Ashley Jensen interview: All Stars, Gnomeo & Juliet 2, Extras

With dance-tastic British film All Stars in cinemas now, Caroline caught up with one of its stars, Ashley Jensen, for a bit of a chat...

In a career stretching back more than two decades and counting, Scottish actress Ashley Jensen has starred in all kinds of things, from brief parts in The Bill and Casualty in the 90s, to BAFTA and Emmy award-winning roles in Extras and Ugly Betty.

Jensen’s also provided the voices as Phlegma the Fierce in DreamWorks’ hit How To Train Your Dragon, Nanette the frog in Gnomeo And Juliette, and the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate in The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists.

This week sees her appear in the British dance movie All Stars, in which a group of youngsters put on a show in a bid to save their financially ailing dance centre. Ahead of the film’s release, Caroline caught up with Ms Jensen to talk about the experience of making All Stars, her role in Extras, and reprising her role in a Gnomeo And Juliette sequel.

I thought you were great in All Stars, can you tell us a bit about the film?

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It’s a family film with a serious message through it – done in a fun way but intelligent. It’s not pushing the politics of youth centre down your throat.

How was it working with the young actor and actresses on the film?

To be honest, it was no different from working with adults in that they were so incredibly focused and hard working. They were really wonderful and an amazing bunch of kids. I don’t really want to say ‘children’ or ‘kids’ because for some reason, I don’t know why, it sounds slightly patronising. They were such a lot of fun and had so much energy. They were so committed and I felt really proud of them when I saw the film. When we were filming that last dance routine I was like, “you go!” – It was amazing. 

As you mentioned, the film has a strong message about the arts and its importance in young people’s lives, is that something that you feel strongly about?

It is actually, and doing this film kind of brought it home for me about how important places like [the youth centre] are. They’re as important as drama classes at school, which are often seen as skive classes, and youth theatres. When people have to make cuts, it’s often places like youth centres that are the first to go. It’s almost like a preventative before a problem has actually occurred, because often kids are at a point in their life when they’re feeling a bit aimless, they’re not being listened to or they don’t want to go home because there’s trouble. Places like that are quite vital for young people to have somewhere to go and, to be honest, somewhere they can be themselves.

Aside from All Stars, you’ve done a lot of British projects since leaving Ugly Betty, has that been a conscious decision?

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Well, I’m back in Britain now after six years – All Stars was actually the first thing I did when I moved back – so I’m now fully ensconced back in England. I always thought that I’d know when it was time to leave America and I just wanted to come back. The projects here are always much shorter like, you do a series in Britain and it’s only six episodes – twelve weeks – and a series over their is nine months or a year and I wanted to do more projects and more varied things. That’s part of the reason. 

Did you realise Extras would be the success it was when you signed on?

I knew that The Office had been such a huge success and I knew Ricky’s team were very talented writers, but I didn’t really think about it. I just thought about the project at hand and I just wanted to do my best to not let Ricky down. I didn’t really think that far ahead, to be honest. Someone actually told me that my life was going to change, and he was absolutely right because from that I did get Ugly Betty. So to have been in two hugely successful shows has been amazing and it’s not until the last couple of years, when I took a bit of time off to have my wee boy and reflect on it that I thought, “yeah, that was pretty cool.”

Do you think there’ll ever be more?

I don’t think so sadly, not that I’m aware of. I get asked that question a lot.

Will you be a part of the How To Train Your Dragon sequel?

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Not that I’m aware of, but that would be kind of cool. I seem to have cornered the market in children’s films since I had a child. With Nativity and Gnomeo & Juliet and Arthur Christmas and All Stars – I think I should I should be in How To Train Your Dragon 2. Actually, Gnomeo & Juliet are doing a sequel and that’s going to be a in a couple of years. I’m going to be a part of that. 

Is doing children’s films something that you’ve gravitated towards?

It’s weird actually, because it hasn’t been an entirely intentional thing. It is quite nice to be able to do something that your child can watch, so he can almost get a tangible idea of what my work is. Otherwise my work would be something he’s unable to watch. So that is quite nice. I think that part of coming back here was the variety of work I’m able to do. I seem to be able to jump from drama, to comedy, to animated, to children’s film, which is a very fortunate position to be in.

Ashley Jensen, thank you very much.

All Stars is out in UK cinemas now.

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