[Editor’s Note: This interview originally ran in June 2015 as part of an Emmys push for select candidates the Indiewire editorial team found deserving. It has since been lightly edited to focus on pertinent issues.]
After working with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock for seven seasons on the seminal “30 Rock,” Jane Krakowski had just one thing to say when asked if she was interested in joining the cast of their follow-up: “Yes.” It wasn’t until she started getting scripts, though, that she discovered the complexity of the character she was being asked to play: Socialite-with-secrets Jacqueline, whose superficial similarities to “30 Rock’s” Jenna disappear from view after she hires Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) as a nanny and ends up finding her life forever changed.
Below, Krakowski tells Indiewire where her trust in Fey and Carlock came from, and why she’s putting in extra hours at the gym before “Kimmy Schmidt” Season 2 starts shooting in August.
So something that I find really interesting about it is the fact that you know [Fey and Carlock] wrote this role for you.
I mean, I was so thrilled about the show, too. This is the first time I’ve been part of a program where we made whole seasons before it aired. We sort of made, I think, purely the product that the creators, Tina and Robert, wanted to make without any sort of feedback during the process. So it was very interesting to release it all at once, where they saw the whole perspective of the first 13 episodes from start to finish, and then get everyone’s reaction after. It felt a little bit more like a Broadway opening in a sense — you work on it for a long time, and then you present it and see what everybody says. So it was so wonderful to have people… I felt like the people who liked the show really got it. They got what Robert and Tina were going for. I’m sure, as you know, if you tried to explain it before air, it was a little hard for people to understand how funny the show was going to be.
How were you explaining what your new project was?
I would first say I was so thrilled because I was working on the next Tina Fey and Robert Carlock show. When I explained the premise, I would say, it’s about a woman who’s been in a bunker for so many years, then gets found, and she moves to New York, and… it’s a comedy! [laughs] But it’s really funny! So people would be not really sure how that was going to work. But I think, even in just pre-describing it to people, knowing it was in the hands of Tina and Robert, they were excited to see what that would be.
I read that you didn’t know who you would be playing when you agreed to do it.
That’s correct. Tina wrote me an email saying, “Would you like to come be on my new show,” and I wrote back “yes.” Two days later, we met and I got to hear the rest of the part. I was signed on whether— I don’t cook a stitch, but if they wanted me to work in craft service I would. [laughs] Snacks would be very limited. [laughs]
But, it was amazing to hear from them and to get the call to come work for them again. It felt like… I mean, there wasn’t one day of “30 Rock” that went by that we didn’t appreciate what we were asked to do. I think every actor on that show felt that way. That we felt very much like this was the only place we would get to do a lot of what they asked us to do because they created such a unique, farcical world that all the characters lived in. There was an episode of “30 Rock” called “Dance Like No One’s Watching.” And when “30 Rock” ended, I felt like that’s exactly what they let their actors do. They write amazing roles with incredible humor, and they want you to dance like no one’s watching as those characters that they create. And I think that’s such an incredible thing for creators to let actors do.
So when they called me again, I was like, whatever they think may be appropriate for me or they think they wanted to write inspired by me, I would be thrilled to do it.
Aside from the fact that you guys shot the whole thing before it ever saw the light of day, what’s been different about the “Kimmy Schmidt” experience so far?
One of the joys was it was like getting the band back together; I would say 95 percent of our crew and creative team were from “30 Rock,” so that was sort of a wonderful homecoming. I think the plight of this whole go-around has been different, in the sense that…it was so known that we were gonna be on NBC and then sold to Netflix so I think that sort of first round of “Oh, what is this gonna be like now that it’s been sold to Netflix?” and the story of that…and then we were released for streaming a few weeks later, so it’s sort of like they all just lined up together the way that I think was meant to be.
Because of the fact that it was on Netflix, where people can watch the entire season, I felt people knew about the show immediately. Whereas “30 Rock” felt like more of a slow growth. I’m not sure we felt people were watching even most of the first season. [laughs] And then you sort of felt cult-like fans join on. So, I would say, the feeling that people were anticipating the show and immediately watching it is the biggest difference between this and “30 Rock.”
When you look back at the first season of “Kimmy Schmidt,” is there something that stands out to you as the craziest thing you never thought you’d be asked to do?
Yeah, well, the one that stands out in my mind is…one of my favorite things about working on a show with Tina and Robert is the surprise and joy and awe that I have when we have read-throughs because we don’t usually see the script until the read-through, or maybe five minutes before the read-through and they’re still actually hot from the Xerox machine. [laughs] So, one of my favorite things about working with them is realizing what’s happening to your character as you’re doing the read-throughs. So you say the line sort of like, “Oh my God, I cannot believe this is happening” or “This is what I’m saying” or “This is the storyline.” So those are some of my favorite moments with them.
