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.
More: There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether women can have it all. In a recent interview, you said that you forgive yourself “on a daily basis for not being able to do everything.” Why is that?
K.N.: Here’s my main philosophy: We only have one life, and you do as well as you can in that life, and you go towards what brings you joy. If having a high-powered career brings you joy, then do it. If gardening all day or just having 16 children and making their lunches brings you joy, do that. Nobody made a rule of what’s important and what’s not. It really is personal.
My passion is very different and probably very surprising to most people. Part of my passion is when my daughter brings her six or seven friends home from school and I put out chips and salsa and music for them and make a party. That makes me happy. I love speaking to a million people about choice when we march on Washington. That makes me happy. I feel like we are bombarded on a minute-by-minute basis about how we are supposed to be. And we’re obsessed with it.
More: Speaking of obsessed, everyone seems to be completely preoccupied with your recent 50 pound weight loss. What prompted it?
K.N.: I’ve been losing and gaining weight my whole life. And I got this script that said, “And she jumps in the car. She squats. She jumps out of the car and runs down the pier.” And I thought, “Oh Lord. I don’t think I can squat or run.” So I started trying to move around and went on a diet and lost some weight. That initial jolt of losing weight is always great. And since then I’m trying to eat low carb, low sugar. I’m also type 1 diabetic, so that helps [motivate me]. And I go to Zumba classes, and I dance.
But I make no promises. I could be back up tomorrow. Right now I’m happy. I could wear some cute clothes to some premieres and that’s nice. But I don’t want to be the poster child for weight loss because I’ve lost weight before. And P.S., I’m still, according to Hollywood standards, 40 pounds overweight.
More: You’re 55 and have a thriving career. What do you know now about life and happiness that you wish you knew in your 20s?
K.N.: It sounds cheesy, but I wish I had known to really examine my dreams and not judge them.
More: What’s next for you?
K.N.: I need to shower. I’m going to the dentist. Then I’m going to meet my friend Kristin Chenoweth for coffee [laughs]. Next, career-wise? I’m writing a one-woman show that I hope to do on the New York stage.