Jackie Hoffman is as quick with a zinger as Mamacita, the character she earned her first Emmy nomination for playing in last spring’s FX miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
“Yes, if it was an accident. We like to think so,” she deadpans when asked about the time Jessica Lange, playing Joan Crawford, accidentally hit her with one of the vases Crawford threw at Mamacita, the actress’ long-suffering housekeeper.
Funny comes naturally to Hoffman, who has been an actress, singer and stand-up comic for 30 years. She currently is starring in her fifth Broadway musical, playing Mrs. Teavee in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
But her comedy training ground for eight years was The Second City in Chicago. Between 1987 and 1994, she appeared in six revues and did eight solo performances. She was twice nominated for a Jeff Award, winning in 1993 for The Second City e.t.c.’s “Disgruntled Employee Picnic or The Postman Always Shoots Twice.” Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris were some of the actors with whom she shared the stage.
Hoffman credits her time at The Second City with teaching her to come up quickly with ways to present a character.
“Second City forced you to be a real all-purpose person. … You could be a construction worker, a go-go dancer, a little kid or a Girl Scout — anything.” she said. “It helped me in developing all sorts of characters. And do it fast.
“And, certainly, foreign accents were part of that.”
To play Mamacita, who in real life spoke German and very little English, she adopted a subtle European accent as opposed to what Hoffman called a “ ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ accent” to suggest the character was proud of her U.S. citizenship.
Originally, Mamacita wasn’t even supposed to be in all eight episodes of the series. But creator Ryan Murphy, after seeing what Hoffman could do with the character, expanded the role.
“That was great,” Hoffman said. “I was worried it was going to be like ‘OK, Mamacita hands a beverage and leaves.’ Then you have five days off. Then you come back and ‘Mamacita opens a door 50 times’ and then you have two days off. So, I’m thrilled that it got larger.”
The expanded role offered Hoffman more scenes to steal. And she did just that.
While Mamacita was obedient, she also dispensed tough love when she thought Crawford acted foolishly. Hoffman lent her character equal parts patience, exasperation and a sharp wit. Mamacita often was the story’s comic relief — mostly for the barbs she threw at Crawford and others who vexed her.
“I was really grateful to be able to inject that humor because it was such a [dramatic production],” she said. “I think that show was perfect; the tone of it was just perfect. And, I think it had the humor of the characters, of what those people would really do. But, it was not often funny. So to be able to keep that real and believable and be able to inject that was a great thrill.”
Hoffman’s marvelous mix of stoicism and comic timing earned her a nomination for best supporting actress in a limited series or movie. At Sunday’s ceremony she faces some powerhouse actresses, many with previous nominations and wins.
Her co-star, Judy Davis, who played gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, has been nominated 12 times and won three. Regina King, who has won in this category the past two years for her work in “American Crime,” is nominated once again for the ABC series.
The other nominees are Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley from HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” and Michelle Pfeiffer for HBO’s “The Wizard of Lies.”
“That’s ridic,” Hoffman said, laughing, when considering being nominated with those actresses. “That’s like a joke.”
“To be recognized on that level is really staggering. It’s very exciting,” she said. “Just to work on something at that level and with the level of the entire cast was just spectacular, crazy. I’m talking to you now, months later, and I’m like, ‘Did I do that?’ ”
Stephen Colbert hosts the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards at 7 p.m. Sunday on WBBM-Channel 2.
Read more of Curt Wagner’s TV coverage at www.tvshowpatrol.com.