"I was never a glamour puss whose career was really based on a look or an attitude," she explains. "I've been basically playing the same parts I am at 55 that I was at 35. I get cast as strong women and that can be a mother or a judge or anything."
Though much of America probably knows Kaczmarek best as the screaming, stubborn mom of four wild boys she played for six years on the hit Fox sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle," the Yale-trained actress is now playing a very different kind of matriarch -- the man-chasing, multi-divorced mom of the title character in the edgy new NBC comedy "Whitney." Her recurring guest role -- with its lighter schedule -- is the perfect fit for Kaczmarek's real life as a mother of three.
"I can still do all the things that I really come to enjoy doing since 'Malcolm' ended, which is being with my kids and really having a home and being a part of a community," she says. "My life is pretty good."
That's not to say she hasn't faced a few major obstacles. Kaczmarek split from her husband of 17 years, "West Wing" actor Bradley Whitford, in 2009 and their divorce was finalized this year. "Divorce is brutal and horrible and ... you have to actively work to get your life back on track," admits Kaczmarek. "As time goes by, the dust kind of settles and I'm really lucky. I've got fabulous women friends that I kind of didn't have while I was married. I realized the great need for that when the marriage started to disintegrate."
Her children -- 14-year-old Frances, 11-year-old George, and 8-year-old Mary -- remain her top priority. "I enjoy their company. I really like being with them and I like to be home for dinner and I like to see them off in the morning," says Kaczmarek, who reveals she runs a tight ship at home. "You can make sure your kids make their beds and hang up their clothes and put their dishes in the dishwasher when you're the one calling the shots. So, parenting alone, for me anyway, I think is almost easier, being single."
Another challenge she's faced in recent years involved the increasing hip pain she was constantly battling thanks to arthritis -- pain she tried to ignore for quite some time, going as far as to avoid stairs, driving from one store in the mall to the other, and popping 20 ibuprofen pills a day. It wasn't until her last pregnancy, when she couldn't take medication, that she realized just how excruciating her hip pain was. She saw a doctor and eventually got her hip replaced.
"I just couldn't function anymore like a person was supposed to function. But I waited too long and I could have this relief a lot earlier," says Kaczmarek, who now serves as a spokesperson for the Anatomy of Movement Experience, an educational program focused on osteoarthritis treatment options. "And several years later, for my second hip, the minute I felt this discomfort I went in and ... I had it fixed as soon as possible. I had it replaced."
Now, in addition to setting off the metal detector at airports, she jokes, she's finally able to "do what you're supposed to do in life, which is run around, chase your kids, and just be a normal person."
A normal person who's also made fitness a priority. She bikes, takes Pilates classes (sometimes biking to said Pilates classes), and takes her dog on daily long walks. That's not to say she loves doing any of it. "There are two kinds of people in the world. People who wake up in the morning and think, 'How can I exercise?' and people who think, 'How can I get through the day without lifting a finger?' [I'm] the second one," she laughs. "But I'm 55 and, boy, you do start noticing you gotta' use it or lose it."
Sounds like Jane's not about to lose it anytime soon ...
- Jane Kaczmarek