© 2013 Archant Community Media Ltd
- Out & about
- Food & drink
- Homes & gardens
- Life TV
- Competitions & offers
Another of our exports to Hollywood has hit the big time; things became very Ugly Betty for the versatile Ashley Jensen.
If youre a British actor wanting to make your name in Hollywood, now would seem to be the time to try and do it.
Never before have there been so many Brits in starring or supporting roles in US television dramas: from Hugh Laurie's Emmy and Golden Globe nominated performance in House to Ian McShane in Deadwood.
One of our more successful exports is Scottish actress Ashley Jensen, who charmed us all as the hapless Maggie in Ricky Gervais Extras. Despite having been on our screens before, including a brief stint as Fiona Morris in Eastenders, it was this comedy that brought her to the publics attention, earning her two British Comedy Awards.
An Emmy nomination made American TV bosses sit up and take notice and she went on to play Christina in Ugly Betty which meant a move to LA.
Her accent was so popular with Ugly Betty bosses that they changed the characters nationality and allowed her to speak in her normal voice.
Having established herself in the UK and the US, offers are now pouring in for the 41-year-old. Next month shell be back on British television alongside Max Beesley in a two-part ITV1 drama, The Reckoning, about a single mum, Sally, who inherits five million pounds, but is told she can only get the money if she kills a man who deserves to die.
As a nurse the idea of taking a life is appalling, but she has a teenage daughter with a life-threatening tumour who needs a costly operation. She confides in a former boyfriend and together they try to track down both her benefactor and the potential victim.
I chatted with her while she was in the UK to promote the show as well as the animated film Gnomeo and Juliet. She told me she relished the chance to play a normal woman in an extraordinary situation: Sally is a person who, probably like most Britons, has never held a gun before. She has never been given five million pounds before, she has never been on the run from anyone, she has never had to chase anyone, and neither has she ever been in a life or death situation in that manner before.
Having been tied up with Ugly Betty for three years, Ashley is now free to pursue a career on both sides of the pond and is hoping to divide her time between working here and in the US, especially now she has a son, Francis, who was born in 2009.
I think when you go to LA, Britain sometimes feels like youve defected a little bit and thats not really the case. Ideally I would love to work here and to work in America. Thats in an ideal world....I came back home to Britain to do the ITV1 drama for a couple of months, but then Im flying back to LA to do a pilot season. To work in both places would be great.
Its easy to see why she would appeal to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. At a tiny 5 foot 3 inches tall her charismatic presence makes her seem much taller. She has an easy, chatty nature that makes her a pleasure to listen to and she seems genuinely to enjoy talking to people.
Her success has also helped her fulfil her ambition to be in an animated film. She recently provided the voice of Nanette the frog in Sir Elton John and David Furnishs production company Rocket Films Gnomeo and Juliet, a light-hearted take on the Shakespearean classic.
I only do childrens films now Ive had a child! Ashley explains, One of the little boxes that I wanted to tick off was that I wanted to do an animated film. After my mum had got over the fact I was never going to play Shreks sister it was kind of the nearest I was going to get to it really.
I found it quite good because it was almost like being a child again, you felt like you were in your bedroom, and it almost felt like no one was really watching you, so you were just kind of having a bit of fun on your own, doing silly voices and being in the bedroom! The camera was on our faces so that they could kind of get expressions from our faces for the gnomes and frogs.
It may be her first foray into animation, but it isnt her first into Shakespeare. She laughs as she tells me about appearing as Regan at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester with Sir Tom Courtenay 12 years ago.
That was where I met my husband. I was playing Regan and he was playing Cornwall and together we fell in love, plucking out Gloucesters eyes! It was good fun! Everyone assumed I was Cordelia because I have blonde hair and I was like, No, Im Reagan and they gave me a long auburn wig, it was great!
Her husband is actor Terry Beesley whom she married in California in 2007 in a quiet ceremony where their beloved dog is reported to have acted as ring-bearer. Because of Ashleys career the couple moved to LA when she started filming Ugly Betty in 2006, but they still have a home in the UK as well as one in Italy.
Born in Annan near the Scottish borders, Ashley grew up with her mum, a special needs teacher, with whom she has a strong and close bond. She remains tight-lipped about her father despite reports in a Scottish newspaper two years ago that she has a sister she has never met.
Apart from this, shes managed to keep her private life relatively quiet for someone with her level of success. In addition to her blossoming film and TV career, her voice is constantly heard on our screens on television adverts and on Channel 4s Embarrassing Bodies and Embarrassing Illnesses which she narrates. Shes done several British films including Steve Coogans A Cock and Bull Story and, more recently, Nativity opposite Martin Freeman. All this helps ensure her presence continues to be felt here in the UK, even whens shes working in the States.
Its clear she enjoys having a varied and international career, but theres no doubt that however high her star rises, this wee Scottish lasss feet will stay firmly on the ground.