Mary Lynn Rajskub is not in an emergency situation. For the years she played counter-terrorism analyst Chloe O'Brian on "24," she was in a state of constant urgency, but her days are a lot brighter with her new gig on the CBS sitcom "How to Be a Gentleman." Rajskub chatted recently with Wonderwall about the new show (premiering Sept. 29), "24," pulling double duty as a mom and a TV star, and her brief but memorable run on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as Gail the Snail, the world's most revolting woman.
Wonderwall: How would you describe your character on "How to Be a Gentleman"?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Well, I think I know everything, and I think I know what's best for my brother. And I think my brother is a nerd, and I want him to stop acting like such a fool. And I'm sort of overbearing, but I'm also, you know, sexy and glamorous. I'm also the boss in my household, but I'm very much in love with my TV husband. I tend to put him in his place, but we're just so in love with each other.
WW: It's a show about a gentleman, but in the pilot, your character doesn't mince words at all, and she's also the biggest female presence. She's calling all the shots.
MLR: Yeah, for sure. I think that's the truth. From the pilot, I kind of like that she shut her brother down. She got a little bit nicer. ... In the first version I read of it, she was so relentlessly rude to him. So, like, the kernel of that is still there, but it's like I'm the voice saying, "OK, if everybody would just listen to me, I will tell you how everything should be." … What I'm finding, coming from "24" and having been on a drama, is that it's a lot lighter and sexier, and the stakes are high, but they're not like nuclear bomb-hits-Los Angeles high. … And I get to change my clothes and be pretty and be a woman.
WW: Let's say Janet from "How to Be a Gentleman" could meet Chloe from "24." Who would win in a shouting match?
MLR: My gut instinct is to say Chloe, but Janet actually lives more in reality. And I know that's going to make "24" fans freak out, but Chloe is so much in-her-head and of course will cut anybody down, but she's also very specialized -- like her relationships and her social skills. If you took Chloe and put her in an apartment and said, "We're going to play a board game tonight," she would probably have a meltdown. She exists where the stakes are higher and beyond. As for everyday situations, I feel like Janet has got a handle on that kind of thing.
WW: Do you keep in touch with any of your "24" castmates?
MLR: There are parties every once in a blue moon. And I'll talk to somebody, and it's always, "How is so-and-so doing?" Our crew has ended up working on different shows -- and I know for readers that's boring because they don't recognize the crew members -- but I saw a few of our crew members, and they were like, "Oh, we saw Kiefer [Sutherland] in New York." I saw Keifer at a party a few months back, but I haven't kept close tabs on him. I saw James Morrison recently. And I read people's Twitters.
WW: You're on Twitter. Tell me about how that figures into your public persona.
MLR: I really enjoy it. I like the directness of it, for better or for worse. You can see really interesting things on Twitter -- what people are doing, what people are thinking. I'm actually looking forward to engaging even more. I put personal stuff, but sometimes it's fun to, like, talk about something in the news, but I'm always scared to put it out there one way or another. Anytime I do, I've had long conversations about God before. And I've been talking about the show a lot. There's always a steady stream of "24" fans from all over the world.
WW: Unless I'm mistaken, your baby just turned 3. How is that going?
MLR: It's pretty great. The past year and a half, I've done a lot of guest spots and live shows and writing, so all of a sudden I'm back at work again. I know he misses me because [when I get home] he ignores me or punches me. He's such a dude. Punching me or wrestling me -- those are his ways of saying "I miss you." And then now, if I, like, try to correct him, he gets mad and says, "Oh, go to work, Mommy." [Laughs]
WW: Any advice you have about balancing mom life and work life?
MLR: For me, it's about the transition between work and going home. Sometimes I have to make a conscious effort to just to slow down and get ready to let go of my work day, because the second you walk into the house, it's on and you're in kid mode. So the biggest key is, when you're with your kid, to not be thinking about work stuff, and when you're at work, to not be thinking about kid stuff. But I will say that it's been a little bit of an adjustment to all of a sudden have a full-time job and not make up my own schedule anymore.
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WW: You mentioned doing guest spots, and there's one I want to ask you about: Gail the Snail, you're walk-on role from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." She's such a richly developed, revolting character. How did you get attached to that role? Is there anything you were drawing on in playing such a thoroughly disgusting person?
MLR: Oh my gosh, I love Gail the Snail so much. I'm so glad you asked. This is one of those instances where I'm like "Oh my god, she is inside of me! I've unearthed her!" But I was friends with Kaitlin Olson from "It's Always Sunny" and then her husband ["It's Always Sunny" star Rob McElhenney], and they thought of me for this part. [On the set,] I kept getting sent back -- both for acting and for hair and makeup. They'd say, "No you still look too cute. And we still feel bad for you. We really need to hate you." It was so much fun to keep going further into the grossness of being someone who gives Danny DeVito a [expletive] under a table, in front of her mom. And they're like, "We really want to have to throw salt on you, and the audience has to be on our side." So it just kept going until finally, at the very end, I started doing the thing where I have all this spit in my mouth -- like every time she talks, you can hear all this spit in her mouth. It was so much fun, and I was sad to leave. But I was also scared and excited in the sense of "That person is in me and it is awesome!" The power of being so gross and just not caring -- it was good stuff.