tv Tavis Smiley PBS March 16, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT
good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with jane kaczmarek. she made millions laugh as the matriarch lois in "malcolm in the middle," but she's got a serious side when it comes to politics. she joins us to discuss how she's handling trump's first 100 days and to talk about her dramatic role in eugene o'neill's pulitzer prize-winning masterpiece, "long day's journey into night." we're glad you've joined us. jane kaczmarek in a moment. ♪
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ jane kaczmarek is best known for her hilarious portrayal of lois in "malcolm in the middle." the milwaukee, wisconsin, native is reviving a dramatic roam she first performed at yale school of drama, mary tyrone in the eugene o'neill classic, "long day's journey into night." here now, a sampling of her latest turn for l.a.'s geffen playhouse. >> oh, there's nothing wrong with your hare, mary. the fatter -- your hair, mary.
the fatter and healthier you get, the vainer you become. soon you'll spend half a day primping in front of the mirror. >> i need new glasses, james. mize ha my eyes have gotten so bad. >> there's nothing wrong with your eyes, they're beautiful. >> you're so bad -- right in front of jamie. >> he's fishing for compliments, hair and eyes -- >> yes, mama. >> go along with both of you. i did truly have beautiful hair once, didn't i, james? >> the most beautiful in the world. >> this rare shade of reddish brown, it was so long. it was below my knees. you ought to remember it, too, jamie. it wasn't until after edin that i had a single gray hair and then it went white. >> then it was prettier than ever. >> what do you make of that? >> this was before it opened and i caught myself saying a couple of lines incorrectly. >> you weren't supposed to say that on television -- none of us
would have known that. >> now they have been corrected. i think that's the good thing about being classically trained as an actress, you keep working on it even though the play is open. >> i like you already because are you a transparent, honest, open -- >> midwest, tavis, midwest. >> me, too. indiana. >> milwaukee, wisconsin, madison -- i have to give a shout out to my badger palls, great friends of -- badger pals, great friends, tracy@ and tommy -- >> how are you holding up? i know how busy you were during this campaign. i know some of us have family who don't see this the way we see it. >> you know, i refer to my family in milwaukee as my favorite basket of deplorablede. and -- you know, i think the gloves really have come off in this. and you know, the thought of not hurting someone's feelings or not -- i find this president has so hurt the feelings of every
human being in this country. and the civil rights that he is trampling on. i'm not too worried about hurting the feelings of him or the people who support him. i know we're not supposed to do that. at school they tell the children you have to find common ground -- sorry, there's no common ground. >> how have you reconciled yourself to the moment that we find ourselves in? i say reconciled not in terms of accepting it, not in terms of going along with it, but in terms of how you process day to day? i saw a comedian the other day make the joke, something like i'm just waiting for one day when i wake up and don't get a cnn alert that scares the heck out of me -- didn't say heck, i'm trying to clean it up for pbs. how are you navigating every day? >> well, "saturday night live" has been great elixir. >> yeah, it has, yes. >> that has been a earlier rallying cry -- a real rallying cry for us to say, yes, this is never something i thought we'd see in our lifetime. i have two daughters -- i'm proud of my daughter frances,
north carolina, school of the arts. she's a ballet dancer. she's been in the protests in north carolina. my mary louisa, 14, l.a., pasadena. we've got a great group of very liberal-minded human rights blessed women in pasadena. they have been very, very active. and you realize -- i turned 60 -- i'm 61 now. but i thought rest of my days after president obama was going to be, you know, we are now going to be living that country dwreemed of -- >> we turned the corner. >> we turned the corner. i never thought my next 20, 30 years would be hopeful getting back -- not hopefully, we will. get back to where we're supposed to be as human beings and as moral characters in this country and in this world. >> to your point about your daughter being in an arts program, i've had so many conversations over the course of the last couple of months since he's been in office with various
artists of your ilk on this program. the conversation estimates point seems to go here so let me take it here now which is how then do you see perhaps differently than before -- i don't know -- your role as an artist, as a citizen artist at this moment? does that make sense? >> yes, and it's a scary thought. i think as artists we're often thought of as receivers. if you get the job, if they have you to be on a show, you're the person who hopefully gets the call. and "hamilton" -- what lin-manuel miranda has done to shake us up, to wake us up, you know, i always think of the pitch he must have given that he was going to write a rap musical about the beginning, the founding fathers in this country. there wasn't going to be a single star in it, and they were going to be played by people of color. >> we'll buy that. >> where do i write -- >> get out of here. >> you know, the conventional wisdom is need a name, you need,
