A! Magazine for the Arts

Jayma Mays: " I was the youngest kid in our family, and I always liked entertaining my older siblings and my parents."  (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for FOX-TV)

Jayma Mays: " I was the youngest kid in our family, and I always liked entertaining my older siblings and my parents." (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for FOX-TV)

Believe! Q&A with Jayma Mays

September 28, 2009

In a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles, Jayma Mays talked about how she got where she is today.

• Tell us about yourself, growing up in a small town, etc.

I don't know if I appreciated it at the time, but I was very fortunate to grow up in a small town. As a kid, I could play outside without worrying whether or not I was safe. That was really beneficial.

I love Los Angeles, too. In some ways, it's a small town, too. Everybody knows everybody! I'm super happy here. Believe it or not, there are places here where you can "get away from it all." My husband and I live near the Griffith Park area and we go hiking all the time. We can be "in the great outdoors" and back in the city in just minutes. It's the best of both worlds.

• What led to your career in acting?

I was the youngest kid in our family, and I always liked entertaining my older siblings and my parents. I loved writing plays and putting them on for my family. When my dad got a video camera, I flipped out. I began writing plays and filming them. I guess the first time I performed for an audience was in a church play.

Performing is something I've always wanted to do, but I didn't think it was a viable option (for making a living); and it wasn't something I seriously considered until my third year of college. The first two years I took general studies at Southwest Virginia Community College; then I switched my major and went to Virginia Tech. I considered a medical career because I like science and math and I was accepted to Virginia Commonwealth University; but there was a problem transferring my credits, and I ended up at Radford University.

Radford has a great theatre department. People from Los Angeles and New York City came and talked to our class. (After graduation) a lot of my fellow students went to New York, but I decided to try Los Angeles. Not everyone wants to try television or film, but I wanted to try it all. I stayed near Radford awhile and saved some money, but all that money went really quickly once I got to Los Angeles. I got a couple of part-time jobs to pay the bills and did some acting. I kept trying to work my way up and it took me a few years to get my first "real" job and an agent.

• You've been on a lot of TV shows and in several films. How often do you go to auditions? To what/whom do you credit your success in getting so many roles?

Well, the job never gets easy. There are plenty of jobs you don't get, which prepares you for this life you've chosen. I did several independent films that never saw the light of day. Finally, when I was doing the play The Rocky Horror Show, I met the casting assistant for the TV sitcom Joey who auditioned me for several roles until they found one that was right for me and I finally got that guest spot.

That's also how I got my manager. He was managing the casting director of Joey, and the director knew I didn't have representation (by an agent). My manager has really changed my life -- as far as opening doors. I love roles that are quirky and I love comedy.

As for auditions, it depends. You might go on auditions once every couple of weeks -- until you book a pilot. If you're working, that restricts you. Typically they give me something ahead of time, at least a day in advance, two days is even better. I very rarely do "cold call" auditions. I enjoy auditioning. It's a good way to try different things. I love the challenge -- it's like a weird adrenaline rush.

• Tell us about your experience on Ugly Betty.

It was a really different role for me, which was fun. When I auditioned, I got the idea that the character was a sweet, quirky Midwestern girl. (As the show progressed) they kept writing and I kept getting more crazy, more possessive, more bitchy. That terrified me at first, because that's not normally what I do, but the last episode vindicated my character. She was not crazy for crazy's sake.

• What about Paul Blart: Mall Cop?

That was really different, too. I was filming Ugly Betty in Los Angeles while filming Mall Cop in Boston, so I was flying back and forth for the first couple of months. That was challenging, especially since I don't love flying. At the same time, my husband was working in Canada, so there was no "home base" for a while. But those were "good" problems, for good reasons.

• Is it intimidating to work with actors you have admired from afar?

Definitely. But I'm also honored to be working with them. It's amazing. I have yet to have a bad experience because the stars are super nice people who make me feel comfortable. That's the icing on the cake.

• What is the biggest difference between shooting a TV series and filming a movie?

Logistically, it can take several months to make a movie. By comparison. TV filming is so fast. Each episode is 40-odd minutes, shot in eight days, so we're getting scenes and lines in less time, there's less time to rehearse, and fewer "takes" as an actor. What's exciting about that is the adrenaline rush you get, knowing you have only a couple of takes to make the scene the best you can make it.

We just finished the first 13 episodes of Glee (which began airing in September). Now we're playing the waiting game to see if the show is picked up for another nine episodes -- which we might not know till the end of the year. As long as I'm under contract for Glee, I can't do another television series, but I could guest star on one episode for another show and I could do a movie (during the waiting period).

I love performing before a live audience and also being filmed. Basically, I'm doing the same job; but with a live audience, there's an immediate reaction.


-- Christina Garnett: Making History