Jane Kaczmarek was ready to stop acting and raise a family when opportunity knocked. Ever practical, she signed for the “Malcolm in the Middle” pilot thinking her paycheck might finance a new bathroom for an ongoing home renovation. Like most pilots, she figured it wouldn’t sell, and if it did, she’d probably only work a couple days each week.
“The phone rang on Wednesday and they said ‘Malcolm’ had been picked up. The next day, they called (husband Bradley Whitford) to say ‘The West Wing’ had been picked up. And the next day the doctor called and said I was pregnant again. So we were living in this rental house, in the middle of a renovation, and I remember saying to Brad, ‘You think our lives are going to change?'”
Kaczmarek didn’t realize how demanding a single-camera comedy’s schedule would be. “Two of my kids have really grown up with me doing this, and all three have hated every minute of it. There were many mornings when I left before they woke up and many nights I wouldn’t get home until they were already in bed.”
Fittingly, she was with her 8-year old daughter when the call came that “Malcolm” was ending.
“I was a little stunned, and she said, ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘What’s the best news you could get?’ And she said, ‘They canceled your show!'”
While it was difficult spending long hours apart from her children, the job had advantages like financial security and a steady schedule.
Turning 50 has made her a bit more reflective about her career, which has spanned Broadway, film, and television with parts on everything from “The Paper Chase,” “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere” to “Felicity.” She doesn’t feel she has anything left to prove to herself, or others, as an actress.
“I feel very happy with what I’ve done, maybe because I got to show so many different sides of me as Lois.”
In 2002, Kaczmarek and Whitford founded Clothes Off Our Back, which auctions celebrity formal wear to raise funds for children’s charities. She finds her hands-on involvement (she steams and packs many of the gowns herself) extremely enjoyable. At this point in her life, she’d be just as happy doing that and spending time with her family as anything else.
“I’m in an incredibly wonderful position,” explains the Milwaukee native. “I’ve saved a lot of money, live very simply and am looking forward to finding something I feel very passionately about — or not working.”