"I'm tripping out because I never have interviews like this," says Mary Lynn Rajskub about midway through our 20-minute afternoon phone conversation. "I feel like I'm talking to a girlfriend right now, and it's making me really happy." It should. After all, the 37-year-old actress and comedian is just chatting with Advocate.com, not saving Jack Bauer from yet another life-or-death terrorist situation as code-cracking tech analyst Chloe O'Brian on Fox's high-octane series 24. Having lent her acerbic wit and deadpan delivery to small yet memorable parts in queer-friendly films such as Mysterious Skin, Little Miss Sunshine, and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Rajskub now costars in Sunshine Cleaning, out screenwriter Megan Holley's indie dramedy starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who start a crime-scene cleanup business. We hacked into Rajskub's complex role as an introverted lesbian before blowing the lid off her real-life flings with girls and gay men.
Advocate.com: What attracted you to the character of Lynn in Sunshine Cleaning?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: People often stereotype gay characters as outgoing, sassy, flamboyant, or extreme, but I love that Lynn keeps to herself. She's really sweet and genuine. Lynn is more adult, responsible, and ready for a relationship, but she's interested in this weird girl: Emily Blunt's character, Norah, who's all over the place. Norah's sort of this open wound looking for someone to talk to.
Though nothing materializes, do you think Norah reciprocated any of Lynn's romantic feelings?
I would say yes, but -- and this is going to sound really actor-y -- it may have just been me in character thinking Norah was really interested in Lynn. Early in filming there was a scene that was cut where we had another date at her apartment, and when we were shooting it I was like, "Wow, she's really into me!" But I didn't really have that conversation with Emily.
Do you think Lynn and Norah ever reconnect after the film's end credits?
There was another scene that was cut where Norah comes into the blood bank again after I've said, "Don't call me." She's like, "Can't we just talk? I'm just trying to make things right. I'm sorry. Let's be friends." But Lynn's like, "Why do you continue to engage me? If you're not into me sexually or intimately, then what are you doing? I was really into you, and now I'm humiliated." Lynn was pretty adamant about not putting herself out there again for another screwed-up person. But I'd love to see that relationship explored more, because I think those two are an interesting combination.
Let's hope for a sequel.
Yeah, maybe Norah comes back from her road trip and says, "You know what? I'm gay." And then she has to go kiss Lynn's ass.
Did you talk to or observe any lesbian friends to prepare for your role?
Not really. There are tons of things I have no idea about because I don't live a gay lifestyle day to day. But can I imagine being attracted to a girl, being in love with her, and being hurt by her? Yes.
In one scene you flirtatiously nibble a candy necklace around Emily's neck. Was it challenging to achieve that level of intimacy and sexual vulnerability with another actress?
Yeah. Because of the shooting schedule, that was the very first scene Emily and I shot together after I'd met her, and it was my first day on set. Emily and I were both so excited when we got done with that scene because it was so real. The connection that we had, the awkward tentativeness, was really cool. We both were like, "Wow, that felt great."
As a guest on Adam Carolla's radio show in 2007, you said, "I tried hard being a lesbian, but it didn't work." Were you joking or have you really experimented with women?
Adam couldn't spar with me verbally, so things got really weirdly personal. I got kind of uncomfortable. I was like, "Why am I talking about my personal life so much on a morning show? People are driving to work and I'm telling a titillating anecdote about having sex with a woman? What is happening?" But yes, I have had experiences with women. I mean, believe me, I wish it had worked. I think women are great.
Playing a recurring character on NBC's Veronica's Closet, you dated Veronica's ambiguously gay assistant Josh. What was up with that relationship?
That was a really odd relationship, and they never really spelled out that story line. I could've been a beard, or I could've even been gay too. There's more to explore there, and I was always wondering about it myself -- and no one would answer any of my questions. [Laughs] I do remember that we were both supposed to be in love with Scott Baio.
Have you ever dated a gay man?
My first kiss and the first guy I was in love with was a gay man. It was in junior high, and he was years away from knowing he was gay. I remember seeing him when we were in our 20s, and he would not come out and say it. He just kept saying, "Yeah, there's someone that I'm dating," and saying "this person" instead of "he" or "she." I was like, "Aw, man, let it out!" Another really good friend of mine and I had a sexual experience, and he later turned out to be gay too. But I look back on it so fondly because it was one of his first sexual experiences, so I was like, "Oh, he trusted me!" It was a very special time.
You'll next appear on the big screen as Amy Adams's character's best friend in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia. How do you make the archetypal romantic comedy "best friend" role memorable?
Great question, but I don't know if I have an answer. I just kind of show up and hope for the best. 24 is so intense and extreme, and even a movie like Sunshine Cleaning is odd, so sometimes I just want to be the friend in a romantic comedy where there's good lighting and I can have my hair brushed.
Janeane Garofalo, whom you replaced as a regular on The Larry Sanders Show, joined the cast of 24 this season as FBI agent Janis Gold, a fellow computer whiz. You're often asked in interviews about a romantic future between Chloe and Jack Bauer, but what are the chances of Chloe and Janis having a hot lesbian affair?
You really took it there, didn't you? [Laughs] I think the chances are pretty good.
How might that go down?
The world is about to end, stress levels are high, and they have to blow off steam somehow. There would be some anger involved, some tech talk, and they'd push each other up against a large hard drive.
You and boyfriend Matthew Rolph have decided to remain unmarried even after the birth of your first son, Valentine, in July 2008. Do you not believe in marriage?
I always thought that I wanted to get married. Every guy that I'd date, I'd be like, "This one I'm marrying." I was brought up thinking you're supposed to get married, and it would always be in my face. But what I've realized is that I don't really care that much. Having said that, now that we have a kid we probably will get married at some point, because I do think that's important. I'm not cynical towards marriage; I think it's wonderful. Oh, my answer is crazy, isn't it? I start by saying I'm not into it, and now I'm like, "I love it!" But you understand. I like the idea of it, and if people want that, they should have it.
Valentine is a beautiful name, even for a boy, but let's be honest: He's probably going to need to butch it up once he gets to high school.
Nobody else would come out and say that in an interview. I love it. [Laughs] Well, it was Matthew's great-great-grandfather's name, and two weeks before he was born we were like, "It's the name of a Roman god, it's strong, it's unique." We really didn't think it was that weird or feminine until we went to his first pediatrician appointment and they were like, "Is she ready?" We were like, "What did we do?" [Laughs] But he's got a lot of different ways he can go with it: Val, Valen, Tiny.
Your boyfriend's very attractive, but dating a personal trainer sounds extremely stressful to me. I'd always be self-conscious about my body and scared to snack in front of him.
Yeah, but the funny thing about him is that he loves to eat sugar -- although he'd kill me for saying that, because we generally eat pretty healthily. But all we did while I was pregnant was watch TV and eat ice cream. It was the greatest.
So which contestant are you rooting for on American Idol this season?
That blond girl with the tattoos. I watch more TV now than ever since being pregnant, having the baby, and being more homebound. My boyfriend got me into The Biggest Loser, and we watch Confessions of a Teen Idol. I sometimes start watching Intervention and can't stop. And I have to admit I've watched many, many episodes of What Not to Wear. I am that girl in the hoodie sweatshirt and jeans getting yelled at because she thinks she's dressing up by wearing a T-shirt without writing on it.