Kathryn Joosten
Kathryn Joosten
Kathryn Joosten is best known to TV audiences for her Emmy Award-winning role as Mrs. McCluskey on ABC's Desperate Housewives and as Dolores Landingham on NBC's The West Wing. But the 71-year-old actress is no stranger to stage, having trained at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater and founded Los Angeles' Theater Neo, whose production of The Ladies of the Corridor won her an Ovation Award. She has returned to the theater as the Lady Boyle in the Geffen Playhouse's production of Tracy Letts' acclaimed play Superior Donuts. TheaterMania recently spoke to Joosten about the show and her career.

THEATERMANIA: You haven't been on stage for over 10 years. What made you want to go back now?
KJ: I wanted to act. I was doing Housewives and that wasn't giving me enough of an outlet. And this came along and the part was just so juicy I simply couldn't look away from it. I had the summer free, and all the planets lined up in the correct order. When you're doing television series, you can't do stage because you can't rehearse during the day and they can't let you leave the set to go to do a matinee.

TM: What was it like to do stage again after such a long break?
KJ: It was like visiting an old school that I had been at. It was "oh yeah, I remember this -- Speed-reads, rehearsal notes." When you start off on stage, I don't think you ever lose it.

Kathryn Joosten and Gary Cole in Superior Donuts
(© Michael Lamont)
Kathryn Joosten and Gary Cole in Superior Donuts
(© Michael Lamont)
TM: Superior Donuts plays like a comedy but it has a real emotional impact. There are people in the audience who were laughing then gasping. Did you expect that reaction?
KJ We discussed this amongst the cast: "Is it a comedy or a tragedy?' And we decided that it was a dark comedy. But that doesn't do it justice because it's really funny. The gasps are when you know that the audience has been with you through this whole journey; you can feel it.

TM: Most of the characters in the play are struggling to live an idealized version of themselves. Is there a parallel there to what you did when you decided in mid-life to follow your dream of becoming an actress?
KJ: I think it was a very definite change to remake myself and change my career. It was a matter of I didn't want to get to the end of my life and think, "I could have." My mother did that. She was very bitter about the things she was not going to be able to do. That was a big lesson for me.

TM: Was there was no fear of failure?
KJ: I don't think of failure as failure. Either you didn't understand what it was or you didn't do it right. Then go do something else. You're not nailed to your career choice. You also have to have the support of those around you and I had my kids. I told them that I wanted to be an actor and that it was going to be chaotic but I wanted to try. They went for me on the ride.

TM: Some of your best moments on Desperate Housewives were appearing with your good friend Lily Tomlin, who plays your sister. Did you have a part in that casting?
KJ: Lily and I met when we were both working on Murphy Brown . Yes, we manipulated it so we could do Housewives together. She went to her agent and said she wanted to do the show and I went to our creator, Marc Cherry, and said "Lily really wants to do the show."

TM: Can you give us any preview of what's going to happen next season on Desperate Housewives?
KJ: I have no idea. We ended the season with a body in the trunk! Sometimes we don't even get a script until we start an episode!