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Illustration: Rob Kelly

The Hot Seat: Ashley Jensen

She knows whether you're into Ugly Betty or Extras just by looking at you.

By John Sellers
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In Ricky Gervais's dearly departed HBO sitcom, Extras, Ashley Jensen so skillfully uttered non sequiturs, unintentional insults and verbal faux pas that she earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress. Over the phone, though, the 38-year-old Scottish actor is more sensible, especially when talking about whiskey. "Over here Americans get excited about Scotch, but I can't touch it," she says. "They think I'm weird—after they get over the fact that I'm not Irish." Jensen curently commutes to New York each week from her Los Angeles home to play the gossipmongering seamstress Christina McKinney on Ugly Betty, which recently relocated here for its third season. She called us from a limo just after landing at JFK.

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Welcome to New York, Ashley.
Ashley Jensen: Thank you. I had a very dramatic flight from L.A. The plane had to stop for fuel at some random place in the middle of nowhere. I felt like I was in the Second World War or something, when the planes couldn't carry enough petrol to get from A to B.

Fuel's expensive, but that's just crazy.
Ashley Jensen: I know. And then five minutes after landing we were told there's been an earthquake in L.A. Part of me was gutted that I missed it, because I've been living there for two years already without experiencing one. Oh! And now there's a guy who's just driven in front of us and went up on the sidewalk! It will be a miracle if I get to the hotel tonight. It's been like a video game since I got on the plane.

You're in remarkably good spirits, given the circumstances.
Ashley Jensen: I think I'm high. I'm eating a bag of pumpkin seeds, so I have a little energy high. People tell me these are good for me, but my mouth's slightly quaggy and I've got no water. I might choke by the time we're through.

Are you planning to live here now that Ugly Betty has moved to New York?
Ashley Jensen: No. I'm commuting. Which I find highly amusing. I'm the only person who has chosen to commute. Everyone else moved to New York. But for me it's doable, because my character shuffles in and adds charm for only a couple of days every episode.

And I thought commuting on the F train was bad.
Ashley Jensen: Well, my husband and I have got a house and everything in L.A., and the dog is settled. It's all about the dog.

Your character will become a surrogate mother this season. How's the pregnancy suit treating you?
Ashley Jensen: I'm quite comfortable wearing that pregnancy pad, because you don't need to hold your stomach in when you're filming. But I must think I'm really pregnant, because I'm hanging about the craft-services table eating for two.

Do you get recognized more for Ugly Betty or for Extras?
Ashley Jensen: It's a bit embarrassing when people come up and say, "I love your show." I don't want to be cocky and go, "Oh, which one?" so I have to figure it out by looking at them. If you're a discerning media type, you're probably talking about Extras. If you're a woman or, let's face it, a gay man, it's Ugly Betty.

Have you already written your Emmy acceptance speech?
Ashley Jensen: I thought you were going to say "your will." Because it'll be a miracle if I get to my hotel. Have I written a speech? No—it's still just sinking in.

If you win, will you sneak a code word into your speech as kickback for this interview? I'm thinking pantaloons.
Ashley Jensen: Get pantaloons into the speech? That's a challenging word, for it also has deviant connotations, doesn't it?

Well, then how about monkey?
Ashley Jensen: Monkey. All right, then. Monkey. I'll see what I can do. But I have to go back to Britain to shoot a film and I'm flying back on the day of the Emmys. So it's going to be a military precision operation just to get there. I'll have a word with the pilot: "Okay, no messing about now. I've got to shout about a monkey at the Emmys."

Were you ever an extra, by the way?
Ashley Jensen: I was never an extra. I started at the bottom, though. My first TV job was playing Girl in the Bedding Shop. And there was a cat in the same scene—and the cat got paid more than I did.

Ouch.
Ashley Jensen: Exactly. And it was one of these big fat pussycats that sneered at you. I mean, I love cats, don't get me wrong. But you know how some of them have just got those faces? This cat was looking down his nose at me as if to say, "Don't step to me, Girl in the Bedding Shop."

The 60th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sept 21 on ABC. Ugly Betty returns Sept 25 on ABC.

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