Catching Up With 24‘s Mary Lynn Rajskub

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When we last saw Chloe O’Brian, she was saying a tearful goodbye to Jack Bauer, the rogue former agent for the FBI and the Counter Terrorism Unit that she had been protecting and collaborating with since season three of 24. Now that she’s back, as a key figure in the new short-run series 24: Live Another Day, what we see is a little surprising. The tech wiz is in a dark place, having decamped to London to support a Wikileaks-type hacker named Adrian Cross, and she’s mixed up in a lot more than just exposing government secrets.

The shift in tone and motivation for Chloe seems to have been an easy one for actress Mary Lynn Rajskub. The transformation of her character’s appearance helped, with her dyed black locks and penchant for dark eye makeup. But it’s a testament to the 42-year-old’s abilities at adapting to the world of dramatic acting, even after years of being known primarily as a stand-up and a comic performer on programs like Mr. Show and her run on 2 Broke Girls.

We caught up with Rajskub in London during a break from filming the last batch of scenes for 24: Live Another Day to discuss returning to this iconic character, transitioning back into the world of stand-up, and juggling a creative career with parenthood.

Paste: Were you surprised at all when you got the call to be part of this new run of 24?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Yeah, I was really surprised. It had been a good four years, I think. It was a huge part of my life obviously, but when it ended, I don’t think everyone involved thought about doing anything more. There was talk about a 24 movie, but it wasn’t like I was sitting around thinking about that every day. When it went away, it was like saying goodbye to a chapter of your life.

Paste: Did you hesitate at all about jumping back into that world or were you on board from the get-go?
Rajskub: I definitely was kind of nervous, but in a fun way. There were different stages of it. The first stage was, “I can’t believe we’re doing this.” When they did the big press announcement, the night before that, I was thinking, “Wait, is this really happening?” Then the next day I show up in a room with the producers and writers and 20 minutes later, we’re onstage. It was totally surreal. The other thing was not knowing what coming out here would be like. It’s a whole new crew. We had a really close-knit relationship with the crew for all those years that was unique to that particular group of people. Coming out here and meeting with them, and going through all the character stuff with hair and wardrobe and makeup was pretty major. Chloe became this severe goth chick. It was pretty fun from that point on.

Paste: How much can you reveal about what’s going to happen with this series?
Rajskub: I was left in a messed-up place at the end of the series. The events that happened helped expose some secrets and some of the motivation behind the things I did with Jack Bauer. Then I suffered a personal tragedy that I blame on the government. So, I became very anti-government and start working for an Edward Snowden type. That’s why I’m out of the country. Jack’s been exiled, but has come to the surface because this one CIA agent, played by Yvonne Strahovski, is hunting him down. At the same time, the British government is at odds with the U.S. over drone policies. So, that’s why a lot of the scenes take place in and around London.

Paste: It was so interesting to see you in the show considering I first became aware of you through the comedy world. Was that a difficult transition for you to make?
Rajskub: It really was a challenge for me. Creatively, my approach was the same. My stand-up has always been very character-based. I’m not really the kind of person that’s, like, “Hey, here’s what’s on my mind! Tip your waitress!” I would create the jokes based on the character I was playing. It was always a performance-based thing for me. The really cool challenge of 24 was learning on camera how to be a dramatic actress. The biggest difficulty was the industry side of things. I was very lucky that I had Joel Surnow, one of the creators of 24, in my corner. Early on, the Fox executives couldn’t believe that I was on the show. Because I wasn’t a character that really stood out at first, I think I would have been fired if not for him.

Paste: Did you find yourself getting offered a lot of roles just like that of Chloe when 24 ended initially back in 2010?
Rajskub: Looking back on that time, I wonder why did I not have another show immediately where I played a similar character. I would have taken it. I say that, but I wouldn’t have been happy doing it. Instead, I did a bunch of random things and got back into comedy. I had fun doing a lot of low-budget movies and web series. And I got back into stand-up where I started. I think it was such a strong character that nobody really approached me. I went out for a lot of auditions, but casting is hard, to find the right thing after something as big as 24.

Paste: You’ve been doing a lot more stand-up lately. Was that always something you want to return to, even amid all the acting work you’ve been doing?
Rajskub: The jobs that I was doing until recently were never anything I could dig my teeth into and I wasn’t getting any regular work, so I went back to stand-up. I started doing it once a month, kind of like how I used to do it, here and there. This time, I figured out what I had to do, though. I would talk to other stand-ups who were doing four or five sets a week and learned, “Oh, there’s some very simple things that have eluded me.” You have to hone your jokes and repeat them and pause at the same time. So, that was the first time that I worked on an act. I started to get more and more gigs, but as I started to gather steam, I got 2 Broke Girls and 24.

Paste: How has your approach to stand-up changed now that you’re a parent?
Rajskub: It’s kind of crazy some days. There will be some nights where it’s 10pm and I’ve already done my set and I’m getting something to eat, and I’m, like, “It’s 15 minutes past my bedtime! And I have to be up at 6:45? Are you kidding me right now?” There are a lot of nights where I feel like I fucking don’t want to do this. But I’ve forced myself to get into the groove. I don’t want to stop doing it. It’s kind of weird, but overall I’ve been pretty lucky not having a regular gig so I could be with my kid.

Paste: How has your son adjusted to the idea of his mom being an actor and potentially seeing her on TV?
Rajskub: It’s really funny. When I’m not home, he’s, like, “Mom’s always acting … mom’s acting again …” There are also a couple of moments where he has sat on set and he’s totally into it. He’ll sit in a director’s chair with earphones on and watch the monitors. That lasts for about four minutes, and then everything else is interesting, but there’s that one window where he’s watching and he gets it.

Paste: Do you think we’ve seen the last of Chloe O’Brian?
Rajskub: I have no idea! I’d love to know how this series ends. I’d love to know if they’re going to kill me. And will my hair grow out? I’m just looking forward to getting the black eyeliner off my eyes.