Mackenzie Phillips on Sobriety, Finding Balance and Returning ‘One Day at a Time’ Again

ONE DAY AT A TIMEL to R: Nicky Endres, Santina Muha, Justina Machado, Mackenzie Phillips, Judy Reyes, Haneefah Wood and TK
Courtesy of Ali Goldstein/Netflix

Since landing on the pop-culture radar at age 13 with “American Graffiti,” Mackenzie Phillips has become as known for her struggles with drug abuse as for her work on screen. Following her star-turning role as a rebellious teen on sitcom “One Day at a Time,” from which she was fired twice as a result of her addiction, Phillips continued to battle her demons in the public eye, later chronicled in two tell-all books. Now she’s helping others on the journey toward recovery as a counselor at Breathe Life Healing Centers in West Hollywood — all while keeping one foot in the entertainment industry with roles on “Orange Is the New Black” and the rebooted “One Day at a Time,” among other shows. Here, the actor and author discusses her resilience and finding balance in life.

Why is it important to you to be vocal about your struggles with addiction?

There’s so much stigma attached to not only being a person with an active substance-use disorder, but for being a person in recovery. The more people speak out and the more transparent [they are] — the more people are willing to, as we say, “recover out loud” — the more people will understand it’s not a shame-based thing to get help. It’s really rather courageous.

What motivates you to stay sober?

Inner resilience is something that, I don’t know, maybe you’re born with it? But I think you can cultivate it too. I’m going to be 60 on Nov. 10, and frankly, I never expected in any scenario to live to 60. Now I have this incredible opportunity to continue to watch my son, who is 32, navigate the planet as a young man who doesn’t have an addiction problem — which is shocking. Sometimes shape-shifting monsters like addiction do magical things like skip a generation, and I am very blessed in that. I have purpose, I am valued, I have a team member, I love my family. I have great friends.

How do you balance your career as a counselor with your acting roles?

My work at Breathe is everything to me, and I am very lucky in that I am employed by people who really want me to be able to have autonomy and do films or television, or write books. I have a really nice cottage industry of being a speaker, so I travel a lot and speak. When I booked “Orange Is the New Black” [as drug addict Barb on Season 6], I happened to be at a conference with my employers on the East Coast. The CEO of Breathe read the other role when I put myself on tape. And the executive clinical director was the director on the audition. And I emailed it in, and they were like, ‘You got the job.’ I made it work. … I get to do a lot of things, but I am very mindful of sticking close to my own recovery program, my job at Breathe and my family.

What’s it like being back on “One Day at a Time”?

I’m working with Norman Lear again, and hanging out with Norman on set. We have a real long history together through my addiction, and his kindness has only grown over the years. And to work with Rita Moreno, it’s so much fun. And I get to sit in my dressing room, auditing clinical charts. I have a very, very cool life. I could never have predicted I get to do the things I’m doing. I love acting and it’s fun when I get to do it, but there’s a balance in my life. Recovery is awesome. It’s like the best ride at Disneyland. It’s everything drugs and alcohol promised but didn’t deliver. 

Things you didn’t know about Mackenzie Phillips

AGE: 59 HOMETOWN: Alexandria, Va. FIRST NAME AT BIRTH: Laura WELL-PAID STAR: Was the highest-paid actor on the original “One Day at a Time.” WRITING GENE: Author of the 2009 memoir “High on Arrival” and 2017 collection of essays “Hopeful Healing”