Speaking to Wendi McLendon-Covey was a once in a lifetime experience. The actress is a gifted performer, and her portrayal of Beverly Goldberg on The Goldbergs, along with her movie and TV work, puts her in a class by herself. McLendon-Covey is a dynamo on the phone as well, speaking not long after Comic-Con and the first table read for the new season of The Goldbergs.
The show returned this week, and Wendi McLendon-Covey was kind enough to fill us in on what’s to come and what has come before in a truly incredible role. Note to the Emmys: she’s been nominated twice for a Critic’s Choice Award, but not even a nom for playing Beverly Goldberg is truly shameful. Hopefully, this is the year that the otherworldly actress breaks out in a major way. She even did a stint of interviewing herself prior to the Oscar telecast!
Here is a condensed and edited version of our chat with the creative spirit that is Wendi McLendon-Covey.
Brief Take: You do such an incredible job of portraying Beverly Goldberg.
Wendi McLendon-Covey: Thank you. Well, I guess the long and short of it is that she loves her family so much. And because she does not work outside the home, this is her domain, this is her kingdom, you don’t mess with it. She’s the CEO, the President and CEO of the Goldberg family and damn if anyone is going to take that away from her. But she always acts with love. She doesn’t want to apologize.
BT: What has been the evolution of the show between the last time and this year’s Comic-Con?
Wendi McLendon-Covey: One thing that has evolved, and I think that it’s a really cool thing, is that a lot of people that we talk about, or who are actually being portrayed on the show, have shown up with cameos in the show. Fans love that type of thing. So the real Beverly and her Frentas have been on, the whole JTP has been on, the real Barry, the real Coach Mellor. It’s so much fun to bring these people on and watch the audience’s reaction on Twitter when they make an appearance.
BT: Did your portrayal of her change after meeting Beverly Goldberg?
WM-C: No, it couldn’t. We were too far in to change it, and plus, we had to tone her down, believe it or not, she has been toned down. Because no one would believe it. In the pilot, and this is according to Adam, okay? In the pilot, that was very close to how she is, with the constant…well, at one point, I pull off my shoe, and beat the kids in the pilot. Okay? That’s not great! [laughs] Audiences don’t want to see that, really. But, you know, we did it in the pilot, and of course we toned her down even more later. And I know that’s hard to believe, but the thing is that she’s not a famous person like Eleanor Roosevelt or Elizabeth Taylor, where, yeah, you have to play it pretty close to reality because everybody knows this person. Well, Beverly is famous in Jenkintown and the surrounding areas, but, you know, of course you can take liberties with this, and I wasn’t going to change my performance because she didn’t like it. I love her, but she’s not my boss. Her son is my boss. So I wasn’t going to change anything. Luckily, she’s always been happy about my performance and once again, she’ll say that on Twitter, she’s a very active Tweeter. [laughs] And if she didn’t like it, oh, believe me, she’d say something! I would feel it across the country. [laughs] I understood her for the most part, my mother was a smother. So I’m channeling a lot of my own Mom.
BT: What do you think, are you the hero or the villain of the show?
WM-C: Well, from what I gather, Beverly Goldberg has become a verb. So people will come up to me or email me and say, “oh, I totally Bev Goldberg-ed out on my kids’ teacher”. Or “oh, my son didn’t want to kiss me before he got out of the car at school today, so I Bev Goldberg-ed all over him later.” [laughs] So I think that some people feel empowered by that, by that portrayal a little bit. I had one woman at Comic-Con stand in front of me in the line, in the autograph line, and start crying and say “you are the mother I wish I would have had!”, and that startled me, because I was raised by a smother, and all I wanted her to do was get off my butt. But you know I guess in the end, you only do those things if you care.
BT: Do you ever feel like a mother to your TV children?
WM-C: I do in that I always want to keep up with what their doing, and I miss them so much when I don’t get to see them. Over the past five months I haven’t seen them and I have to just keep up with their social media to find out what they’re doing. But I don’t insinuate myself. I try not to butt in to their conversations too much and say “What? You shouldn’t let that person do that to you!” I hold back, but it is hard because I do love them. You know, I feel sorry for Sean (Giambrone), because he is the baby of the family on the show. They always write something in which I am like attacking him with kisses or just really getting up in his personal space. And he must have nightmares. He must have nightmares about some giant wig creature slobbering all over him. [laughs] I just feel bad for the poor kid. But yes, I love them! I love Troy (Gentile) and Hailey (Orrantia) and I love Jeff (Garlin) and I love George (Segal), and I really do feel an ache in my heart when I can’t see them all the time.
