In theatre speak, to be a triple threat means you’re skilled in dancing, singing, and acting. And for many who are fortunate enough—or just plain work their asses off—achieving this accolade may not come until late in one’s career.
Many of us know Jane Krakowski as a comedic actress from her memorable roles on “30 Rock” and “Ally McBeal,” but the New Jersey native can do more than just make you laugh. From a young age, Krakowski grew up a lover of all performing arts, frequently accompanying her parents during rehearsals at a local theatre. She studied dance at a young age and would later attend the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. It wasn’t long before her talent would take her to new heights, landing roles in feature films and on Broadway as a teenager.
After winning a Tony Award in 2003 for her part in the musical “Nine,” Krakowski took a hiatus from Broadway. But this year, after 13 years, she returned to the Broadway stage as Ilona Ritter in the 2016 revival of “She Loves Me.” Krakowski’s energy and charisma brought new life to the 1963 musical, earning her a Tony Award nomination earlier this year. In conjunction with her return to Broadway, Krakowski has also taken to the Netflix “stage” in Tina Fey’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which is set to begin filming its third season.
But what really drives this Manhattanite is heart. For Krakowski, luxury is being able to be part of incredible productions right here on the East Coast, where she can spend time with son, Bennett. And after a memorable Broadway season, one thing’s for sure, no matter where Krakowski goes, her magnetic personality and showstopping sense of humor are sure to follow.
You began your career in theatre. Debuting on Broadway as a teenager. Would you say you’ve gotten back to your roots with your role as Ilona in “She Loves Me”?
I do consider it that way. The Broadway community is my home community because that’s where I started. I have such a love for Broadway. I had the most joyous experience on “She Loves Me” and it wasn’t until I started doing interviews for the show that I realized it had been 13 years since I’d done Broadway. It was exciting to be nervous again. I was excited to have to learn and perform the whole play. TV is broken down and done in smaller scenes and out of order, so it was fun for me to use my brain in that manner again. The play is filled with so much love and joy that I think it transpires to all the performers on the stage and hopefully the audience as well. It was a homecoming for me, returning to the Roundabout Theatre Company for my third production with them. I had worked with director Scott Ellis before, so it was a homecoming on many different levels. It’s wonderful to have the audience participation every night.
You sort of feed off that energy.
Exactly! You feed off that energy every single night.
How was it juggling the filming with Netflix and returning to Broadway?
It’s been busy. I had a two week overlap, and thank goodness “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “She Loves Me” were able to work it out. For the first two weeks I was doing double duty, but then “Kimmy” finished for its hiatus. We finished “She Loves Me” July 10th so now I have a month off before we begin season three. It’s worked out perfectly.
What did it mean for you to not only return to Broadway, but to also be nominated for a Tony Award?
It was incredible. I mean initially I was just looking forward to seeing if I remembered how to do it, you know? [Laughs.] I never expected to be welcomed back with such open arms and kindness by the community. It’s been exciting to be a part of this particular theatre season in New York City. I mean obviously with “Hamilton” and “Waitress” and so many new musicals opening and great revivals, I think it was a really great season. You could feel the buzz. Especially at the Tony Awards.
What attracted you to your role on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”?
For me, the whole attraction was to work with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. I had many amazing years working with them on “30 Rock” and I was thrilled to get to work with them again. I had said yes over email without even knowing what the part was. I appreciate their writing— they’re amazing. They still write jokes, and there’s so many jokes per page in our show. Many of the cast will at first misread some of the jokes and realize there’s a joke within the joke. The writing is just so well-crafted. I’ve come to love Jacqueline [her character], I had no idea what an amazing character she was going to turn into. Even though I’ve worked with them [Fey and Carlock] for so many years, they still challenge me. They still give me stuff to do that I’m like, “Oh okay, you think I can do this? Let’s try!” I appreciate that. A lot of the creative teams and crew were from “30 Rock” so it was like a reunion for me.
Coming from a network show like “30 Rock” how do you feel about the way Netflix has changed the way we watch TV?
Oh my gosh, it’s totally changed. What I find interesting is that people stay with the shows and have to wait so long in between seasons. I’m still trying to figure out how that works. [Laughs.] I do it too as a viewer. We binge so quickly and take it in so fast. I find that the model of Netflix is just fascinating, and how people watch shows over and over again. You get more out of it, see all the jokes that perhaps you may have missed the first time. For me as an actor, I think some of the biggest differences is that when you’re on network television you can feel the show airing as you’re making it. You see the audience’s reaction, it’s part of the season. With Netflix, we make Tina and Robert’s vision as a whole season and then it’s like an opening night sort of thing, waiting to see if everybody likes it. There’s no outside influence when we’re making it. That does feel quite different.
What’s next for you? What’s your goal as an actor?
To stay working and be happy in the jobs that you’re in really. For me, I’m a New York based person, my whole family is here in the New York/New Jersey area. I’m raising my son here. So I’m hoping to stay East Coast based. I hope that we continue to get enough production in New York that I can stay working and stay a local girl. [Laughs.]
You’re originally from Parsippany, NJ?
It seems like your most memorable roles have always been close to home, particularly New York City. What do you find most enjoyable about working in the area?
It’s so exciting to film in New York City, it becomes an element and a character in the show. You get that energy that you don’t get anywhere else. You know, when you’re filming live on the streets of Manhattan, anything can happen. [Laughs.] The sirens are going off, the New Yorkers are making their comments and/or participating. It adds that extra element to any project that you’re working on.