you know -- and look what that guy did. >> yeah. >> and children everywhere, my kids have that sounds -- that soundtrack memorized back and forth. plus, what they learn good history from it. that i think of what lynn plan well m -- lin-manuel miranda did to all of us to say stands up, speak out. this is what i want to show you as an actor on stage. this is what i would like you to think about and listen to. i can't tell you how moving it is to do this play and to have people write me emails saying, this is exactly what i want to see when i go to a play. i want to think about my life. i want to think about the people i love and what i'm doing with my life. i think as an actress, storytelling is what i always loved. i remember seeing "our town" with judith light as emily at the milwaukee rep. and emily's speech at the end is all about what is really
important. you know, mama's butternut tree, the smell of coffee. right after she died. the small -- the sacred ordinary they call it, that is what is really, really important in life. and i think as artists, if we can shake people up to even wake them up to realize that that sacred ordinary is what they need to applaud, appreciate, and get everyone on board with, we're doing our job. >> yeah. since you mentioned lin-manuel miranda who has obviously done a remarkable job and heas written himself in the history books of broadway play success and beyond -- i await to see what more he has in store for us -- >> immigrants, we get the job done, satellite. >> that's exactly right. he has made his contribution and will do obviously a great deal more. in this moment, i personally am happy to see august wilson getting all the respect that he deserves thanks to denzel and viola and the run on broadway
and the"fency." every time i say denzel, he works up the list, eugene o'neill, but starts with august wilson -- but starts with -- >> eugene o'neill. >> what do you make of the brilliance of eugene o'neill? >> his language is so beautiful. there's something that you find in "long day's journey into night" that you find in playwrights -- language is so beautiful. i have a quote from susan sontag that says "don't live in a linguistic slum." there are so many brilliant ways -- poetic -- officer describing a situation -- of describing a situation, of describing what you're talking about. now everything seems to come down to, you know, the same -- we know what it's going to be. you listen to the language of and celebration of life that the playwrights had, the
storytelling technique is just -- amazing. it's why memorizing it -- it's a long play. but it was much easier to memorize than a lot of modern plays because it's real -- the story continues. you know if you start here talking about when you were in the convent and hoped to be a nun when you were young which, ump, many of my friends laugh at when they're in the audience -- i don't know why they're surprised that i ever -- [ laughter [ laughter ] you know, it's easier to memorize because you're really telling a story and tracking something. august wilson -- when i was at yale, lloyd richards was dean. i was in his first class. and ethel fudgard came and did great plays. august wilson came and was there for -- forever. i remember seeing -- seeing courtney vance on broadway playing the son in "fences." which i see him in the "o.j." and everything he's done and angela bassett, we were all in
school together. and it's just magnificent to see this and to see the beauty of that life and those words in a movie like "fences." the broadway production was pretty great with james earl jones and courtney -- >> amazing. speaking of yale, i mentioned in my introduction, you did this play when you were at yale, in your 20s. >> 26. >> 26. okay. >> that year that year when you really know everything. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. i was about to say -- to ask you, i take nothing away from your life's journey. what did you know about loss at 26? here you are reprieving this character. >> you know, actresses tend to be dramatic. before i had children, before i was -- all you wanted to do was play, you know, what meryl streep was doing, you wanted to be in a concentration camp. you wanted to lose a child. you wanted to be -- those things had such -- they were what you
wanted to do. >> yeah. >> boy. and then you have kids and you get divorced, and you understand what that pain is really about. >> yeah. >> and it's a big difference of the imagination of thinking what that might be like, and i can bring that to the stage as to being this age and having experienced certainly not a lot of pain and loss compared to a lot of people in this country, but in my own way. my husband was everything to me. finish anyo-- for anyone who's through a divorce, it's such a loss of -- the children, everything you've had. it's very easy in this play to tap into that. stanislovsky wrote, use memory, if you have to think of your grand pa that died think of your dog that died. use it. all you need is certain
