Actress Mary Lynn Rajskub is one of the most diverse and popular character actors of our time. She is a comedienne, a dramatic actress and, of course, a dog lover! You may recognize her from her roles in popular films like Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde 2, both of which she stars opposite Reese Witherspoon, stealing scenes with her unique comic flair, but it’s her role as agent Chloe O’Brian on FOX’s hit series 24 that made Mary Lynn a household name and solidified her stardom! Born in Trenton Michigan, to a pipe-fitter father and pharmacist’s assistant mother, Mary Lynn grew up in a normal, all-American household. As a child she developed a life-long love of painting, so much so in fact that she began to paint daily and would often be found creating in her room before school or before playing outside. Expressing herself on canvas soon led to her expression through acting. Inspired by the hit show Moonlighting with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, she was bitten by the acting bug and accepted her first role as an Oompa-Loompa in community theater. Her first starring role as Raggedy Ann soon followed and by the time she was in high school she was starring in school productions, most notably as the sassy and spunky Rizzo in Grease.
Mary Lynn followed her passion for painting and, following high school, headed west to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute! “I went to school for painting because I didn’t want to go to college and I didn’t want to get a job,” she says. While at school she fell into her love of stand-up while dabbling in performance art. “I did serious performance art pieces and people laughed. That’s how I knew I was funny,” she told US Weekly. Rajskub soon adjusted her act to become a parody of performance art, and audiences clamored for her fresh take on comedy. It wasn’t long until Hollywood came calling and she was asked to join the cast of an HBO comedy series called Mr. Show. After about a year on the show, Mary Lynn was recruited by comic legend Gary Shandling to join HBO’s Larry Sanders Show and she has been acting nonstop ever since. She has appeared in more than 17 movies, more than 18 television shows and numerous stand-up gigs, while continuing to pursue her passion for painting. In 2003 she joined the show 24, becoming an instant fan favorite. Playing the quirky Chloe O’Brian, an analyst at CTU Los Angeles (and later New York), she became lead character Jack Bauer’s most trusted colleague; and Rajskub became a series regular appearing in 125 episodes of 24, more than any other actor except the star Kiefer Sutherland, who appeared in all 192 episodes. The character Chloe was so popular that Project CHLOE, a Department of Homeland Security surveillance technology development program aimed at protecting airliners from terrorist missiles, was named after Chloe O’Brian, because 24 is former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s favorite show.
In 2008 she added another role to her resume, that of a devoted mother to her son Valentine, and in 2009, wife to husband Matthew Rolph. She initially struggled with her experiences with becoming a mother so she returned to her stand-up comedy roots and created the one-woman show, Mary Lynn Spreads Her Legs,” using humor to highlight her challenges and experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and early motherhood. “I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who is having a miserable time,’ so I took some notes and made comedy out of it,” she told HollywoodLife.com. “I ended up starting from a place of all the conflicts that happen when you love your baby. I don’t think anyone is ever really ready for it, and I don’t think you can ever really plan for it, no matter which point you’re at in your life, so I wanted to talk about it.” She quickly adjusted to her maternal mantle and continued to share her unique experiences to help other mothers through Nickelodeon’s Parents Connect website.
Throughout her life and her career, Mary Lynn has also had a love of all things dog, specifically her two current canine companions, Emmy a 5 year-old Cockapoo and Ginger, her 3 year-old Briard. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to spend the day with Mary Lynn and her personable pups at the W Hotel in Los Angeles, where we shared sentimental and silly stories about how dogs impact our lives! Emmy and Ginger are two pretty amazing animals. They are incredibly friendly and sublimely sweet, just like their celebrity caretaker. While they will warm up to anyone, it’s no doubt that their mom is their preferred person. In fact, the three seem to have a language all their own which was obvious as they ventured throughout the hotel for photos, never leaving her side, always attentive and always perfectly behaved. They are clearly a big part of the actress’s life and she of theirs. We wanted to get to know all about Mary Lynn, her pups, and her upcoming projects so we settled down to a cozy chat in the swank hotel suite at the W in Westwood. In moments it was as if we had known them all forever and we couldn’t wait to hear more about Mary Lynn’s LIFE and her devoted DOGS!
Mary Lynn Rajskub on LIFE:
LIFE+DOG: What was life like growing up in Michigan?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I grew up in Trenton which is a suburb of Detroit. It was very safe and pleasant. Very insulated from the rest of the world.
L+D: Did you always want to be an entertainer?
MLR: I did children’s theatre and acting in high school but when it was time to go to college, I didn’t want to be around actors and I didn’t want to do heavy academics or get a job, so I went to school for painting. I didn’t think it was possible to be an entertainer. By the time I was in college, I was doing performance art and was compelled to perform above all other things. I moved to Los Angeles to do live shows with a group of comedians I met, including David Cross, Kathy Griffin, and Jack Black. It was a very fertile time creatively. I started to get auditions and that’s when I thought maybe it was something I could do for a living. It wasn’t until the third or fourth year of being on the series 24 that I began to consider myself a professional actor.
L+D: How did you get into stand-up comedy?
MLR: I got into stand-up comedy from doing performance art in college. People would laugh at my performances and I thought it would be nice to try to get laughs on purpose. It is always exciting to stand up in front of a crowd and make them laugh and I continue to look for those opportunities as often as I can.
L+D: What has been your favorite role to date?
MLR: My favorite role to date has been playing Chloe O’Brian on 24. The character started as a small part and ended up being the right-hand lady of the main character, Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland. It was incredible to get to grow with the character as she developed.
L+D: What is a typical day like for you on set?
