All rise for Judge Jane

Aug 20, 2008 at 3:00 p.m. ET

Jane Kaczmarek is best known as the wacky mother on the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle. Kaczmarek began her career as a dramatic actress. Now she's returning to her dramatic roots. She plays Judge Trudy on the new TNT series Raising the Bar and spoke with SheKnows about the balancing act of acting and motherhood.

Jane and her husband, West Wing star Bradley Whitford

Distinguished career and family

Jane has appeared on such hits as St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, Touched by an Angel and The Simpsons, where she voices Judge Constance Harm. Still, there is one role that she covets more than any other, mother to her three children.

"I love being home with those kids more than anything I can think of," Kaczmarek said. "I have a 10-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a five-year-old. I had them late. I had all my babies in my 40's, so I am kind of in that stage in my life (where I'm) so aware of how quickly time passes and how there is a real end in sight."

With that in mind, Jane makes it a point to take the kids to visit her parents in Wisconsin and to play cards with husband Bradley Whitford's mom, trips that were difficult, if not impossible to pull off when she was working long days as the star of a weekly TV series.

"You know, I think we were really sold the bill of good in this generation, in this country, that you can do it all and you just cannot. You cannot. There just are not enough hours in a day. And you know I have been very, very lucky in that I have been paid very handsomely for jobs that I have had so I can take huge stretch of this time off where I do not have to work."

Malcolm madness

But even without that luxury, Jane is pretty sure she'd opt for family over fame any day.

"In the beginning, when Malcolm started and everything was so exciting, I said yes to a lot. I was working for a lot of charities and trying to do personal appearance for things and the glamour of that wore off real quick."

So Jane learned to say no, a word that is hard for many women, especially working moms.

"After Malcolm in the Middle I was so exhausted. We had done that show for seven seasons and I had two babies during the filming of Malcolm and I was tired. I just did not want to work that kind of schedule anymore. So when offers came to me after Malcolmended, I tended to pass on anything because I wanted a small part, I did not want to play lead in anything. I just wanted an interesting character that was not going to be carrying the show."

And that's when Raising the Bar came along.

"I worked in [Steven] Bochco 25 years ago on Hill Street and TNT was extremely creative in helping to develop a schedule for me that would help me be with my children."

Jane lays down the law on Raising the Bar

The working mom triumphs

The schedule meant cramming all of Jane's scenes for the series into two working days a week. Since her character is a judge who is predominately seen in her courtroom and chambers, it's easier to film around her than it would be for any of the other leads. The downside of the arrangement is a very intense two days with Jane front and center every minute. The trade-off is worth it in her eyes.

It was a highly successful run"Oh, man, I just love being with those kids," she says again, making it obvious that they are always at the forefront of her mind. But she admits, dialogue wise, this series isn't as easy as Malcolm.

"I've become very grateful that I have never been at the mercy of the court. Memorizing those lines is hard enough, (but) figuring out what it is exactly the law is saying in certain instances is really confounding. I am very grateful for David Feige, who wrote the book who was with us, to explain a lot of these (things) for us. Civilians just assume that it is common sense and a lot of it is not. A lot of time of the law is really based on precedent and not on the way we think something logically should go. I hate to say it, but I have greater respect for lawyers than I did before the show."

So how does Raising the Bar's Judge Trudy stack up against Judge Constance Harm on The Simpsons?

"They are both pretty by-the-book-hard-old-bats, I guess but I think Trudy Kessler has nicer clothes, and well, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a lot cuter than Bart Simpson."

On that, Jane, we agree.

Watch Raising the Bar starting September 1 on TNT.

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