But I will say the stand-out moment for me, and again, this is only in the world of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, would be my flashback scenes with my parents, because they always said, “Jane at 14 played by Jane,” and I really don’t think anywhere else in this world, would they let me at 46 play myself at 14. And that’s awesome.
And not only are you playing 14, but you’re playing what turns out to be a Native American character. Did you know that was happening going in?
No, I did not know that that was happening going in. And again, that was one of those moments where I was like, “Wow, amazing, I did not see that coming.”
It’s such an interesting choice. What kind of response have you seen given your character is Native American, being played by you?
I don’t know about the bigger responses out there in the world, but I feel…I thought it was a great choice in the sense that they wanted to give the character an A-to-Z journey. I think it made the character so complicated — that a woman who started and grew up the way she did changed her life so far to become this Upper East Side socialite woman with blonde hair and blue eyes and that whole image, was such an incredible backstory for the character. Because as you know, one of the themes through the show is that everyone has a bunker of their own, so to speak. And I thought it was incredible that this character had created her own sort of gilded cage bunker.
It’s also such a joy to work with Sheri Foster and Gil Birmingham, who play my parents. They’re just such wonderful actors. And I thought ultimately the story was just such a beautiful story to tell in Season 1, that she actually comes around to, instead of running away from, really appreciating and embracing her heritage.
It is actually really interesting that the character has such a strong arc over the course of the season. Did you have a sense that so much of that would happen so fast?
No, I didn’t. As I said, I said yes before I knew anything about the role. [laughs] I knew the premise of the show, but that was it. I am absolutely up for whatever ride Tina and Robert take us on.
Have you gotten any hints about what you’re up to in Season 2?
I haven’t. We did a few panels, so I got to hear a little bit from Robert and Tina, and some of those have been published too, about some of the future storylines…personally, it was a great joy for me working with Carol Kane because they were two characters who I thought would never actually meet up. And we sort of had very separate storylines. I only met the character of Titus once. We all got to know each other at the studio very well, but the characters didn’t cross that often.
So when I got to the last episode of Season 1, where Carol’s character and my character go on a road trip together, I loved it so much. I was thrilled, and I adore Carol Kane and I think we had sort of a thing — I think we had chemistry. So, I hear rumblings that we might be paired up a bit more in Season 2. I have no idea how, but I look forward to it. [laughs]
That’s interesting because something in sitcoms I notice a lot is that one way the writers get a lot of material is by doing unexpected pairings. Are there other characters in the “Kimmy Schmidt” universe that you also hope get more time with your character?
Oh my gosh! Sure! I think it would be incredible for her to meet all the girls from the bunker. I don’t know how that would ever happen. [laughs.] Obviously, Jon Hamm was so incredible as a guest star on our show. I really don’t think those characters would ever meet, but I thought he did such a brilliant job. You never know — they’re gonna put us all together.
I also adore working with Ellie, and I hope that our characters — although I know I’m no longer married and I’m not sure if she’ll still be my nanny because I’m not sure if I have children still; I think I lost them in the divorce — but I don’t know how we will still work together or what the relationship will be. But I love not only working with Ellie, but the influence that Kimmy had on not only my character but every character in the show. Her resilience and optimism is infectious. And I think it’s something wonderful about the show — how she, in one season, affected all of our lives.
And that’s a really interesting thing about the show, is that it has such a strong message at its core. I keep going back to the Soulcycle episode, where it’s just all about how we do trap ourselves.
Yeah. Those are all very strong messages. I agree. What I think made the show so different is that it has sort of a dark underbelly, and a very sincere core, but bulked with so much humor.
Do you feel it’s only going to get darker? Or this level of darkness is about as dark as it can get?
I don’t know, actually. I know I’ve heard from Tina and Robert that the tone is pretty established and that they don’t think the tone will change that much, due to the fact that we’re now on Netflix. But, you know, momma is working out a lot this summer, just in case it suddenly goes a bit more raw. We all better be prepared! [laughs]
[Editor’s Note: Indiewire’s Consider This is an ongoing series meant to raise awareness for Emmys contenders our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This selections may be underdogs, frontrunners or somewhere in between. More importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they’re nominated or not.]
READ MORE: Tina Fey on Why ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Wouldn’t Exist Without Ellie Kemper and Her Contagious Optimism