(thanks to Kathy Manabat)
From a starring role in FOX-TV's hit television series, "That '70s Show," to memorable performances on Broadway and in film, Debra Jo Rupp brings boundless energy, comedic prowess and limitless talent to every role she undertakes.
Debra Jo recently wrapped her third season of "That '70s Show," in which she portrays 'Kitty Forman,' the endearing, yet high-strung mom. Set in suburban Wisconsin in 1977, the show follows the growing pains and hilarious antics of the Forman family as they deal with the rapidly changing times. Entertainment Weekly listed Debra Jo's 'Kitty' as one of the great performances of 1999, the Boston Herald named her the best sitcom mom on TV, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, "If FOX's 'That '70s Show' is thriving, one shouldn't overlook the parents played by Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp." Voted a "Fall Favorite" by TV Guide, "That '70s Show" stirs up a sense of nostalgia and is a glaring reminder of the decade's outrageous fashion.
"In 1977, I looked like a capon chicken dressed up in denim jumpsuits, and now I finally get on a series that airs longer than six episodes, and I still look like a capon chicken dressed up in denim jumpsuits! I hope and pray that we get to the '80s very very soon -- those shoulder pads helped out the hip issue tremendously!" laughs Debra Jo. The show, which airs Tuesday nights from 8:00-8:30pm, recently received an impressive two year commitment through 2003.
In addition, Rupp can be heard as the voice of the school teacher, 'Mrs. Helperman,' in the new animated series, "Teacher's Pet," which also features the voices of Nathan Lane and Jerry Stiller. The cartoon is now in its second season on ABC as part of Disney's One Saturday Morning lineup. Debra also recently completed work on the feature film of "Teacher's Pet."
In the can is a starring role in the independent feature, "Lucky Thirteen," with Lauren Graham. With flashbacks to the 1970's, this edgy comedy follows a boy's journey to manhood. "I play the mother that nobody would ever want. That's why I took the role," she offers of her dysfunctional character. "She's about as far away from 'Kitty' as you can get, and I needed to be mean mean mean for awhile -- Kitty can be awfully cheery sometimes, and though I love her, I was aching for a bad day." The film is expected to make the festival circuit.
Born in Glendale, California and raised in Massachusetts, Debra Jo made her stage debut in the third grade. "My Brownie troop did a little production. We were flappers doing the Charleston with all the fringe and these huge flowers in our hair, and then we had to turn around, take the flower off, wrap a blanket around our shoulders and become Indians. I couldn't get the flower off and someone took my blanket, so I burst into tears and ran off the stage (my mom found me in the parking lot). I kind of figured it couldn't go downhill from there and, believe me, that's been comforting through the years."
While Debra Jo intended to study drama in college, her parents, who were adamantly against her pursuit of acting, sent her to the best liberal arts college they could find, the University of Rochester in New York, which specifically did not offer drama. "A month before I started, I got a letter from the college announcing their new drama department," recalls Debra Jo, who credits fate for stepping in at the right time. "The blood drained from my dad's face, and I lit up like a Christmas tree." Throughout college, she participated in numerous plays and, upon graduation, was encouraged by her drama professors (all two of them) to head to New York. "Mom made me promise never to waitress (we don't know what that was about), and Dad rented a U-Haul and drove me there. Very quietly," she grins.
Her big break came ten years later with the starring role in Cynthia Heimel's acerbic play about modern-day relationships, "A Girl's Guide to Chaos." "It was as though the play were written for me -- the way I act, the way I talk, and the wardrobe I wished I could afford," says Debra Jo, whose performance garnered rave reviews. Her other Broadway credits include "Frankie and Johnnie in the Claire de Lune" as 'Frankie,' and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" as 'Sister Woman' with Kathleen Turner and Charles Durning.
For television, Debra Jo has starred in over a dozen sitcoms, including "Davis Rules," "If Not For You," "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" and "The Office." She has also had memorable recurring roles as Phoebe's sister-in-law on "Friends" and Jerry Seinfeld's booking agent on "Seinfeld." In addition, she has appeared in such telefilms as NBC's "In the Line of Duty" with Tim Daly; FOX's "The Invaders" with Scott Bakula; and the HBO miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon," directed by Sally Field.
For the big screen, Debra Jo made her feature film debut in the box-office hit, "Big," opposite Tom Hanks. Additional film credits include Dan Aykroyd's wife in "Sgt. Bilko"; "Death Becomes Her" with Goldie Hawn; and "Clockwatchers" with Toni Collette and Parker Posey.
When she's not ruling the roost on "That '70s Show," she finds other ways to channel her energy. "I've been busy fixing up my home. 'Kitty' and I own the same appliances. I've learned about plumbing, caulking, painting, and how to kick the refrigerator," says Debra Jo, who also enjoys refinishing furniture, needlepoint and hanging out with her two silky terriers - McPheeters and McCallister - when she's not obsessing on Nintendo 64 or surfing the net.
Despite her continued success and hectic schedule, however, she has not lost sight of her roots. "My long-term goal is to build a house back in Massachusetts before I'm too old to shovel snow," says Debra Jo, who would like to be near her sisters (one a figure skating coach, and the other a computer programmer) and her mother who currently battles Parkinson's disease. "And, of course, returning to New York and the theater is the big, big dream."
- Debra Jo Rupp was born on February 24, 1951. Aw, isn't she cute?
- Her birthplace is Glendale, CA, but she grew up in Boxford, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.
- She has two sisters.
- She has two silky terriers, McCallister and McPheeters.
- She graduated from the University of Rochester in 1974.
- Though her parents tried to discourage Debra Jo from pursuing an acting career, a theatre program was added to the U of R the summer before she attended, thankfully...
- Debra Jo originated the stage role of "Sylvie" in Moonlight and Valentino, which would later be played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1995 film version.
- In 1990, she played the role of Mae in the Broadway production of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, the time during which she was acting by night, but working as an accountant by day.
- Her "most favorite" acting job is that of the theatre, then television sitcoms, and films coming in last.
- Debra Jo openly admits that she's an ABC soap opera addict.
- She has never been married, though she was once engaged.
- She does not have any children, though we will happily let her adopt us. (HINT HINT, Deb!)
- Some of her hobbies include cooking, needlepoint, and gardening.
- Debra Jo recently gave up smoking after thirty years! Way to go!
- Two of her favorite films are Bed of Roses and Hoosiers.