'Reviving Ophelia': Jane Kaczmarek takes -- and plays -- parenting seriously
Jane Kaczmarek stars in "Reviving Ophelia" Monday on Lifetime.
One of television's funniest moms ever, for her seven seasons on "Malcolm in the Middle," the Emmy nominee for every year she played that part now stars as a mother with good reason for being much more serious. Premiering Monday, Oct. 11, the Lifetime movie "Reviving Ophelia" casts her as a woman whose teenage daughter (Rebecca Williams) tries to keep her abusive romantic relationship a secret.
The first person aware of the situation is the girl's cousin (Carleigh Beverly), whose allegations about the beau (Nick Thurston) are dismissed at first, since she's known to have problems with her single mother (Kim Dickens, "Treme"). When physical evidence shows the truth, the situation intensifies, ultimately leading to a dangerous standoff.
Ophelia isn't the name of anyone in the movie but of the lover of Shakespeare's Hamlet, as a classroom scene early in the film explains. She struggled with Hamlet's madness, much as the new movie's heroine contends with her boyfriend's highly challenging behavior ... a type of behavior that inspired Mary Pipher to write the book on which the film is based, "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls."
Kaczmarek confirms the drama is about "boys who take over the lives of girls. My character's daughter is a good student, an all-American kid, and the cousin is sort of a naughty girl. Things turn out differently than you'd expect; the daughter's boyfriend looks good on paper, but he starts beating her to the point where she's in the hospital. She can't get away from him, and it becomes a very obsessive relationship.
"I think it's good that we recognize a lot of times that things are not as they seem," Kaczmarek adds. "Things can happen very quickly in teenagers' lives, even in the best of families that think they're very tight-knit. This was an interesting project to work on. It doesn't look like television at all."
As a parent of two daughters (as well as a son), Kaczmarek admits "Reviving Ophelia" has personal significance for her. "My oldest daughter is 12, and I've always called her 'my little nun' because she's very modest. She practices piano and goes to ballet classes and is a very diligent student, and she's the last person I could imagine getting involved in something like this. Doing this movie really made me think that when you don't suspect this could be happening, it could.
"There's a wonderful scene in the movie where my character says, 'Well, that's it. She's never going to see him again; she's going to stay home, and we're just going to keep her in.' And my character's sister says, 'You can't do that. The more you turn her against him, the more she's going to go to him.' You have to show her you love her and why it would be a good idea to get away from the guy, but it has to be the girl's own realization that she doesn't want to be in this thing."
Even with the lessons it offers, Kaczmarek isn't sure she wants her daughters to see "Reviving Ophelia" just yet. The youngest turns 8 next month, and the actress allows, "There are things in it that are a little racy. We'll tape and watch 'Glee,' and I'll notice that my (older) daughter fast-forwards through some of it. She'll say, 'It's inappropriate.' We've been very careful about the kids and television. I've never let them watch 'The Simpsons,' which I think is very funny, but not for kids."
However, "Malcolm in the Middle" repeats are on view at Kaczmarek's house. She stresses, though, "Those kids didn't get away with anything. That's the difference. I think maybe the reason my kids are so good is that they know hell hath no fury like Lois (Kaczmarek's character on the sitcom). If they upset me, they can just watch television and know how bad it's gonna get around here!"
An aspect of "Reviving Ophelia" that Kaczmarek especially enjoyed was her reunion with filmmaker Bobby Roth, who also directed her in an episode of the TNT series "Raising the Bar." She had auditioned for his 1984 movie "Heartbreakers," and she reports, "He remembered that. I knew I liked him, so if he was associated with this, that was good enough for me."
"Reviving Ophelia" is Kaczmarek's first television project since her divorce from Bradley Whitford, the former "West Wing" regular now starring in Fox's "The Good Guys." They were married in 1992, and their split was finalized legally over the summer.
"This has been a year of real transition," Kaczmarek states. "When this script came, I was really eager to work -- something I hadn't felt in a long time.
" 'Malcolm' took a lot out of me. I'll always be grateful for it, but I was pregnant twice during the show, and Brad was doing 'The West Wing,' and that whole time was just a blur. When 'Malcolm' ended, I didn't want to work that much anymore. On 'Raising the Bar,' (executive producer Steven) Bochco made me a great deal where I only had to work two days per episode, so I was still able to maintain being a full-time mom."
"Reviving Ophelia" was possible for Kaczmarek because, she says, "Brad had the kids, so suddenly, I was away from home and working in the great city of Toronto. It was really fun again. My manager sent me flowers one day with a note that said, 'I think this should be called "Reviving Jane." ' And it really was that, in a sense."
And it didn't stop there, Kaczmarek notes: "I'm also about to do a supporting part in a Lillian Hellman play ('The Autumn Garden,' starting a two-month run Oct. 23 at the Antaeus Company in Los Angeles) ... so it's really a good time."