Mayim Bialik is known to anyone who grew up in the 1990s as Blossom. The precocious, hat wearing teenager was a relic of a more innocent television era. Unlike most teen stars, Bialik left the entertainment industry for academia, earning a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Now a mother of two, she has decided to return to acting. After playing roles on ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’ and ‘Til Death, she just booked the part of Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons) new love interest on ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Bialik discussed why she gave up science for showbiz, being the first celebrity featured on ‘What Not To Wear,’ and how being an observant Jew affects her career in entertainment.
You just landed an exciting new part.
I just booked a recurring role as Jim Parsons’ character’s girlfriend on Big Bang Theory. It’s kind of funny because in my audition the producer said, “Do you really have a PhD in neuroscience? And I said, “Yes.” So I guess I finally found the show that’s a perfect fit, that’s as geeky as I am. To be honest with you, I had never seen it. I didn’t even know what it was. For the audition I had to basically play a female version of Sheldon. So I went on YouTube and I did my best mimicry. My husband tells me it’s the most popular scripted show in the country. I’m booked for the season finale which will air May 24th and I’m on hold for a few episodes starting next season.
Watch Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon win a prestigious award:
You have recurring roles as counselors on two different shows. How did that come about?
On Secret Life of the American Teenager I play a high school counselor with a PhD. It’s kind of tongue in cheek. Secret Life was created by Brenda Hampton who was one of the writers on Blossom. On ‘Til Death, Don Reo who created Blossom, is the executive producer. He wrote me in as myself as a psychiatrist even though in real life I’m not. ‘Til Death actually does a Blossom reunion.
So you have managed to make the transition from teen star to adult actress.
It’s been great working on Secret Life and ‘Til Death was a wonderful experience. But to get this job on Big Bang Theory, it’s kind of the first show that a lot of people watch on a network where my family doesn’t have to say, “I don’t get cable.” It’s kind of a big deal. I’m still sort of reeling. I worked really hard on my audition. I had to earn it. I’m very excited and kind of curious what’s going to happen next.
‘Secret Life’ is as popular with teens today as ‘Blossom’ was in the 1990s. What’s it like being the adult on a teen show?
It’s depressing, being the oldest person on a set when you’re only 34, but Secret Life is a very interesting show. It’s interesting seeing this next generation of young actresses. It’s very different now from what it was when I was their age. Publicity is different. Standards for women have gotten harder, if that’s possible.
How do you feel about the way the writing on the teen shows has changed? Blossom was very wholesome by comparison to the shows of today.
When I was on Blossom we had to get special approval to talk about safe sex. Now you can have safe sex on primetime. I know the writers very well. They don’t have an agenda to corrupt your teenagers. They are presenting entertainment and you as a parent get to decide what your kids watch. I know a lot of people in my family who watch the show with their kids and use it as an educational tool.
Why do you think you’ve managed to avoid a lot of the problems that a lot of other teen actors of your generation experienced?
There’s a lot of reasons why young people end up experimenting with drugs or alcohol or struggling with mental illness. The industry is very hard on teenagers. My parents were strict but I don’t know the details of Andrew Koenig’s or Corey Haim’s lives. I think there’s a huge issue of mental illness being neglected. I think it’s the underlying root of a lot of people’s problems, celebrity and otherwise. Sometimes kids have problems, but I don’t know that we can blame the industry. Yes, it’s overwhelming to have people tell you you’re fantastic and then throw you out like a kleenex when your show is done, but there’s no real formula [for success] in my mind.
You were the first celebrity to go on ‘What Not To Wear.’ Do you still wear the outfits they picked out for you?
Absolutely. If you go on Wire Image and look at pictures of me, those are all What Not To Wear clothes. I do have a patient girlfriend who took me out for fall and winter clothes because they only got me spring and summer. The lessons I learned I do still follow. They knew I hated shopping when they met me and they didn’t make me love shopping. Most of my days are spent in long skirts and t-shirts because I’m teaching and I’m with my kids. I do try to make a better effort when I go out.
You’re probably also the only observant Jew ever to go on ‘What Not To Wear.’ Did they take that into consideration when they picked out clothes for you?
I follow some of the [Jewish] laws, at least to my understanding of them, on modesty. That’s what I told What Not To Wear. Most of the references to it being a religious decision were edited out. I did tell them that I don’t wear pants outside the house. They did get things that were shorter than I’d necessarily wear. I don’t like wearing sleeveless. But I’ve been really fortunate that dresses and skirts are back in this season.
How do you balance your religion with your acting. Would you take a role as, say, a serial killer or a prostitute?
There was a part that required some tasteful nudity. I did not go on that audition. I’ve been pretty lucky up until now and have been able to wear skirts in the roles that I’ve done. I did a film called The Chicago 8 where I was playing Nancy Kurshan who is an actual person. So I had to wear outfits that she wore, so I did wear jeans with long tunics over them. I don’t want to be a spokesperson for orthodoxy or observance. I don’t know what my career is going to look like. We all have to make choices, and sometimes they’re really hard.
You have a PhD in neuroscience. What brought you back to acting?
When Blossom ended I was two years out of high school. I come from a pretty traditional, immigrant family. We go to college. In 1994 it was not that hip to be on a sitcom, meaning career options in the industry were not that open to you. So it seemed like not a terrible idea career-wise for me to take some time off. I ended up pursuing in college what I was interested in, which was science. I had my first child when I was in graduate school for neuroscience. My husband and I came to the realization that we wanted to be home with our kids most if not all of that first year. A career in academia for women often looks like six weeks of maternity leave and then going back. So, not only did I miss acting and had never really done it as an adult but the lifestyle is much more compatible with the style of parenting that we do.
Is it a blessing or a curse that you will be identified with Blossom for eternity?
If I had to pick, I would say it’s a blessing. But I think everybody wants to have autonomy in their life and either have a career as an adult, or in my case have a career and also be a mom and get a degree. It really depends on how people are saying it, either as an accusation or a compliment.
Watch the latest episode of ‘Til Death’ below: