‘There will always be a need for old ladies with wrinkles’
Love, Lies & Records actress Ashley Jensen tells Gemma Dunn it’s refreshing to work on a show that addresses life’s many imperfections
Ashley Jensen is musing over her transition from sidekick to leading lady. “It’s a shift earned. I think, because I started at the bottom, I was the day player who came in for the day, so I’ve done all that. I feel as if I’ve very much served an apprenticeship,” she confides, having made her name as the hapless Maggie Jacobs in Ricky Gervais’ Extras over a decade earlier.
“I know how to conduct myself and I very much feel that a job should be a collaborative thing. I just happen to be the person who is, I suppose, in all day every day. And that’s fine; I feel ready for it,” she adds, before turning to whisper, “I think”.
Jensen is being modest, of course. For only last year she shone as the front runner in Agatha Raisin, the Sky One comedy based on the much-loved books by M C Beaton, about a glossy London publicist who turns amateur Cotswold detective.
“Desperate Housewives crossed with Midsomer Murders” is how she described it at the time — a welcome change for the actress who, herself, admits she’s made “an entire career playing people’s best friends” in such TV hits as Catastrophe and Ugly Betty.
But fast forward nearly 18 months and Jensen (48) is set to flex her dramatic muscles as the star of the show in brand new drama Love, Lies & Records.
Penned by Kay Mellor (the BAFTA award-winning writer behind such hits as Fat Friends and In the Club), the BBC One series follows Kate Dickenson (Jensen), a town hall registrar who, like many of us, is torn between her home and work life. In her case, a partner and demanding teenagers versus the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths.
“It’s the working mum thing, isn’t it?” asks Jensen, who has an eight-year-old son with her husband — and fellow actor — Terence Beesley. “It’s the whole, ‘I’m doing a job and I want to do it to the best of my ability, but I’m also someone’s mum and I’m also someone’s wife’, which a lot of women do. It’s a reflection on society.
“It’s interesting, somebody asked me the other day about reality television — I have to admit I don’t watch it, but they said: ‘Don’t you think it is a reflection of the society that we live in?’ And I said: ‘No, I don’t really, because I think quite a lot of it seems, to me, contrived and a little bit forced’.
“But that’s what I think good British drama does. When it’s written as brilliantly as the stuff that Kay writes, it’s holding up a mirror to society and hopefully people can tap into that and understand it, rather than ‘I’m A Celeb, Here’s My A***’.”
In the same vein, Jensen praises Mellor for scratching beneath the surface when it comes to people and their passions, stating “there’s no baddies and no goodies, it’s just about truth”.
“It’s very pertinent to the world we live in, with people from different cultures, transgender, families on second marriages and families with stepchildren,” she says of the themes that resonate between the muchloved cast, which includes the likes of Adrian Bower, Kenny Doughty, Rebecca Front and Mark Stanley.
“In some ways it’s all quite messy, everything’s quite messy, but people’s lives are all a little bit messy,” she notes.
“I think that everybody aspires to perfection, but if we all actually dig a bit deeper, everybody is floundering a little bit.
“But looking at people’s Instagram pages, everyone is living a perfect life. I don’t do Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I’m a Luddite, I take myself away from it. But from what I perceive, that’s what it is.”
Jensen, who grew up in Annan, in Dumfries and Galloway, always longed to act, first spending a few weeks in London with the National Youth aged just 14; and later studying drama at Queen Margaret University.
From landing her first big TV break in the 1993 drama Down Among The Big Boys to spending a six-year stretch in LA for Ugly Betty, and stripping off in front of Colin Farrell for dystopian film The Lobster, Jensen is, indeed, committed to her craft.
“In America, everyone had a five-year plan, but I have never had a plan. I don’t even know what I am doing tomorrow. I don’t worry about the future. They will always need someone to play the old ladies with wrinkles.”
Judging on recent moves, however, Jensen is sure to be — deservedly — front and centre. Love, Lies & Records, BBC One, Thursday, 9pm
LEADING LADY: Ashley Jensen feels she has served her apprenticeship