It’s the most wonderful time of the year — the holidays, which brings television viewers some of most special episodes of the season. Thursday, “Whitney” gets in on the festivities with a special episode entitled “Christmas is Cummings,” which welcomes veteran actors Peter Gallagher and Jane Kaczmarek to the NBC sitcom as the title character’s warring parents.
In honor of tonight’s yuletide episode, both Gallagher and Kaczmarek phoned a few television journalists to talk about playing Whitney’s onscreen parents, Whitney’s real-life parents and the havoc that their characters wreak.
“Whitney is determined to keep her parents apart [on tonight’s episode] because she doesn’t want to have a destroyed Christmas the way she had growing up when her parents were together,” explained Kaczmarek.
Preview Thursday’s Episode:
When Whitney’s original plan to avoid her parents altogether backfires, the former “Malcolm in the Middle” star teased that “Whitney finds out during the course of the show that both of us are showing up at her house for Christmas and she’s trying to get out of that, and mayhem ensues.”
To shade in his character, Gallagher — who has not appeared on the sitcom unlike Kaczmarek, who has already guest-starred as Whitney’s mother — revealed, “All of the difficulties [Whitney] has with men and with life in general stem from her terrible father who is, you know, I don’t think is as terrible as she remembers. Certainly not reliable, a bit of a con man, sort of a day late and a dollar short kind of guy, always with an angle.”
“Whitney blames both of her parents for a lot of her colorful ways, let’s say,” Kaczmarek chimed in. “Candy, her mother, I’ve been married since. Vince has been married since. And I have quite a bit of hostility towards him.”
Asked whether either actor had the pleasure of meeting Whitney’s real-life parents, Kaczmarek revealed, “You know, her references to them are pretty bleak. Very funny, but as she says, you know, she had this family and she’s gotten a television series out of it. So no, we haven’t, but from what I understand…they seem to be quite the characters.”
In addition to revealing that both actors dance during tonight’s episode, Kaczmarek and Gallagher also discussed their long history together, what makes the “Whitney” set so special, their favorite Christmas episode memories — and if you’re brave enough, a big spoiler about tonight’s show.
On their first job together:
Gallagher: [We did] Pride and Prejudice together, 25-some-odd years ago at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. She was Lizzie and I was Mr. Darcy.
Kaczmarek: But Peter and I have known each other since ’85, ’84 – ’85.
On what makes the atmosphere on “Whitney” special:
Kaczmarek: Anytime you have any downtime, people [tend to] disappear into their trailers. This cast was wonderful in that it – they had a, you know, a table kind of set out.
Gallagher: Some people actually showed up to it.
Kaczmarek: Yeah, people just hung around between each other’s scenes. And Peter and I sat with the rest of the cast and, you know, we would read papers and we were checking our BlackBerrys and everybody is talking and asking questions about when you did this and when you did this and, Oh, I know her. And this tremendous sense of familiarity and community comes from just people hanging out together, which is not always the case on television and films.
On their other favorite Christmas episodes they’ve worked on:
Gallagher: I like the Chrismukkah episode from “O.C.,” and I did a Christmas movie once with Hal Holbrook and Eva Marie Saint, and that was fun. But that’s all I can think of.
Kaczmarek: There is a Christmas episode on “Malcolm” where it starts with Lois, the character I played, and another woman getting into a fight in the parking lot with their cars. And they start ramming each other’s cars until both of the cars are completely disabled. And it’s a very funny, horrible look at two women going crazy ramming their cars into each other. And of course, the cars have “war is not the answer” bumper stickers on the back of the cars.
Spoiler! Gallagher and Kazmarek reveal the one time their characters don’t hate each other:
Kaczmarek: We’re very antagonistic parents, ex-parents.
Gallagher: Unless we’re making love. [...] Spoiler!
Kaczmarek: Yes, and well that kind of is a surprise and the heart of what Whitney is to find out what her parents – what actually transpires between the parents at Christmas.