Interview: Mayim Bialik’s ‘Saving Grace’

by | July 14, 2009 at 10:56 AM | TV News

How often do you get to say this about a Hollywood actor? Now that she’s finished her Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, Mayim Bialik is on Tinseltown’s comeback trail. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen the one-time child star of ‘Blossom’ and Beaches in small parts recently on shows such as ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and ‘Bones,’ and most recently getting her own personal makeover on TLC’s ‘What Not to Wear.’

Tonight, Bialik takes on a dramatic role, meeting up with Holly Hunter in a gripping episode of TNT’s ‘Saving Grace.’ Bialik plays a Hasidic Jewish woman who is the daughter of the murder victim in the case Grace is trying to solve.

I talked with Bialik last week about her recent return to acting, her days running around the UCLA campus with green hair, and about her fondest memories from her time on ‘Blossom.’

This looks like a pretty dramatic turn with ‘Saving Grace.’ Tell me about the role.

I play the daughter of the murder victim, who kind of helps in the investigation as things go on. It takes place in this Hasidic community, and I have Hasidic family, so it was pretty neat to be able to play that. And I got the audition for it after I did ‘What Not to Wear,’ so it’s good I kept that one long skirt that I got in Israel, because that’s what I wore to the audition.

What was it like working with Holly Hunter?

The opportunity to work with a great movie actress like Holly Hunter in a TV setting was really exciting. Her attention to detail, I think, is what makes that show so strong. And because of her producer credit, she’s not just performing, she’s really working it. She just has a really fine eye for detail and is just a very absorbed actress.

From what I understand, you practice a pretty observant form of Conservative Judaism. Was it important to you to portray that accurately in this role?

Yes. I’m not as religious as my Hasidic family or ultra Orthodox family members, but there were scenes were I had to be praying and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just some fake prayer that was being said. I felt an obligation to keep it going. But they had a consultant on the show and the writer did a lot of research. It’s always sensitive when there’s a Jewish episode of something, but every detail was perfect and the wardrobe was just right on.

I’ve heard stories about you running around the UCLA campus with green hair back in the day.

Yeah, it was streaked a bunch of colors at different times. I couldn’t do anything to my hair for five years on ‘Blossom’

I guess the real question there is about your education. It’s pretty interesting that at some point, you had to choose between neuroscience and acting.

Well, I finished my Ph.D., so I finished the course of study that I was on. And I went from undergrad to grad school, which is pretty typical in the sciences. And now I have two young kids, and to be a research professor was really just not going to work in terms of how I want to raise my kids. I love performing, it’s other aspects of the industry that I’m not good at.

Tell me more about those other aspects of the industry that you’re not good at.

Well, ‘What Not to Wear’ didn’t make me over because I have good fashion sense. I don’t deal well with a lot of the kind of public – especially online – kind of stuff about image and all that. I’m not really a partier; it’s rare for me to be out past 7 o’clock. And I don’t really have time to watch television, so sometimes I’ll call my girlfriends and say, so and so was at this event, what was she in? I don’t really go to events, so I don’t know a lot of pop culture references and stuff. But I did recognize Paris Hilton when she walked a red carpet before me at this thing I went to recently. I just like performing; I like to pretend.

It’s cool that you’re so focused on your kids. And now you’re the celebrity spokesperson for Holistic Moms?

Yes, I’ve never been a spokesperson for anything before. It’s an organization that I joined when my first son was born, and it’s still helpful to me. It’s a neat thing to put their name out there because it’s really a wonderful organization. It’s really about parenting by instinct. Some people ask, like, “You nursed all night? You slept with your kids? You feed them only organic?” First, it’s about providing support and education about making those choices, and giving you support if you do make those choices.

So, let’s take a trip down memory lane. What was your favorite scene or episode on “Blossom”?

We did take off on Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary, which was this dream sequence where Blossom dreams she’s Madonna. It was really cool, we did it in black and white and shot it at the Roosevelt Hotel and it was like our own little movie. We had guest stars, Neil Patrick Harris played the Warren Beatty character. It was just a lot of fun.

Tell me about those outfits.

In 1990, when the show started, Sherry Thompson, who was our costume designer, was mixing ethnic fabrics with plaid, and other people were doing that., it wasn’t just us. But she did have a vision. Now you do see more of that. I’m not saying it’s because of “Blossom,” but you do see it a lot now. But I didn’t dress like that off camera. I always had a weird sense of style. But there’s a lot of time when my character was in super-plain cotton blouses or dresses, it wasn’t just super-duper kooky eccentrics. But we did make Mr. Blackwell’s list and all that. Of course, who doesn’t at some point, right?

What are some of your favorite memories?

Michael Stoyenov, who played my older brother Anthony, was just a very fine actor to work with. I was very fond of him, he was kind of like a brother to me. Working with him was very special. He and I had a similar sense of timing, and that was sort of the family I grew up with.

Do you catch up with the cast regularly anymore?

Well, Michael’s kind of disappeared, but Joey (Lawrence) and Jenna (von Oy) and Ted Waas and I recently got together. Jenna actually appeared in my ‘What Not to Wear’ episode, which was very nice and she very diplomatically said I looked like trash, so that was great. But, yeah, we’ve all obviously gone different ways, but we still see each other.

We’re starting to see you pop up now in all kinds of places, with ‘What Not to Wear,’ ‘Saving Grace,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and now ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager.’ Is this is a conscious move to get back into it?

Well, my younger son is 10 months old, so I just started auditioning when he was about four months old, and things just started happening and this ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’ recurring role I have now, where Sherrya Thompson is doing the costumes. I’m working with people who’ve known me since I was a kid now. You’ll find me, basically, wherever the industry wants to put me.

Do you feel like it’s been enough time since ‘Blossom’ that you’re being considered now for more serious roles?

I’m pretty sure I look older. But if you read too much stuff on the Internet you begin to feel really bad about yourself. Sometimes I have to try to remind myself that my mom’s not the only one who likes me. But I’m an everything happens for a reason sort of person. So, however long it took me to get here, if it took me getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience, that’s fine. No one was going to hire me in movies when ‘Blossom’ ended because it was unheard of going from a sitcom to movies. Now, just trying to raise my kids the best I can is really the main job I have. This is what life looks like if you’re a performer and trying to raise your kids at the same time.

Alright, one last thing. Beaches is definitely one of those all-time classic tear-jerker kinds of movies. So, outside of that one, what are one or two of your favorites?

Oh, Lost in Translation. I had to be dragged from the theater I was crying so hard. And I like The Notebook a lot. I guess I’m an unrequited love, unconsummated relationship kind of person. Those are just super, super sad.