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Jane Krakowski Explains the Absurd Humor of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

11 minute read

Fans of 30 Rock knew Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney, the attention-hungry actress whose hijinks made trouble for Liz Lemon. Now she’s back as another neurotic blonde New Yorker in a new show created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But this time — and luckily for binge-watchers — the zany comedy is running on Netflix instead of NBC, where it was originally conceived.

The show follows Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), one of several “mole women” held in a bunker for years after being kidnapped by a cult leader who claimed the outside world had ended in apocalypse. Now, she’s trying to make it on the mean streets of New York, working as a nanny for the wealthy Jacqueline Vorhees (Krakowski). The socialite may bear a certain resemblance to Jenna Maroney, but Krakowski says at their core, they’re vastly different women. TIME caught up with the actress just before 13 episodes of season 1 began streaming on Netflix on March 6.

TIME: How is it being back working with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock?

Jane Krakowski: It’s great. When we first started the season, it was a bit like getting the band back to together—I would say 95% of the crew and the creative team are all the same from 30 Rock, so it was a bit of a homecoming for me, and it was a lovely way to start a new character feeling very safe and secure in the hands of all of the people I was working with.

Is it different now without Tina in front of the camera with you?

She’s so present with us every day that it feels like we’re getting the same creative collaboration, so not so much in that way—just that she looks a lot more comfortable because she’s wearing relaxed pants.

Were you disappointed when NBC dropped the show, or happy to test the waters at Netflix?

We all found out sort of after the fact that the deal was done, and as I think has been written about, it happened very quickly, in like two or three days. So when I got a call from Tina I was like, “Oh great, we’re finding out what day we’re going to be on the network, on NBC,” and then it was like, “What?” So it was a great surprise to us, and Netflix has just been amazing. I have a longstanding friendship and love for NBC for all the years that I spent there, and obviously the show is still owned by NBC so we’re still with them in many respects, but it was great for us to get the opportunity to air on Netflix and get a season 2 right away.

You tell your friends, “Now we’re on Netflix,” and people will be so excited, like, “Really? That’s so cool! Awesome!” But of course generationally, my parents were like, “So how do we watch it now? It’s not gonna be on TV?” They don’t understand how to make it work.

I look forward to the creative freedom that we will get from going to Netflix next year. It’ll be interesting to see where the writers’ minds take us, and — of course — just to get those precious eight more minutes that we are allotted on Netflix. Because when Kimmy was made, we didn’t find out until the last episode was almost halfway through filming [that we’d be switching to Netflix], so all of these episodes were made under the assumption that we were airing on NBC. I do believe that they’ve gone back in and put back in some jokes that either we lost for time or for network sensibilities, but nothing was re-shot knowing that we were going over to Netflix.

One of the great things about Netflix is that you can binge-watch. Are you a binge-watcher?

I am! I like the freedom that you can watch it whenever you can watch it. As the mother of a three-year-old, I watch my shows at very unconventional times, so it’s good to have that freedom to watch whenever you want, wherever you want.

Is there anything you’re watching now that you love?

Not now because it’s done—I’ve already binged it—but The Affair—I’m obsessed. It’s one of my favorite shows, and I’m waiting with bated breath to get the next season. Maybe I’m late to the binge-watching, but you finish it so fast and you have to wait so long with anticipation! That’s the only drawback to it.

I think what will be interesting with a show like Kimmy is the characters develop and open up quite a lot from the beginning of these 13 episodes, but I think it’s great for people to see where the show grows to. There’s a line that they wrote for Kimmy where my stepdaughter is trying to figure out who Kimmy Schmidt really is, and she says, “I Googled you, Kimmy Schmidt,” and Kimmy, who doesn’t know what Google is, says, “Really? I didn’t feel it.” I feel that’s a little bit like what tomorrow will feel like with streaming, you know? “We’re streaming it.” “Really? Because I didn’t feel it!” What is it going to feel like? It’s a new experience for me as an actress to be on a show that will be live-streaming as of Friday.

Some critics have compared the part of Jacqueline Voorhes to Jenna Maroney. How do you think they’re different?

