Black Dress – Alireza
Gold Top – Georgine // Orange and Gold Pant – Karolyn Pho
Dress – Georgine
Blouse and Pant – Abigail Stewart
Dress – Georgine
Blouse and Pant – Abigail Stewart
Gold Top – Georgine
Dress – Georgine
INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY ANDREA RAYMER
Jennifer Ferrin’s career is not an accident. The actress grew up knowing exactly what she wanted to do. Jennifer caught the acting bug in middle school and stayed on a focused path that led her to getting her big break days after graduating drama school on As the World Turns and now having major roles on AMC’s Hell on Wheels as well as Cinemax’s The Knick.
Jennifer spoke with Imagista about the steady path that has been her career and where she would like to see it go.
Imagista: How did you get into acting in the first place? What made you decide to become an actress?
Jennifer Ferrin: I grew up singing, music was my first love: piano, I played cello for a little while. That’s kind of where I got into the arts I guess. When I was in middle school we did a funny little play that our class wrote, it was a Christmas play that made no sense, I played Vanna White. I’m sure it was entertaining to us, I don’t know if it made sense to anyone else. But people laughed and I kind of got the acting bug. I realized I could make people happy and getting that kind of response was really intoxicating.
Then when I went to high school, I immediately got into the theater program. At my high school you were either in theater or you were in football or a cheerleader, and I was definitely not a cheerleader
Imagista: You grew up where? In Georgia?
JF: Yeah, in Georgia. The high school I went to had both an amazing football team and an amazing theater and arts department; I was very fortunate in that respect. I just started doing musicals right away – my first musical was Guys and Dolls – it was kind of like a dream world that I get to do this and I just loved it.
Imagista: Did you end up going to Hollywood right after high school? Did you graduate and go straight into acting?
JF: No, I went to a liberal arts college first. I always knew I wanted to go to college. I went to College of Charleston. I went up there to check it out and it is one of the most beautiful campuses, it’s old, it’s got cobblestone streets around campus, there is Spanish moss just dripping from these beautiful old live oaks, it’s very magical. I am very visually stimulated, my surroundings are very important to me. I just loved that vibe. And then I met the theater department and they were awesome. One of my teachers, a woman named Joy Vandervort-Cobb is just a rock star, I actually saw her recently. They were very supportive and very encouraging and I decided it was the place for me for a while.
I went there for two years and realized I wanted more intense training – at a liberal arts college you kind of have everybody doing it, I had accounting majors in my acting class – I just knew that I needed more of a structure and I transferred to North Carolina School of the Arts which is a conservatory program.
Imagista: So you moved up to North Carolina? How’d that go?
JF: North Carolina was awesome, it was what I was looking for at the time: structured and intense, it was full emersion. There was a slight bit of that old method of break you down to build you up which I don’t think is as popular as it used to be, but there is something to be said about it depending on who you are and I wanted a little bit of that at the time. I had some incredible teachers – the teachers there were all working as well, they were all working actors and artists. So we got a lot of exposure to different things, it was a very small class, there were only twenty or so of us.
So it was kind of a surreal experience I don’t think I will have another experience like being in drama school. You are very in your own bubble, especially when you are not in a place like New York. I always wonder what it would be like to go to Juilliard, but I think that for me, I would have been so distracted by New York and all that it has to offer. I don’t know that I would have been as focused.
As soon as I got out I was ready to work. When you graduate you do a league showcase for the casting directors and agents and they judge you. If they like you and want to meet with you you get these little pieces of paper with little check marks and everybody really feels their worth or lack of in that moment that really means nothing. I actually got a meeting with someone that ended up submitting me for a job and I got it right out of college in New York.
Imagista: What was that job?
JF: It was a three-year contract on a soap opera called As the World Turns…
Imagista: Yes I know it well… Wasn’t that one of the longest running soap operas?
JF: It ran for over fifty years if my numbers are correct.
Imagista: How many seasons were you on that?
JF: I did three years; they give you a three-year contract. It takes that long to really develop a character and it was awesome, I really learned how to work in television because I didn’t have that experience – I grew up in theater. So it was like getting sort of a crash course on television.
Imagista: Do you ever get stopped on the street for being recognized as your character?
