give a shit.

“I have had people mad at me about not having plastic surgery, and say like, ‘Well, I’ll check back with you in five years, and see how you feel about it then.’”

In the first episode you find out that pregnant women have a ton of perks, and you pass yourself off as one. What’s the biggest perk that pregnant women get?

Getting free stuff. Having people rub your shoulders or run to get you a pastry and a cup of coffee, or getting cuts in line.

They’re totally spoiled.

They’re pampered.

You recently said that not having kids is sort of a “weird taboo.”

Yeah, there are two taboos: not having children and not having plastic surgery.

And to make it though Hollywood without doing either, that’s pretty daring.

I know, I’m a lawless rebel.

Do you ever feel judged at all?

No, I really don’t. I think plastic surgery is fine for other people—I don’t judge if that’s what you want to do—but it just wasn’t my thing. I have had people mad at me about it, like, “Well, I’ll check back with you in five years and see how you feel about it then.”

I’m sure they’re just defensive about their own "work."

I think that everyone has their own reasons, but plastic surgery, to me, seems fear-based, and I try not to think that way. I don’t want to be coming from a place of “Everything’s fine! I’m never going to die! I’m, like, 17! Look!” That’s just how I feel about it.

And then not having children was just the way it worked out. I was 41 [years old] when I met my husband and we didn’t get married until we had been together for three years. We did try [to have children] for a little while but I think I was already a little past the age. It wasn’t a heartbreak. We tried and decided we didn’t want to go down the in-vitro route because I feel like if things are meant to be, then they happen. We could still adopt if we wanted to, sometime down the road.

Your mother was a former model and now you’re playing a very untraditional mom. Was your character influenced by her?

My mom is a really good mother actually, so not really. The character of Rosemary is just completely lacking in any kind of parenting skills whatsoever, but she doesn’t know that. She thinks she’s awesome.

Her teenage son, somehow, turns out perfectly.

Rosemary’s laissez-faire approach to parenthood has worked out in her favor. My mom was actually a really good, very devoted mother. I’m an only child and she was very supportive and encouraging of me as a creative person. She was kind of strict, I couldn’t ride my bike in the street until I was 12, and by then no one [else] really cared anymore.

Your husband, Nick Offerman, is playing Amy Poehler’s boss in the new sitcom Parks and Recreation. In the Motherhood airs the same night—any competition there?

No, we’ve just been twirling and giggling with excitement over here as a result. It could not have worked out any better, we both started shooting at the same time, and we’re starting to air within two weeks of each other. I couldn’t personally be any happier.

No gloating about which show’s ratings are higher?

[Laughs] I think his show is kind of the actor’s dream show, because it’s the creators of The Office, which is our favorite show, so it’s all good. Amy Poehler is one of my best friends, and Nick has known Amy for years from way back in the Chicago [Second City] days. It’s all just six degrees of separation.

Who gets the credit for the big resurgence of funny women on television?

I think Tina Fey has helped us out a lot and become an actual force of nature when usually it’s just the guys like Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Steve Carell, and that whole group. I think Tina is the first woman who has gotten into that echelon. Tina and Amy and I have been super great friends for years and years. Cheryl [Hines], Jessica [St. Clair] and I have been saying that In the Motherhood is the first show in a while where all the people have an improv or sketch-comedy background. It seems unusual that we have three really strong, funny women. That does seem a little unorthodox.

You were on Will & Grace for eight years, which felt very progressive. What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding Proposition 8?

I’m not a political person, but c’mon. I mean, it’s over. All of this is like trying to keep the black man down. You cannot do this anymore. It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or something. This is just a last-ditch effort. It’s almost laughable now that you could try to pull off something like that. And I don’t like to talk about political things in the press, but I think this one is a no-brainer. This is back to the Dark Ages. This is like putting people on the back of the bus or something—it’s like no, we’re moving on now, so everybody just pull yourselves together.

I bet you didn’t expect that to happen, especially after your show had been on the air for so many years.

I think that there was a little bit of a sneak attack. I think that it will all come out in the wash. I think that it was great that it happened, actually, because it brought a lot of attention and awareness to this that wouldn’t have been brought if that hadn’t passed. I think it was for the best that it happened. I think it’s all changing, whether people want it to or not. I feel like, get on board, c’mon in, the water’s fine. It’ll just be easier.

I heard you discovered the comedian Bill Hader ( Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and brought him to the attention of Lorne Michaels—and now he’s been on Saturday Night Live for four years.

My brother-in-law was taking a class at Second City and was really good friends with Bill Hader, and I saw him in a show and thought, “Wow, that kid’s a star.” Afterward I said, “Hey, I know this is crazy, but I thought you were really great in the show—would it be weird if I called Lorne Michaels about you?” He was like, “Uh, no, that wouldn’t be weird.” I don’t even really know Lorne, I only hosted the show once, but I told him the same story and he said, “OK, I’ll fly him out. He better be good.” Bill got the job, obviously, and he didn’t even have an agent. I saw him at a party on Oscar night, and he said, “Um, thank you for my career. I feel like I have to say that every time I see you.” He’s been absolutely adorable and lovely, and coincidentally, was dating this girl named Maggie at the time I met him, and they ended up getting married. She and her writing partner were living in New York and got hired as writers for In the Motherhood, so they moved out [to Los Angeles] to write on our show, and Bill is commuting back and forth to be with his wife. How kooky is that? It’s a really great moment of synchronicity.

Kara Cutruzzula is a culture reporter at The Daily Beast and recent graduate of UCLA.