circumstances. one you're of an age, you have to say the line about having loved and it's over and you -- you're right there. you just know right where that is. >> i want to ask a question at the risk of you slapping me. so i'm going to lean back when i ask you. >> hey, this isn't lois. >> i know, but actresses can -- lest i be slapped. i love bradley woodford. a wonderful guest on this program over the years. cool. when you talk about divorce, obviously bradley woodford's name pops in my head for obvious reasons. i wonder based on what i've read to what extent if at all you blame art, your craft, in part for that? if you are willing to talk about this, if you don't want to, i'll move on. if you blame art for that, and how as an artist you -- you have to assess blame on the thing
that both of you chose as your careers? does that make any sense? >> yes, it does. >> am i out of bounds? >> no, no. there's a big difference between art and show business. >> okay. fair enough. i accept that. >> you know, bradley and i were both from wisconsin. we met in new york. he was doing shakespeare at lincoln center with my great friend, kate burton. and you know, we met and had a very, very happy many, many years. he had gone to juilliard, i went to yale. we had a similar idea of what we wanted to do with our craft and lives. there was no internet. you know, you would get together in the evening and talk and read and have a cocktail. >> sure. >> and it was a very different -- very different time. we had the great bad luck of both of these shows happened at exactly the same time. i had a great difficulty having a baby. finally frances -- had frances, she was 18 months. we were trying to have another baby, and one day the phone
rang. it was nbc that "west wing" had been picked up. phone rang the next day, it was fox. "malcolm" had picked up. the next day the doctor called, i was pregnant again. >> literally three days in a flow row? gee whiz -- >> i said to bradley, i wonder if our lives are going to change. >> that's too funny. >> you know, i was pregnant the first season of "malcolm." the great thing was both shows were so celebrated that we went to all the awards shows together. our careers were so similar in the acclaim that we were getting from those shows. >> we couldn't avoid the two of you. >> sorry about that. >> if we wanted to. we love you. >> but i -- brad loves working more than i do. and "west wing," you can -- that show was just incredible. so i would insist they was home at a certain time on "malcolm" because i had children to feed and nurse. and -- et cetera.
you know, i was doing a show with bryan cranston who was wonderful, but rest were kids -- i didn't want to hang around -- no offense to anybody. brad was on "west wing" with really fascinating people. i think he -- it was a different experience. >> i see that. >> but it's so time consuming, and you know, brad would work during hiatus, i just wanted to go connecticut, our home, and do nothing. and i think we had a very different idea of ultimately how to spend the day. i've really enjoyed being home and raising my kids and being involved in my community. i'm on the board of the educational foundation enhancing public schools in pasadena and the conservatory of music. my community is very, very important to me, and my children are -- not that they're not to brad. and i don't mean that. he's a wonderful father. >> of course, yeah. >> he likes to take exciting work and go away to do it.
i like to stay home. >> let me circle back to this question what do you now in retrospect make of the way those three phone calls changed your life forever? >> you know, what's -- be careful what you wish for. >> yeah. >> wow. financially it was just incredible. when i talk about staying home and choosing work i want to do, i'm able to do that because i'm polish and i saved every nickel i've made. >> favorite food, polish sausage? >> clemens fresh sausage -- bring it back every time i come from milwaukee. >> i figured. yeah, yeah. >> and i also was so lucky with "malcolm" that i got a lot of acclaim and thought, oh, now i did that. wow, people think this. what do i want to do now because
i knew didn't want to do a tv show again. it's too time consuming. life is too short. i'm at that point in my life now where you -- you really have to think, you know, your days are numbered. what do you really want to do now. >> absolutely. >> alfred meolina -- >> your stage husband -- >> four times now. we're looking for the next show h. i said we're the -- they were famous and i refer to us as the lunt fontanskis which is great. this is one of the times you realize you're getting older, too. there's a certain amount of the population who knows who that is. like the boy who plays -- colin wittle and steven grush who played the sons kind of like -- >> yeah. don't quite get it. yeah. since you raised his name -- i'm glad you did because there is the journey that you have been on, the journey that bradley woodford has been on.
you mentioned brian cranston. he was here not too long ago. i had the chance to say -- i think he received it and appreciated it. i had the chance to say how giddy i am about having interviewed him so many years ago. he's come back unlike stars who get so big you can't get them booked anymore -- >> yeah. >> brian will come back on the show. >> the catalog of hairstyles -- >> yeah. to watch how his career exploded. you were with him back in the day. what do you make of seeing your friend and -- >> i loved -- you know, he has one child, taylor, who is a wonderful actress in her own right, who i admire so greatly because she took her mother's maiden name as her stage name so people wouldn't automatically think she was bryan's daughter which is pretty terrific. she's a wonderful actress.