JF: Not anymore. One time I was at my brother’s wedding in south Georgia and we were at the dollar store to pick up supplies for the rehearsal dinner, like crepe paper or something. It was the weekend my character died on the show so it was a really big storyline on the show and the checkout girl was like “do you know who you look like?” and I just said,
“What if I told you I am?” and she kind of lost her mind.
She immediately had to call all of her friends to the store. Meanwhile, my mom is like “where are you” and I was held hostage at the store.
It was very sweet; I have never had anything creepy or invasive. I have been fortunate to have lovely fans.
Imagista: Who would you say has been your greatest source of inspiration towards your acting career? Or is there someone in your life that you feel has really influenced you in your career? It can be someone you know personally or someone you haven’t ever met…
JF: I think there are a lot of different factors that have influenced me – having this incredible platform when I was younger… I love old movies, I love Audrey Hepburn, I love Katherine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall. And then really like Meryl Streep from the very beginning, I just loved watching her work. Once I just sort of connected that I could do something like that it got even more inspiring to watch. Then you just sort of dissect everything they do, and of course Meryl Streep is such a chameleon, she has something that no one else could possibly have, but it still constantly inspires me. I think Kate Winslet as well; I just love all of the roles she chooses. They are all feminine but strong and really intelligent women that are able to be vulnerable and strong and wounded and playful all at once.
Imagista: Your two big roles right now are Hell of Wheels and The Knick; they are both period pieces in sort of a similar time period. Is there any serendipity around the fact that you have these two period roles coming out around the same time? Or was it sheer coincidence?
JF: There are a couple of factors. With Hell on Wheels I had been wanting to work in New York for a while and just be home. I then met my now husband and he is extremely supportive and encourages me to get outside of my box and my comfort zone. He told me “We don’t have kids yet, and I love you and I can come and visit you wherever you are working. What if you opened yourself up to working outside of New York?” So, I thought about it and opened myself up to the idea and the show runner for Hell on Wheels contacted me and was writing a new role and asked me to put myself on tape for it. That day I put myself on tape and went back into the subway in 23rd street where there are all these mosaic hats on the wall with a famous person’s name. My character is loosely based on one of the first female investigative journalist, Nellie Bly and I saw her name and there was something serendipitous about that.
For The Knick, I had been watching Downton Abbey and it made me want to do another period piece, one in New York. At the time Julian Fellowes was writing a show called The Gilded Age which was put on hold for a while, but every one was buzzing about it and it was supposed to be about New York City during that time period and I really wanted to be a part of it. Your wishes get answered in all kinds of ways and then The Knick came around and there was my period piece in New York.
Imagista: That’s crazy, its like you have psychic powers…
JF: I do believe in the power of writing down things that you want and putting things out there…
Imagista: What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t acting?
JF: That’s a hard one for me…
Imagista: Yeah, your acting career doesn’t seem so accidental. It came into place so nicely and you have been incredibly focused on your career for so long. Have you ever thought of what you might do if you weren’t acting?
JF: My brain goes there from time to time, there are certainly things about the actor’s life that are not as exciting, there’s a lot of waiting around. So in those moments I will sometimes ask myself, “Do I really enjoy this? What else would I do?”
I do want to be a mom someday, I do want to have kids, it scares the heck out of me but I think its also amazing. I am also really into health and wellness, there could be something there, I love to travel, but as far as a profession I really don’t know, so I am very happy that this all worked out the way it did and I don’t have to worry about it.
Imagista: Is directing or writing something of interest to you?
JF: Directing not so much, I am so enamored with all the directors I have worked with, especially Steven Soderbergh on The Knick. I really admire the skill level, the patience, the vision, you have everything in your head at once, but I don’t think I would be suited well as a director.
What does interest me is bringing people together on a project and producing in some realm and potentially getting a piece of work that I am passionate about made. I talk about it a lot with some of my female actor friends; we all know some really talented actors and we talk about the kind of material we want to see for women. Fortunately, I feel that right now there is a lot more of it than there has been, especially on television. I was just bingeing on Orange is the New Black, because there are some incredible stories for women right now. I would love to be part of keeping that momentum going in our industry; I think it is really important.