If you’re casting a comedy series and are looking for a bold, blunt comedienne, you call upon Wendi McLendon-Covey. From her days on the force of Reno 911, to cat lady Liz on Rules of Engagement, she’s never been shy about playing women unapologetic about their big personalities. But big doesn’t always mean broad, and even though McLendon-Covey is decked out in high-waisted mom jeans and Aquanet-teased hair on ABC’s The Goldbergs, she’s layered her character with vulnerability, sensitivity, and love, even when she’s embarrassing her on-screen kids.
“Beverly is crazy and she yells, but she loves those damn kids, and she thinks they are brilliant. Only a mom could watch [Barry’s] karate performance and say ‘Yes! Yes!,’ [but] it was important to me that people understood that her craziness is brought on by complete love for her children. That’s where my parents came from—‘we’re willing to have you hate us in order to keep you safe.’ That’s what keeps her grounded and a little bit loveable,” said McLendon-Covey, when she sat down with SSN at the ATX Television Festival.
Beverly Goldberg isn’t the first maternal character McLendon-Covey has portrayed, but she certainly came with the biggest shoes to fill, based as she is on series creator Adam F. Goldberg’s actual mother. Watching old home movies gave McLendon-Covey an immediate sense of who she was and how she related to each of her kids—which she used to inform Beverly’s character.
“My parents related to me differently as the first born than they did my sister, who’s fiercely independent because of the way she was raised. I still live two miles from my parents because of the way I was raised,” McLendon-Covey said. “I did my share of due diligence before I took on [the roll] but it really does make a difference when you’re saying the words to the person and making eye contact, it really does overtake you. It’s a very intuitive thing [for an actor].”
Keeping “80 percent Adam’s mom and 20 percent [my] mom,” McLendon-Covey developed her version of Beverly—a woman with a reputation for raising hell, or at the very least making a scene. While some actors might find pressure in portraying a very real, very much still living person, McLendon-Covey jumped in with abandon.
“I just understand her. Anything I don’t already know, I trust Adam to fill in. There’s plenty of times where I felt I should talk to the writer [about what was] going to happen, or whatever. I stopped worrying about that after episode two [here] because every time I’m given a script, the next day I’m given a better version, and the next day a better version. And by the time I see the finished product, there’s absolutely nothing I would have done differently,” she said.
Having a background in improv (she spent a number of years as a member of The Groundlings), McLendon-Covey’s comedy chops go beyond knowing how to deliver a line. She’s quick on her feet, thoughtful about whatever role she takes on, and a willing participant in finding the funny, even when it means mining from her own life.
“One of my favorite [moments] is Beverly listening in through the vent to Erica’s conversations. My own mother did that to me once. She was staring at me through the heater and fell asleep, and I tripped over her trying to get to the bathroom. Of course, she was falling asleep because nothing was happening—it was really boring. But that’s what she did. And she cannot deny she did it.”
She would happily share more from her own life with the show, spreading the wealth of humor generally with her castmates, especially because the laughs are only one portion of the woman she gets to embody. It’s the heart underneath the humor that keeps Bev from being a stereotype and sets the show apart.
McLendon-Covey acknowledged that “people [often] want to just remember you the first time they saw you,” and for some of her fans, she may still only ever be her earlier roles. “They come talk to me like that person,” she said of certain memorable interactions. But part of the gift she considers Beverly to be is that the sometimes overbearing, sometimes slightly bipolar, but always well-intentioned woman, is a character with whom she will always be associated.