bryan -- this is the best part to me about bryan. i went to college, then i went to yale. i got an agent when i was at yale. i came to l.a. i got the first job, first audition i ever had. i have had a really -- bryan has worked his -- off. he was going to community college to be a policeman. took an acting class. then he went through -- he was having pictures, resumes, putting them under agents' doors, having showcases, trying to get somebody to pay attention, trying. when people like that who have that talent and that perseverance make it, the world is a good place. i couldn't admire him more. and he is so down to earth. i was interviewing for "new york" magazine, "new york" was doing an interview about him. the fellow said to me, i can't get anybody to say anything bad about this guy.
>> he comes to you -- >> no. i thought everybody cannot wait to talk about what a great time they had with bryan. one of the things that really -- the kid who played dewey, the little hamster kid with the ears -- >> yeah -- >> he was an only child. his mom and dad were in boston. his mother stayed with him living in the open apartments. bryan had one daughter, taylor. they were about the same age. bryan would often take dewey, say to the mother, go home, see your husband in boston. i'll take you doy -- eric was his name. and would give eric an opportunity to be in a family with a dog and a kid. they'd go to basketball games together. i think eric would enjoy being in a family situation here as opposed to the -- i thought, i like those kids as much as any tv mom, but i'm not going to take one home for the weekend. bryan did that. bryan thought of that -- bryan also knows the lyrics to every song ever. >> yeah.
>> which you're sitting around on a set for hours and hours, bryan entertaining you -- >> you got to do something. >> he sings -- this is what i've been bugging him about is doing a musical. he's got a fabulous voice. he's -- he was in milwaukee doing his book tour, and my basket of deplorables went to see him. you know, he had them backstage. he filmed my mom coming out of the men's room as a joke. she's 89. i thought that was funny -- just go in there. then you see evelyn kaczmarek walking out -- he refers to us as the grigorski girls. he treated them like he was -- >> like family. >> like family. he's a remarkable guy. >> you were talking about tv, how hard it is. still days are long. a lot of stuff to memorize. this and a short play, that's a lot of material. >> yeah. >> to get through every night.
>> you know what, it -- this cast is so well suited. one of the things we tried with "long day's journey into night" -- i've seen many productions of it and have never seen this. that fred and i -- alfred -- really wanted to play a love in this family. that these two, mary and james tyrone, were absolutely crazy about each other. she gave up the ecstasy of religion hoping to be a nun and going to the convent school for really the ecstasy of the flesh when she married this guy. it turned out to be a bargain she wasn't ready to take on. that led to children, to the -- that is where babies come from if you didn't know that. >> thank you -- >> as my mother refers to it, the marital embrace -- >> i see. >> it is this desire to get back to that what love was when we
first met. when you start here and see a family that might have been wonderful and you see it disintegrate, it was a great journey. when you start this and everyone is miserable and hating each other, it's a long three hours. people said this goes by pretty quickly. it's not just because i talk fast. which i do. it's an interesting way of telling the story that i've never seen. also, mary tyrone is from the midwest. she's often played by ethereal women, that you will fog and everything. james tyrone says in the fourth act when he was talking about her, she was full of mischief, she was a rogue, she loved the love of loving. your mother never could have given up the flesh to be a nun. i thought, she was a lot like me. not the ethereal women who are often portray her. whoa i've tried to do is put in the catholic girl, me, with
midwestern energy who becomes a morphine addict -- >> there you have it. "long day's journey." at the geffen playhouse through march 18th. it is, of course, a eugene o'neill classic. that is -- i've enjoyed this immensely. you have to come back again. >> i will. let's do this. we can talk about theater in l.a. and eugene o'neill -- >> i love you, love to have you on. that's our show for tonight. thanks for watching. and as always, keep the faith. ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with director danny boyle and more on "transpotting." see you then.
♪ - today on america's test kitchen, julia uncovers the secrets to making foolproof new york cheesecake. and bridget shows how to make the best new york bagels at home. right here on america's test kitchen. america's test kitchen is brought to you by dcs. dcs: manufacturers of professionally styled indoor and outdoor kitchen equipment. at dcs, our mission is design that delivers,