BT: How do you feel about looking backwards to look forwards?
WM-C: That’s the thing, because our show…it could take place right now. It’s not about the eighties, it takes place in the eighties because that’s when Adam (F. Goldberg) grew up. But we’re not just a show that deals with the pop culture of the eighties because no one wants to watch that for very long. Our main themes are growing up and family dynamics, and how things change and how growing up can be so awkward and painful, and letting go of your kids when you don’t want to let go, that’s just so hard. So that’s the great thing about the show, is that those are timeless topics. Family dynamics are beautiful and weird and awkward and they have been since the invention of families, since the Bible, or before. So the great thing about it is that people can watch this as a family, it does not pander to children. Your kids can watch it and find it’s funny, and adults can watch it and find it funny. You don’t have to explain anything weird to your kids about politics or about sex, it’s a fun diversion from a lot of other stuff. It’s a nice escape from the drudgery and all the terrible things we’re inundated with every day. So in that way, we’re never going to get political on the show. I think that we did a thing in which Beverly gets obsessed with Nancy Reagan’s wardrobe. That’s about as political as we’re ever going to get.
BT: What is the family dynamic in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween?
WM-C: My character is a single mom who is doing double shifts at a convalescence home, and she has these two genius children, one of them is so brilliant, but he blows up the science lab at school. All she wants to do is be involved but they’re used to not having her there. But she works so much and that’s painful for her. That’s really painful. This woman is working on four hours of sleep a night, trying to hold things together, and these kids have all kinds of time to get into these muddy adventures.
Sidebar: Slappy really freaks me out. I have this thing with ventriloquist dummies that they just skeeve me out [laughs] and Slappy is…he tries to turn me into his mother. So that required a lot of prosthetics on my part, and having to actually take on Slappy’s characteristics, of these weird head turns and eye movements and mouth movements. It was really really fun to play, but I can’t say it was easy. There’s one scene in which I am going from line to line from human form back into dummy form, like every other second.
BT: I”m excited to see you in John Butler’s Papi Chulo as well!
WM-C: I filmed that in March, or February. Yeah, oh my gosh I’m so excited! I loved that script. And Matt Bomer’s in it, so come on now! What’s interesting is I always do a movie or two in my hiatus, but these sometimes take years to come out or they don’t come out at all! I’m really excited! I did four movies this year and we’ll see what happens with them. I love doing indie films. I just love working! I’m a workaholic and I basically have no time off this hiatus. And I’m tired, but whatever, I like it. If I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t do it. So I’ve been really blessed this year because I’ve gotten to do a lot of different things.
BT: Can you tell me about your charity work?
WM-C: There’s an organization called Write Girl, they’re here in Los Angeles, and they put girls with mentors and they teach them writing skills, whether this is just writing essays, they have mentors in the industry who just help them write sketches and character studies and scripts and things like that. It’s just the greatest thing I’ve seen in a long time, because I know that if I was that age, and I had a creative outlet like this, it would have made such a difference for my self-esteem. They have a hundred per cent college acceptance rate? You can’t argue with that. They are amazing! Every spring they have a show called ‘Lights, Camera, Write Girl’ and the girls write sketches and scenes all day long, and then they get actors to perform them. And I gotta say, I have never been disappointed! These girls have chops! They are good writers. One girl named Cassie (Brennan), she played my daughter in a movie called The Single Moms Club, the last time she did one of these shows, she said “I’ve written three screenplays”. What? You’re seventeen and you’ve written three screenplays?! I’ll have what she’s having, you know? How do you do that? My gosh! It’s just the greatest thing. It’s just such an insecure time, so kids to have something that they’re encouraged in and that they’re good at, and that they have mentors in the field and they can actually say “do this, do that”. I’m speaking from experience here, I think it’s so valuable, and I’m really passionate about that organization.
The Goldbergs airs on Wednesday nights at 8/7c on ABC. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 15!