Sunday 5 January 2014


I love Jenna Elfman. What an amazing actress! She's typically described as energetic, funny and quirky, and while she is all of those things, it's important to not dismiss the fact that this is an extremely hard-working and talented actress (and mother of 2!) at the absolute top of her craft. 

Like many of the characters she has portrayed, Jenna is an breath of fresh air, even when doing an interview by email in the midst of a hectic work schedule. 

Jenna is one of my favourite actors, and to get the chance to ask her questions was a blast. Here goes. 

How's it going? What are you working on? 

It's going great! Just finished filming the movie Big Stone Gap with Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Jane Krakowski and John Benjamin Hickey.  Now I'm busy filming a new comedy series for NBC called Growing Up Fisher, with J.K. Simmons.

Busy as always! I first got to know you, as I'm sure many did, through the wonderful 'Dharma and Greg', but you were acting for a long time before that. What were some of the most important moments for you in your career in the years leading up to Dharma?  

The TV show I was on right before I got Dharma and Greg, which was an ABC comedy called Townies, which starred Molly Ringwald, Lauren Graham and myself. It only lasted one season, but was my first series regular role and and because of it, I got to be able to have Dharma and Greg created for me.

You've zig-zagged between TV and film over the years -- when you were starting out, movies were the cool place to be, now, arguably, it's TV. How have things changed for you personally? 

The shift in the entertainment industry and media platforms for entertainment over the last 10-15 years has been mega and it's still calibrating and finding itself.  So, for me as an actress, I've had to also be creative to keep relevant and on top of all the possibilities and adjustments in my own industry.

I love your podcast. That's a form that has really taken off in recent years. What do you get from podcasting that you don't get from your other work? 

Thanks, glad you like it! Doing our podcast is really liberating for me.  It is just my husband, Bodhi Elfman, and I sitting down and chatting about our marriage, marriage politics and funny stories from our 22 years together, unscripted and unedited.  Not careful, not conservative— just us. R-rated comedy chatter. Nothing withheld.

You can find Jenna and Bodhi's podcast on iTunes by clicking HERE

Going back to 'Dharma and Greg'; there were a lot of great sitcoms at the time, it was the days of 'Friends', 'Frasier' and so many more. I don't know what it was like in the US, but here in the UK; it had a much smaller audience, but the fans were loyal, it had a real cult following -- what is it about the show that connected with people in a way that I think is often different to those other shows? 

I think our show was truly based on joy.  Dharma was a unique character, Greg's voice was more the one of the "sensible" audience watching— and Dharma inspired people and gave them relief and let them laugh and imagine.  I think most women characters on TV at that time had been worried about love, their careers, their friends.  Dharma was not neurotic or worried.  She was genuinely happy and it was well-written, and I think it was just a burst of light into the television landscape.

I think what a lot of people love about you and your work is your great energy, your personality. I can imagine when it's late at night, you've got a headache and you're out for groceries, people want you to be the Jenna Elfman they see on TV. Do you ever find that difficult, or are you always bursting with energy?  

Well, I AM energetic, however I AM human and a working mother of 2 young, energetic boys and I'm married to Bodhi, which, if you've listened to the podcasts, well you can imagine what that's like!  (And SO GLAD I'm married to him, don't get me wrong.)  But ya, I get tired, cranky and frustrated just like anybody else.  But MOST of the time, I'm pleased with the great gifts I am fortunate to have in my life and I am grateful for all of it everyday.  Unless I'm tired and cranky.

Your career has gone through a great deal of changes - as is the same for any actor -  how do you maintain a sense of control throughout it all? 

Who said I had any sense of control?! (Bursting out laughing!) I maintain my sense of humor and that gives me tolerance for all the other craziness around me. And my husband helps me a lot, too. He's my best friend and comrade-in-chaos!

'Accidentally on Purpose' was a really fun show - it was great to see you take the lead in a sitcom format again. Like so many great shows, it didn't make it past the first season. Do you think that was just the case of networks being networks, or is there something about the show that didn't quite work?

Well, that's always hard to say- there are so many factors that go into making a show, let alone one that goes on to become a hit and many of those factors are beyond any one person's immediate control.... But I hear lots of people are enjoying it on Netflix, so that makes me happy!!

A few questions about how you go about your craft --- How are you with auditions? And how often do you have to do them compared with just getting offered a role based on your work? 

I hate auditions.  I RARELY have actually gotten hired from an audition (for films.)  All the films I got were not from auditions, but some other meeting, chance luck, offer, etc.  I used to like auditions early in my career, because I actually GOT JOBS by doing auditions.  But now that I have a career, I haven't gotten a single job from an audition.  They are a real buzz kill for me.  Argh. Need to solve that one! LOL

How do you maintain your craft? Although I of course think you are fabulous already, I always find that the top actors continue to learn and improve their craft-- I'm interested in how! 

Well, I am a people-watcher! I just always have been.  That to me, staying present in life, aware of human behavior, not removing yourself from people, but instead staying involved in the world around you, paying attention, watching how people look, carry themselves, react, dress, hide, pretend, dodge, etc. is the best acting lessons ever.  We are, as actors, playing people,  after all.

