Patricia Heaton Talks Moving on From Being a TV Mom in 'Carol's Second Act'

Ileane Rudolph
Q&A Sonja Flemming/CBS

Patricia Heaton became TV's favorite mom playing Everybody Loves Raymond's Debra Barone and The Middle's Frankie Heck for nearly two decades altogether. But the comedy Carol's Second Act is, in a sense, Heaton's second act.

The actress stars as 50-year-old Carol Kenney, a recent medical school graduate starting a new job as a hospital intern. She raised two kids while teaching high school science; when she divorced, she decided it was her turn to live her dream. Now Carol is "the old intern" navigating this unfamiliar setting alongside professional peers who are around her children's age.

This Act comes at the right time for Heaton. "After playing a mom for so long, I needed to do something different, but something believable for me that I could relate to," she says. "Carol is that project."

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What drew you to Carol's Second Act?

Patricia Heaton: Having The Middle end just as my kids left the house left me a little unmoored. [Heaton has four sons, ages 20–26.] Who was I without the identity of a mother or a working actress? I sympathized with Carol going through her divorce, her children grown up, and thinking, "What do I do now?" I love that she chose something challenging.

Why did her marriage end?

We'll learn where it went wrong. I have a wonderful line in the pilot where I say, "My husband went to find himself, and now he's sleeping on his sister's futon and I'm a doctor. So life is good."

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

At its heart, is the show about a woman rediscovering her purpose?

Yes. There's sadness when your kids leave the house but also a sense of freedom. I didn't realize the weight of making seven [dinners] a week! [Laughs] There's a sense that going to medical school is her way of doing self-care. 

How would you describe this character?

She's a no-nonsense, pragmatic person. Her personality is right for a doctor because she always loved science. She also was a longtime teacher who had to be organized, dealing with high schoolers and their hormones and emotions. 

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Does she have to school the interns not to be ageist?

There's an equalizing force that they're all in the same boat. Where age comes in is Carol's experience and wisdom. I think this transition into being a doctor will be easier for Carol because there's nothing like raising kids to put your needs on hold for other people.

One of the hospital's physicians, Dr. Stephen Frost, is played by Kyle MacLachlan. Tell us about their chemistry.

They're going to be great pals. For now, we're exploring Carol's independence and her newfound status as a doctor, not her love life. It's exciting to work with Kyle — he's so funny and charming. 

(Sonja Flemming/CBS)

You're an executive producer on this too. Do you have more input on your character than ever before?

This is the first time I've had any significant input from the ground up. There was no script [when I got involved], so it's been interesting to see how the sausage is made. I'm now even more of an admirer of anybody who can make [a show] happen because it's difficult!

You’re so well-known as an award-winning comic actress, but you also played an ambassador in the 2006 miniseries The Path to 9/11, and your 2015–16 cooking show, Patricia Heaton Parties, won an Emmy. Why did that project end?

Food Network didn't have room for it on their weekend [schedule], but I found it wonderfully challenging and tiring in the best way.

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Looking back on your roles, do you have a favorite line from one of your shows?

Around our house we constantly say "Very nice," because that's what Phil Rosenthal, who created Raymond with Ray Romano, always said in such a lovely way after we would do a scene.

Carol's Second Act, Series Premiere, Thursday, September 26, 9:30/8:30c, CBS