Mayim Bialik On Her Directorial Debut & Passion For Mental Health
How the past two years changed her perspective.
Whether you know her from playing the young Bette Midler in Beaches, as the hat-wearing titular character in Blossom, or as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory, chances are Mayim Bialik’s been a part of your life in some capacity. And over the years, the child actor has grown her resume to include writer, producer, Jeopardy! host, podcast host, bestselling author, neuroscientist, mental health advocate, and parent. (Whew!) And now, Bialik’s latest film, As They Made Us, marks her directorial debut. The movie, which she also wrote and produced, is out April 8 in theaters and VOD. She really does do it all.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen, Dianna Agron, and her former Big Bang Theory costar, Simon Helberg, the new comedy-drama is loosely based on Bialik’s life. The film looks at poignant themes: struggles with mental health within a family, a sick father, and siblings who are polar opposites: one trying to take care of everything while the other has been estranged from the family. (Bialik lost her own father in 2015 and spent the next year following the Jewish custom of mourning. After that year, she started working on the screenplay for As They Made Us.)
In an interview with TZR, Bialik explains that even though the film is loosely based on her life and experiences close to her heart, “it’s based on a lot of people’s lives — having this experience with complicated parents and trying to find your way and your independence.” She says she wanted to explore a theme not seen as often onscreen, the sibling dynamic and the tension between them when a parent becomes ill.
When asked how her family felt about her doing the movie and addressing some familial topics in a more public light, Bialik explains that she doesn’t go scene-by-scene into her real-life past. “Everyone has a different story; my mother’s perception is very different than mine,” she says. “This is how I choose to tell stories.” The Call Me Kat star adds that she was very clear with her extended family about this, too, and that there’s a vibe and experience she’s trying to communicate through the film. “I think it’s important to talk about mental health in any and every way we can,” she says. Many films make us laugh and smile and feel great, but she wanted to make sure the film was meaningful and poignant, as well, both on the page and onscreen.
Of course, Bialik is no stranger to tackling mental health topics. She and her partner, Jonathan Cohen, started their weekly podcast, Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown, during the pandemic. She says they realized stress and other challenges, like a global pandemic, don’t leave you. The podcast’s tagline is, “Armed with a PhD in neuroscience and plenty of personal experience, I'm breaking down mental health so you don't have to.”
A few of the many guests to the podcast have included Matthew McConaughey, Rainn Wilson, Glennon Doyle, Kelly Clarkson, Tig Notaro, Sarah Silverman, Lamorne Morris, and Kunal Nayyar. “So many people do not even have a basic definition of how they’re feeling,” she says. Whether you’re living with anxiety, depression, stress, etc., Bialik and Cohen aim to help by providing some basic tools to improve mental health, especially for those who don’t have access to a therapist or a mental health professional.
On her own time, Bialik has a personal mental health routine she sticks to as well. “Therapy is a big one,” she says. (She goes twice a week and sometimes more.) “And I did force myself to stop acting like meditation and yoga were not for me. I can do them at home with free YouTube videos. I’m learning poses, learning to sit in discomfort, and learning to lean into that.” She also meditates every day at lunch when she’s at work. (She touts Insight Timer’s guided and music meditations for helping her focus.) “You don’t have to be a superhero to learn how to breathe,” she says. Bialik notes that essential oils, too, can be game-changer in relieving stress, but is aware that “trying to minimize stress is a lifelong process.”
If it seems like Bialik has lived many lifetimes already, it’s probably because she has in a way. After Blossom wrapped in 1995 (and after nearly a decade of working as a child actor) — when she was 19 years old — she decided to go to college to pursue Hebrew and Jewish Studies. “I walked off of people’s TV screens and onto the campus of UCLA,” she says. “I come from an immigrant family where college is really valued.” There, she developed an interested in the brain, she adds, and 12 years later, she earned a PhD in neuroscience and completed her doctorate in the fall of 2007. Her first son was an infant as she completed her coursework. “It was very difficult, but I loved my time there; I loved going to a public university,” she explains. Ever since, aside from her career in the entertainment industry, Bialik’s been very involved in the STEM community, encouraging young women to find an interest in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, or math.
Of all her jobs, though, Bialik says being a parent is the most significant one. Her sons, Myles and Fred, are teenagers now. “It’s very hard being a working parent, and also a divorced parent,” she says. If someone asks her about something in the future, her first thought is about her sons — where will they be then? “My life does revolve around them. You keep a piece of your children with you wherever you go.”