Most people know Mary Lynn Rajskub as Chloe O’Brian, the irritable computer whiz who’s constantly saving Jack Bauer’s hide on 24. Despite starring in a high-octane TV drama, the 37-year-old actress is a lowkey comedienne at heart, performing stand-up in her spare time. As Rajskub and her boyfriend learn the ropes of parenting – their son, Valentine, is seven months old – she’s mining motherhood for prime joke material.
Rajskub stars in a new movie, Sunshine Cleaning, about two sisters who start a crime-scene cleaning business. Rajskub plays a woman who’s become estranged from her mother. We spoke to her about her new film, plus juggling the roles of new parent, Chloe and comedian. – Mina Hochberg
In Sunshine Cleaning, Amy Adams’ character is raising her son out of wedlock. The film addresses the fact that even though it’s really common these days to raise a kid and not be married, some people still attach a stigma to it. Do you ever feel this stigma directed at you from other people?
I don’t really feel that at all. Rather than feel a stigma from the outside world, I find myself becoming more traditional in my own thoughts. Like my boyfriend and I went out with the baby today. I’m twenty miles north of Hollywood but I spent ten to twelve years all over L.A. So now we live in the suburbs and we drive over to Hollywood and it’s like, well god, I wouldn’t wanna live over here now that we have a kid. I’m not that kind of person, but things pop into my head like, “Wouldn’t it be fun to go Disneyland?” Who am I? Where does that voice come from, because that sounds like an awful idea. But for some reason I’m like, “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Are you involved in any parenting communities?
Not really. There’s this list online that was kind of started by mothers. They’ll have, like, “mommy and me” groups. I always think, “Oh, I should do that.” But I don’t have the lifestyle for it, really.
Because of work?
Yeah. I mean, I could probably show up at random meetings from time to time. But it’s like, “Lifetime friendships are formed! Sign up for eight weeks!” And I’m like, I can’t commit to that. It’s supposed to not be stressful, but I would be too worried about showing up or bringing the cupcakes.
How have you handled childcare when you’re working?
My boyfriend and I share the responsibilities. We have been using a nanny, but we’re sort of on-and-off with that. It’s hard, because we don’t have a regular schedule, but we’re trying to keep [my son] on a regular schedule. So when I’m working I’ve had him and the nanny come to work with me.
Is it harder to memorize lines when you’ve been up all night taking care of the baby?
It’s definitely different. It’s kind of a form of torture to be woken up like that, but you have to take everything slower in general. I still have a million things going on, but you kind of have to leave a lot of time to get somewhere. I turn down doing a lot of stuff if I need to rest. I think it’s called prioritizing – an interesting concept. I used to just jam everything into a day. Now it’s like, “Okay, what can I realistically get done, because I don’t know for sure if I’m gonna get sleep.”
You’re also a new mother on 24. How has motherhood affected Chloe’s character?
It’s definitely changed her. It’s more of a conflict which I think we’ll see towards the end of the season, because she’s torn between having to help Jack and deal with what’s going on with the world – her moral responsibility and her work – and going with her family.
Talk about prioritizing! How would you say motherhood is playing out differently from what you expected?
All the cliches are kind of true – your experience is your own and you really have to clue into what’s good for you and what’s good for your family. [Parenthood] is everybody’s unique process, so I don’t really see how you can plan for it or expect anything. You have to figure it out while you’re doing it.
“The product that really stressed me out was the kick counter.” You appeared with your son in People magazine. How did that come about?
They approached me. We didn’t really want a lot of pictures of the baby out there, but the thing that I liked about that is the actual photo shoot was really sweet. We got to professionally photograph that moment in time, and he does look so different now. So I kind of liked that, because you don’t really do that in normal life. I mean, I guess people go to photo studios, but it was fun to get dressed up and pretend to be candid.
Do companies send you free baby products?
Sometimes they do. There were actually a lot of products when I first got pregnant. There was one that really stressed me out, the kick counter. That’s the thing with pregnancy – all these things could happen or none of them might happen. So the kick counter’s like, “Did you get this many kicks per hour?” And you start trying to count the kicks and then you freak out because the baby’s not moving, and you’re like, “He didn’t kick enough!” So I’m like, you know what, I don’t wanna count the kicks. I’m stressed.
How much stand-up have you done since you’ve had the baby?
I’ve done quite a bit. I kind of surprise myself at how much I’ve done, because it’s really hard to leave the house, but I do shows around L.A. mostly. I got a chance to do the San Francisco Comedy Festival and I think I’m doing the Punch Line in San Francisco in May. I’ve got a lot of material from the baby, for sure.