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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews A to E > Jessica Collins

JESSICA COLLINS

LIFE on the NINE

by JAY S. JACOBS

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 24, 2006.

There is really no such thing as overnight success in acting, but you have to admit that Jessica Collins is certainly in the fast lane.

Just over a year ago she was a student at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan. She played roles in classic plays like Macbeth and Three Sisters and attended and an acting program at Oxford.

Her television career caught on last season when she was hired to play a bitter ghost and her troubled sister on the hit series Ghost Whisperer.  Collins followed this up with her first off-Broadway play, Manic Flight Reaction and another significant TV guest shot on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Now, Collins has become part of the ensemble in one of the most acclaimed series of the 2006 season, The Nine.  It is the story of a group of people who endure an extended hostage situation during a botched bank robbery.  The show focuses on how the survivorsí lives are changed by the ordeal as they come to cling to each other for support. 

Collins plays Lizzie, a newly pregnant social worker who becomes estranged from her doctor boyfriend Jeremy (Scott Wolf) during the crisis.  Other victims include an off-duty cop (Tim Daly), an assistant DA (Kim Raver), a suicidal office drone (John Billingsley), the bank manager (Chi McBride), his daughter (Dana Davis) and two sisters who work at the bank as tellers (Camille Guaty and Lourdes Benedicto.) 

Collins was nice enough to take the time to sit down and chat with us during a break in filming to discuss her meteoric rise and the show.

How did you first get involved in acting? 

I found myself getting involved in high school.  I went to just a public high school and there was a drama club and, you know.  I think the first show I ever did was non-musical version of Les Miserables.  As silly as it was, I was hooked.  I couldnít get out of our theater department, if somebody tried to drag me.  So, thatís how I startedÖ 

A little more than a year ago you were doing classic stage drama at Juilliard and in LondonYou were doing all these classic stage plays like Macbeth, Three Sisters and Faust.  You also did an off-Broadway show with Manic Flight Reaction.  What is it about being onstage?  How is that different than working on television? 

Itís different because itís a live medium.  You are your editor.  Thereís no censorship, really.  You can go where you want to at any given time.  Itís not recorded, so it lives in peopleís memories and their hearts.  TV and film does the same thing, but itís liberating that way. 

Right after graduation you got your breakthrough in a flashy part on Ghost Whisperer, playing twins, both a disturbed young girl and her sisterís ghost Ė who was looking out for her, but also bitter and guilty.  How did you get the role and what was it like playing two such diverse characters at the same time?

You know, I was out here with my showcase for Juilliard.  I went on an audition.  It just so happened they really liked me and they called me back in and I booked it.  I mean, I thought I was on top of the world.  It was such a cool thing to do because of the twins aspect.  It was my first thing Iíd ever done on camera, so I didnít even know what hitting your mark meant, or first team or second team or camera reload.  All this was so new to me.  But it was such good training because I was playing two characters.  I got to switch into an evil character and then into the sweet character.  They were all so sweet to me.  Jennifer Love Hewitt was just a blessing.  She took me by the hand and showed me what to do.  Iím just so thankful for that experience. 

Then earlier this year you were part of an extremely disturbing episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent as a thrill-seeking girl whose brother was murdered by her boyfriendHow did that role come about? 

I was in New York doing Manic Flight Reaction off-Broadway.  I thought Iím not leaving New York before Iíve done a Law & Order.  This is ridiculous.  (laughs)  So, I called my manager and I said, you know, I really think I should do a Law & Order.  She said, ďWell, you canít just do one, you have to audition.Ē  So I said, well, send me in.  I went in and they liked me.  And I did it. 

I did notice that on Ghost Whisperer you were credited as Ava Collins, on Law & Order: CI as Jessie Collins and now on The Nine as Jessica.  Is Jessica your real name and why have you been changing it? 

Itís been a mess.  (laughs)  A beautiful mess.  Through some issues.  There is another Jessica Collins, who I hear is a wonderful actress.  I was told by the Screen Actors Guild that we couldnít share the same name.  I went through a series of [names] figuring it out, until finally the Screen Actors Guild said, ďWell, you can use your name.  You just have to sign a waiver.Ē  So, by the time I got to The Nine, it all finally was worked out.  (laughs again)  Yeah, we went through some billing discrepancies, which all worked out in the end. 

Now just a year into professional TV acting, you have a major role in one of the most respected and critically acclaimed shows of the new seasonÖ 

I know!  How lucky am I? 

It's a very important role on the show.  Literally you are the first person we see on the show.  When you were at Juilliard and Oxford could you ever have imagined things going so fast? 

No, I didnít.  I know that I have such a passion for the craft of acting and Iíve always wanted to pursue it.  That was my plan.  Whether or not I would have taken the theater route or the film route or the television Ė I had no idea.  Iím so lucky that itís working out without me having to figure out.  (laughs) 

After your previous TV roles, Lizzie seems rather grounded and normal Ė though of course she has also experienced an amazing trauma. How much of a balancing act is it to play a basically good normal person who has been put into such an extreme situation? 

Itís interesting.  I think that juxtaposition is whatís so fascinating.  Itís the best, because you wonder if that character is at their truest during the trauma.  You wonder if the true nature of someone is exposed in those moments of crisis.  How that resonates to you in real life is whatís fascinating about playing this person.  To see the likes and the differences between going through a trauma and living everyday life Ė itís been awesome.  I couldnít ask for a better role. 

