Ellen Barkin does not come with a mute button. If she isn't saying it, she's typing it on Twitter.
"I can be inappropriate," the actress says. "I'm overly opinionated. On occasion I talk first and think later. Then I realize, 'Oh, God, should I really have said that?' "
The 58-year-old Barkin bursts into throaty laughter.
"I'm an opinionated woman," she says. "I'm as educated as the average person. I'm not a politician. I don't know the ins and outs of every bill. I haven't read the budget plans entirely. I think, just by my nature, I speak my mind. It's hard for me not to speak out."
That's also a characteristic of Jane Forrest, her character on the new series The New Normal, airing Tuesday nights on NBC. A great-grandmother who doesn't appreciate that her granddaughter has chosen to serve as a surrogate for a same-sex couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells), Jane isn't shy in expressing her opinions -- which aren't always what you might expect.
"She's not just some uninformed lunatic," Barkin says, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. "She's not an ignorant bigot."
The show, which is created by Ryan Murphy -- who previously created Popular (1999-2001), Nip/Tuck (2003-2010), and the current hit Glee -- and Ali Adler, explores some cutting-edge topics, and at least one NBC affiliate has decided not to air it.
"If you don't want to watch, use your remote," Barkin says. "I do think it's a form of censorship to ban a show because of -- I think the words were -- 'explicit characterizations' and 'inappropriate behavior and dialogue.'
"I don't understand why a show I happen to love like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with rape, murder, and child slavery in very graphic detail, is in family viewing time, but a show about a very loving, committed, same-sex couple wanting to raise a child is explicit and offensive. People allow their children to watch a TV show where they use words like 'anal tearing' and 'vaginal tearing' and 'child slavery.' That's OK, but watching two men kiss each other and cry because they've decided to raise a child together is not OK.
"I don't get it. But let both sides weigh in and defend their positions. It's fine with me, as long as they weigh in without slander and without misinterpretation of anyone's remarks. Let them stay honest on both sides. Let's talk about it."
The New York native has made occasional television movies and series guest-shots, but The New Normal is her first outing as a series regular.
"When I read the pilot, I thought, 'Oh, Ryan Murphy with his big, beautiful, brilliant brain has come up with a way to reach out to a very divisive country about some very important issues,'" Barkin says. "The big, overriding issue is, 'What makes a family?' This show approaches that question with enormous amounts of love, sensitivity, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys."
Her character has been dubbed an Archie Bunker for the 21st century, which is OK with her.
"I think any actors who wouldn't be interested in bringing Archie Bunker types back into the conversation at this point in our history would need to have their heads examined," Barkin says. "This is an un-PC character, but she is whip-smart, extremely well-informed, and extremely articulate ... [not] a stereotypical liberal's version of someone who is anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-any-ethnic, or anti-foreigner.
"I'd like to beg people not to judge this character until they get to know her. They're going to be very surprised. I can promise that her arguments, which are extremely intelligent, come from her heart, gut, and life experience."
A renowned liberal, Barkin says that it isn't hard to play a character whose values are so far from her own.
"Whether or not she's right or wrong, my job as an actor is not to judge her," she says. "My job is to put myself in her shoes and find the truth in this woman. I'm finding it easy to do that, despite that my personal politics are pretty clear. I just have to flip my own passions, which isn't hard."
Barkin hopes that the show will make viewers consider other lifestyles in a more tolerant light.
"I hope it opens minds," she says. "God, I hope so. That's one of the main purposes of the show. What I really hope my character teaches is that her idea of normal no more applies to her family than it does to a same-sex family."
The current state of the world, the actress says, boils down to one word: fear.
"I look at all of the divisiveness that is going on in the country," Barkin says. "So much of it is based around fear of the other and anyone who doesn't look like me, walk like me, talk like me, or have sex like me. They're the other and I'm afraid of them.
"Hopefully we will learn that it's just not that scary. There's nothing to be afraid of."
After a career on the big screen, Barkin is ready to explore television, which these days seems to be addressing some of the edgier issues of contemporary society -- and, not coincidentally, offering meatier roles to actresses in their 40s and beyond.
"I actually think that television is the best way, right now, to reach the broadest population," she says. "I think you should be able to say important things to the biggest audience."
As for Murphy, Barkin didn't need to be sold on him: She was a big fan of Nip/Tuck and, despite herself, also watches his other current show, the FX series American Horror Story.
"I had never in my life seen a horror movie until about four years ago," the actress says, laughing. "I never saw Jaws (1975), I never saw The Exorcist (1973). I'm terrified of horror movies ... and then I became addicted to American Horror Story.
"It got to the point where I couldn't go to the bathroom by myself in the middle of the night. I have yet to watch the last episode of Season 1 because I'm too afraid. Someday I'm going to watch it with a crowd of people at my house, and then I'm going to make them all sleep at my house."
Barkin grew up in New York, where she absorbed her liberal values from her parents, a chemical salesman and a hospital administrator.
"We were very much working-class Jews in a very mixed ethnic neighborhood," she says. "There were all kinds of people there. I grew up in a very mixed community with heterosexuals and same-sex couples. My friends were always a pretty mixed bag of all kinds of different people.
"I did not grow up with an ingrained fear of the other. I'm for anybody who is being ostracized."
Barkin began acting as a teen, and attended Manhattan's High School of the Performing Arts before studying history and drama at Hunter College in New York. Then she waited on tables while studying at the prestigious Actor's Studio and performing in Off-Broadway shows. She made her film debut in the classic Diner (1982), and went on to such films as Tender Mercies (1983), The Big Easy (1986), Sea of Love (1989), and This Boy's Life (1993).
While making Siesta (1987) she met actor Gabriel Byrne, who became her first husband and the father of her son and daughter. They married in 1987 and divorced in 1999. In 2000 Barkin married Ronald Perelman, the billionaire chairman of the Revlon Company. They went through a bitter divorce in 2006.
Barkin took a few years off from acting early in her second marriage, but found roles harder to come by when she resumed working in 2004. She bristles, however, when asked if The New Normal is a comeback of sorts.
"I don't understand why people are missing me as an actress," Barkin says. "I've been working nonstop for the last five or six years. I've been doing a lot of indie movies. I did a Broadway play last year. I haven't gone anywhere! I've been out there working hard on projects that I feel very strongly about, and it has been extremely satisfying."