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INTERVIEW: Jane Kaczmarek Is Really Good People

The Emmy-nominated actress returns to the stage in the Geffen Playhouse's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's drama. logo
Marylouise Burke, Sara Botsford,
and Jane Kaczmarek in Good People
(© Michael Lamont)
Jane Kaczmarek is best known for her work as Lois, the harried, no-nonsense mom on TV's Malcolm in the Middle, which earned her six consecutive Emmy Award nominations, but the Yale Drama School graduate's long career has included numerous plays, notably the Broadway production of Lost in Yonkers, along with many film and television roles.

Now, Kaczmarek has returned to the stage in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People, at Los Angeles' Geffen Playhouse, in which she plays Margie Walsh, a world-weary single mom from South Boston forced to seek work from her successful old high school boyfriend (played by Jon Tenney). TheaterMania spoke with Kaczmarek about her new role.

THEATERMANIA: Your good friend Frances McDormand won the 2011 Tony Award for playing Margie. Is that daunting?
JANE KACZMAREK: Fran and I went to drama school together - I've known her for 30 years. Fran's a wonderful, powerful actress, so the bar's been set pretty high. I've worked very, very diligently knowing that I've got some big shoes to fill. Actually, I have never worked so hard in my life!

TM: What's the trick to making this character your own?
JM: I have three children and recently went through a divorce [from actor Bradley Whitford] and it hits on all sorts of things in my personal life that are painful -- and yet feed me as an actress. It's wonderful when you can play a character that pulls all sorts of strings inside of you and fills you emotionally. Margie is really scrappy and doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve, but because she's so tough the trick is to keep those things under the surface.

TM: Is it a challenge for an actress, even one like yourself, to find such a complex character to play?
JK: To have a main character that is 50 is great! I'm known to audiences as a TV actress and most 50-year-olds in television shows aren't the interesting leading person; they're the mother or mother-in-law or District Attorney. So I'm grateful to David Lindsay-Abaire for writing this gift of a character.

TM: You have such a strong background in theater but it's been awhile since you've done a play. Why?
JK: I just knew that doing a play was going to be time consuming. I was taking a class on Beethoven, I had a book club, and I have my children. I had a very stimulating life and I knew that doing a play means you don't have time to do anything else. But when I read this play, I knew it was what I'd been waiting for. To do this part is something that I will sacrifice the time, the exhaustion and not being there for my kids for a couple of months. It reminds me of being in drama school -- without the sex! In drama school all you did was rehearse, run lines, and focus on the play. I've had to miss a piano recital, helping with a book report, making dinner -- juggling the family needs makes me remember why I put acting on the back burner!

TM: Do you think it's hard to do good theater in Los Angeles?
JK: This production is a good reminder that we have an incredibly well trained group of theater actors living in L.A.This cast is me from Yale, Jon Tenney from Julliard, and Cherise Boothe from NYU, and we've all done major television work. Our director, Matt Shankman, has directed House and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia . So we're a really interesting amalgam of people who have made good livings in television but all come from theater.

TM: What's the biggest difference between working in L.A. and working in New York?
JK: The biggest problem is there's nowhere to go out after the show! I miss the socializing after the play. You don't want to have to get in your car and drive to a restaurant. You have to have better restaurants nearby and better public transportation to help theater thrive in Los Angeles.

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