Diary of an actress #16: Interview with the girl version of John Candy: the fabulous Jen Ponton
Jen Ponton: Hey Candy! I have to tell you, I've known what I've wanted to do my WHOLE LIFE--like, since I was 3. And what's KEPT me here is the joy of creation and of connecting; creating stories and characters that deeply affect people. I got started in New York, actually, experimenting in college--I was close to the city, and I thought, why not try to go to some auditions? Why not see if I can get an agent? And I did! I was called in for "Hairspray" on Broadway a couple of times in college, and I went to lots of shoestring theatre auditions. I did a lot of learning how to be professional. I interned with a theatre on the Lower East Side, and within a year of graduation, I was working my first NY show--"Happy Hour." :) Isn't that everyone's first NY show?
CW: You’re worked on iconic New York shows like 30 Rock and Law & Order, can you
tell us about those experiences?
JP: Oh, I had the BEST time on 30 Rock. It was my first big, union TV job, and they just took such good care of me. Probably the most notable part was that I was working opposite Kelsey Grammer, and he and I hadn't interacted yet. I was taken in for rehearsal with him, and this man is HUGE. I look up and he's just giving me his quintessential facial expression and goes, "Hi there, I'm Kelsey," to which I replied, "Of COURSE you are." He stepped out of frame for his exit, which is, of course, when I get my money shot--and after I did my thing, he goes, "That was EPIC! Kid, you SOLD that scene!" It was also REALLY fun working with Jack McBrayer (Kenneth), just because we had all these non-verbal parts of the montage where he makes his Kenneth faces, and I just got to PLAY!
I also had an AMAZING time with SVU, in a totally different way--clearly, it's much more dramatic material, so that alone was a nice, meaty aspect. But also, I was working alongside this dynamite set of actresses, and I made some really wonderful friends! Also, the director for my episode, Helen Shaver, was absolutely incredible, and gave a lot of personal direction and attention--we were all playing characters coming forward about rape, so Helen was very hands-on in getting raw, haunting performances from all of us. She was so wonderful to work with, and at the end, she said, "That was beautiful work. You should be proud." I'd love to work with her again, she was so compelling.
JP: I think my biggest challenge was getting clear on what I really, really wanted--and that's what took me from doing children's theatre to working on primetime network TV. I was content where I was, but when I really got real with myself, I wanted to be in sitcoms. I wanted to be making people laugh on a BIG level! Also, one of the biggest challenges that I think we all face is patience and trust in the process. These things don't happen overnight, and sometimes they happen over years--just keep going. Just keep planting seeds and watering them and trusting that flowers will bloom, because with time, they will! I have a feature film in the can that's been in post for nearly a year, and I believe it's going to put me on the map--can you imagine how much patience I've had to cultivate since we wrapped?!
CW: You have a lot going on with social media and I love it! Any tips and tricks for your fellow actors?
JP: Consistency, and HootSuite! We can't all be at our computers 24/7, and why would we want to? Make sure to try and communicate every day, and pre-program good content with HootSuite so that you don't have to worry about it. :) I also started my own business called Ships Ahoy! this year, and it's all about helping actors with their marketing, including social media: www.shipsahoybyjen.com The blog is super-informative and shares all my favorite tips!
CW: What’s one thing about you that only my readers can find out here?
JP: Ahh, what a good question! Here's one that only my best friend knows--I know all of LABYRINTH by heart. Yup, I can recite the entire screenplay along with the movie--I watched it endlessly until I was 18 or so! I also own the soundtrack and listened to it to fall asleep. ;)
JP: Thank you! :) It was TOTAL lightning-strike inspiration. I absolutely adore John Candy--who doesn't?--and I was thinking how, no matter how funny he was, he was all warmth and love, and never anything cruel or shaming. And that resonates so much with me; I feel I have that same spirit. Then I was like, hey--funny, sweet fat guy...funny, sweet, fat girl...WHAT IF JOHN CANDY WAS A GIRL? Boom.
CW: What’s your dream role?
JP: I would really, REALLY love to star in a sitcom--and to have my character be a little similar to Jane in Drop Dead Diva. They've gotten that gorgeous actress (Brooke Elliott) to the point where she's just slammin', and it's so rarely about her size at all. I'd love to still keep my goofiness and my playful essence, but for it to allow for a beautiful, plus-size woman to just be the star, no strings attached? I'd love that. And my feature, FRANNY, is paving the way for that, I think--my director, Ash Christian, is really wonderful at telling underdog stories with a lot of love, not poking fun at them. He made FRANNY this really lovely character who happens to be fat, but the movie isn't a fat joke. It's a real story about this girl finding herself and finding happiness.
CW: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
JP: I see myself tremendously successful! I think the next 5 years will have seen my star launched--that I will have landed that sitcom, that I'll be working regularly in films, and that I'll be just so grateful for everything. It might even be time for a family for my husband and I by then!
CW: Do you have any advice to other actors just starting out?
JP: Research! Oh man, research--so you can hit the ground running! Read Bonnie Gillespie--her books and her columns. Start following Dallas Travers. Make relationships, and start the habit of marketing NOW. :) And also read MY blog! www.shipsahoybyjen.com
CW: What’s the best way for us to connect and keep up with you?
JP: Definitely my Facebook page and Twitter! Those are updated every day, and my blog is updated weekly! I also have a newsletter that goes out monthly, giving only the juiciest news: jenponton.com/signup.html
Click here for the next entry: Diary of an actress #17: Interview with Interview with theatre and film maven, Samantha Payne Garland