Listen to Austin 360 Radio

'I get to be more myself': Why Mayim Bialik is excited to play a cat lady in Fox's 'Call Me Kat'

Bill Keveney
USA TODAY

Millions know Mayim Bialik from two memorable TV characters: brilliant, buttoned-up neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory" and the smart, resilient, teen-fashion influencer at the center of '90s sitcom "Blossom."

But the actor, scientist, writer and mother has more to show fans, professionally and personally.

She kicked things off Sunday by introducing a very un-Amy-like character, exuberant cat-café owner Kat Silver in Fox's "Call Me Kat" (the show moves to its regular slot at 8 p.m. Thursdays on Jan. 7).

Bialik is looking forward to playing "Kat," a "rad" not "sad" cat lady, after "Big Bang" closed its wildly successful run in 2019.

"A job that you know and love is definitely something to miss, but creating something new is very exciting," Bialik says. With the new character, "I get to be more of myself, and that's fun, too." 

After a Sunday premiere, Mayim Bialik's "Call Me Kat" airs at 8 p.m. Thursday on Fox.

And, Bialik, 45, whose willingness to talk about personal matters and controversial topics has earned her 3.5 million Instagram followers, will use her Ph.D. in neuroscience to explore mental health issues in a new podcast, "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown" (available Jan. 13). It will feature experts and celebrity friends, including "Big Bang" co-star Kunal Nayyar.

Comic matches:Jim Parsons, Cheyenne Jackson on playing straight with Mayim Bialik: 'She does make it very easy'

Bialik says she is closer in personality to the outgoing, expressive and sometimes awkward Kat than to her reserved "Big Bang" character, who was designed in some ways to mirror Sheldon (Jim Parsons), the brainy, stodgy, rules-bound physicist who eventually would become her husband. (She and Parsons reunite as executive producers on "Kat.")

Kat "is built around a lot of my own quirks. There's not a lot of formality to her. She's socially anxious. She can be vulgar," Bialik says during a Zoom interview from her Los Angeles home. "I think that people who know me will feel like, 'Oh, Mayim got to go to work and kind of be her goofy self.' "

It's been a long, often slow-moving process, but the relationship between Sheldon (Jim Parsons), left, and Amy (Mayim Bialik) made great progress over the years on "The Big Bang Theory," which ended in 2019.

The "utterly unique" Bialik seemed like a good fit for the irrepressible Kat, says Parsons, who has watched Los Angeles tapings virtually from his home in New York because of pandemic travel restrictions.

"Mayim is a lot like Fanny Brice in 'Funny Girl.' You cannot stick her in the chorus," he says. "I mean, you're welcome to try, but she's going to fumble and fall her way out of it in the most glorious way. And that's all we're going to watch."

It's not a stretch for Bialik to play a cat person, either, since she has three rescue cats (a fourth died during the pandemic) at home. Two, Nermal and Addie (short for Adamantium), make brief appearances during the Zoom interview.

Swoosie Kurtz and Mayim Bialik play mother and daughter in "Call Me Kat," a new show on Fox.

At the cat café, Kat hangs out with employees and friends Phil (Leslie Jordan) and Randi (Kyla Pratt) when she's not jousting with her mother (Swoosie Kurtz), who wants her daughter to be married. But the return of friend and onetime college crush Max (Cheyenne Jackson) throws Kat for a loop.

Although singlehood is part of Kat's identity, Bialik says, the show strives to avoid the antiquated trope of unmarried equaling unfulfilled.

"The fact that it's sort of a running joke with her mother is the way that we bring some lightness into it," Bialik says. "But this is not a show about a woman who's single and trying to figure out how to be happy. It's about a woman who is happy with an unconventional kind of life." 

Bialik has taken her own unconventional path in Hollywood. After a breakout role playing the preteen version of Bette Midler's character in 1988's "Beaches" ("My parents always said that I looked like her," Bialik says) and achieving star status as the iconic Blossom, she mostly left acting for a decade, earning her Ph.D., getting married and having two sons, Miles, now 15, and Frederick, 12. (She divorced in 2012.)

After five years of teaching about the brain and nervous system, Bialik returned to acting for an unglamorous reason: She needed health insurance for her family. When a onetime "Big Bang" appearance grew into a larger role, teaching became too difficult, and the result seemed fated. 

Mayim Bialik, Leslie Jordan and Kyla Pratt in "Call Me Kat."

"Life is not always what you think it's going to be," Bialik says. "I still am a scientist, and I do a lot of other things in science. But entertaining seems to be where the universe wants me."

She's taking on larger roles behind the camera, as a "Kat" executive producer and first-time film director, with "As Sick As They Made Us" – starring Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen and "Big Bang" colleague Simon Helberg – lined up once pandemic-interrupted schedules can be rearranged. She's also interested in making a grown-up "Blossom" reboot, but "it's been difficult." She and "Blossom" creator Don Reo "plan to keep chipping away at it."

There's also her new podcast. The author of books about vegan cooking and attachment parenting hopes "Breakdown" will build on her efforts to promote mental health, which is one of the reasons she has gotten personal on social media and her own YouTube channel

"I've chosen to be very upfront because I'd like to believe my platform can be used for good," she says. "I think a lot about what I would have loved to have heard when I was just divorced or when I was a teenager and feeling like I didn't fit in."

Bialik hopes the podcast can help others, especially during the high-stress times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Putting it together has already helped her. 

"That's kind of been my way to deal with quarantine fatigue," she says.