UW-Madison grad gets new TV show

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Posted by madcityradio.com on September 01, 2008 at 09:36:59:

Plain Jane: UW-Madison grad Jane Kaczmarek has a new outlook - and a new show

After seven seasons as the outspoken and outrageous mom on the hit sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle," UW-Madison graduate Jane Kaczmarek desperately needed a break from her TV family -- and wanted time for her real one.

"Malcolm' was just grueling. It was seven years of many, many 14-hour days," Kaczmarek says in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I had all my babies in my 40s -- two during the filming of Malcolm.'"

She turns 53 in December, looks years younger, and juggles three kids (ages 10, 8 and 5) with her husband, Madison native and "West Wing" alum Bradley Whitford in their Pasadena, Calif., home.

"I have one child going into kindergarten," she says. "I am kind of in that stage in my life that I'm aware of how quickly time passes."

Still, she's an actress, and a good one.

"Malcolm," which ended in 2007, may have made her famous and earned her seven Emmy Award nominations, but her acting credits ran deeply in TV, theater and film since her UW days on Madison stages. However, she figured she could no longer be a working mother.

Then one of TV's most creative producers, Steven Bochco, made her an offer she couldn't refuse: A supporting role on his new legal drama series, "Raising the Bar," on cable outlet TNT. Best of all, Bochco altered the film schedule to limit her workload as feisty Judge Trudy Kessler to two days per week. Ten episodes, about half of a network broadcast series load, of "Raising the Bar" will fill its first season.

Other TV executives sought Kaczmarek for prominent roles after "Malcolm." She declined.

"I wanted a small part. I did not want to play lead in anything," says Kaczmarek, a native of Milwaukee suburb Greendale. "I wanted an interesting character who was not going to carry the show."

The hourlong show "Raising the Bar" debuts at 9 p.m. Monday and Kaczmarek joins an ensemble cast, including Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Gloria Reuben, who portray characters in the heart of New York's brutal legal scene. The show is based on Madison native David Feige's non-fiction book "Indefensible."

Feige writes scripts for "Raising the Bar" and serves as supervising producer. In a funny coincidence about 30 years ago, Kaczmarek, then a UW sophomore, and Feige, then 9, were in the same Madison play. (Kaczmarek also played a guest role on Bochco's "Hill Street Blues" in the mid-1980s.)

For many years before "Malcolm," Kaczmarek was pigeonholed as a dramatic actress. Then after "Malcolm," TV producers wanted her for comedies. (During "Malcolm," she also handled the voice of Judge Harm on "The Simpsons.")

Kaczmarek, though, enjoys playing a serious, largely sinister, judge in "Raising the Bar." The judge also is involved in a steamy romance with her much-younger law clerk. And, in the courtroom, she argues often with the righteous public defender (Gosselaar).

At times, it seems her character goes overboard with venom.

"I thought that (Malcolm' character) Lois was always justified in what she did," Kaczmarek says. "As an actor, you always have to believe your character is right. You have to believe that everything you are doing is completely justified."

And she's thrilled to work -- and to be with her family.

"We've really been sold the bill of goods in this country -- and this generation -- that you can do it all. You can't. There just are not enough hours in a day," she says. "I have been very, very lucky in that I have been paid handsomely for jobs so I can take huge stretches of time off where I do not have to work.

"But I hope I would forego a lot of material goods to have the time to be home with my kids because I love being with those kids more than anything."


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