Is there anything you have not yet achieved with your career that you hope to in the coming years? 

I just want to continue to try new kinds of comedy and roles and tones that I have not explored yet.  I just want to keep expanding, in whatever , various, interesting ways that manifests itself, I'm IN!

Care to share?

Saturday 4 January 2014

Alexandria in the Front Row

I think Alexandria's comment on my article '2014 - Don't Rush' has reminded me of what it is to be a Kid In The Front Row.

She's 16 and has a level of passion and self-awareness that most can only dream of. And even from the way she responds to a blog post, you can see that she's a talented writer.

Alex, and keep making movies. The world needs people like you.

"I'm 16 and I love movies and moviemaking and screenwriting. I guess since I'm on your blog, you get that. I've only wrote three scripts and made two shorts. Yes, they're absolute shit.

I need to learn perseverance through the years - through college, through young adulthood (and trying to make the repeated decision of taking a day job or finding a film-related meal ticket), through marriage, through life. I feel this need to rush, to make it soon, others are flying past me, while I'm out here trying to enjoy life and write too. It's difficult, yes. But is it worth it?

I don't know. In terms of my filmmaking career, if "making it" is the Olympics, I'm still stretching in 6th grade Gym class. But when I watch my favorite movies - "The Hunt", "Prisoners", "Fish Tank" - I'm filled with such an intoxicating, opportune something - I just can't give it up. But I need this fervor when I'm broke and alone, when I meet the man I want to marry, when my 53rd script is shitty and I don't know how to fix it, when I just.can't.get.this.scene.right...I need this passion, this focus, and I need to maintain it now.

I guess, all I'm saying really, is thank you. Thank you for this post, thank you for this blog, and thank you dedicating so much time in being the buoy in the ocean for all the artists who are swimming this choppy, dangerous waters called life and creativity.

Have an amazing 2014.

- Alexandria"

Care to share?

Wednesday 1 January 2014

2014 - Don't Rush

Filmmaking is one long apprenticeship.

We all rush to sound like experts. It's like when you're at a short film screening and some 19 year old tells you how she was inspired by Godard and Tarantino, and how she wanted the camera angles to signify a metaphor about contemporary culture's relationship to technology. But then you see the film and it's terrible.

Not terrible in a 'not for me' sense but in that it's a pile of shit not meant for humans to see.

But we've all been there. In fact we still are there. Just look at most Hollywood movies.

The point is, we're still learning. We think we know it all but there's so much to it.

You need technical expertise.
You need to know what an audience wants.
You need to know how to inspire them.
You need to know marketing.
You need to know how to fix problems.

You need so many things.

Most people quit within a year of starting.
Those that carry on are more dedicated, until they fall in love and make babies.
The few that remain are in it for the long haul.

If you're in it for the long haul I'm writing this for you.

You need self awareness. You need to know that your talent needs nurturing. Artistic maturity doesn't happen right away. Most actors and directors don't do anything until their forties. And those that do it younger began when they were three.

And sure you can be a smartass and name someone who struck gold at age 22 the first time they tried acting, but I bet that person isn't your favourite actor or even close.


This blog was pretty popular for a while, it was clever on my part because I sounded like an expert. Then I stopped blogging because I realised: my work didn't live up to my words. (side note: I also stopped blogging because I was tired of giving opinions. Opinions are so boring, and are now much better due to being mostly condensed to 140 characters).

You can know lots about films but being able to nail it on a project is a completely different thing. And can you connect with an audience? And if you can, can you do it again and again?

My message this year is: don't rush. Don't think you need to "make it" this year. You're just an apprentice, learning the ropes. And this isn't just for newbies, it's for those who have established their careers. We're all learning how to do it better. 

Your life, or your wife, or your impatience; they may think this must be the year to be a runaway success but that's not what being an artist is.

A lot of things in your life need to click in order for everything to come together.

Don't tweet about how unfair the industry is. Read a book instead.

Don't moan about how no-one will buy your scripts. Write a better one.

When you learn about your art (reading, helping out, practising), you get SO MUCH more wisdom. Expertise is when you can stop being flummoxed by stupid things. When you don't stress about a camera breaking because you've had cameras break before and know exactly how to deal with it. It's when your acting is ruined because you're depressed about a break-up and the fact your kid is sick, but you can still put in a performance even though the director's being an egotistical asshole, too. 

You can't do these things without experience. Without the knowledge.

Don't rush ahead. Just stay patient, disciplined, and keep learning. Very few people are actually doing this.

Tweet less, practice more.
Moan less, listen more.
Spend less, buy the right books.

We've been sold this idea of instant success. People think being a writer or director or actor is like being on X Factor, they think it's about being picked. How many times has someone asked you, "has Spielberg called you yet?" This is how people think it works. That you have a bit of talent and then Spielberg picks you.

But it's really about picking yourself, and knowing how valuable you are. You get to the top of any industry by paying attention to detail. By constantly learning.

Go read Chris Hadfield's book about being an astronaut, or Alex Ferguson's book about being Manchester United manager, all the clues of success are right there.

