If you need to blow the hinges off a bourgeois personality, hire Jane Krakowski. What Robert De Niro is to Martin Scorsese in his cinematic portrayal of streetwise, Gotham kingpins, Krakowski is to comedy creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock in their painting of ridiculously haughty uptown girls. After playing Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock—a TV diva who couldn’t stop looking at herself in the mirror—Krakowski remained in demand for Fey and Carlock on their Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, in which the actress plays the loopy Manhattan socialite Jacqueline Voorhees, who employs and routinely fires Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) as her nanny. Jacqueline is quite the twisted lady—a woman who fled her Native American roots to become a flight attendant before marrying and divorcing billionaire Julian Voorhees. Krakowski’s secret to funny? As she puts it, Fey and Carlock just let her go wild. Her work on 30 Rock earned her four supporting comedy actress Emmy nominations. Could a fifth nom finally be the charm?
Let’s go back to the beginning, prior to 30 Rock. How did you first meet Fey and Carlock?
It was the luckiest meeting of my career. They called me to meet with them at Broadway Video. We just chatted a little bit, and I read some lines with Tina in another room. We spent some of the conversation seeing if my sensibility lined up. There was a self-deprecating sense of humor (on 30 Rock). The role of Jenna entailed sending up certain elements of being an actress. I was willing to send up anything. I was fully onboard. 30 Rock always walked the line of, “Was that the real person or the character?” They found a way to merge elements that were real with the fictional characters and the farcical reality of the show. For instance, Jenna did a sketch where she was on roller skates because Tina knew I had made my Broadway debut on roller skates in Starlight Express. Or Jenna appeared on the Today Show with the real Matt Lauer, but Jenna was not real… I always loved that crossover between reality and fiction.
When Fey and Carlock said they had a new comedy with a zany premise about a girl who escaped a doomsday cult, what was your reaction?
“I’m in! Sign me up!” I said yes over email without knowing anything about the show. I didn’t even know anything about the character. I knew Tina would have an amazing part for me.
How is Jenna Maroney and Jacqueline Voorhees comically connected? And how are they different?
I feel they’re extremely different, but they come from the same genius mind of Robert and Tina. 30 Rock lived on such a farcical plane. The 30 Rock world has its own reality and Kimmy Schmidt is an entirely different New York. I think it’s wonderful that Tina and Robert looked at Ellie (Kemper), saw her big wide sunshine face and figured what world they would inhabit. Tina once said on 30 Rock that we should dance like no one is watching. She allowed us as performers to do it all.
Jacqueline is such an interesting character. She has this air of sophistication, but then you meet her and see she’s losing it. She’s hiding something and always is in a state of denial and realization at the same time. We meet her at the height of when she’s losing it and then we learn her backstory and she’s an absolute mess. I loved when we saw her coming home to her roots and finding that realization. She’s somebody who worked so hard to change who she was. She’s complex and vulnerable and lives with that big secret. That’s what’s so special about Kimmy Schmidt: Everyone’s underbelly is quite dark, but the show lives on a light plane.
Having worked with Fey and Carlock for so long, what are some of the takesways you’ve gained from them in regards to comedy?
I feel like I learn from every person I work with, every scene partner. I say this to you as I’m puffing on an imaginary cigarette. (Laughs.) There were days when I would rewatch an episode and catch things. As an entire cast and crew on 30 Rock, we would gather to watch episodes. There were times when I was like, “Whoa, I missed that (joke),” and then figured out how I could get it right the next time. I love watching Ellie. There are things that she does that are smart choices and hilarious. Working with (30 Rock costar) Alec Baldwin, he’s such a smart, skilled comedian. I would watch him work and try to figure out the spin he was putting on the ball. Still to this day, I can’t figure it out. I was so thankful that Tina and Robert trusted me with this amazing role.