Obviously, thankfully, most of us will never know what it is like to be part of a hostage crisis like that.  As an actress, how hard was it to get into the mindset and live that experience? 

Itís challenging in the best possible way.  It requires oneís imagination to be at full throttle.  You do look back at moments in your own life.  We try and draw from them.  Thatís very helpful.  But, Iím so lucky to have such an awesome cast, who really know the value of keeping off-camera really light and funny.  You know, we joke around a lot and we keep the atmosphere on set very pleasant and positive.  That way, when we do go into the acting of the trauma itís balanced and itís doable and easy to deal with.

Itís a fascinating cast, because it is a mix of well-known actors who have previously anchored series like Tim Daly, Chi McBride and Scott Wolf, veteran character actors like John Billingsley and Lourdes Benedicto and new talent like yourself and Lucas Dalton.  Does it feel natural dealing with all of them?  I know you just said they keep it light, but do you feel like youíre keeping up with everything and everyone is just really doing their part? 

You do.  You know, theyíre just wonderful people.  It really does feel like an ensemble.  Thereís not one person thatís more weighted than the other.  You do get the sense that weíre all on equal footing.  Thatís kudos to these fine actors who are in our show.  Weíre part of an ensemble.  Weíre part of The Nine.  You really do feel that at work.  Itís incredible. 

The storyline of The Nine flashes back and forth between what happened in the bank and how the people are dealing with everything that happened.  Since little bits of what happened on that day are being revealed throughout the shows, how much did you know about things beforehand, or do you learn as you get the scripts?  For example, have you known from the beginning what happened between Lizzie and Jeremy in the bank that put a wedge in between them? 

Iíve known a little bit.  Iíve known a moment.  Whether or not what has happened between them is a series of moments or is this one moment that Iím informed about is to be discovered.  But we do know what we need to know to act the scenes that weíre given.  So, weíre not left in the dark entirely. 

Itís weird, because after going through such an ordeal as the bank robbery you would think that most people would want to just forget the horror.  But why do you think people who have shared a life or death situation have a tendency to cling together like they do on the show? 

I think because itís healing.  Itís interesting, because on our show, not everybody behaves that way.  There are those characters that want nothing to do with the group.  That want to focus on work and heal that way.  My character, especially, is a social worker and she knows thereís a lot to be gained from coming together.  Sheís really the catalyst for get everyone together, usually.  Sheís the one usually leading the pack to say, ďHey, letís all gather at the diner and have dinner.Ē  Thereís just something to be said for getting together and talking, really. 

Lizzie is a very complex character because, like you said, she is a social worker, she is very compassionate.  But, in the last episode that aired, the scene when Nick is telling her that Jeremy may have tried to kill the bank robber you get the feeling that she not only approved but may have been having second thoughts about the problems they were having Ė without you even saying a word.  Was that hard to pull off? 

No, because I think thatís quite natural.  When you go through something [like that] itís a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings.  One moment, you might feel on top of the world, the next moment you might feel at the bottom.  Itís so realistic to show someone going through a series of emotions and feelings.  Itís not difficult Ė I like that and I appreciate it Ė that and the writing of our show. 

The show also interestingly shows the huge place luck and fate plays in all of our lives Ė if not for the fact that there was a huge line at the ATM and Lizzie was anxious to break the big news of her pregnancy to Jeremy, they would have never been in the bank when the robbery happened. 

Thatís right. 

Do you think much of life is just ruled by coincidence? 

You know, I do.  I have to have faith that things happen for a reason.  Iím a firm believer in that.  I think that, to an extentÖ  Iím also a big questioner.  I usually just throw the question out there (laughs) and keep thinking about it. 

ABC must have high hopes putting The Nine on after Lost.  

They do, and you know what?  Itís just so nice to be supported.  Gosh, itís just been wonderful Ė through and through. 

Iíve only seen the first three episodes, so obviously youíre ahead of me as far as the storyline goesÖ  Without giving up any real secrets, what can we expect for the rest of the season? 

You wonít be disappointed.  (laughs)  Just keep tuning in.  You wonít be disappointed. 

Do you have any ideas for the show that youíd love to see them do Ė either about Lizzieís character or more generally for the show? 

I like the surprise.  I really do.  I like getting every script and sort of having my jaw drop.  Oh, really, I do this?   I wouldnít suggest a thing. 

Have you hit the point in your career where people start to recognize you on the streets? 

You know whatís funny, I was recognized inside of my bank. 

Okay, thatís ironicÖ 

I really was.  (laughs)  The teller was like, ďOh, youíre on the bank show.Ē  Other than that, not too much.  You know, I donít really pay too much attention to that anyway.  When Iím on the go, Iím usually pretty focused.

I read a quote from the producers of the show saying that all of the answers will be revealed about the robbery by the end of the season.  Which is great as a viewer, because so many shows leave things hanging, but do you worry how that will play into the possibility of a second season? 

I donít.  I know my hope is that the people seeing us become very interested in the lives of these characters and that crisis, and the mystery of the crisis takes a back seat to the character drama.  I think that hopefully that will happen.  I donít see a problem with that.  I believe in the character relationship drama of it. 

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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 24, 2006.

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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 24, 2006.