She’s one of UK’s most successful acting exports, yet Ashley Jensen remains a down-to-earth Scot. Stylist puts your (very frank) questions to her…
Lazy lie-ins are a thing of the past for Ashley Jensen; her son Frankie took care of that when he came on the scene two years ago. So when I apologise for waking her out of her early morning slumber (thanks to the London/LA time difference, we’re on our afternoon tea break, she’s on her 7am coffee), she bats us off and eagerly gets stuck into our questions. Or rather your questions.
Yes, the woman who spurned the advances of Orlando Bloom as hapless Maggie in the 2007 Emmy-award winning Extras, consoled a nervous Victoria Beckham on the set of Ugly Betty (where she found global fame as seamstress Christina) and lent her instantly recognisable southwest Scottish trill to a host of animated characters from talking frogs to female Vikings, is the star taking your questions for our 100th issue.
A proud Scottish export, Ashley, 42, moved to LA in 2006 where she married the actor Terence Beesley the following year, but has lost none of her straightforward charm or ‘gone Hollywood’ on us. “My publicity person ordered me to have a mani-pedi before an awards show,” she tells me. “I had to ask what it was.”
And since Ugly Betty, the acting jobs just keep rolling in. Later this year, Ashley will appear as Fanny in Hysteria, a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, and animated film Arthur Christmas with fellow Scot, James McAvoy. We put your questions to her.
Shows like Ugly Betty and Extras played host to some great A-list cameos. Who have been your favourite people to work with? (Gemma Clapp)
My favourite has to be Kate Winslet. She had to dress up as a nun for Extras and I remember her sitting beside me in her habit and we were just looking at our feet for ages talking about how odd feet were. The most overwhelming was Samuel L Jackson. He came in on my first ever day of filming Extras and I had to look him in the face and tell him I thought he was great in The Matrix! There was a silence on set like I’ve never heard before when he was around but Ricky [Gervais] broke the ice when Samuel bent down to do up his shoes. He shouted, “Ooh, he ties his own shoelaces”, and Sam just got up and laughed. They’d given him these great big pointy shoes and he was walking about all day on set talking about how his shoes were too big for him. He suddenly became just a normal guy. Similarly, at the Golden Globes I was standing behind Drew Barrymore in the queue for the toilet. I was like, “Wow, Drew Barrymore goes to the toilet too?”
What was it like meeting Victoria Beckham on the set of Ugly Betty? (Grace Stone)
It was interesting sitting in the make-up trailer with her. It was just before the Spice Girls went on their reunion tour and she was like, “I’m a little bit nervous actually – I haven’t really sung in a while,” so I was just like, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine!” David was on set too and when I went over to say hi he went, “Brooklyn, Romeo, this is the lady who plays Christina in Ugly Betty.” I just thought, that’s mental, he’s telling his kids who I am!
Are you and Ricky Gervais still close? *(Nadine Shambrook)
We’re so close. I forget that Ricky is famous but he invited me to the Golden Globes this year when he did his compering. I thought it was hilarious but Hollywood’s just not used to it. They’re used to people saying, “Oh, you’re amazing,” and I think they got a bit comfortable with Ricky. They thought, Ricky’s safe, he’s done a couple of nice Hollywood films, but then he kind of went, “Wahey, see what I’m going to do now you’ve employed me!” So yes, I do see him if he’s out here or if I’m back in London and we’ve both got time. Mostly we just eat, drink and laugh. Or rather, he laughs at me.
Did you feel under pressure to make any changes to your appearance when you moved out to LA? (Sandrine Nolan)
Some magazines said I’d had a Hollywood makeover. They said I’d had my teeth and my breasts done but I can categorically tell you I’ve had nothing done. It takes me enough effort to get a manicure because I can barely sit still for that long. If I was younger I might have felt a bit more pressure but I feel pretty confident in who I am now. And at least all my bits work! I think we should be proud of the fact that our face has got lines because at least that means that we have lived. I think it’s strange when people my age and younger get surgery. Somebody’s got to play old people.
You’ve been doing a lot of voiceover work recently, is that a conscious decision? (Jemma Peters)
Not at all and it’s kind of weird that since I’ve had a small boy I’ve done three animated films. But I’ve just been lucky as I’ve not really wanted to do anything that’s taken me away from my small man. I feel, especially as I waited until I was bit older to have a child, that I want to be around as much as I can. However, with voiceovers you’re always on your own. You never actually see any of the other actors and actresses. When we did Gnomeo & Juliet I was in LA and the producers were in Toronto so a lot of it was done on Skype. It’s very odd that you’re just in a room getting a bit silly on your own. I’ve loved funny voices ever since I was a child. To see my voice on a wee character is amazing, especially as my little boy loves the films. I don’t know if he can tell that it’s me but he laughs at my gags, which is great!
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend? (Joanna Witt)
Free time is a bit of a thing of the past with a toddler, so I would have a babysitter flown in! If I’m stressed I go to the kitchen and start cooking. I love spending the weekend making homely pots of soup, fish cakes and pasta. It helps me focus and keeps me relaxed. I’ve also got into going to farmers’ markets. They’re in abundance over here and I love the idea of buying local food where the apples are dirty and the carrots are misshapen; sometimes there’ll be someone just selling one solitary nectarine or a little peach.
If you were granted three wishes, what would they be? (Cathy Adams)
It’s going to sound really boring but now that I have a child my whole outlook on life seems to have changed. So firstly I would want Frankie to grow up a happy, healthy, open, generous, funny and kind man. I would also love my dog, Barney, who is a 100-pound Utonagan – a mix of Alaskan malamute, Siberian husky and German shepherd – to live as long as a wee small dog. He’s a big gentle soul and the thought of him not being around is horrific. Lastly, and for fear of wanting to sound like, “Ooh”, a big philanthropist, I just wish there was a wee bit more kindness in the world and people thought of others a bit more. I think if we thought about other people as much as we thought about whether or not to get Botox, then we might live in a happier place.
Do you think it’s harder for women to make a name for themselves in the very male world of comedy? (Lucy Needham)
Absolutely. I don’t do stand-up but that is a particularly maledominated field. Unfortunately we still live in a very masculine world and I think that comedy, as with any sector, is harder because that’s the way history has been. A lot of the writing is done by men as well; it just seems easier for them to break into the business.
Do you have any advice for women who may struggle with self confidence? (Rachel Petero)
I think girls spend a lot of time trying to be other people or look like other people, but there’s nothing more unique than yourself. Nobody is more individual than you so be confident with who you are and what you have to offer because everybody has got things to offer.
Arthur Christmas is out 11 November
Main picture credit: Rex Features
Ashley was interviewed by (top left to right) Grace Stone, Nadine Shambrook, Cathy Adams, Lucy Needham and (bottom left to right) Joanna Witt, Jemma Peters, Sandrine Nolan, Rachel Petero, Gemma Clapp.