For seven years, Jane Kaczmarek memorably portrayed the perpetually exasperated, exhausted, but fearsome mom Lois on Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle. (She earned seven straight Emmy nominations for the role, but never took home the statue.) After the series wrapped up in 2006, her TV spouse Bryan Cranston went on to TV superstardom, winning four Emmys for his work as Walter White on Breaking Bad. Kaczmarek kept working, too, but she took her career in much more eclectic places. Here’s a bit of what she’s been up to.
Her Malcolm in the Middle follow-up series flopped
Malcolm in the Middle ended in spring 2006. That fall, Kaczmarek was already back on network TV with another single-camera sitcom. ABC’s Help Me Help You was a vehicle for Cheers star Ted Danson, who played a therapist who dispensed wisdom and advice as if he didn’t have a messy personal life; Kaczmarek played the doctor’s estranged wife. Unlike Malcolm in the Middle, Help Me Help You was not a long-running hit. ABC pulled the low-rated show off the air after 13 episodes.
She was on a big series that never even aired
Actors must, at the very least metaphorically, cross their fingers when they get cast in a pilot. If all goes well, a network will pick it up to series, and the actor secures a regular gig (and paycheck). Kaczmarek was part of a pilot that Fox ordered, which then wound up in the TV history books as one of the few fully-produced shows to never actually be broadcast.
In 2013, Kaczmarek was part of the cast of the ill-fated Us & Them. A remake of the British romantic sitcom Gavin & Stacey, it starred Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel who meet in the real world after a long period of dating online, and then must contend with each other’s bizarre families. Kaczmarek played a relative named Pam on the series, which Fox canceled after cutting its order back from 13 episodes to seven episodes, none of which ever saw the light of day in the U.S.
She was on Raising the Bar
After nearly a decade in TV comedy, Kaczmarek pivoted to TV drama when she landed a major role on Stephen Bochco’s TNT drama Raising the Bar. Kaczmarek portrayed Trudy Kessler, a tough-on-crime judge with an eye on becoming New York City’s district attorney. Her character frequently heard cases from an idealistic and compassionate public defender named Jerry Kellerman, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar of Saved by the Bell. Despite the pedigree behind and in front of the camera, the show never found a huge audience and TNT canceled Raising the Bar after two seasons.
She was on Breaking Bad (sort of)
Towards the end of Breaking Bad‘s run in 2013, rumors floated that Kaczmarek had signed on for a role on AMC’s award-winning meth drama. While most any actor would be thrilled to be on that show, Kaczmarek’s turn would be especially notable, because it would have reunited her with her Malcolm in the Middle costar, Bryan Cranston. But then Breaking Bad finished…and Kaczmarek never showed up.
What gives? Kaczmarek did film a scene for Breaking Bad, but for a special feature on a Breaking Bad DVD release. She and Cranston filmed a fake "alternate ending" for the show. Spoofing Newhart‘s famous ending — Dick Loudon wakes up in bed next to his wife from the 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show, with all of Newhart being a dream — Walter White wakes up in bed with Lois from Malcolm in the Middle and tells her about a crazy "dream" — the entirety of Breaking Bad.
She got divorced
Kaczmarek was one of the biggest TV stars of the 2000s, and she was married to another one of the biggest TV stars of the 2000s: Bradley Whitford of The West Wing. The couple got hitched in 1992 and had three children together. Unfortunately, the two called the whole thing off in 2009. Fortunately, however, Kaczmarek and Whitford seemed to part ways in a fairly amicable manner, splitting their assets and child custody right down the middle.
She wants to give cows to the needy
Kaczmarek has been fortunate enough to earn enough money to where she can give back some of it, along with her time, to charitable causes. One of her favorites is Heifer International. The organization helps families and communities around the world become more self-sufficient by providing them with livestock. Kaczmarek does a lot of work with Heifer, including writing an afterward for a fundraising book called Together. Her cowriter on the essay: Erik Per Sullivan, who portrayed Dewey on Malcolm in the Middle.
She started a charity
With her then-husband Bradley Whitford, Jane Kaczmarek started the Clothes Off Our Back Foundation. Celebrities donated their clothes, such as fancy gowns worn once at an awards show or movie premiere and then never again, to COOB, which then auctioned them off and gave the proceeds to organizations such as Cure Autism Now and the Children’s Defense Fund. Kaczmarek told Success that the project was a natural extension of her upbringing in Wisconsin. "Wasting anything was just not done in our house. We ate leftovers until they were gone," she said. "We had hand-me-downs. When we carpeted the house, any leftover carpeting would go into the garage to catch the snow when it melted from under the car."
The charity got its start in earnest in 2002, when, just before the Emmy Awards, Kaczmarek called a bunch of celebrities and asked if she could donate and sell off their evening wear. Meryl Streep and Jennifer Aniston are among the many celebrities who have recycled their dresses for a good cause.
She’s been Playing House
There are so many well-made shows competing for eyeballs these days that it’s easy to overlook a few of them. For example, USA’s Playing House, created by and starring real-life best friends and frequent collaborators Lennon Parnham and Jessica St. Clair. Parnham plays Maggie, a pregnant woman who leaves her husband and chooses instead to raise her baby with the help of her best friend, Emma (St. Clair). Jane Kaczmarek has a recurring role as Gwen, Emma’s mother with whom she has a strained relationship.
She returned to the stage
Kaczmarek received her acting training at what’s arguably the best theater program in the country: the Yale School of Drama. After working primarily in television for a while, she’s re-focused her career to concentrate on live theater. In 2017, she starred in a Los Angeles production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic Long Day’s Journey Into Night. She played the lead role of the drug-addled, life-scarred Mary.
It wasn’t the first time she took on the part. "I first played Mary when I was 26," Kaczmarek told the Los Angeles Times. "I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about." Also in 2017, Kaczmarek played the Stage Manager in an innovative staging of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. Deaf West Theatre spearheaded the production, which featured hearing-impaired actors delivering their lines in American Sign Language alongside hearing actors performing in English.
She does a lot of voice work
Kaczmarek is one of the all-time great yell-actors. Her theatrical training ("Project your voice!") probably comes into play here, because when she screamed at her kids on Malcolm in the Middle, it was both hilarious and transcendent. She’s put her voice skills to good use over the last decade, landing a lot of cartoon and voiceover work. Kaczmarek’s voice popped up on Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, and Phineas and Ferb. She’s also a recurring performer on The Simpsons, portraying the strict and Homer-hating Judge Constance Harm.