Wendie Malick is not at all uptight about playing uptight.
"I tend to play extreme women who blow real hot and cold, and I don't in my own life. I'm actually much nicer than that," chuckles Malick as she contemplates her latest role.
She plays Jane, high-strung mother of the bride in the new ABC comedy series "Big Day" — sort of a matrimonial answer to Fox's "24," chronicling 24 hours of an extravagant backyard wedding.
"I find it's a great cathartic character to play because she is just wired so nutty ... she just gets out of her mind crazy over these tiny, little nutty things," says Malick, best known for playing the outrageously neurotic fashion maven, Nina Van Horn, on "Just Shoot Me."
"I think oftentimes I play women who kind of stand up and make fun of those of us who take ourselves too seriously, and we all do sometimes. So, hopefully, in a humorous way, you can look at (Jane) and say, `Oh, God, I have a little of that in me. Maybe I should look at that, and calm down and breathe.'"
Malick was talking between filming scenes at Sony Studios, where most of the family home and wedding scene have been created on sound stages.
Naturally stylish, the one-time model is wearing a sleek, fire-engine-red dress and an assortment of offbeat jewelry — much of it her own. She would have looked the height of elegance if it weren't for her hair, which was blown into a wind-swept froth, since Jane had just been on a wild motorcycle ride with an ex-lover, Bob (Jack Conley).
Entering the house, they discover Jane's husband, Steve (Kurt Fuller), consorting with a glamorous stripper, Shampagne (Amy Laughlin), whom he suggests could stay and perform at the wedding dinner.
The scene is just one example of how "Big Day" conspires to expose as many everyone-behaving-badly moments as can be crammed into the tension and turmoil surrounding the wedding of Alice (Marla Sokoloff) and Danny (Josh Cooke), organized by harassed wedding planner Lorna (Stephanie Weir).
"Real time-ish" is how co-executive producer Matthew Carlson describes the half-hour series, which premieres Nov. 28 at 9 p.m. EST.
While acknowledging the influence of "24" on the way the show is structured, producing partner Josh Goldsmith stressed its extremely different content: "They're not defusing a nuclear bomb here. They're arguing about salad!"
Malick likes the whole "`24' light" conceit, but says sometimes it does make the actors feel like "mice on a treadmill," because "we keep thinking, `Weren't we just in this room, wearing the same outfit?'"
Some characters wear the same outfit in all 13 episodes, so Malick feels lucky because Jane does get a change of clothing after being caught in the rain during an extremely high-voltage family fight.
Elaborate wedding not appealingMalick, 55, is married to her second husband, Richard Erickson, whom she met building houses for impoverished families — something they still do every Thanksgiving.
But, she says, "I remember as a child never wanting to be married. I just thought, `Why would you ever want to give up your independence?' That freedom was so much more alluring to me."
Love, of course, changed her mind, but the appeal of an elaborate wedding still puzzles her. Her wedding to Erickson was on a mountaintop in Sedona, Ariz., in the company of just 10 friends.
She has a theory about why big weddings are back in fashion. "I think there's a direct correlation between how excessively people behave in their private life to how much in despair they are. ... It's a fearful time for a lot of people in the world, and that whole idea of living out a fantasy has taken on a new momentum."
A vegetarian who is seriously committed to animal rights and environmental causes, Malick has come to understand that working in comedy is OK.
"There are times when I've thought I wish I was doing something a little meatier, that maybe I should be working on something that's really about something I am passionate about, that's more inclusive of my interests and reflects my activist life better," she says.
"But, the truth is, more often than not people come up and say, `Thank you for making me laugh before I go to bed at night.' I just figure that's not a bad way to make a living."