NEW YORK — Laurie Metcalf smiles and laughs when she thinks of her character Jackie and her assorted misadventures on the “Roseanne” spinoff, “The Conners.”
Dating back to her introduction in Roseanne Barr’s 1988’s sitcom, Jackie has reinvented herself many times over. She’s been a cop, a truck driver, a factory worker, co-owner of The Lanford Lunch Box (which was reopened on “The Conners), and was for a time, as the character describes it, “Lanford’s leading life coach.”
The role earned Metcalf three Emmy Awards while “Roseanne” was on the air, but she’s content with Jackie being a supporting role.
“A little bit of Jackie goes a long way, so I’m always the weirdo B storyline. Too much of Jackie would be just overdose.”
While the character’s overall persona has remained unchanged through both series, it’s provided a chance to grow as an actor. When “Roseanne” started, Metcalf was a theater actor with no experience in television.
“Everything was new to me. I had a big learning curve to jump into a multi-camera sitcom. The writers started writing to each one of our different strengths,” Metcalf recalled.
“I’m assuming that one of my strengths was to be this victimized loser who didn’t have a clue that’s what she was to begin with,” she said laughing. “But (Jackie) just went out every day with her head up and determined to to do something great or make something. And then it would all come collapsing down around her. But, she had definite, firm opinions about things. And she still to this day meddles in the rest of the family’s business, even though her own life is collapsing around her.”
That sometimes involves Jackie’s romantic interests, which have been played by actors including George Clooney, Jim Varney and Matthew Broderick. She also dabbled in a throuple but that was short-lived because Metcalf says, “Jackie was clueless.” Her current love interest is Neville, portrayed by Nat Faxon.
“It’s so funny now when we go to work because we’re wearing masks all through the week and we don’t see each other until they say, ‘Action.’ We drop our mask and we tape the scene and then we put them right back on again. So. I didn’t know what Nat even looked like for the first episode we did together until they said, ‘Action’ and then I saw his whole face.”
Filming has wrapped on “The Conners” season three and the cast is waiting to see if they’ll be renewed by ABC for a fourth season. Metcalf said there’s more to be seen from Jackie, including whether she has any actual life coaching experience.
“One of my regrets was that you never really got to see her at work advising someone, so in hindsight there’s a tiny piece of me that wonders if she just lied about the whole thing,” said Metcalf. “There’s no proof, right?”
Metcalf will soon begin production on a film in New York, directed by and co-starring Ray Romano, about a big Italian family in Queens. She’s been working with a dialect coach on her accent.
“I’ve never thought that I was very good at them, so I’ve always shied away from a role that had an accent in it, but I’m going to tackle this one. I hope once we all get on the set and I’m surrounded by it, I’ll start to absorb it.”
A two-time Tony winner, Metcalf is anxious for theater to open back up because it’s her first love. When Broadway shut down due to the pandemic, Metcalf had done nine previews of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“‘Company’ with Patti LuPone was on the same block as me and we saw their lights go out, but everybody thought, ‘Oh, two weeks, you know, we’ll be back.’ That was like having the rug pulled out for sure. The whole theater community has been reeling now for more than a year. I can’t wait to be in a rehearsal room again for a play.”