LOS ANGELES | Linda Lavin has played so many mothers on stage and on television she probably can't remember a character who doesn't have that title attached.
When she was offered a role -- the mother, naturally -- in "Sean Saves the World," she decided, why not? "This is the first best mother I've read in television in a very long time," she says. "She's not a joke or the butt of a joke. She's a full-blown human being. She's not just someone's mother."
Yes, the mom in "Sean" argues with her son (played by Sean Hayes). "But she's an evolving, opinionated, lively, sensible and attractive woman," she says with a smile.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, Alice Hyatt was, too. In "Alice," Lavin played a single mom looking to provide for her son and jump start a singing career. The show brought Lavin two Golden Globes, an Emmy nomination and the opportunity to direct. The series also addressed tough issues and struck a blow for single parents.
"There was an innocence about the world those people lived in," she says. Today, much has changed. "The culture has changed. We're evolving. We're global. Humor has changed."
The script for "Sean Saves the World" was smart and sophisticated. "I go where the material is the best," Lavin says. "That's why I'm here."
Never mind that she has had one of the hottest careers on Broadway. In addition to winning a Tony for "Broadway Bound," she has either been nominated for or been touted for theater awards for just about every stage performance she has given.
Ironically, many of those roles involved playing moms.
"There aren't many TV shows that have moms in them," Lavin says. "I love Sofia Vergara. I love watching her... I love everyone on that show ('Modern Family'). But I get to be who I am now. Years ago, as Alice, I was who I was then. Hopefully, I've changed and grown and bring that "me"-ness to this mother."
To play one of those roles, "I follow the blueprint of the writing. I do a lot of playing in the moment. As a younger actor, I used to write down much more. But now, I work on my feet and remember what people said. Hopefully it lasts -- the memory part."
In the new NBC series, Lavin's character frequently advises her son (played by Sean Hayes) how to parent his 14-year-old daughter. Some think she's mean or pushy. Lavin doesn't.
"The more desperate we are, the more infuriating we are, the more the source of comedy is. That's where the laughs come from -- anger, frustration, desperation, lying and cheating. It's not from not being nice. This woman is completely loving, completely present."
And a scene stealer.
The actress, Hayes says, is "one of the nicest, most-grounded people you'll ever meet in your entire life."
And Hayes? He's a combination of Jimmy Stewart and Charlie Chaplin, Lavin says. "He's intelligent, gracious, generous...and yet a pain in the ass. His comedy is so physical. All of that goes into making good comedy."
Before Lavin began the series she did two play readings in New York and worked on her night club act.
"It's all about flexing new muscles," she says. "You've got to listen, be attentive, be generous and give back. On this show, all of the muscles are being flexed."