Kathryn Joosten Interview: 'Desperate Housewives' Star Not Shocked by Cancellation
Kathryn Joosten is currently best known for her role as the gossipy neighbor Karen McCluskey on the ABC series Desperate Housewives and has won two Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2005 and 2008) for her performance.
Prior to joining the cast of the popular nighttime comedy-drama, Joosten portrayed Mrs. Landingham, the president’s secretary, on the critically acclaimed and award winning NBC series The West Wing. Other television appearances have included ER, Murphy Brown, Frasier, NYPD Blue, Seinfeld, Becker, Ally McBeal, General Hospital, Judging Amy, Strong Medicine, Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, The Bold and the Beautiful (as herself) and a recurring role as one of the less intimidating incarnations of God seen by the title character (Amber Tamblyn) on Joan of Arcadia.
“Originally it was supposed to be seven years and then I guess it was ABC that asked for nine years. I guess Marc had agreed to nine, but I think the writing was kind of on the wall this year when we went back and it was decided that eight would be sufficient. So … no we weren’t surprised. None of us were surprised.”
The Chicago native appeared in the movie Wedding Crashers, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, and will soon be filming The Escort Service, written by Deborah Romare and Vincent Wyley, in which she will play a patron of the services. This summer Joosten was seen in the Pulitzer winning play Superior Donuts for which she received rave reviews and a feature article in the Los Angeles Times.
Joosten is also a two-time lung cancer survivor and is involved in numerous charity foundations to aid in the cause. Before her career began in television as an actress at the age of 42, she worked as a psychiatric nurse at Michael Reed Hospital in Chicago.
Desperate Housewives began its 8th and last season on Sunday, September 25, 2011.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kathy, it’s the last season of Desperate Housewives and I hear that you’re not sad that the series is ending.
Kathryn Joosten: No I’m not. It has done everything it can do. What would I be sad about? I haven’t done anything really in the last couple of years. They didn’t have any storylines for me so I just went in and did smartass one-liners and left, you know?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you shocked about the cancellation?
Kathryn Joosten: Oh gosh no. Originally it was supposed to be seven years and then I guess it was ABC that asked for nine years. I guess Marc had agreed to nine, but I think the writing was kind of on the wall this year when we went back and it was decided that eight would be sufficient. So … no we weren’t surprised. None of us were surprised.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you ever offered storyline suggestions for your character (Karen McCluskey)?
Kathryn Joosten: Well, I’m always offering suggestions. That doesn’t do much good. They have something planned for Karen at the end of the season, but I can’t say (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Karen going to be involved at all in the murder cover-up?
Kathryn Joosten: Nope, I don’t have anything to do with that one because I didn’t even know about the murder. Only the ladies seem to know that. I haven’t been there. I’ve only done one episode this whole season yet so I don’t know what’s going on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve missed Karen and Roy’s antics.
Kathryn Joosten: Yes, Roy and I have had some good times together (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is there any truth to the rumor that you and Lily Tomlin may star in a Desperate Housewives spinoff?
Kathryn Joosten: It wouldn’t be a spinoff of any kind, but certainly Lily and I are looking at trying to put something together that the two of us could do together. It’s a matter of finding a vehicle and finding someone who wants to buy it. Don’t forget, the two of us are (how do I put this) not spring beauties. Networks are not real eager to put something together for people of our age.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It was interesting that Lily basically replaced you on The West Wing. Did the two of you meet there?
Kathryn Joosten: No, we worked with each other on Murphy Brown. I did an episode of Murphy Brown, and that’s when we met and got to know each other and became friends. She didn’t replace me on The West Wing for a year. That role sat empty which was kind of dumb. You know, the president should have had a secretary, but I think they got themselves in a bit of a bind. They killed me off and didn’t realize what the reaction would be. Then Lily came along and I thought it was a great replacement.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I agree, but also felt you and Martin Sheen had great on-screen chemistry, so I hated that you left.
Kathryn Joosten: Yeah, I wasn’t too wild about it myself, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t anything I had thought to do. It wasn’t my idea.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kathy, you did not get into acting until later in life. What made you decide on that career path?
Kathryn Joosten: Well, I tried it out in Community Theater and I thought, “Wow, this is a great deal of fun!” I never really realized I’d get out of Chicago with it. But just one thing led to another and it just kept going and going and I just kept going along with it. It wasn’t anything I planned from the beginning. It was just something I thought, “Well, I’ll see how far I can ride this horse.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It just seemed like something fun to do at the time?
Kathryn Joosten: Yeah, it was fun to do at the time and it was exciting. Come on, you get to be that age and you’re just recently divorced and you figure, “Well, I have a chance to remake myself so I think I’ll do it.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You must have some interesting stories to tell from working as a psychiatric nurse.
Kathryn Joosten: Well, yeah, that was many years before and I loved that work. But they don’t do that anymore. Psychiatric practice has changed so dramatically in the last 25 years that the kind of work we did, inpatient therapy, is totally gone.
