When CBS called to offer Annie Potts the role of Meemaw on Young Sheldon, she didn’t hesitate.
“I’m old — I’m lucky to be working!” she cracks. “When you’re over 60, you can’t be like, ‘Well, I don’t want to play a grandmother.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, give me that granny role! I’ll eat it up!’”
And she has, establishing a warmly endearing bond with Iain Armitage’s boy genius on the hit prequel to The Big Bang Theory. “Meemaw’s just delighted by Sheldon, but grandparents can be delighted by some of the worst qualities of their grandchildren,” she explains. “She’s real smart — maybe not quantum-physics smart — but Meemaw thinks all of Sheldon’s intelligence came from her.”
Nashville-born Potts has made a career of playing smart women, flying in the face of stereotypes about dumb Southerners. “When I was young, I had a little chip on my shoulder about being Southern,” she recalls. “People would immediately think I was a shallow, uneducated cheerleader, and it hurt my feelings. But I’m over it.”
Her breakout role as mouthy Atlantan Mary Jo Shively on CBS’s Designing Women put her on the map. “It was a wonderful time — I’m very grateful for it, and I think we were so groundbreaking,” Potts says. “We were all so smart and sassy and full of ourselves in the best way, and people didn’t think of Southern women like that.”
Potts has kept in touch with surviving costars Delta Burke and Jean Smart. “You don’t spend seven years together in the trenches and not be connected forever,” she explains.
Creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason has been developing a Designing Women reboot, and Potts would be happy to jump on board. “I don’t know how much I could do because of my Young Sheldon commitment, but they would like to plug me in as much as they can, and I would be down with that.”
The single-camera comedy Young Sheldon differs from Designing Women, which was taped in front of a live audience with four cameras. Potts relishes the new challenge. “It’s super hard to do — it’s very difficult when you don’t have the audience to guide you. The comedy is much more subtle, but I really enjoy it.”
Potts earned an Emmy nomination in 1994 for her lead role as a headstrong Chicago bar owner in the CBS sitcom Love & War. She took a break from comedy to play an acclaimed dramatic part as an aspiring writer in the Lifetime series Any Day Now.
“I was out of jokes, so it was nice to move on,” she says. “But my preference is to be employed. If they want me to be funny, I’ll be funny, and if they want me to do drama, I’ll do that, too.”
One thing’s for sure: she’s come a long way from Tennessee. Growing up, the idea of being an actor “was certainly a reach,” she admits. “But I love it so much, I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
This article otiginally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2019