TVGuide.com's Best Performances series focuses on stand-out actors and actresses from the past year of television. Whether they made you cry, laugh or a mix of both, these are the performers — and characters — we won't forget, all year long.
"I wrote back 'YES!' with an exclamation point, all in capitals and pressed 'send,'" Krakowski tells TVGuide.com. "I just wanted to work with these amazing writers again and be part of her next show. I had no idea what the part was going to be or who she would grow into."
The part was Jacqueline White — formerly Jacqueline Voorhees, nee Jackie Lynn White — a superficial socialite that was difficult not to compare to her iconic 30 Rock character Jenna Maroney. But other than their vanity, desperation and both of their lives being thunder, they couldn't be more different. Part of the brilliance of Jenna was that she never changed during 30 Rock's seven-season run. "I wouldn't have wanted Jenna to change," Krakowski says. "We wanted her to be wrong. There was a great joy in seeing her have the wrong opinion on everything."
Jacqueline, on the other hand, is vastly different from the person we met in the Kimmy Schmidt pilot. She's gone from a trophy wife/Real Housewife wannabe to a divorced single mother in need of her next sugar daddy to falling for an unconventionally attractive (but still loaded) man in Russ Snyder (David Cross) — to as of Season 3, being self-reliant. It's one of the biggest and best transformations on the show — and most importantly, believable, thanks to Krakowski's acutely modulated performance.
Inside Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's best gag, Yuko the robot
"I felt like this season focused on where Jacqueline is going versus where she is and I have not played a character on a television show ever that has changed so much in three seasons," Krakowski says. "I knew there was going to be great change for Jacqueline over the season. I knew they really wanted her to be able to stand on her own two feet a bit more."
The fast but calculated development was accomplished via Jacqueline's ultimately aborted relationship with Russ. Kimmy Schmidt plows through love interests as quickly as it does jokes, and after Russ gets smooshed — aka run over by a car — and is hospitalized early in Season 3, the simplest route would've been for Jacqueline to dump him. But she sticks by him while he's unconscious in a body cast, and manages to do things on her own, like cook and getting the Washington Redskins (and every NFL team) to change its name.
The turning point comes in "Kimmy and the Trolley Problem!" after Russ awakens as a total hottie, played by Billy Magnussen. At first, Jacqueline believes her reward for staying with him is his hotness and it seems like she'll fall back to her old ways. But after witnessing his shameless craving for the attention and love he never got from his monstrous family as an average-looking Joe, she realizes his hotness was his reward; hers was the gift of self-sufficiency.
The epiphany is heartbreakingly poignant. It's all in Krakowski's expressive eyes and face as they gradually register the cold, hard truth that this person she genuinely loves — probably the first person she's ever loved — has quite literally changed, and they are no longer on the same path. And that's OK. As with any important and meaningful relationship, they each got something out of it — something an earlier version of Jacqueline would not have recognized.
It culminates with Jacqueline's tearful breakup speech. "By the time we got to the part where I say, 'I don't want to be Snyder anymore,' she realizes something about herself. She doesn't want to be a Real Housewife but she also doesn't to be a Snyder. She doesn't want or need to be a part of that to be her own person. That was a huge declaration and learning curve for her," Krakowski says. "[She says] 'I realize that I am smart and I can take care of myself and I don't need a man for my entire identity.' I thought that was a major growth for her because certainly in the first three seasons not only would she never say that but she didn't believe it."
Like all things Kimmy Schmidt, with its dark undertones, that empowering declaration of independence was a deft alchemy of melancholy and jokes. The show always knows the ideal time to undercut a serious moment with a one-liner and vice versa. Krakowski's perfect, nimble delivery of lines like "I had sex with your grandmother's ghost" is not only difficult to pull off but makes the speech that much more affecting.
"What I loved about that was there was still humor infused in it and she could realize she has all those emotions — 'hottie with a body, trademark Titus' and having sex with [Russ'] grandmother's ghost — yet be proud of who she's grown into," Krakowski says.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Lemonade homage is sadder than you thought
"For me," Krakowski explains, "I try to tell the jokes and the truth as much as possible in the same speech."
Jacqueline ends the season still happily single and with another breakthrough: She is going to be a talent agent (slash guidance counselor bather). It'll be her first real job ever. "I don't even know if she understands what a job is or what that will take," Krakowski says. "I'm assuming that I would at least try to get Titus (Tituss Burgess) as a client."
Whatever the future holds for Jacqueline, Krakowski doesn't want her to do a total 180.
"I hope we don't lose the humor in her being a 1 percenter and so desperately clinging onto it," she says. "No matter how strong she gets to stand on her own two Manolo Blahniks, she's still going to be Jacqueline at her core, which is delicious to me, and I never want to lose that."
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is streaming on Netflix.