'Last Man Standing': Molly McCook Opens Up About Being the New Mandy Baxter (Exclusive)

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Viewers were treated to a few noticeable changes on Last Man Standing when it returned to TV last week after a year-long break.

Aside from debuting on a new network (Fox, instead of ABC), the family sitcom welcomed two new faces in familiar roles: Molly McCook, marking her introduction as the new Mandy Baxter (taking over for former star Molly Ephraim), and Jet Jurgensmeyer, replacing Flynn Morrison as Mike's grandson, Boyd. The season seven premiere addressed Last Man Standing's cancellation and subsequent revival, as well as the Mandy Baxter recast, in classic sitcom fashion, by offering a wink and a nod to the behind-the-scenes changes. 

"We're kind of programmed to be afraid of change and I understand that; I'm the same way," McCook told ET. "When I watch any show, if there's any sort of replacement or even if a new character comes in, it's hard for me to accept them, but I hope that everybody keeps their hearts open and they realize that things happen and things change and this is still the Baxter family, so I hope they all can welcome me with open arms."

"I felt guilty at first receiving any of that positive love because I just joined, but all of the superfans have been so wonderful and welcoming to me and so excited just because I'm a part of the Baxter family," she added. "That's really, really motivating." 

Ahead of Friday's new episode, ET spoke with the 28-year-old actress, who also stars in Freeform's upcoming Fosters spinoff, Good Trouble, about joining Last Man Standing in its seventh season, the moment Tim Allen welcomed her into the family and why she hopes the show gets families with opposing views to start talking to each other again.

ET: You replaced Molly Ephraim on Last Man Standing. How did this all come together for you?

Molly McCook: It came about like any other audition. I got the [notice] that they were re-releasing the role when they found out that the show was coming to a different network, to Fox. It was a little bit easier knowing what the show was in that sense, but on the other hand, it was different coming into a show that was an established family for six seasons. It’s been wonderful and everyone has been really welcoming, and I definitely feel a part of the family now.

How familiar were you with Last Man Standing before your audition?

I was pretty familiar with the show when I got the audition, but knowing I was a “recast,” I actually avoided watching it as much as possible. Molly Ephraim did such an amazing job on the show for all of those seasons. I am such an opposite choice; I knew if they were having me audition that they weren’t looking for a replica of Molly. I decided to go into it with a fresh take on the role and in the room, we played around with it a lot, and luckily for me, they wanted a completely fresh take on it, which is what we did.

Have you and Molly Ephraim talked about playing Mandy at all?

No, we haven’t spoken about it in particular, but we do have a lot of mutual friends. I know that she has wished me well and all is good on that end. I’m very honored to be continuing the path. The word “replacement” has been used a lot. I think it’s so much more than that. It’s not just Mandy who’s different, but Boyd is different. Things are refreshed in general. 

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How is your Mandy different?

Hard to say. We’re in the middle of working on episode six right now, so we’re still discovering my Mandy. But Mandy’s very bubbly, excited to be around people. She’s very motivated when it comes to her fashion business and she’s very much in love with her husband, Kyle. I think her view on the world is through rose-tinted glasses and she’s very excited to take on any new chapters of this business and any new chapter in her life as an adult.

In the first episode, Last Man Standing pokes fun at the “new Mandy.” One of the jokes is, “She’s been lost upstairs all this time,” and it takes everyone the whole episode to notice that she’s “taller” and “blonder.” What was your take on how they dealt with your introduction?

If there’s any type of show that can get away with poking fun at things in such an obvious way is a sitcom. There were so many ways that the show wanted to connect, especially for the first episode back, which was such a massive thing. Thank you to the fans because that is the entire reason why the show is back the way that it is. There’s a lot about poking fun at the show getting canceled and moving to another network. In terms of Mandy looking different, we wanted it to be more of an obvious thing. I couldn’t be more different physically. If we’re all making fun of it and making light of it, we hope the audience can play with us too. It seems more like a friendly approach than just pushing the storyline into people’s faces and making them accept it.

Like it gives the audience license to laugh about the change and move on…

Yeah. With a sitcom, it enables us to wink-wink at the audience. There’s even a moment in the first episode when Tim looks straight into the camera. If anybody can do it, it’s Tim Allen. We have a lot of fun playing with that and bringing the audience into our playtime.

You’re playing one of Tim Allen’s daughters. What has your experience been working opposite him on the show?

It’s been really surreal. Intimidating is the exact word that I would use for coming into this experience altogether, not only because it was an established family for six seasons but also because Tim Allen has been such a massive part of my entire life. My favorite Christmas movie of all time is The Santa Clause, so there was an odd thing I had to get past once I started working with him. The moment was actually after our first show. We did our bows and we were heading back and everybody was saying, “Great show.” Tim hugged me and he said, “Welcome aboard,” and I heard Buzz Lightyear. I never told him that. I don’t listen or look at him and think of Buzz Lightyear, but it was one of those things where I was like, wow, nothing is cooler than Buzz Lightyear welcoming you aboard. That was pretty cool.

In the context of the family, Mandy has the more liberal viewpoint. What kinds of storylines will we see?

We’re all very excited to show the audience all of our different views on politics. The world of politics has become so heavy these past couple of years. A lot of people are afraid to laugh and a lot of people are afraid to listen to other people’s opinions. The truth of the matter is a lot of families have stopped talking to each other, and a lot of friends have decided to not talk to each other because it’s better than getting into fights. What we are excited to experience is all of our family members having our different opinions, discussing those opinions, living in a house together and for it to be OK to talk. I hope that people are excited and accept that view, and know that the show is about all sides and not just one.

Last Man Standing airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

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