But the Ellie Kemper comedy, which premieres on March 6 on Netflix after initial plans to air it on NBC were scrapped in favor of a streaming deal and a sophomore pickup, also shares much of the same crew and a star in Jane Krakowski.
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The 46-year-old actress earned four Emmy nominations for playing Jenna Maroney between 2006 to 2013 and now steps into the role of Jacqueline Voorhes, a pill-popping Manhattan housewife who hires the titular Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) after the latter escapes a decade-long stint in a subterranean doomsday cult. Krakowski was a last-minute addition for the show. (She actually boarded the series just five days before NBC trotted them out for the upfronts.) Here, Krakowski speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about her unusual first day on set, the mystery of what a Netlfix-tailored season might look like and sharing a TV series with one of her idols.
How quickly did you join Kimmy after Dead Boss fell through?
It was crazy fast. I got that dreaded call on a Wednesday afternoon from the producer and creator of Dead Boss that it was not going to get picked up. I was sitting at my desk chair, wondering who from the cast I was going to call first to commiserate, and within an hour I got the call from Tina. I got fitted on Friday, I filmed on Saturday and they inserted scenes of mine from the upfront package.
The upfronts being two days later?
I had never done anything like this before. It was guerilla-style with a green screen with a mini crew. I just stood on a platform. There were no actors there, but I read the scene with a stand in and script supervisor. They just pasted me in, and I started filming a few weeks later. I really didn’t even know who I was playing. It was that quick. We filmed it properly again once I knew where everything was going.
And you knew nothing about her before you signed on?
I couldn’t believe this rich, messed-up, complicated, losing-it woman just landed in my hands. For me, because a lot of the crew is the same as 30 Rock, it’s also a bit of a homecoming. There’s so much love and loyalty for Tina, so anybody who could come back did.
30 Rock was this frenetic ensemble always crossing paths, but you don’t share scenes with much of the cast.
Tina has been very good through the whole process. I’m used to doing their cadence and pattern of dialogue [from 30 Rock]. But she’s like, “No, you don’t have to do that here. Let’s take our time.” Now that we have four more minutes or something for Netflix, it’s going to be leisurely. [Laughs.]
Carol Kane is also in Kimmy, but you are in completely different storylines. Did you share any scenes the first season?
We do. And it is awesome. I will never forget the experience. She’s one of my comedic heroines. Even just meeting her, I was weird and awkward. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but they’ve given us an amazing story together — even though we’re quite separate. We all are. My character doesn’t really know Titus’ [Burgess] character. We’re very isolated. So I’d always be like, “How’s it going over there?” We filmed on opposite days, and Ellie is just the link that ties it all together.
Had you ever worked with Ellie before?
No. There is so much joy in her every day. It’s infectious, so is her character. It’s got to be one of the most optimistic characters you’ve ever seen on television. In this day and age, I welcome it. And I want to get some of it. And I know Titus because he was D’fwan on 30 Rock. When I heard he got the part, I knew it was perfect. It’s designed for him. And it’s his name. I just feel like this is such a big moment for him. He’s going to be celebrated.
From what you’ve been told, is anything going to change with the Netflix move?
The entire first season was made with airing on NBC in mind. And I’m really intrigued to see where we go creatively now. Netflix was very nice to let them open up the episodes that were edited to add a few more minutes. It’s a luxury putting all those cut jokes back into the show. Obviously getting a second season pickup is just great news. It felt like the right place for us, because this show is very different. It doesn’t fit into a box. It’s written so smart, but I think it was just really gracious of NBC to move it where there was a place. But I’m used to the 22-episode model, the weekly episodes. It will be weird seeing the instant reaction during the first week from the people who binged the whole thing. And everyone is telling me that I’ll hear from people a year from now, telling me they just started. I feel like I’m with the cool kids.
You’ve had regular TV gigs, with few lapses, since Ally McBeal premiered in 1997. Are you still surprised when things work out this well?
I remember, on 30 Rock, we didn’t think we were going to get anything more than the original 13-episodes. The day that we got the full order, there was a buzz in the air. We had taken an extra-long lunch and Tina came in to tell us about the back nine. That day is still so fresh in my memory, even though we went for so many more seasons and had so much good fortune. After that show, I felt like, “Where do you even go from here?” I worked with people I admired so much, and I felt like I was given a treasure trove of humor. I had to just jump back in.