In the Spotlight: Kathryn Joosten

Whether she’s the crotchety neighbor nosing around Wisteria Lane on “Desperate Housewives” or the president’s sharp-tongued executive secretary on “The West Wing,” Kathryn Joosten makes the most of her few scenes, delivering withering one-liners in her crazy/wise style. Now the actress takes to the stage for the first time in more than a decade in Tracy Letts’ “Superior Donuts” at the Geffen Playhouse.

What attracted you to this play?

Lady Boyle. What a great character to play, and there aren’t too many words. I come in, do my shtick, tug at the heartstrings.

Who is Lady Boyle?


She’s a bag lady, one of God’s walking wounded. She’s not homeless; she’s got her little government check and one of those single-occupancy Chicago rooms. She’s a fixture in the neighborhood.

Most of the characters you play, including Lady, only have a few scenes, but they are key. Do you ever crave more of the spotlight?

Not when it requires the heavy responsibility that, for instance, Gary [Cole, one of principals] is carrying. I enjoy having the freedom to be incidental.

Are you anything like the characters you play?

When I told one of my sons that I was going to play a crazy bag lady, he said, “And yet another part that she doesn’t have to act in.”

You didn’t start acting until your early 40s. If you had a do-over, would you have pursued it earlier?

I don’t think I would have been as successful. I think I happened to hit, through sheer luck, everything at exactly the right time.

What’s it like being an actress your age?


There are so few things available for actresses my age. Writers, by and large, don’t know what to do with us. They approach old people either as infirm and unable, or as a comic combination of sex and medications. We don’t have minds, we don’t have relationships.

How should they be writing older women?

They should be treating us like old people, not like stereotypes. Sex and old ladies is supposed to be funny; I don’t know why. Sex and 40-year-olds isn’t funny. Sex and 60-year-old men isn’t funny. But sex and a 65-year-old woman is supposed to be hysterical.

“Desperate Housewives” is heading into its eighth season. Any worries about a “West Wing"-style untimely death?


I had a very confirmed verbal promise from Marc Cherry [the creator of “Housewives”] when I took the part that he would not kill me off, because I had just been killed on three different shows. I was tired of it. It was always the big surprise — let’s kill Kathryn.

Jason Kehe