Comedic actress takes on role of the nurturer on long-running CBS sitcom
Actress Mimi Kennedy has had quite the career these past four decades. She toured the country in National Lampoon’s Comedy Tour, starred in the variety show 3 Girls 3, portrayed Abby O’Neil on the ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg, has written a memoir—and that is only just scratching the surface. For the past seven years, Kennedy has portrayed Marjorie Armstrong-Perugian, the strong voice of reason and AA sponsor to the dysfunctional mother/daughter duo Bonnie and Christy Plunkett, who are portrayed by Allison Janney and Anna Faris, respectively, on CBS’ critically acclaimed hit show Mom, which deals with the everyday issues of substance abuse and the steps to recovery.
Growing up in Rochester, like most kids all Kennedy really wanted was some attention, which often resulted in her acting out, pretending, singing to or mimicking people who were around her. It’s safe to say that Kennedy received the attention she yearned for and ended right in the center of the Hollywood spotlight.
“I did the National Lampoon Comedy Tour with my friends Jim Steinman, Meatloaf and my husband Larry Dilg,” Kennedy said. “We toured the college circuit and many of them were in New York. I think we were out on Long Island and Oswego. There were a lot of places, and I’m from Rochester so it was like home.”
The National Lampoon Comedy Tour that Kennedy was part of originally starred comedians Jim Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray, who had all gone on to do Saturday Night Live, a show that Kennedy was actually supposed to be on.
“I remember watching the debut of Saturday Night Live in Oswego in a deserted student union and I had been picked to do that opening show with a parody of Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman,’” Kennedy recalled. “The parody laws were different and at the last minute they didn’t let me have the music so that part was recast. I remember thinking with my heart sinking that the fame train just left and I was supposed to be on it. But it was still fun riding around in a van [during the comedy tour] and that led to 3 Girls 3 with Ellen Foley, who was in on the Lampoon Tour with me, and Debbie Allen. I loved doing that. It was just overnight stardom and we were Hollywood girls with Bob Mackie gowns and Emmy Award-winning orchestrations. It was great.”
Fast forward to many years later, Mom, which is one of the many brain children of television writer and producer Chuck Lorre, had a role for a veteran AA sponsor that needed casting. After being unimpressed with the prior readings they’d had, someone recommended Kennedy for the role. She got a phone call soon after.
“They did some readings and I heard that one of the people in the room said that Mimi Kennedy would give us a better reading than anything we’ve heard,” Kennedy said. “So they called me up and said to show up at the table read and I did. I’ve worked with Chuck on Dharma & Greg, and Eddie Gorodetsky and Chuck Lorre had both been writers on Dharma & Greg and they knew me and they said, ‘This is going to work.’ So I did that as a guest star. I did a few other [episodes] as a guest star and they asked if I’d like to be a regular and we made a deal. I was very happy because I loved Anna Faris and Allison Janney and I just thought that this was great. I also loved what it was saying. I’m all for the 12-step program.”
This season on Mom, Christy returns to school to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer while Bonnie attempts to have a healthy romantic relationship with her new husband, Adam, who is portrayed by William Fichtner. So what is in store for Marjorie this season?
“Marjorie has a little bit of a love interest this season; a little flirtation,” Kennedy said. “She’s been a widow for a year and she removes her wedding ring from Victor. Peter Onorati, who is a friend of mine—we were in a show called Joe’s Life together for a year, he played my brother-in-law—he comes on [this season]. Last season, you saw me in Canada at a 12-step convention and somebody off camera throws a snowball at me and I say, ‘Oh, Wayne! You devil!’ Well, Peter Onorati shows up as Wayne.”
With a hilarious cast that includes Janney, Faris, Kristen Johnston, Jaime Pressly and Beth Hall, Kennedy said it’s some of the best times that she’s ever had acting.
“My old acting teachers used to tell me, ‘Do all the work and then leave it all behind,’” Kennedy explained. “When you’re actually pretending to be someone else, you don’t want the work to show; you just want it to flow. Allison and Anna do that to a T. There’s no mistake on why Allison has an Academy award. She’s incredibly gifted and so is Anna. Anna is so funny and so bright, but it’s easy work because as long as we know our lines, pretty much the situations flow from character and now we know our characters, so I just enjoy it. I can compare it to being a little girl where you have school and then you go home and play dolls. That’s the fun part of the day and I feel like I’m playing dolls.”
And with a hilarious cast come hilarious moments including one moment that involved Janney’s character that Kennedy will never forget.
“My favorite of all time was when Allison’s character Bonnie came over for some advice from Marjorie and I was watching man-on-man porn,” Kennedy laughed. “She said something like ‘too many balls’ and I said, ‘That’s actually the name of this one.’ They had just changed that line and it was a surprise to Allison. She didn’t know that’s what I was going to say and we just got laughing so hard. It was hysterical. And I look back and I think ‘Wow. We’ve become a little bit more of a family-friendly show.’”
So how does Kennedy hope to see Marjorie grow as Mom continues on?
“I just like the fact that Marjorie obviously learns how to take care of herself after a long use of abuse and now she takes care of herself and she’s aging pretty well,” Kennedy said. “There’s a lot ahead of her. She has the energy to nurture other people’s recovery to love. I really like that. Plus, it’s just so damn funny. People don’t realize that in 22 minutes it’s almost like you’re doing haiku. You know how you can remember a haiku poem better than you can remember Milton’s Paradise Lost? Well that’s how this is. As long as Marjorie keeps her sense of humor intact, I just look forward to whatever they have me doing. It’s all wonderful and again because it’s about recovery, there is always hope.”
When Kennedy isn’t filming the show, she is involved with charitable organizations such as Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles.
“It was started by Father Greg Boyle, who has become a friend, and his motto is ‘Nothing stops a bullet like a job’ and I have seen Homeboy Industries grow into an amazing operation,” Kennedy explained. “They have a bakery. They have a beautiful community center with art therapy and they do great work. It’s like recovery for an entire population and community. This is making strong political and artistic leaders in the community of downtown LA. I support almost anybody who asks if I can do that. Of course, cancer recovery and hope centers, but I must say that Homeboy Industries has a place in my heart and the rest of it a lot of times is political. If I see somebody that is on Martin Luther King’s nonviolence spectrum in their approach to global or national politics, I’m all in.”
In the end, Kennedy said that she hopes Mom is remembered for years to come for its hilarity and its strong female cast.
“There is a way to a recovery no matter what your addiction is, whether it’s food, shopping, booze or drugs,” Kennedy said. “We show that there’s really a good way to do it in community and it always gives you hope that your life could change as long as you work hard on yourself and you take it one day at a time. That’s what I want them to remember.”
Catch Mom on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.