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January 12, 2021 5:22 am

Mayim Bialik Discusses Her New Sitcom, COVID, and Judaism

avatar by Alan Zeitlin


Photo: Storm Santos.

Award-winning actress Mayim Bialik shone on the TV screen in Blossom and The Big Bang Theory, and now stars in the hilarious Call Me Kat, airing Thursday nights on Fox at 9 pm EST.

In a phone interview from Los Angeles, she talked about the difficulties of shooting during COVID, why she cried when she saw the attack on the Capitol, and why she is starting a podcast for mental health later this month called “Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown.”

Q. You had some really nice kicks where you kicked a fellow actor in the face on the show. Did you have to practice so you didn’t hurt him?

A. Yeah, we have a stunt coordinator. His name’s Jimmy. He makes sure no one gets kicked in the face. I’ve been a dancer my whole life and I’m a brown belt in Taekwondo, so I actually have a lot of control over those kicks. Obviously, Cheyenne Jackson had to trust me a lot, kicking so close to his beautiful face.

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Q. Many actors would take a break after a hit show. Why did you immediately want to do a new one?

A. I took a year break. In our acting careers, we strike while the iron is hot. My financial advisor says I’m like an elite athlete. You want to capitalize on the time when you’re at your fittest.

Q. Was it hard to shoot the show during the pandemic?

A. It still is. We’re in the middle of it. We’re a show that typically films in front of a live audience. We can’t have one. We can’t have a writing staff on stage. They zoom in. We’re tested every day. Sometimes twice a day. We have to wear masks in rehearsal. When you’re trying out comedic  things that involve your face, it’s a little bit difficult. Hair and makeup aren’t  allowed to touch you at the same time.

Q. In the show, you talk to the audience at home, known as breaking the fourth wall. Was it hard to do that?  Were you nervous it wouldn’t come off funny? I think it did.

A. Our show is based on a BBC show called Miranda, and that was one of the features of the show. Some critics were like “why is she doing that?” We’re doing that cause it’s based on the show. I don’t think I’m funny. I rely on other people to tell me what’s funny, so apparently people like it. Some people don’t. You can’t please everybody.

Q. What was your reaction to what went on at the Capitol last week?

A. I cried. I cried [the next] morning also. My parents were civil rights activists and anti-Vietnam protestors. My mother is beside herself. She said she was tear gassed in Washington and she never saw anything like this. No matter what side you are on in the political divide, this is not how our country functions. I don’t understand people who would throw their support today behind this president who has violated everything we hold sacred, not just as Americans but as people. I do believe they were incited by the president. In my book, it’s completely unacceptable. I cannot believe what’s happened in the country.

Q. Why did you decide to start your mental health podcast?

A. I have a doctorate in neuroscience and worked in the field of obsessive compulsive disorder and neuropsychiatry, so that was my training. I’m a person who’s had mental health challenges my whole life. I come from a family that is perpetually in the shadow of the Holocaust. … During this past year, I decided to more actively try and destigmatize mental health and also start an intelligent and also entertaining conversation about the things that we can do, how the mind is connected to the body, and how things that we eat and the way that we sleep and the thoughts that we have do control our mental wellness in general.

Q. Do you think not being able to go to synagogue has affected a lot of people?

A. Oh yeah. I’m an introvert who really misses my Jewish community right now. Me and my sons who are 12 and 15 had been in a really beautiful rhythm of going to synagogue, and we would stay for lunch and that was our Shabbos. It was really good socialization for my younger son in particular, who tends to be very shy. That was our community. Virtual synagogue is not necessarily hashkafa, so it’s difficult. … I definitely think one of the main components of our mental health that has suffered globally is our lack of ability to have community connection.

Q: Your kids have classes on Zoom or go in person?

A. They have always been home schooled, but they do have classes through Zoom. If I was a kid right now, I don’t know if I could sit through it. They seem to be okay. My younger son, who will be bar-mitzvahed in July, just started Zoom lessons with his bar mitzvah tutor.

Q. How do you respond to those who say you can’t be Orthodox and a feminist?

A. You absolutely can be an Orthodox feminist. There’s a lot of variations to feminism and some women choose to observe the guidelines of tnius (modesty) and some don’t. But the desire for equality and for understanding the special abilities of women to better the lives of all people regardless of race, class, or gender, surpasses religion or religious observance.

Q. What has been your go-to meal during the pandemic?

A. Here’s my guilty pleasure. It’s a vegan kosher product. It’s Daiya pizza. It’s in the freezer. I’m not even a big freezer pizza fan, but it’s become my go-to. It also happens to be gluten-free, but it’s delicious. It’s a pizza. It melts. It’s gooey and my kids love it.

Q. How close are you to your character, Kat? Do you have cats and are you single?

A. I have three cats. I  happen to not be single, but I know what it’s like. I’d been single for a long time. I was divorced about eight years ago. I am like this character. I tend to be playful and goofy and silly. Sometimes vulgar. I think the character is more optimistic. People watching the show will say, “Oh yeah, that’s Mayim.”

Q. How did you meet your guy? Did he tell you a good joke?

A: We’ve known each other quite a long time. A lot of signs from the universe brought us together after 10 years.

Q. Mazel Tov on that.

A. Mazel Tov indeed.

Alan Zeitlin is a writer and educator based in New York. This conversation had been edited for brevity.

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