You think Michael Schumacher won a couple of races and then was invited to race for the Scuderia? No. He worked his way up from go karts through formula 3 and onto F1. And the driving was only part of it, he also knew the history of the sport inside out, he knew about the drivers and he knew about the cars. 

You're no different. The friend you drink with down the pub may have convinced you that what you do is silly, but actually your acting or make-up artistry or directing is the big dream of your life.

Don't waste it by missing the book or failing to try out an idea or by not writing the script or taking the meeting.

Don't rush ahead. Read every page. That's how you'll get there quickest. 

Care to share?

Sunday 29 December 2013

11am Friday Morning, Los Angeles

I didn't even tell Matt that I was coming to LA. I got in touch with Tina, his wife, and told her to keep it a surprise.

Tina and Matt headed to Hollywood and Highland for 11am on the Friday morning, meeting point: Johnny Rockets diner.

I crept up behind them and, over-egging my English accent, said, "excuse me, could you tell me where Buckingham Palace is, I'm looking for the Queen."

Matt's what-the-fuck look quickly turned into an oh-my-god-it's-really-you look. We hugged it out -- and then I hugged Tina, the both of us happy and a bit surprised that we'd manager to pull off a cross-ocean-surprise. 

We jumped into their car and Tina sat in the back, insisting "you two need to sit in the front and catch up". But catching up was never our style, instead we just burned on forward. We created new in-jokes, new observations about life and new experiences right there in the heart of Hollywood.

The years had passed but somehow our friendship hadn't. And this time Tina was really a part of it too -- we were three people digging each other's company and all the crazy stories that went with it.

Weird what you remember and what you forget when the years pass without seeing a friend. We'd kept in touch but never in a sane way. We'd written each other constant letters over the years but they were all in character. I wrote to him saying I was the MI5 looking to recruit him for service, and also wrote him many letters in character as Alfred .M Peffle, a shy dyslexic who was afraid of letter writing, and I sent him music compilations that consisted of one Tom Petty song on repeat, backwards. He emailed me every few months with a diary of updates, but they were mostly fictional, and written in the style of a deranged, psychopathic eater of small to medium sized bagels. 

We chatted about gluten, not really quite knowing what it was, so we went to a gluten-free store and asked them, but they didn't know about gluten, only about things they were free of gluten. Then we went to Rocket Fizz in Burbank and stocked up on sugary goodness. The time whizzed by and Friday soon disappeared into a distant day, the greatest of days, the day when I got to see Matt and Tina again.

Cut to a few days later and we were screaming across town, laughing hysterically at our comedy sketch ideas, knowing we'd never make them because they were more powerful when only for us. We ate in vegan restaurants, and they were GOOD, who'd have figured!? We went for a coffee but guess what, a film crew had taken up the best seats. We were grumpy about it, about the inconsiderate nature of film crews -- knowing that it's more our style, if needing a shot in a coffee house, to sneak in with a camera and sound gear and get it in five minutes while no-ones looking.

It was while showing Matt and Tina my recent work on my battered old laptop that I realised just how in-sync we were, creatively. I'd literally watch and read ANYTHING they produce, they're humans who inspire, excite and challenge me, and THAT is what art is. We have have this great bond as friends, and it's based on WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE FEEL and even more so, WHAT ART WE MAKE. 

We chatted about the distances that we felt had grown between us and the Hollywood system, with all of us now content and happy to work on our own projects in our own time to our own audiences, regardless of how big or small they are.

Another night we met up for pizza. I waited around for about thirty minutes by the North Hollywood Subway Station. I don't think I was waiting because they were late, I think I was just crazy early. I listened to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's cover of 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' on repeat about eight times because it totally and completely captured the energy of the night.

They arrived and we went for pizza. We decided to sit outside, but then a band started playing and wow-- they were bad. Luckily it started raining so we had the excuse to disappear. We returned inside and chatted more about life.

It was that night or some other night when we went back to their place to listen to OLD RECORDS. Everyone knows that vinyl sounds better, they just down realise that it makes life A MILLION TIMES SWEETER, too. We drank tea and chatted about Billy Wilder and Stephen King and Neil Young and reptiles and then we played a game that I didn't know the name of so we called it 'Fat Erica' and laughed ourselves deep into the Hollywood night.

LA has a way of being chilled and casual yet at the same time, a million things happen all at once. A thousand things happened in LA and only a few of them were in the company of Matt and Tina, it's just that they happened to be the most memorable.

Care to share?

Saturday 28 December 2013

The Word 'No' Makes You An Artist

No, I will not dumb this down.

No, I will not wear that.

No, I don't believe in sharing that message.

That's powerful. Are you all about taking the pay check, or do you stand for something?

In the long term, the artist's dream is to tell the stories they want to tell with the resources and expertise they need to do it properly.

While you're building towards that level, your decisions and actions, every day, shape the artist you're becoming.

Don't let success, or lack thereof, dictate whether you'll do something in this industry. Who you are and what you decide speaks volumes, and defines who you are as an artist.

Care to share?