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Jane Kaczmarek returns to her dramatic roots in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'

Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek
Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek "Long Day's Journey Into Night" at the Geffen Playhouse.
Chris Whitaker
Alfred Molina and Jane Kaczmarek
Jane Kaczmarek and Alfred Molina in "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
Chris Whitaker

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If you’re looking for a rollicking fun time at the theater, seeing a play by Eugene O’Neill is probably not that great an idea.

One of the greatest playwrights in modern theater, O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is considered among the best American plays of the 20th Century.

The play — about the Tyrone family as it struggles with terminal illness and addiction — is currently at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Jane Kaczmarek, an actress familiar to most people for television comedies such as “Malcolm in the Middle,” stars opposite Alfred Molina. 

Those who know Kaczmarek's comedic work might be surprised to see her in such a serious role, but she's a product of the Yale Drama School. And she says at this point in her career, she's not interested in taking on roles that are too similar to what she's done before. 

Kaczmarek spoke with The Frame's John Horn about the roles she wants to take on now, finding the fun in Eugene O'Neill, and her theater soulmate Alfred Molina.

Interview highlights:

On finding the lightness in a very dark play:

Alfred Molina and I, this is our fourth play together, and I've been so blessed to find him as an acting partner. I told him I will never be in love with anyone on stage again. We have a similar idea about moments, and I thought unless we start as happy and high as possible, you have no place to go. That's a real tenet of any storytelling. And it's really a wonderful place as actors to start in that opening scene where I'm teasing him about the cigars, and teasing him about his snoring, and we're all having this great time. And suddenly we're back on that dangerous footing again. Why other productions tend to play it another way, you'd have to ask them. But we really purposely looked for the fun and the real love between these two.

On starting out as an actor known for dramatic roles: 

I went to Yale Drama School and was classically trained, as they say. And I played Mary Tyrone in 1982 at the drama school when I was 26 and, of course, knew everything. I look back, I had no idea what I was talking about ... But when I came out of Yale, one of the first things I did was a movie with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro called "Falling in Love." [In the movie] I was married to Robert DeNiro and he leaves me for Meryl Streep. And for years after that I was just considered a serious actress. I couldn't get auditions for sitcoms. And then I did Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" on Broadway in 1990-91 and suddenly casting directors thought, Oh, she's funny! And comedy has really been what most people think of me [for], but I'm interested in the other side too.

On how she decides which roles to take on now:

I kind of do get offered a lot of the — you can imagine — the mother-in-law who's the drill sergeant. And I think, You know what, I've done that. I know I can do that, I'm not interested in doing that anymore. I don't want to do characters that I've already done ... I'm going back to The Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer, working with Mike Donahue and Jen Silverman, a new playwright, and it's a part that I never would have thought I'd be offered. And I was so excited because it scared me. They always say that that's kind of the ones you should jump into.

To hear the full interview with Jane Kaczmarek, click the blue player above.

"Long Day's Journey into Night" is at the Geffen Playhouse through March 18.

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