EXCLUSIVE: Why There's No Such Thing as a Small Part for 'Feud' Scene-Stealer Jackie Hoffman
FX

When Jackie Hoffman signed on to play Joan Crawford’s
housekeeper, Mamacita, on the FX anthology series Feud: Bette and Joan, she thought the part would be just opening
the door to the actress’ Hollywood mansion to say, “Can I help you?” What the longtime
working actress -- you’ve seen her in everything from The Addams Family on Broadway to Hulu’s Difficult People -- didn’t realize was she was about to be labeled
as the “breakout character” and “scene stealer” by executive producer Ryan
Murphy himself.

It feels great,” Hoffman tells ET during a break from rehearsals
of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
the Broadway musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel opening April 23
at
the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre -- the same evening as Feud’s season one finale. “My agent
said, ‘[I’ve] managed to take a very little thing and make it into a big
thing.’ So, I’m thrilled that is what happened.I’ve always been the queen of small
parts. There were no small actors, only small parts, but that’s because I’ve
taken them all.”

MORE: 'Feud' Star ALison Wright Finally Gets Her Turn to Shine

Feud tells the story of how the rivalry between two of
Hollywood’s iconic leading ladies, Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette
Davis (Susan Sarandon) began on the set of the movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Hoffman, 56, who once performed at Chicago’s iconic Second
City improv theater and is known for her comedic chops, explains her
interpretation of Crawford’s housekeeper, Mamacita, is a straightforward one.
“She’s got an undeniable deadpan quality to her, which is great because I’m
used to playing it huge in the theater. It’s kind of cool to play it very
subtly,” Hoffman says of her standout performance.

“It was a very intense experience and we both really got into
it,” Hoffman says of some of the more violent scenes with Lange. In episode six,
their relationship is pushed to its breaking point -- literally -- when Crawford starts throwing things at Mamacita’s
head. While filming, one of the vases -- made of sugar glass to look real -- accidentally
hit Hoffman. “[Lange] did nail me in the shoulder blade at one point, so I
can’t say that was fun,” she recalls. “[She] had this incredible reaction where
she was really crying, and I’m up the stairs crying myself because I got hit in
the shoulder blade.” But the episode’s director
apparently enjoyed it. “[Tim Minear] was like, ‘That was great, we love that
reaction!’ I was like, ‘You guys, I just got hit in the shoulder blade.’”

MORE: Why Susan Sarandon Finally Said Yes to Bette Davis

By the time Hoffman started filming episode seven (directed
by Helen Hunt), the script for which called for more vases thrown, she was
already a pro at ducking for cover. “I was kind of more scared because I knew
what I was coming back for,” she recalls. Hoffman says there were eight
breakable sugar glass vases on the prop table, which meant they could shoot the
scene up to eight times. “[Hunt] had me do more of a variety. My first choice
was to be more angry and over the top. Then she said, ‘OK, now I want you to
contain [it].’”

Mamacita is more than just a human target for Crawford’s
tantrums. On the show, the housekeeper is a voice of reason in Crawford’s often
chaotic world conflicting opinions, even helping the actress find Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? “It was
pretty outlined in episode four where [Mamacita] spends the little off time she
has to do research in the library and see what’s going to happen to the female
population,” she says of Mamacita, who has been dubbed a feminist in her own
right by audiences and Hoffman alike. “She was just amazed at how this country
affords people and women.” Hoffman believes Mamacita sees the power in women
and their potential after having nine children and a career of being a personal
assistant. 

Joan Marcus

From
Mamacita to “Mama-sweeta,” Hoffman has recently been crafting clever nicknames
for herself based on the day and activity. During Passover, she called herself “Matzoh-cita.”
On Twitter, it’s #MamaTweeta, and now that she’s Mrs. Teavee, the mother of one
of the five children to win a golden ticket and tour Willy Wonka’s (Christian
Borle
) candy factoryin Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it’s
“Mama-Tvita.”

“I can’t believe that after reading the book as a little kid
and seeing the film, who would know that almost 50 years later I would be
killing myself getting this thing on stage,” Hoffman says. She’s been part of
the musical’s inception for nearly a decade, starting with several early workshops.
The current stage version of Charlie and
the Chocolate Factory
is a modern update of the 1971 film starring the late
Gene Wilder. Instead of being obsessed with television, Mrs. Teavee’s son, Mike
(Michael Wartella), can’t take his eyes off his iPad, ewears colorful headphones and films everything on
his phone.

MORE: Christian Borle Is Busying Finding His Version of Willy Wonka

“It’s a very cool
idea. One of the lines I wrote for the production was when Augustus Gloop [F.
Michael Haynie] meets his fate and Mike starts filming it. I say, ‘Mike, stop
filming other people’s tragedies.’ So, we address the lack of empathy that kids
have now because they’re always on their phones. They have no human
communication,” Hoffman says of the changes, which also include numerous
references to President Donald Trump.

Of the references to Trump, “they’ll stay because they’re
very subtle and they’ll work either way,” Hoffman says. “There are things that
aren’t specifically indigenous to Trump, but to describe the out-of-control kid,
it’s like a bonus for people who get the references and for people who don’t --
they’ll just think I’m talking about my kid.”