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Patricia Heaton: 'There’s a Lot That Can Make a Mom Feel Inadequate'

Although Patricia Heaton has been married to fellow actor Dave Hunt for 23 years, she says that working together can be tricky.

"It’s a little bit of a land-mine situation," the Everybody Loves Raymond alum admits. "You’ve got to step carefully."

After all, she says, both want their time in the spotlight. Despite the potential ego pitfalls, the couple produced and star in the family comedy Moms' Night Out, which hits theaters May 9. The film takes on the frustrating and funny sides of motherhood. It also shows how faith plays a role in the characters' lives—a topic that can be tricky to address in Hollywood.

As a mom of four sons and a Christian, Heaton talked with mom.me about date nights with her husband, her favorite TV shows (Mad Men is one), and her own struggles with not living up to the Martha Stewart ideal.

You’ve famously played moms on TV, you’re a mom in real life. Is that what prompted you to produce and star in Moms’ Night Out?

My husband and I, Dave Hunt, were approached as actors, and we really wanted to come on board as producers also because we saw some things we thought we could add to the film, and we wanted to be able to have a voice. And we also thought that it’s great to have a family comedy that’s live-action. Most comedies now are more R-rated, and they’re kind of a different type of movie that you won’t be taking your kids to. The only thing that parents can really take their kids to are animated movies. So I just thought it would be fun to have a movie where you go back to those ‘90s movies like Parenthood—any movie that Steve Martin was in.

What sorts of things did you want to add to the film?

When I first read it, my character, Sondra—a pastor’s wife—there was no internal struggle for her. I don’t want to give it away, but there wasn’t the struggle of keeping up appearances, and as an actor you need to have those things.

When I did my research on pastors’ wives, the No. 1 word that they used to describe themselves is “lonely.” But it makes total sense when you think about it, because people come to them thinking they’re all wise because they’re married to the pastor, but they can’t go to people in the congregation and say, “Oh, my husband’s driving me crazy,” because it’s their pastor.

MORE: Mom Creates Hilarious Video to "Apologize" to Friends Without Kids

You have four boys—do you ever struggle to make time for your friends and your husband?

You just get tired, and so going out feels like another effortful thing. Sometimes you just want to veg in front of the TV with a big thing of Häagen-Dazs rum raisin ice cream. And because there is so much good stuff on TV every night—if you’re not watching Mad Men, True Detective or Walking Dead or Shark Tank, International House Hunters ... (laughs) you are watching The Middle or reruns of Raymond, so it’s hard. It’s hard to go out. I found, too, that we’re always happy once we do. It’s getting from the couch to the car is the biggest struggle, and usually it’s fine after that.

Was the movie like one big date night with your husband?

We spend our whole lives together. We’re both actors. We’re always home, and so the movie, for us as actors, it’s taken us years to learn how to operate with each other, because we’re both pushing each other out from in front of the mirror, going, “Let me look at myself. You’ve looked at yourself long enough. I have to look at myself now. How do I look?” When working together, too, we work together on auditions. If he’s got an audition or if I’ve got an audition, we work with each other. And we’ve learned how to do that, but then you get on set, and I would say, “Honey, maybe you want to try that line this way,” and there would be silence. “Or not. Or not. I’ll shut up now, and I’ll go back to my trailer and you finish your scene.”

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This movie incorporates faith? Do you feel like that topic gets a mixed or negative reaction in Hollywood?

Yeah, I’m going to be very interested to see how this one is received. The setting is these people all go to church together, so it’s a natural fit for them. I’m a pastor’s wife, and the two gals that take me out are in the congregation. So I think it remains to be seen how it’s received. There’s been this big divide between faith-based movies and secular movies, and I’m not happy about that. I don’t like that faith-based movies are really sermons, because if I wanted to give sermons I would have been a pastor, but I’m an actor and I like to do movies, and that’s a different ballgame. And it’s tricky. But because it’s enveloped in a comedy, it makes sense for the characters, and they are really well-acted and well-developed, so I feel like the whole thing is earned. We’re trying to do a hybrid, where it’s a family comedy that everybody can relate to and enjoy, and for the characters in the movie, their faith is what sustains them.

I’m not the parent that’s always at the school, bringing the cupcakes or doing the bake sale or doing the PTA and stuff.

The movie offers new moms an interesting perspective.

I think that was important, to have the single mom. It’s really about encouraging moms generally and appreciating the importance of what moms do. You can never say it enough, because there’s always a generation of moms coming up who are new to the whole thing, and it’s really hard. I think there’s a line that my character has, when Ally [played by Sarah Drew] comes into church, and she’s having a rough morning, and I say, “Don’t worry. Just give it five years.” And she says, “Years?” And I think that’s really important that people get this long view that the first six years are going to be utterly exhausting, and then you’re going to start getting more sleep and you’re going to start getting something back from your kids. It’s like this take, take, take for the first five or six years. Then there starts being a little give and take.

The main character criticizes herself for not living up to expectations. Have you struggled with that?

I absolutely agree with that, especially because I work all the time. But when I was working on Raymond and the kids were little, that schedule is really flexible, so I could bring the kids to work with me. I had every fourth week off. I had four or five months off in the summer. Actually, the actor’s life is very conducive to being a parent because you’re able to be with your kids a lot. Now on The Middle, it’s a single-camera show, so the hours are quite long, but my kids are in college or high school now. The high schoolers go to school at 8 o’clock and then they come home at maybe 6 if they do after-school stuff. So they’re gone for a long time, too, so I’m not missing out on much. But I’m not the parent that’s always at the school, bringing the cupcakes or doing the bake sale or doing the PTA and stuff. That’s just not me, because I don’t have the time. So in that sense I feel I’m very grateful to the parents who do do that. Very grateful, and I do feel a little bad about it, like I do want to be the mom that shows up for their kids. And I’m often at this point, I’m able to say to my producers, I need this time off because my kid’s in the band concert or the play. I’m able to do that, which is great.

I became a mom in the rise of Martha Stewart, and she single-handedly changed the game about homemaking and perfecting homemaking and having homemaking be a beautiful art, which is wonderful but it’s very difficult to do that when you’ve got kids, so I grew as a mom through that era. In some ways it was very inspiring, and some ways it can be intimidating. We read so much, and you see celebrities with their kids, and they’re beautifully dressed. There’s a lot that can make a mom feel inadequate, so we really wanted to have a movie that, as Ally says in the end, “I’m a beautiful mess.”

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