By the late 90s, Kathy Najimy was one of the most recognisable actresses working on the big and small screen. With her quirky humour and offbeat delivery, she quickly became sought after to play the kinds of funny roles that would later become her trademark.
However, despite appearing in some of the biggest comedies of the decade alongside bona fide legends like Whoopi Goldberg and Bette Midler, Najimy’s star didn’t ascend in quite the same way.
However, Kathy Najimy didn’t just vanish overnight, and has enjoyed an interesting, varied career. From some of the most iconic voices in the world of animation to a hugely successful theatre career both onstage and in the director’s chair, here’s what she’s up to now!
Kathy Najimy was born in San Diego in 1957 to Lebanese-American parents, and her father was a postal worker. She graduated from San Diego State University in 1995.
Breaking through as an actress in her mid-20s, Najimy collaborated with fellow actress, comedian and activist Mo Gaffney to create The Kathy and Mo Show in 1986. A feminist comedy that explored themes of gender in modern America, it proved an instant hit.
As well as having three separate long-term runs in New York City theatres, the show was also successful enough to spawn two specials on HBO, The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives and The Kathy & Mo Show: The Dark Side.
The success of The Kathy & Mo Show allowed Najimy to break into the world of television and film. She was given featured roles in a number of early 90s movies, like Terry Gilliam’s Oscar-nominated The Fisher King, buddy cop action comedy The Hard Way, Nora Ephron comedy drama This is My Life and satirical comedy Soapdish.
Both Soapdish and This is My Life also allowed Kathy Najimy to work with comedy legend Carrie Fisher. The two got on amazingly on set, and would later reunite again, as Carrie Fisher was instrumental in getting the movie made that most consider to be Najimy’s big break: musical comedy Sister Act, for which Fisher helped write the script.
1992 and 1993 saw Kathy Najimy take on her two of the biggest roles back to back: Sister Mary Patrick in Sister Act, and Mary Sanderson in Hocus Pocus. Both movies were Disney projects with a family slant but a slightly edgy sense of humour, capitalising on Najimy’s ability to play a believable but exaggerated character.
Alhough both movies became enduring family favourites, Najimy had her doubts at first. She wasn’t worried that her portrayal of a bumbling nun in Sister Act would offend, but she was concerned that her performance of the nervous and soft-touch Mary Sanderson would upset real witches, and almost declined the role for that reason.
Thankfully, she was eventually convinced to take on the role, and made it instantly recognisable with her choice to give Mary Sanderson a signature lip quirk and nasally, stuffed-up voice.
Though many actors struggle to move from film into theatre or from television into film, Kathy Najimy managed to conquer all three mediums with relative ease. After her period dominating cinema, she pivoted to television before anyone could really notice, quickly becoming a familiar presence on a number of different shows.
As well as having a featured role on the Kirstie Alley star vehicle Veronica’s Closet from 1997 to 2000, Kathy Najimy also bagged herself a recurring role on the medical procedural Chicago Hope, and spent four seasons playing veteran reporter Wendy Keegan on HBO’s Veep.
Najimy also clocked up a number of high-profile guest star spots that saw her cameo as some zany character, on everything from Ugly Betty and That’s So Raven to Drop Dead Diva and Desperate Housewives.
In 2021, she starred in the Christmas romantic comedy Single All The Way. She and Jennifer Coolidge, both widely considered to be gay icons, play middle-aged sisters Carole and Sandy who are fussing over the love life of Carole’s gay son. 2022 also saw her reprise Mary Sanderson in Disney + sequel Hocus Pocus 2, and she looks set to again play Sister Mary Patrick in the in-development Sister Act 3.
Though Najimy went straight from performing The Kathy & Mo Show off-Broadway to cultivating a successful film career, she never abandoned the stage. Whilst balancing numerous television commitments, Najimy still had the time to write and produce Gloria: A Life, an off-Broadway play about the life of Gloria Steinem.
Najimy has also written and directed monologues for Glamour Magazine since 2012, with actresses like Olivia Wilde and Amy Schumer performing her work. Najimy’s work in the director’s chair doesn’t stop at theatre either, as since 2017 she has been working on a documentary profiling and examining the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
Najimy is close friends with American cosmetics entrepreneur Victoria Jackson. When Jackson’s teenaged daughter was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), a disease that causes blindness and paralysis, Jackson started a charity to raise awareness – and Najimy worked alongside her to tell her family’s story.
Since Hocus Pocus, Najimy has become a prominent voice actor in various Disney properties including The Jungle Book, Brother Bear 2, Tangled: The Animated Series, Hercules and Tinkerbell. Her other voice credits include the existential dramedy Bojack Horseman and Peggy Hill in Fox’s King of the Hill.
Today, Najimy lives in Los Angeles with her husband Dan Finnerty (a singer) and her daughter Samia Najimy Finnerty, who was born in 1996. Samia has entered the industries of both of her famous parents, starring in Gotham and 2021’s Let Them All Talk.
One of Kathy Najimy’s biggest hobbies is Zumba, a type of Latin-inspired aerobics. In 2012, she made headlines after she attributed her 50lb weight loss to Zumba, quipping, “Who would have ever thought I’d be the face or the body or the person who would advocate any kind of fitness?”