From wife to mom to performer to activist, Kathy Najimy has yet to find a role she cannot conquer. The actress and comedian first gained national prominence opposite Whoopi Goldberg in the blockbuster film Sister Act. Since then, she’s appeared in big-budget flicks (Hocus Pocus, The Wedding Planner) and television series (King of the Hill). In her latest role, for the Hallmark Channel Original Movie How to Fall in Love, (premiering July 21 at 9 PM ET), Najimy plays a waitress and struggling actress who helps her friend turn one lonely patron into Prince Charming.
Najimy took a few minutes to talk to More about the film, her recent weight loss, and the secret to success in life and work.
MORE: You’re no stranger to romantic comedies. How was How to Fall in Love different?
Kathy Najimy: This was different because the director and the producer let me take some of the scenes and just improv. There’s a scene in the movie where Annie [Brooke D’Orsay] is trying to teach Harold [Eric Mabius] how to date. So she gets me, an aspiring actress/waitress, to do a pretend date with him. And for every take, I just made stuff up. Harold would say, “What are you into?” And I’d be like, “Well, I love to go down to construction sites and watch them stir the cement, and I love to collect French fries and bead them as necklaces.”
More: In the movie, you help turn a guy who never outgrew his awkward high school phase into a real catch. Could you relate at all?
K.N.: Oh god, I’m still in my awkward phase. I’ve never really fit in the way people fit in, which is actually a blessing because you find a way to make your own journey.
More: Unlike Harold, you’ve been happily married [to actor and singer Dan Finnerty] for 17 years. What’s your secret?
K.N.: Let me say this: We have a child together. If there’s any gift to a relationship, I think it’s having a common interest, and she’s our number one common interest. So any little rough patches are easy to get over, because on the other side of it is our family.
Also, the sexiest thing to me is talent and funny, and my husband is really talented and really funny.
More: Is it true that Gloria Steinem married you?
K.N.: She did! The funny story is that all these pictures of the wedding arrived, and in all of them it was me and Dan and Gloria. And my husband said, “You’re more excited at our wedding that Gloria is standing next to you than you are that I’m standing next to you.” And I said, “That is why I married you.”
More: One theme of the movie is to never stop following your passion. Why do you think, in light of the economy and widespread money woes, it’s important for people to remember that?
K.N.: [Because] anything is possible. I grew up an overweight, Lebanese girl in a lower-middle-class neighborhood with no connections, no acting classes and no money—not a thin, blonde San Diego girl like everybody else. And it was pure passion that kept me going toward my dream.
More: You recently finished shooting The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand. What was that like?
K.N.: At 14, I saw Funny Girl and it changed my life. I saw it like 40 times that year. So to be playing her best friend in the movie was surreal.