We're used to stories of couples who stick out a tough marriage for the sake of the kids. What we’re not used to? Two parents who are so obsessed with each other they have no love left for their four kids. Meet The Willoughbys.
Now streaming on Netflix, the new animated film comes from Kris Pearn (Cloud With a Chance of Meatballs 2) based on the books by Lois Lowry. The four Willoughby children are sick of being neglected by their parents (voiced by Martin Short and Jane Krakowski); they want a real family. So, they decide to get rid of them—by sending them on an adventurous (see: dangerous) no-kids vacation. When a kindhearted nanny (Maya Rudolph) shows up to take care of them, they realize they can build the family they always wanted.
Pearn’s approach—not to mention his powerhouse cast of voice actors, which also includes Ricky Gervais, Terry Crews, and Will Forte—renders this family movie a heightened, almost theatrical experience. “We had to be so connected and like a vaudevillian team,” Krawkowski says of the recording process.
Plus, “I think these parents could exist in a farcical play,” she says. “It could fully exist as is with two humans playing them exactly as they are in a very high-blown farce.”
Here, we spoke to the Tony-winning actor from her self-isolation about her love for Mrs. Willoughby, what it was like to play alongside Martin Short, why The Willoughbys is just what we need in quarantine, plus what she is most excited to see when Broadway returns and her hopes for gracing the Main Stem stage again.
How are you holding up during this wild time?
Jane Krakowski: I'm down here in West Soho, so I'm riding it out in Manhattan with you. New York is very different. I had a Zoom call with some people up in Harlem and I just kept hearing the ambulance go by and I thought, ‘Wow, that's hard.’ I'm not on a path so I don't hear it as much. Obviously, they have all of our full support every night at 7 PM. You know, I go out and bring my pots. I've gotten to know neighbors. I actually don't actually know them. I only wave to them during 7 PM. Maybe I should go say hi because I feel like they're my corona friends. [Laughs]
I feel like we have corona community now, and we know what everyone's pots and pans look like.
Oh my God. Kind of hilarious. My son picked the wrong type of pan. When I wasn't paying attention he took one of those that if you hit it the [Teflon] can fall off of it. And I was like, "Oh my God, there's no way we can get a new pan in corona!"
Well, we’re glad you two are hanging in there.
We are. And I'm so hopeful for when Broadway comes back and I am so missing the live theatre and that whole community so much and I just want to be there to support it in any way I can when it's ready to re-open and come back. I kind of can't imagine our world without it. It's been very eye-opening.
We will return to the theatre, but first The Willoughbys! Zany and hilarious. What attracted you to this offbeat story to begin with?
Well, when I was first told about it, I was told it was going to be an independent child's animated movie, which I think is interesting to think about in general. I had worked with Kris Pearn, and I loved working with him. I had gotten the book that it's based on. Ricky Gervais' was already a part as a talking cat. So I was like, wait, what is this? And, of course, I got the chance to play opposite Martin Short, who I've had a comedy crush on for years.
Were you two able to record together?
I feel like we were in the room together in so many ways because I really followed Marty's lead, and Marty has such mad vocal skills and is an expert at voices. With Kris and Marty and the recordings, we did create them together—like these parts and where they would live. The parents are such unique characters in this story. Once we realized they needed to go up to a vaudevillian level of love and obsession for each other only, we were able to have that spark and knew which way it could live comedically.
What did Marty's version of Mr. Willoughby bring out in your character?
Oh my gosh. Everything? I do recall working out with Kris and Marty that if Marty would go high—not to co-opt the great quote of Michelle Obama—I would go low. That idea of should I be straight and droll if he's going to be high and exaggerated? We played with a lot of different versions. It was extremely collaborative and it's an amazing process over a year or two years.
What was it like to watch it evolve over that time?
You're watching the animation come to life as you're doing it. You’ll record some of the script and then you'll see it just in pencil and then it gets colored and then it moves a little bit and then it gets fully animated. You're along for the whole ride with all of the creative people and I very much enjoy that. And Kris is so infectiously open-hearted and enthusiastic and has this spirit of the happiest child you've ever met.
And the story is so singular among kids’ movies.
Two things I really love about The Willoughbys is one: it's different and it's complex, at times, and the story goes deep, at times. It's a story about siblings who are in control of their own destiny, and I love the idea that a family can be people you choose—especially in a world where there are so many different types of families now. I think it's a beautiful message that family can be who you choose and where the love is. I also am appreciative as a single mom that there's new children-friendly movie content coming out and that many studios and film companies have decided to put them directly to homes, which I think has been very helpful. I've become very humble in corona.
What is your typical day like now?
I'm struggling through the third grade at the moment. It's extremely humbling with distance-learning. I have such appreciation for my son's school and his teachers. If I had to Billy Madison it now, I'm not sure I would graduate. We're taking as many bike rides as we can on the days that are warmer. Any kind of walks or physical exercise. I did Tiger King in one fell swoop—which I'm not sure I advise. It was like that movie where you start out young and fresh and then by the end I have a five-foot beard. Years have gone by. My son is a graduate of college. Is it over yet? What's happened? I'm obsessed with John Krasinski and Some Good News. I've always known he was a great guy, but now I think he's just put himself in a whole other league. And boy do I feel we really need some good news right now, and I adore him for doing it and if he ever wants to a co-anchor I'm available. I think Krasinski and Krakowski would do well.
The new version of Tony n Tina.
Hilarious. I am asked if I'm Jane Krasinski or Jane Kaczmarek many times on the street, so one day they'll get it right.
Are you working on anything else actively right now?
I'm learning how to play the ukulele. That's become my corona hobby, so that's challenging and fun. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has an interactive special coming out in May and that's super fun, more antics with brilliant Tina Fey writing and Tituss Burgess and Ellie Kemper and that whole group. I'm so looking forward to getting back to work. And I am appreciative of what we all have at this moment. I'm so grateful that I get to do what I love in this world.
Speaking of what you love, what are you most looking forward to seeing when Broadway comes back?
SIX. I saw it in London but I had tickets to opening night [which would have been March 12, the day Broadway closed]. My heart just went out to all of those cast members and the creative team who had worked so hard. And you know, as we all do when you're opening a Broadway show by 3PM it's like Christmas day backstage. You're about to get the [Legacy] Robe out. Everybody's giving their opening night gifts. You're running around. It's such a high-energy moment. And then to get a call, ‘OK, it's not going to happen tonight.’ I just couldn't even imagine. My heart went out to those talented girls, who I hope we will get the chance to see in the fall. I was really looking forward to seeing Company on Sondheim's birthday. I was planning to go to that. That was a big deal. I just feel like I can't wait for it to come back. When it's safe for us all to go back. I’ve never felt so much passion to support the theatre than now. I always said it's my first love and also it's such an integral part in New York.
We want you to come back to Broadway. She Loves Me was too long ago!
I would love to. I never understand how the time goes by so fast. It does really just fly by. I would be thrilled to. It's my love and my home base.
Is there a show in particular you really want to do, or a type of role, or someone you’d like to work with, in particular?
There are endless great roles with musical theatre that I would love to play and in plays. It's always a hard question for me to answer because it's a list that almost could never become a reality. But it's good to dream.