For Swoosie Kurtz, landing on CBS’s forthcoming “Mike & Molly” represents “a whole new time for me and a new road. It’s not just that I’m in a new television show.”
The Emmy and Tony-winning actress will be seen as the mother of Molly (Melissa McCarthy) in the comedy about a young couple (McCarthy and Billy Gardell) who meet in an Overeaters Anonymous group and fall in love. Her second daughter (Katy Mixon) is a wild girl with a fondness for pot.
“This is an entirely different character from any I’ve ever played – this woman you picture with a beer bottle attached to her hand, sitting on a crate at the bowling alley, talking to the guys. She’s loving, she’s insensitive, she’s an oblivious enabling mother. You know that she has something to do with the fact that both daughters have issues they’re dealing with. I’m not sure what it is,” notes Swoosie. She does know, “It’s been indicated to me that they have some really fun stuff for me to do.”
The actress had never before crossed paths with series hit maker Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”), who is executive producing “Mike & Molly” with Mark Roberts. So she was thrilled when she was contacted by him, and particularly flattered to be cast even before the show’s title stars.
Swoosie’s own mother, author Margo Kurtz, is about to turn 95, she lets us know, and is still doing well. “She and my dad are the most amazing people I’ve ever known. They were the opposite of this mother — supportive, always cheering me on and telling me how great I was, how special, all the things I was doing right. I was beyond blessed,” she says. “I don’t know how people make it with parents who are always undermining them. It reminds me of a friend of mine who was the lead in a play back East. She’d worked so hard and she’d gotten amazing reviews. Her mother came to see the play. Then she comes backstage and says, ‘Ugh! Why are you wearing those shoes?’ It just hit me in the stomach.’”
Swoosie’s late father, legendary WWII aviator Col. Frank Kurtz, also provided her with a life-long gift of fitness. “He was on three Olympic diving teams as a high platform diver and he was always an athlete,” she says of her Bronze Medal-winning parent. “He exercised every day long before it was trendy to exercise. That definitely rubbed off.”
HOW SWEET IT IS: Comic Billy Gardell, who made a real splash at the Television Critics Association press tour “Mike & Molly”” panel last week, tells us he was hugely gratified when his series producers invoked “The Honeymooners” as a style inspiration for the show. Gardell unabashedly declares, “That’s my man, right there: Jackie Gleason. My dad turned me on to ‘The Honeymooners’ when I was about 11, 12 years old and I watched all his movies. When he walked into a room, he lit it up, and watching him, you felt like you were hanging out with a dear friend. That’s what I always wanted.”
Gardell claims Gleason as “my idol as far as television goes. For standup, it was always George Carlin and Richard Pryor. I picked three people I can never live up to. I thought, if I could get close, that’s pretty rare air.”
The show marks a huge lifestyle change for Gardell. I’ve been doing standup for 20 years and I honor that, because it’s given me every opportunity in my life. But boy, will it be nice to drive home to my own apartment every day. And maybe when I go back out on the road now, it will be bigger, nicer venues.”
Married – his wife is a tax accountant – with a seven-year-old son, Gardell says his boy is excited about “Mike & Molly.” Not so much about the show, but the fact “Daddy’s going to be home.”