Two minutes with: Ashley Jensen

by The Listener / 17 January, 2013
The Scottish actress is known for her comedy roles in <em>Extras</em> and <em>Ugly Betty</em> (and for narrating <em>Embarrassing Bodies</em>), but in this week’s Sunday Theatre, her character is a downtrodden call-centre worker who is offered £5 million to kill someone.
Ashley Jensen
Ashley Jensen, photo/supplied

The Reckoning is quite a change from your usual comedic roles. Was it tough to do?
Not really, because I started doing comedy and drama and then I almost fell into comedy and one thing led to another and I became “comedy actress Ashley Jensen”. I’m just an actress, really. I wanted to do something that was totally different to what people had seen me doing before.

The locations look a bit grim, and you’re not wearing particularly glamorous clothes. Did it seem a long way from Ugly Betty?
Absolutely, because Ugly Betty was so glossy and so glamorous to the point that each actress had her own beauty lighting, so things took a very long time to set up. It was all about what we were wearing and our shoes and what we looked like and our hair. The Reckoning was all about the emotions and the journeys of the characters and everything from costumes to sets added to the grimness of the piece and the struggle of the characters.

Plus, you had to run away from an unknown assailant, you held a gun and you were in a speeding car with co-star Max Beesley. 
It was like how many more things can we throw at this poor woman? You have to act like you have won £5 million, act like your child is dying, act like you’re going to kill someone and act like you’re going to be killed – how much more stress can this woman be under?

Was it the first time you’d done that sort of action-y television?
This will probably make you laugh – about five years ago I did a programme called Eleventh Hour in which I played Patrick Stewart’s bodyguard. Which people like Ricky Gervais find highly amusing; he just sees me as Maggie [from Extras]. My family always find it highly amusing as well, because I’ve played quite a few policewomen in uniform in Britain, and they’re like, “You must be the shortest policewoman in Britain”, and I’m like, “No, there’s no height restriction any more. It’s quite feasible.”

Did the thought cross your mind, even idly, about what you’d do if you were offered £5 million to off someone?
Of course it did, yeah, because I’ve got a wee boy now who’s three, and you would lay down your life for your child. I saw someone’s gun once in LA, someone showed me their weapon, and I was like, “Oh, God!” You see them all the time in America, but it’s not something we see here in Britain very often. When you’re actually holding a gun in a scene, it does feel a very alien thing in your hand.

Have you worked much in Scotland?
Not in the past few years. The first half of my career was in Scotland. I’m about to do a film in May with Kevin McKidd – he’s the Scottish actor in Grey’s Anatomy. We’re filming up in one of the most northern parts of Scotland in a very remote little village.

No regrets about leaving the US?
No, not at the moment. I always knew that it would come to the end of its time and I would know when it was time to move back to London. Our dog is eight and my husband and I kept saying we want our dog to be able to run about on wet grass. When people say, “Did you get caught up in the whole LA thing?”, I say, “The dog is more LA than I am.” When it rains, he looks outside and goes, “I’ll think I’ll just wait.”

SUNDAY THEATRE: THE RECKONING, TV1, Sunday January 27, 8.30pm.
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