Sunday, April 11, 2010

Portroids Interview with Ashley Jensen

At the Vail Film Festival, I had the chance to sit down with Ashley Jensen for an interview. I intended to release it as a Portroidcast, but the background noise makes it very hard to hear, so I'm transcribing it. If anyone still wants to hear the audio, let me know and I'll make it some sort of hidden bonus track. Otherwise, enjoy it in a written form.

April 2, 2010
Portroids Interview with Ashley Jensen!!

PORTROIDS: I'm here at the Vail Film Festival with Ashley Jensen. Hello, Ashley.


P: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me for an interview. You first came into my awareness, and I would assume the awareness of a lot of America, with your role as Maggie on Extras.

AJ: Yeah.

P: Before that you’d been acting for around 15 years in the UK and had appeared on over 30 shows.

AJ: Yes.

P: How did you get started in acting and what were those early years like?

AJ: It was always something that I knew that I wanted to do and I went to drama school. Spent three years there, and relaxed and almost did a teacher training year. And then my best friend looked at me and said, "Ash, why are you doing this? You don't want to be a teacher." And I was like, "No, look, it will be something to fall back on." And I think, I always stop and look back and think, if I'd had that to fall back on I may've fallen back on it. Because I didn't have that to fall back on, I had to make a real go of it. I had to be quite determined in supporting myself as an actress. I started off doing theater, a lot of theater, and a lot of sort of low-scale theater where we would travel to small destinations in Britain, put up the sets, physically, do our show, physically take it down, stick it in the back of a van and travel to the next place. So I did a lot of that, so I feel as if I've really sort of served my apprenticeship to get where I've got to today.

P: Yeah. I read online that you were the voice of the interviewer on the Christmas episodes of The Office. Is that true?

AJ: No, that's a lie.

P: No? It's a lie? Okay.

AJ:  Yeah, that was not me.

P: That was not you.

AJ: It does sound a little bit like me, but I think its an actress called Sandy McDade.

P: Okay, yeah, because there are a couple places online that say that it's you.

AJ: It's absolutely not me. You put them right.

P: I will.

AJ: Yes.

P: And now, so that was, I was wondering if that was kind of how you got involved with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant?

AJ: It wasn't. It was completely conventionally through a casting director at the BBC who had got me in several times before, to the point that I began to feel as if I were letting her down because she was so incredibly loyal to me that she kept getting me in for things thinking, obviously, "I think this girl's got something. I don't quite know where we're going to put her but let's put her in for that part." And I kept not getting the parts and I ended up going "I'm so sorry" and she eventually got me in for Extras and a connection just happened with Ricky and I and it just worked. I read the scenes and he read with me, and I think one of the scenes that we read in the interview was the scene in the Samuel Jackson episode where its the Golly toy ...

P: Okay, yeah.

AJ: I think it's that one and then another one, I think, that was actually cut about gypsies and about, and I think it might be on some DVD extras somewhere about, gypsies and pigeons, no, gypsies and seagulls. Or something.

P: On Extras, which we were just talking about, your character would sometimes innocently and inadvertently end up saying some horrible things in front of the wrong people.

AJ: Yes.

P: Was that ever uncomfortable thing to do as an actor, or was it just fun to play along go with the script?
AJ: Interesting question. It was always fun to break taboos as an actor. That's always kind of quite, kind of like, liberating, I think. There was one scene where there was the girl in the Kate Winslet episode that had the disability and I had to look at her sympathetically and go, "oooh, look at that poor wee thing." And that girl was the coolest woman. She did stand up comedy and that was her act, was about who she was and her disability, and she was the kind of person that ... Martinez, what was her name? Somebody Martinez. Anyway, can't remember. (Francesca Martinez) But, she was one of these people that within fifteen minutes of being with her you didn't actually see her disability.

P: Right, yeah.

AJ: And also the other one with an actor called Warwick Davis, who played the elf from the toadstool, who was another guy who was so, "I'm OK, you're OK". That was another guy that you didn't notice his disability after awhile. But I think sometimes it was a little bit like oh my god, you're aware that you're breaking so many taboos. But I think that as an actor, it is a responsibility. I think that the writing is so, their writing is so good that they don't conform to anyone. I think that's what makes the writing work, that its so honest.

P: Now you’ve become a regular on American television, with over 60 episodes of Ugly Betty and in the new series Accidentally on Purpose. How do you compare your UK television experience to that of the US?

AJ: There's a lot more money spent on television in America. The budgets are bigger. And in terms of Ugly Betty, the hours that you spend on set in a day are phenomenally long, I feel, compared to Britain. Its a lot warmer when you're filming in California, when you're outside, than it is in Britain. But I think that one of the things I've noticed, like, people ask me often about the comedy, the different types of comedy, like Extras, Accidentally on Purpose, and Ugly Betty, cause they are all so very different.