I’ve always approached them very differently, and it was certainly conscious on Tina and Robert Carlock’s agenda to make them as different as possible. At first I was taken aback when people were saying that, because I find the characters so different at their core and in their heart, and I think also because I shot all 13 episodes and I know where this character grows. But in the first few episodes, I see why people would feel that way, especially in the beginning, before you learn more about her. But as I say, I’ve never approached them the same. There’s a vulnerability to Jacqueline that Jenna never had an ounce of on 30 Rock, so I find that they come from very different places.

Tina said to me—which was good to learn after 30 Rock had finished filming—was that at her core, Jenna was a horrible person and Jacqueline is not. It was good for me to learn that in hindsight after all of the seasons of 30 Rock! But I do think the characters are very different. The sense of humor is written by the same creators and the comedy has the same tone and pace as 30 Rock, and since I’m associated with both, I think people will naturally put that together.

Did they write the part with you in mind?

That I don’t know. Initially, I do believe, this part was going to be a smaller, quick guest role that Tina did have me in mind for. It wasn’t a part of the pilot, and then I went off and did a different pilot, and then they wanted to make this character more prominent in the show and did put her back in the pilot. And at that time, my pilot did not get picked up on Fox, and that same day, Tina wrote me and said, “Would you like to come over and be on this show?” And I said yes immediately, without even knowing what the character was. “If you need me to work in craft service, I’ll be there! I can’t cook, but I’ll come!”

Jenna and Jacqueline are both foils to the heroine in their respective shows. Do you think in this show that Jacqueline and Kimmy are following similar trajectories?

I think all the characters have an underlying story of their own “bunker” so to speak: Jacqueline in the gilded cage that she created for herself, and then realized that that’s not where happiness lies; Kimmy’s obvious world of being captive for so many years and then freed. Coming from such different worlds, they influence each other and help each other.

Most of your scenes are with Ellie Kemper, and you’re both such high-energy actresses. What is it like to shoot together?

I love Ellie. We had never met or worked together before, and I just adore her. She is sunshine to me. She’s incredibly professional, she’s so smart and it’s great to work with her. One of the things I find funny is I actually don’t know the other characters on the show because I do mostly film in my [character’s] fancy Upper East Side apartment. I have worked with Tituss [Burgess] before and I adore him, but when our characters finally meet, as well as Carol Kane’s character, down the road in the season, it’s quite funny, because I’m like, “What happened on your side? What are your stories about? Where do you guys shoot?” It was fun to ultimately all meet up together by the end of the season. I have the great pleasure of sharing one of my favorite story lines written for me with Carol Kane, the great Carol Kane, and it was a great joy to film. I never thought those two characters would meet up, and so when we do, it was pure joy from my standpoint of getting to work with the Carol Kane.

30 Rock was really good at pushing the boundaries on jokes about race and identity. Your character on Kimmy has a plot line about her background — I don’t want to spoil it — but is that fun material for you? Do you ever worry that viewers might be offended?

I love [the plotline] because I didn’t see it coming. I do feel that Tina and Robert have given me the opportunity to play things that I would never get to play outside of their world—as Jenna and as Jacqueline. I greatly appreciate that. They create such a distinct world in their shows. One of the things they are so skilled at is knowing the boundaries that their show can go to. A brilliant example is their humor at the Golden Globes: Those jokes are so funny and so spot-on, but you also go, “Wow, they just said that!”

A lot of times on Kimmy and on 30 Rock, when we’re doing the read-through, we’ll be like, “Wow, are we allowed to do this?” But then when it’s filmed in the world that they have created, it is within the boundaries of the show. I particularly love my storyline, because it tells so much about my character — about how far she wanted to come from who she is, to get to who she became. That, at its core, is a deep-struggling character to play. I love that, and it all comes from the humor of their writing, but that’s a complicated person who is running so far from her roots—so to speak.

The Golden Globes and the Emmys have been pretty good to Netflix. Are you hoping this might finally be your chance to win for Best Supporting Actress?

Not even! We’re just hoping to have a successful streaming event!

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