You might call Patricia Heaton "America's Mom":
She played the harried mom of three kids (including twins) for nine years on Everybody Loves Raymond.
She has starred for five years as the hanging-by-a-thread mom on The Middle.
And now she's on the big screen as the flummoxed mom of a teenage girl in the new comedy Moms' Night Out.
So, Patricia Heaton must really like playing mothers, right? Well, yes, but that comes with a caveat:
"Let me clear up a misconception about actors having choices," she laughs. "I'm really not making choices so much as taking jobs so I can put my kids through college. I get one call a year - 'You ought to do this job' - and I usually say yes, because we have bills to pay."
Surely that can't be true. This is a woman who's been nominated for seven Emmy Awards, and won twice. And she's one of the most universally liked people in show business. Those meaty scripts must be stacked high on her kitchen table, right?
"It's a tough business," she insists. " Raymond sort of established me as a mom, and Hollywood loves to figure out who an actor is and then keep putting them in that role.
"After Raymond I did a brief show with Kelsey Grammer ( Back to You), and The Middle was the next call I got. Frankly, I wasn't excited about doing another mom. I thought, 'Really? I just did this for nine years. This is not a challenge for me.'
"But then I read the script , and saw that it was very different. In fact, my character Frankie Heck is sort of the Raymond Barone of The Middle: Like Ray, she's the one who keeps messing up, who keeps trying to do things right and things keep blowing up in her face. So it's different, even though I'm a mom again."
Heaton, who plays the wife of a minister in Moms' Night Out, says it's mostly coincidental that both of her famous TV families are also churchgoers (The Barones were Catholic, the Hecks are Protestant - and both shows have gotten a lot of mileage out of the families' failure to display model congregational behavior.)
But Heaton, herself a professing Christian, says the sheer novelty of a TV or movie family practicing its faith doesn't speak well for Hollywood's assumptions about real people.
"Those shows - and now Moms' Night Out - really reflect where a very big percentage of people in this country are coming from," she says. "Most people have some kind of spiritual life that's very important to them. But that's mostly absent from the characters you see in film and on television."
So, keeping that in mind - along with Heaton's sad image of the actress waiting for a call - if she could pick up the phone and demand any role she wanted, what would it be?
"I'd like to be a zombie on The Walking Dead," she declares.
Knowing Hollywood, they'd insist she be a zombie mom.
Photos: Saeed Adyani / Sony Pictures Entertainment
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