P: Right, yeah.

AJ: And, cause Accidentally on Purpose is a sitcom filmed in front of studio audience, so that's bringing in other different skills, which, I'll be honest, that I've learned from Jenna Elfman, watching her, who is just, she's done so many years of Dharma and Greg that she just absolutely knows how to play an audience as well as the camera at the same time. And although I've done a lot of theater and been aware of how you play an audience, there's still cameras in your face. So, that's been a technique that I feel as if I've had to learn.
P: And seasons are a lot longer here. They just continue to go on and on.

AJ: They certainly are. And I think that's the difference that Britain sort of quits while we're ahead.

P: Yeah, absolutely.

AJ: And hopes that people buy the DVD so we get DVD sales money. But, sometimes there's pros and cons. I'm not sure which I prefer, actually, because I would love to do another season of Extras. I think, I still think we could squeeze another, another special, out there. But, you know, if something's working then keep doing it.

P: That makes sense.

AJ: But, then again there is the thing of it leaves people wanting more if you leave them at the top rather than "well, it was good at the beginning, and then it kind of got a bit limp", you know?

P: Yeah, some people complain about the US Office, based on it continues to go and go.

AJ: Yeah.

P: It's still a quality program, but it doesn't have the same emotional impact that the original did.

AJ: No, it doesn't.

P: I know you weren't part of that show, but just as a comparison between US and UK.

AJ: Although a lot of people think I am. People go, "oh, The Office was amazing", and I'm "yes, it was amazing, wasn"t it?" "Oh, and you know it, not me, I wasn't in it." "That was Lucy Davis, who was wonderful in it."
P: You’ve also recently done voice acting in “How to Train Your Dragon”.

AJ: Oh, that was a very, very tiny part.

P: Oh, was it? I haven't seen it yet, I just read it was in your credits.

AJ: No, I was basically an extra in that. An extra voice. But I have done one called Gnomeo and Juliet, which is coming out next February, which is Miramax.

P: It must be a different form of acting, cause you're only putting your voice out there and you're trusting the animators to bring your voice to life.
AJ: Absolutely.

P: So, I just wanted to find out how you felt about that experience going into it.

AJ: You're also not doing it with any of the other actors. It's you in a studio on your own with a microphone.

P: Right.

AJ: Not even reading dialogue. Literally saying one line after the other and then the director says "be a bit more sympathetic" and then you do the line a bit more sympathetically and then they'll go "now do it like you're really pissed off at her. OK, now do it like you're a bit hurt by what she said." So, you kind of give them lots of different versions of the same line.

P: As I mentioned at the beginning, we're at the Vail Film Festival, and you're here with a film you did with your husband, Terence Beesley.

AJ: Yes.

P: It's called Sunshine. I saw it today. It was great.

AJ: Yes, thank you.

P: What can you tell us about that film for people who haven't seen it and about working with your husband, who wrote and directed the film?

AJ: Well, yeah, he wrote it and directed it and edited it and did the music for it, and I produced it by, you know, I got the team together for the crew. And basically everyone did it through the good of their hearts really. Our DP did it cause they liked the script. Basically it's about two men that are sort of stuck under their own black clouds, if you like. One is from Scotland, one is from Sweden. Both from the Northern Hemisphere and countries that don't see an awful lot of daylight and how that kind of affects their drinking and their attitude to life and the future. I think it's just basically about carrying your own black clouds about you and being self-obsessed.

P: Yeah. I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but there's a part where it seems like he's broken through the darkness, well, for both the main actors, yet at the end you kind of see he still has a dark outlook.

AJ: Yes. It's sort of a black comedy, really.

P: Yeah, absolutely. Next question is just what's next for you? What do you have coming out?

AJ: Well, I"m still doing Gnomeo and Juliet, and I'm waiting to hear if Accidentally on Purpose got a second season. And Terry and I are about to start really getting to grips with our next short. We're going to try to do another one.

P: Yeah, you guys were here last year also.

AJ: My husband was acting in a film last year, yes.

P: At the Vail Film Festival.

AJ: Vail regulars.

P: Perfect.

AJ: Yes.

P: Alright, well thank you so much.

AJ: Thank you very much.

P: It was very great talking to you.

AJ: Cheers. You're welcome.

P: Have fun at the festival.

AJ: Thank you very much.
Thus concludes my interview with Ashley Jensen. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and in the future I will ensure I conduct these in a quiet environment so they can be listened to in podcast form. Ashley also mentioned after the interview that she and her husband produced a baby boy five months ago, so congratulations to them on that. Thanks again to Ashley for taking the time to sit with me during the Vail Film Festival. It was a real pleasure.


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