Camryn Manheim never stops. The actress and activist, who first came to acclaim as Ellenor Frutt on the David E. Kelley legal drama The Practice (for which she won an Emmy and a Golden Globe), has a schedule that makes fellow type A's feel like slackers.
For starters, Manheim is a cast member on the new CBS sitcom Living Biblically (premiering Feb. 26 at 9:30 ET). She also has a recurring role on the six-part miniseries Waco, about the Texas siege, currently airing on Paramount Network; is a single parent and "momager" to 16-year-old Milo (a budding actor); is an in-demand speaker on health care (she’s a three-year breast cancer survivor) and philanthropic issues; is a fierce advocate for human rights and children’s causes; and serves as a mentor to drama students.
But as she tells it, busy is best. “When I have a day off, I am so confused. I don’t know what to do with myself,” Manheim, 56, says, laughing. “I always say, ‘You can rest when you’re dead.’”
Living Biblically marks Manheim’s first foray into TV sitcoms. Based on A.J. Jacobs' best-selling book The Year of Living Biblically, the show follows film critic Chip Curry’s (Jay R. Ferguson of Mad Men) spiritual awakening after the death of his best friend and the pregnancy of his wife. His mission: to live a more moral life, strictly by the Bible — a not-so-easy task in today’s modern world. Manheim plays Chip’s no-nonsense magazine editor, Ms. Meadows, who is happy to milk Curry’s travails for increased readership.
Typical TV fare it is not, but Manheim is counting on the show’s insightfulness and humorous take on the challenges Curry faces in trying to interpret biblical tenets (do not wear clothes of mixed fibers!) to woo an audience. “I know people seem to be a little bit nervous that we are going to offend people, but there is nothing to offend. This is a comedy,” she says. “I think if you are not religious and watching it, you will like it and go, ‘That is exactly how I feel.’ And if you are religious and watching it, you will be like, ‘That is exactly how I feel.’ I have never seen a show about religion that does it as beautifully and smartly as Living Biblically does.”
Manheim is praying for a hit, for no other reason than to spend more time with her castmates. “In my 30 years that I have been doing this, I have never been more in love with a group of actors than I am on this show,” she says. “When I was younger, I wanted to be on an edgy show and super-hip, cool shows, and I didn’t care if the people I worked with were a--holes. And now, as I get older, I want to be with the best people on the planet, and I finally arrived there.”
So could Manheim live by the good book, like Chip tries to do? “I wouldn’t probably do so well trying to live by any one book, because I am a complicated person,” she admits, noting that an upcoming episode about false idols gave her pause. “I couldn’t give up my iPhone for a week. My life would fall apart!” Plus, she adds, “If you have teenagers, the only way they talk to each other is through their iPhones in the back seat. They don’t actually verbally speak; they just text.”
The texting teen in Manheim’s life, son Milo, accounts for a good deal of the happy chaos in her world. Milo recently made his TV debut on the Disney Channel movie Zombies, winning the lead role as the singing and dancing undead Zed, after 10 callbacks.
To say Manheim is thrilled with her offspring's accomplishment is an understatement. “I am excited for him — it is so wonderful — and I am slightly terrified,” she says. “It’s all of those things. But mostly, I am so proud of him. He is so good at what he does, and he loves it, so what more could a parent want — that their children are successful at what they want to do.”
As college looms on the horizon — the twosome are already in the throes of essays, ACTs and college visits — is Manheim prepared to be an empty nester? “Oh, my God. I have started the mourning process,” she says with a laugh, and relates a worst-case scenario already playing on a loop through her brain. “I have always known that he would go away to college and he would be away for three weeks and then I would get a phone call that would be, ‘Mom, I met a girl. I am going to go to her house for Thanksgiving. We will come to you for Christmas for two days, and then we are going to go backpacking in Puerto Rico.’ I just know I am never going to see him again!”
Still, with presumably more free time ahead, are there more dreams to achieve for the woman who has already penned a frank best-selling memoir (Wake Up, I’m Fat) and had a one-woman off-Broadway show? Manheim pauses and then ticks off a few list-worthy items: running for local office, being an ambassador to an organization that is meaningful to her, going on the World Poker Circuit (she's a semi pro), perhaps fostering a child. But then she stops and admits she feels guilty about wanting more. “Honestly, when I think about my bucket list — my career and what I had hoped for, for my children and my family — I feel extremely content in the world.”