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Kaitlin Olson certainly has had her hands full lately. And it’s not just because she’s starring in both FXX’s long-running comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the new Fox sitcom The Mick. Sure, it’s a heavy workload, but it’s nothing compared with the task she faces once she gets home.
“Right now, we’re working on teaching the kids not to say ‘Shut up’ and ‘Idiot’ when they’re out on the playground,” says the 41-year-old Olson, who has two boys ages 4 and 6 with husband and Sunny co-creator Rob McElhenney.
There’s a fair amount of irony her task, given that her characters on Sunny and The Mick don’t exactly behave in a manner that parents would approve of. At various times, Sweet Dee from Sunny has gotten hopped up on steroids, become addicted to crack and dressed up like a baby to perform weird, sexy dances with her brother. And in the very first episode of Fox freshman comedy The Mick, premiering in January, her “Mickey” shaves her armpits in a grocery store aisle, convinces her nephew to mock a bully’s genitals and lights a garbage can on fire as a distraction so she can steal ice cream.
Bad behavior like that is all in a day’s work for Mickey, a proud screwup who ends up as the caretaker for her wealthy sister’s three kids when her sibling and her husband go on the lam after being accused of financial fraud.
“It’s a twist on the fish-out-of-water scenario,” Olson says. “The show is about this woman who doesn’t care about anyone. She’s a hustler and then has to ask her sister for money. Ultimately, Mickey has to find her way through her sibling’s wealthy world. She clashes with the kids because they have completely different personalities.”
In her personal life, Olson is as different from Mickey (and Dee, for that matter) as, say, Snow White is from Madonna — which is precisely why she wanted to tackle The Mick. Because “she is absolutely nothing like me,” Olson admits she “wishes I had some of her ballsy attitude.” In particular, she describes herself as someone who “cares very deeply but has spent her whole life wishing she didn’t. I love that Mickey doesn’t have dreams or a job or cares what people think of her.”
She’s learned to love Mickey despite a bit of a rocky start.
“I didn’t want to fall in love with the pilot script,” Olson confesses. “After a decade on Sunny, I didn’t want to do a comedy on a network. I just loved where I was on FXX, with a lot of freedom to do what we wanted, and assumed a network comedy would keep me handcuffed.”
It helped that the pilot was written by Sunny scribes Dave and John Chernin, and Olson wanted to make sure their racy style would remain intact. She expressed her concerns to Dana Walden, the co-chairman and CEO of the Fox Television Group, explaining exactly how non-PC she wanted The Mick to be. That didn’t mean “a show where I could swear as often as possible. I just like to be surprising with my comedy. I’m not interested in shock value but do want what I do to be something you’ve never seen before.” Walden instantly agreed, and The Mick was set in motion.
There was one other condition Olson had before signing on. She wanted to be an executive producer on the series.
“I’ve been on Sunny for 12 years now and have developed a lot of opinions on how things should be done,” she explains. “With The Mick, I was able to cast people I want and spend weeks in the editing room working on the pilot. This really is kind of my baby.”
Being a boss is a new role for her but one that she’s acclimated to pretty quickly by applying some of what she’s learned from watching McElhenney work on Sunny (returning Jan. 12). In particular, he’s taught her that it’s possible for an executive producer to be “a very kind person but not have that mistaken for weakness.” While she’s enjoyed being the boss, she’s discovered that “it’s funny being a woman in charge.”
“For the first few months, people kept saying how great it was that I was so nice,” she says. “I had to wonder, is that because they think I’m Sweet Dee? And if I was a male lead, would they have said they were surprised I was nice? That got me wondering if female actors are normally not nice. And what about female bosses? I felt kind of dismayed that female-driven is still a thing. I like to think I’m a funny person starring in a show and that gender doesn’t matter, but it’s still a thing. So I’ve made sure we bring in lots of female directors and assistant directors.”
She’s not just trying to set a good example for Hollywood. She’s also doing this for her two sons. “I want to make them proud of me seeking out strong women,” she says. “I want them to see it and bring that to their own lives.”
Considering that she plays two poor role models in Sweet Dee and Mickey, it’s probably a good idea to provide her kids with a more family-friendly mom.
“They’ve seen magazines and newspapers that mention me, and Rob and I have brought them into the Sunny editing room a few times,” she explains. “They’ve seen some moments from the show and thought they were funny, but I’m thinking we’re at least a year away from them seeing all of it. I did a voice in Finding Dory, and that was actually the first thing of mine I could let them see from start to finish. They do think I’m the funniest person in the world, and I do tell them that. One day I figure they’ll be on to me, though.”
Now, if she could only help them with their playground social skills.
The Mick premieres Sunday, Jan. 1 at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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