If a mint julep could talk, it would probably sound a whole lot like Katy Mixon. From her habit of punctuating every sentence with a "Honey" or a "Darlin'" or a "Pumpkin" to an accent that would have been right at home at a Designing Women reunion, she is the personification of intoxicating Southern charm.
Which was precisely what Diedrich Bader feared when he auditioned to play Mixon's husband on her new ABC series, American Housewife. "At first, I thought, 'Is she going to call me 'Pumpkin' the whole time?' " he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She's so charming and so disarming with her Southern hospitality; it can make you feel very disoriented. I can't wait to get to work to see her every day now and, to be honest, I'm disappointed if she doesn't call me 'Pumpkin!' "
In American Housewife, originally titled The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport, Mixon plays Katie Otto, a smart-ass mom with three kids who worries she's about to become one of the top two largest housewives in town. With a character like that, it's easy to think of Mixon as the second coming of Melissa McCarthy, whose sister she played for six seasons on CBS' Mike & Molly. And not just because neither comedienne is exactly a size zero. They also share a bustling energy and attitude that can instantly grab an audience.
"Melissa is one of the most special people I've ever met," explains 35-year-old Mixon, who grew up in Pensacola, Fla. "Just being around her and learning from her experiences really helped me. I got to witness her stepping into this divine appointment of hers. But we're so different from each other. She's from the North. I'm from the South!"
Instead, Mixon seems to find more similarities with her American Housewife character. Katie Otto is a woman who believes that, according to Mixon, "life is about meeting yourself wherever you are. She understands you don't have to be perfect every time. Just accept your insecurities and walk into the fire. You don't have to conform to expectations. Katie tries to be better but fails and fails again."
Like her character, Mixon grew up in the suburbs. She was one of nine children - six girls, three boys - and credits her big family for giving her a relentlessly upbeat approach to life. "There were days when things were just dark, when I wasn't feeling good about myself," she recalls. "But my family got me to ask, 'What's the big picture here?' And it's positivity. That's what life is about."
Unlike TV Katie, though, Mixon has little interest in keeping a lookout for any women heavier than she is. She smoothly downplays any discussion of her own body type by saying she's been "a size two and a size 14. I've literally not looked right for any part, but I just try to be me whenever I go in for a role. Everyone is different in what they want, but this is me and God bless it! If I'm big, I'm big. If I'm skinny, then I'm skinny."
Still, she realizes that housewives of all shapes and sizes around the country will look to her as a role model in the same way that everyone from Lucille Ball to Roseanne Barr to Marge Simpson has become a role model over the years.
"It'd be a big honor if that were to happen," gushes Mixon, who draws her inspiration from childhood heroes like Ball and Carol Burnett. "I'm just an actor. You know what I'm talking about? So to be thrust into that role would be amazing."
So far so good on that front. In fact, she's already a role model to her TV husband. "Katy has a great deal of inner strength," Bader explains. "She's a normal-size woman in an environment where women are constantly judged by each other. That's a very difficult thing to get through, but she and her character are willing to do it. She brings this great intangible. Watching her reminds me of when I first worked with Drew Carey on his show. When we rehearsed, I didn't get it. Once I saw him on camera, I totally got it. What Katy has can't be nailed down, but right away you know you care about her."
The veteran actor admits that at his first chemistry read for ABC, he "got nervous because just meeting her you knew this show was going to get picked up. And I wanted to be a part of it." He'd considered Mixon "a megawatt star" from her time on the HBO series Eastbound and Down, along the lines of classic film stars like Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell.
However, he was less sure about what he would find off-camera. Thankfully, he was pleasantly surprised. She's "the real deal, a genuinely nice person, which is incredibly rare in Hollywood," he says. "And trust me, I've seen her after she'd been working for 14 hours and started getting really sick. Katy is terrific but…I am kind of hoping they cut out the kissing scene after I saw her get sick."
No matter how long her days are or how upset her stomach feels, though, Mixon is still going to tell you how happy she is. And throw in at least one term of endearment so you know she means it.
"Life is quite crazy now, but I'm handling it, honey!" says the actress who, not surprising, prefers to spend her weekends adhering to a particular Southern tradition: relaxing on the couch in sweatpants watching college football with a pet and a loved one. After all, she adds, "my daddy did play for LSU!"
Finding that football time probably won't be easy for a while, though. She says, "What's wild is I'm filming five days a week for 17 hours a day because I'm in practically every scene. And I'm still so grateful for this experience."
American Housewife premieres Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.