Now they just put a person in the hospital for two weeks to do a diagnostic and then they kick them out, hope they take their medications (which they don’t do) and there is no follow up. You have all of these people walking around that are really the walking wounded, paranoid schizophrenics who are not getting any therapy. They’re not getting any help. It’s a shame. It’s just a crime.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They’re sick and homeless and walking the streets.
Kathryn Joosten: Yes. Half the people in the prisons are really some people with severe psychiatric disabilities.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine); You were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001, but had not had any symptoms.
Kathryn Joosten: That’s right and I also had a diagnosis again in 2009 on the other side, which was a new cancer. I’ve never had any symptoms. I’ve just been horrendously fortunate and tremendously lucky that my own personal physician was watching for it because I had been a smoker. Not that smoking causes lung cancer. We know now that a good many lung cancers occur in people who have never smoked. But, in this case we were watching for it.
The one in 2009 was kind of a surprise to everybody. We didn’t expect that at all, but it was a brand new lung cancer on the other side so apparently that’s one of my many talents. I can grow lung cancers.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you quit smoking cold turnkey in 2001?
Kathryn Joosten: Yeah, you can’t smoke in a hospital (laughs). And you can’t smoke when they take out part of your lung. You’ve got a tube in there and all that stuff. You’re not going to be puffing on a cigarette. But the largest number of new lung cancers are people who quit 20 or more years ago, so quitting smoking doesn’t improve your chances.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is your health now?
Kathryn Joosten: Oh, my health is excellent now. I’m bumping around doing stuff. I’m going to be working on a movie called The Escort Service and I’m working on a TV show called Wild Card, filming in New Orleans.
I’m also going to be working as a representative for the Pfizer Company as a spokesperson to get the word out about the importance of having tumors molecularly gene tested to identify the particular kind of mutation that the lung cancer, that the tumor represents. We now know that there are some mutations that respond very well to targeted drug therapies, but the word hasn’t gotten out to everybody that even breast cancer tissues and other cancer tissues should be analyzed to see what kind of mutations they are and what particular therapies might be helpful.
I myself am a MEK mutation. There are others. Many oncologists are not realizing the importance of having tissues genome tested. So my new job is going to be talking about that a lot.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You had surgery and chemo?
Kathryn Joosten: I had surgery on either side to take out the lobes affected. After the 2009 diagnosis I had radiation and a little chemo. The kind of chemo I had is called adjunctive therapy. It’s sort of like, “Let’s take this stuff and make sure nothing comes back.” It’s not the heavy-duty stuff that makes your hair fall out and all that sort of thing. It was a mild one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read also that you’re raising awareness for OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
Kathryn Joosten: Yes. OCD is a particularly insidious disease. You know that show Hoarders on TV? Those are basically people with OCD, a serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’m sure they don’t identify it that way, but that’s what it is. There are medications for it. I wonder why they don’t have these people on medication. It can be a devastating disease … all aspects of OCD.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tony Shaloub’s character on Monk had OCD.
Kathry Joosten: Yeah, a very mild form of it. His was hardly paralyzing as compared to people who actually can’t leave the house without worrying whether or not the iron or the gas is turned off. An interesting sideline – some people have been using their little telephone cameras to take pictures of the coffee pot unplugged or the stove off, and then when they’re out and get anxious about these things they can look at their photos.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And be reassured that the stove wasn’t left on.
Kathryn Joosten: Yeah, that they don’t have to rush home and check it. That’s very good use of the modern technology.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you working on your autobiography now or is that a rumor?
Kathryn Joosten: No that’s true. I’m working on it. I’m kind of stuck right now. You know, the thing about it is, I’d like to say it a certain way and every editor that I’ve approached … they all want crap about Hollywood stories. Hollywood is such a minor part of what my life has been. It’s just a chapter. It’s not the end all be all. And there aren’t any Hollywood stories! What do they think? I slept around when I was 55? That didn’t happen. I don’t have any stories about Hollywood. I didn’t start when I was in my 20s. So, I get to these people and they all want me to put stories in there.
Then they want you to make dialogues for these books. You know, like so and so said then I said and then he said. I don’t remember what anybody said 20 years ago, and I’m not going to make up things that sound like I remember it! You read those other bios and you think, “Bullshit, come on, you don’t remember what you said!” So I have to write it my way and if nobody wants to publish it after I write it, then too bad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’d love to read it.
Kathryn Joosten: I’ll put it on the web for $2.99 (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working, Kathy?
Kathryn Joosten: I have a beautiful home in Westlake Village. I have a little 14’ electric boat. It sounds fancy but it’s like a golf cart on the water. You know what I mean? I’ve got a dog that I adore. I go to the Farmer’s Market and putt putt around the lake, play with my house and my garden and that’s about it.
I’m very much involved with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences where I’m one of the governors there for the Performers Peer Group. So, between those things, I stay busy long enough so that I don’t get bored. I have my kids that visit and I visit them. Life goes on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And I hope they give Karen a juicy storyline this last season.
Kathryn Joosten: Well, that would be fun. That would be new, wouldn’t it? We’ll see what happens.
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