MLR: I have no typical day on set as I never know when I’m working or not. It depends on the job and the character. Each project has its own pace, but it is always exciting to be on set.
L+D: Do you ever bring your dogs on set with you?
MLR: I used to bring Emmy when she was younger to the set of 24. After I got Ginger, it was a little unruly to have them both. Ginger is not as passive and was skeptical of crew guys carrying large objects and strange men coming up to pet her while she was on her leash. I was a little too relaxed when training Ginger, so she doesn’t really stay down in her spot when I walk away. She wants to be near me and off her leash. Emmy is very easy-going and was never officially trained, but has always stuck close to me. Ginger is very socialized and friendly but there is too much happening on a big set for a large dog that doesn’t stay on the spot! I know they miss me when I am gone so when I get home I have to give them some special attention.
L+D: Who have you most enjoyed working with in the industry?
MLR: Every experience I have had in this business has been unique and unexpected. I have learned to be open to anything and I never know who I might meet. From traveling to Monaco and posing for a picture with Hugh Hefner, Kendra Wilkinson, and Holly Madison to acting with Harrison Ford…it has all been a part of a fantastic trip. I recently had the privilege of recording a presentation for an animated show that Bob Odenkirk is creating. He was the creator of Mr Show in the 90s and now can be seen on the acclaimed show Breaking Bad. Zach Galifinakis was one of the characters in the presentation and after we had recorded we went over to the Upright Citizens Brigade in Hollywood where we were able to see Marc Maron and others do a set. I was reminded of how long I have known and been able to enjoy all of these great comedic talents.
L+D: What is your favorite memory from working on 24?
MLR: I have many favorite memories of 24, it’s impossible to pick one. I remember the beginning and the end very well. My very first scene was with Kiefer. I forgot my lines and thought I was going to be fired. My last scene was with Kiefer and we all cried at the end when the director yelled cut. In the final episode, I was forced to shoot Jack Bauer and that was a real adrenaline rush. I also had the very last scene in the very last show which was really moving and special to me personally.
L+D: Do you prefer acting in comedy or drama?
MLR: I love both comedy and drama and my approach is the same for both. Right now, I am looking forward to more comedy because I spent so many years on 24.
L+D: What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
MLR: I have a new online show that is out right now called Dicki on MyDamnChannel.com. It is so much fun to do stuff for the web because you can really experiment. The character Dicki is a 40-year-old woman who still lives at home, doesn’t have a driver’s license, and has only had a few dates in her life. The series follows her series of missteps as she tries to break out of her self-created exile.
L+D: What is the best thing about getting to act for a living?
MLR: The best thing about getting to act for a living is all the creative people you meet. It’s inspiring.
L+D: How has your life changed since becoming a mother?
MLR: My priorities are a lot different now that I’m a mother. I take care of myself a lot more so that I have enough energy to be my best around my son. That’s code for: I don’t go out at night and drink in bars anymore. There’s a focus on getting sleep so I can be fresh when my 3-year-old ball of energy little boy comes in and says, “Wake up! It’s morning! Let’s play!” I also make sure I get some me-time so that I never resent spending time with him. You realize when you have a child that all of the things you used to worry about mean nothing compared to being responsible for another human life.
Mary Lynn Rajskub on DOGS:
MLR: Emmy joined me as a puppy after my Poodle was attacked and killed by coyotes. I was not feeling up to getting a new dog, but when Emmy and I met, I knew she was the dog for me. A close friend took me to get Emmy, but by the time we arrived she had already gone home with someone else. I was getting really bummed out, and just as we were about to leave, the people who had gotten Emmy brought her back because their landlord didn’t allow dogs. What are the chances they would bring her back just as we were there? I had to have that little wiggly fluff-ball of love and we have enjoyed every day together!
Ginger came along a few years later through my neighbor who breeds French Briards. We had become friends while she was helping me train my Poodle and she was always trying to convince me to take one of her puppies. They were always so cute and looked like little bears, but I was scared to get a big dog. My friend promised she would help and I have never looked back. Ginger is the best dog ever. She is a heart wrapped in fur!
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do with your dogs every day?
MLR: My favorite thing to do with my dogs every day is full body hugs! They are the best huggers!
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do in Los Angeles with your dogs?
MLR: It is really fun to go on hikes in LA with the dogs. Our city and weather are so beautiful and we have the most amazing parks, trails, and hiking areas. We all love it.
L+D: What have your dogs taught you in life?
MLR: They have taught me unconditional love. For real! They are ridiculously loving!
L+D: Do your dogs have any hidden talents or special tricks?
MLR: No specific tricks, but Ginger can herd sheep. Emmy has a talent of getting you to pet her for an inordinately long time and is skilled at sticking to the car seat like glue when she wants to go wherever we are heading.
L+D: If you could describe your relationship with your dogs in just one word or a few words, what would that be?
L+D: What is your favorite thing about dogs?
MLR: Dogs are great companions and they make homes more homey!
L+D: If your dogs could talk, what would they say?
MLR: Emmy would say, “Love me, love me…do you still love me?” and Ginger would say, “I love you, I love you, I love you!”
L+D: What song best represents your pooches?
MLR: To Love Somebody by The Bee Gees.
L+D: How have your dogs changed your life?
MLR: They ground me and sooth me!
To learn more about Mary Lynn and to keep up to date on her latest projects, follow her on Twitter at @rajskub. In addition, take some time to check out her artwork, which is available for purchase at www.marylynnrajskubart.com.
This article was written by LIFE+DOG editor Ryan Rice.
To read more from Ryan, visit his blog on our site.