New role custom-made for 'Roseanne' star

She's "Jackie" no more. It's "Laurie" now.

Actress Laurie Metcalf has finally reached that exalted status where actors play characters named after themselves.

Ms. Metcalf, who endeared herself on "Roseanne" as Jackie, the neurotic and perpetually unmarried sister, has returned to sitcom land as yet another sidekick on ABC's "The Norm Show" (Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m.) starring comedian Norm Macdonald.

She plays a serious social worker to Mr. MacDonald's tax-evading hockey player who is performing community service to fulfill his terms of probation.

Metcalf herself is a serious actress who got her start alongside estimable actors such as John Malkovich, Joan Allen, and Gary Sinise when they founded Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater in 1976.

The Illinois native's career as a Broadway and Hollywood actress began in 1983 when she went to New York in a Steppenwolf production of "Balm in Gilead," for which she received an Obie Award.

The three-time Emmy-winner made her big-screen debut with "Desperately Seeking Susan" (1985) and has continued to appear in films like "JFK" (1991) and "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995). She rose to national attention for her role on TV's "Roseanne" (1988-98).

Metcalf now can reflect on the tumultuous years working with Roseanne, TV's "domestic goddess."

"I wasn't really a part of the chaos" surrounding 'Roseanne,' " she says. "Down on the floor, we didn't really have that tension, not among the cast members."

Appearing on Macdonald's first sitcom was a natural for Metcalf. Macdonald and Bruce Helford, executive producer of "The Norm Show," previously penned lines for her as staff writers on "Roseanne."

Macdonald says he thought of Metcalf first when he was putting his new show together.

"I always enjoyed writing for Laurie on "Roseanne," he says. "I thought she was the funniest one."

Not surprisingly, the Laurie character was created for Metcalf. But not as another Jackie.

"Laurie is such a versatile actress that we didn't want her to just do Jackie again," adds Macdonald, known for his stint as the "Weekend Update" anchor on NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Metcalf is ready to hand a compliment back to Macdonald, who made headlines when he was fired from "Saturday Night Live" by NBC chief Don Ohlmeyer a couple of seasons back for supposedly not being funny enough.

"He doesn't have a lot of the actor tricks that a lot of us do," Metcalf says. "His training as a comic gives him a clear point of view that is easy to play off of," she says.

Metcalf claims she didn't know the role on "The Norm Show" had been tailored to her talents.

"I just took cues from what was in the script, and I found out later that it was written for me," she says, laughing. "I couldn't imagine that. I was so flattered."

Despite her years of work on TV and in films, Metcalf's heart remains with the stage. "I don't like cameras," she confesses. The night that the cast tapes the show "is a horrible experience," she says.

Because Macdonald has written so much of the show, he's very comfortable with the material - and that helps her. "All I have to do in the scene is just look at him, and he's always in the present moment; it relaxes me and it calms me down," she says.

But Metcalf says she is pleased that she must draw on a different set of acting skills to play Laurie.

The new character "is peppier than Jackie."

"She's a little more by-the-book and takes pride in the job that she does, and that's pretty different from the last one that I played!"

*Gloria Goodale's e-mail address is

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