When season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt drops this Friday on Netflix, it doesn’t seem like vapid Manhattanite Jacqueline Voorhees (Jane Krakowski) can get lower.
Her divorce at the end of season 1 has stripped her of everything she once aspired to achieve: wealth, companionship, status in social circles, and even the awful luxury of not having to care for her own children. But the great tragedy is that Jacqueline can’t fall back to the woman she was before she moved to New York — she spent too much time escaping her.
“What I think is so interesting about Jacqueline is that she’s a self-creation,” says Krakowski of the former Mrs. Voorhees, whose backstory last year revealed her childhood growing up on a Native-American reservation. “She created herself to become this trophy wife, to be there in that world, and then ultimately wasn’t happy there. So I find there’s such a depth and an actual sadness in a person who wants to change themselves that much from who they really are. I’ve always had a sympathy for Jacqueline because I’m curious by someone who would want to change their life so far from who they originally were.”
Krakowski didn’t know much about the character when she signed on to Kimmy Schmidt — she says she only saw about 15 minutes of the original NBC pilot before instantly agreeing to reunite with her 30 Rock bosses, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. “I signed on blindly based on wanting to work with them again,” she says. “I had no idea what they were going to write for me, if I was going to be like, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, or work in craft services. I really had no idea. But I loved the concept.” (Krakowski cites a specific punchline in the pilot — when the Mole Women appear on the Today Show and are greeted with gift bags and a “Thank you, victims!” — as the moment she knew she was in.)
Specifically to Jacqueline’s character, Carlock had told Krakowski that an “A to Z journey” was in the cards — though Krakowski didn’t know that meant she’d be playing a character who began life as a Native-American country girl and ended up as a Park Avenue socialite. But a backstory that became a punchline (and, to be sure, a controversy) in season 1 has now grown to envelop a certain pathos borne from Jacqueline’s rejection of her family — and, subsequently, their rejection of her once she flees back home after her divorce.
“We start [the season] back on the reservation, and her family saying that perhaps her tribe is actually back in Manhattan, but what I think is so beautiful is how much Jacqueline still tries to help her family all season,” says Krakowski. “It really becomes her plight, in her own Jacqueline sort of way, to help the Native American people — or, the Manhattan view of the Native American people — and that’s a big step for Jacqueline to try to help someone outside of herself. That’s all through the influence of getting to know Kimmy.”
Jacqueline continues to teeter on the absurd, though — she’ll pick up a brief trophy boy (Broadway actor Derek Klena), hatch a ridiculous plot to impress her rival housewife Deirdre (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp), and go to great lengths to avoid the duties of parenthood.
Still, the cracks in her veneer are clear, and they’re being filled with surprisingly heartfelt moments — she may even get a real, genuinely motivated love interest — that show Jacqueline is on her way to becoming a real human.
“They gave Jacqueline such riches this year … trying to make her a more fully formed human was one of the goals this season, with some reality but without losing the humor of who Jacqueline is,” says Krakowski. “I feel like every time Jacqueline tries to take a few steps forward, there’s always a little bit of a roadblock in the way, so she’s got a lot of learning to do. I don’t think she’s either up or down this year. I think she’s ebbing and flowing with life now.”