LOS ANGELES — Swoosie Kurtz, who plays Melissa McCarthy’s outrageous mother, Joyce, on the hit CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly,” got her first lesson in the fickleness of show business more than 50 years ago.
“We were backstage after the performance getting ready to meet our families when I was told there was a man who wants to see you, Eddie Foy III,” said Kurtz, relaxing on a red sofa that matches her hair.
“He was a famous casting director,” she related. “He said, ‘I thought you were wonderful in the play. I want to put you on “The Donna Reed Show.”’ It was a big deal. I had to get my SAG card. I had to get out of school to shoot it.”
Kurtz, 68, worked for one day playing a friend of Mary (Shelley Fabares) in a party sequence and another scene talking to Mary on the phone. She recalled the anticipation the family felt waiting for the show to air.
“We had everybody sitting around the TV sets — all the relatives across the country,” Kurtz said smiling. But most of her debut ended up on the cutting-room floor. She was just a blink-and-you’ll-miss in the party scene. “And the phone call — all you hear is my voice,” she recalled.
Kurtz picked herself up from that initial disappointment to become one of the most versatile actresses working regularly in theater, film and television.
“She’s smart, she’s funny and she’s immensely talented,” McCarthy said via email about Kurtz. “She really has no limitations.”
Though Kurtz has appeared in several films, including 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons” and its 1999 contemporary remake “Cruel Intentions,” she has found a real showcase for her versatility on television, including movies, such as 1993’s “And the Band Played On,” and as a regular on several series, most notably the 1991-96 NBC drama “Sisters,” for which she earned an Emmy nomination.
For three seasons she’s been having fun playing Joyce on “Mike & Molly.”
“It’s been very liberating,” she said. “She is inappropriate in the best possible way. She just tickles my sexual funny bone. She has no filter. She says stuff because that’s what she feels. She’s different from anybody I ever played.”
“You find out when you become another person that is the way you can connect with people,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, my God, I can make people laugh. I can make them cry.’ I realized I could be more comfortable, more relaxed and communicate with a whole room of people — and now a huge audience of people — than I could ever do one to one.”