I first came to know Jennifer Bassey when I started watching "All My Children" in 2000/2001. I immediately fell in love with "Marion Chandler." It was when I saw her in a 2002 production of "Tartuffe" at the Tribeca Playhouse in NYC, that I finally got to meet this magnificant actress. She was so kind to take a picture with me and after mailing her a copy, she wrote me a very nice note thanking me for coming to the show. Needless to say, I am so honored and excited to be given the opportunity to interview Jennifer about her illustrious career including her time on "All My Children," her theatrical endeavors including "Tartuffe," her new short film "Timeless," and other details of her life and career!
Emmy-nominated actress Jennifer Bassey has enjoyed an eclectic and successful career that has spanned decades. Jennifer has built an impressive resume with credits in television, theatre, and film. She started her life as an entertainer in her native Chicago, where she worked as one of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies at the very first Playboy Club. Two years later, she made the move across the pond and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. There, Jennifer honed her craft alongside classmate Sir Anthony Hopkins, and graduated with honors three years later.
Jennifer is perhaps best-known for her portrayal of the hugely popular "Marian Colby" on the hit soap opera "All My Children," a role which lasted nearly 30 years and garnered her an Emmy nomination and two Soap Opera Digest Awards, including a nod for "Outstanding Female Scene Stealer." In 2011, Bassey’s return to "All My Children" as the series closed its run on ABC earned rave reviews from her devoted fanbase.
Jennifer is no stranger to success on the stage, having starred in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway productions. She made her mark on a wide variety of roles, including "Katherine" in "Taming of the Shrew" and "Lady MacBeth" in "MacBeth" just to name a few. Jennifer’s experience in theatre has also allowed her the opportunity to work alongside such greats as George Abbott, who directed her in "Not Now Darling," and two-time Tony Award winner Rex Harrison, with whom she costarred in "In Praise of Love." She also turned in memorable performances alongside Mickey Rooney in "See How They Run" and the legendary Cary Grant in "Straw Hat."
Jennifer has also taken her talent to primetime, having guest-starred on several popular TV series, including "L.A. Law," "Law and Order," "30 Rock," "Coach," and "Body of Proof." In addition to her undeniable television and stage presence, Jennifer has also made a name for herself on the big screen. She starred in the hit romantic comedy "27 Dresses," opposite Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, and Ed Burns. Jennifer also played "Mrs. Dellacroce" in the family-comedy hit "Dunston Checks In."
Residing in New York and Los Angeles, Jennifer spends her spare time writing, singing, hiking, and watching movies. She is also passionate about the environment and enjoys visiting the elderly in senior homes. She is dedicated to raising awareness about animal abuse, children with HIV/AIDS, and world hunger.
Jennifer's latest projects include the short film "Timeless," where she stars as "Sheila Marden" in a moving film that chronicles "Sheila’s" struggles as she succumbs to brain cancer. This movie short is making the rounds on the film circuit and recently won the "Audience Darling Award" at the Louisville Film Festival and will be featured in the upcoming Catalina and Tall Grass Film Festivals just to name a few. Jennifer is also working on a TV show entitled "Nighfall" and is working to revive her late husband's, Luther Davis, Broadway musical "Grand Hotel."
1. I saw you in a production of "Tartuffe" in 2002.
Jennifer: Oh my gosh, you were actually one of the few people who saw it.
Me: Yes, I did and it was wonderful.
Jennifer: Oh Thank You, Jeff Cohen's a very good director. I did "Isn't It Romantic" in that theatre too. Wendy Wasserstein actually rehearsed with us and she gave all my character notes when I was in the ladies room and I didn't get any of them.
Jennifer: I was so depressed I can't even begin to tell you. Hahaha. It was a good theatre company, Worth Street Theater and we did our shows at the Tribeca Playhouse and after 9/11 we went down to the World Trade Center site and we sang, gave out hot lunches for the workman, we did musical revues and stand-up comedy for the workers just to keep the hard hats eating and a little entertainment away from the horror.
Me: Oh wow. That was very nice to do.
Jennifer: We had some really big people come down to give their time, who didn't even work at the theatre.
Me: What did you enjoy about starring in "Tartuffe"? I took over from someone who was let go. I had just done "Isn't It Romantic." I had a wonderful time in "Tartuffe." It was very stylized and fun to do. It was a lovely cast. I enjoyed it. I love doing theatre, it's one of my favroite things, but it's the hardest because you have no life. You get home late, you eat late, you stay up late, and then you get up very late and you're afraid to talk on the phone because you are afraid of your voice going and you can't see your friends because you're tired. You kind of have no life when you're in the theatre, but I'm in the midst of putting together a new production of one of my late husband's, Luther Davis, musicals on Broadway. In fact, I just spoke to the producers today about it.
2. What do you get from performing in theatre that you don't get from working in television or film? The closet thing you get to the theatre in television is live audience with a sitcom. So the live audience is what you don't get. If you're funny there are no laughs, in a film, if there are, then they have to cut and start over because there are not supposed to be, except from the audience when they see it. So each medium has its own little problems with them. I love sitcom with a live audience, but when you have to redo it, then the audience knows where the laugh lines are and they don't laugh as much, so it's complicated.
3. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I lost my voice when I was about 8 years old ice skating in Chicago and I got my voice that you hear now and I was a Brownie and someone said, "Who let that man into the Brownies?" So, when I was 13, someone told me I should try out for the drama club and I said, "Drama, what's that?" and they said, "Oh that's theatre" and I said, "Theatre, what's that?" and then I got into the high school play as juvenille delinquent and I was kind of addicted. Then I segwayed into being a singing Playboy at the first Playboy club and then I worked in clubs for a while. Then I auditioned and got in, with the lowest entrance marks in the history of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. I got in and graduated with top honors with Anthony Hopkins. So, that is how I sort of segwayed into the business, by losing my voice. I was a high soprano and then went to a mezzo.
4. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I wrote a three page fan letter to Hugh Jackman after I saw him on Broadway in "Back on Broadway." I think he's the greatest living stage star of the last 100 years. I think he's just a genius. Did you see him?
Me: I didn't see this show, but I did see him in "Boy From Oz."
Jennifer: He did a little bit from "Boy From Oz," but he did songs from his whole life, every musical he'd ever been in, and had Aborigines from Australia on stage too. I would kill to work in anything with him. I just think he's a genius. I've worked with some pretty big stars already. I would love to work with Meryl Streep. I like really good people around me in plays. I've done a lot of Broadway theatre, but what happens is if you start getting laughs over the star, they want you fired. They want bad people around them often. I stopped doing comedies. I was a redhead for 20 years and did seven Broadway shows back to back, all comedies, and I said I will never do comedy again because I was tired of fighting. The stars were trying to get me fired because I was funny. So, I dyed my hair blonde and didn't do comedy for ten years. That's what the stars are like. They want all of the laughs and you to be bad. I found that out the hard way and just stopped doing it. I do it now, but stopped for a while, because it was too depressing.
Me: I think that says a lot about you that you took the initiative to stop because you didn't want to compete like that.
Jennifer: I kept my jobs, but I would tell everyone to be bad. People would tell me, "I just got a Broadway show," and I would say, "Really, what kind?" and they would say, "A Comedy," and I would say, "Just be bad the first two weeks." They said, "Why?" I said because they might have to buy you out of your contract for the run of the play and if the star sees that you are too funny, they may have to fire you." They said, "Really?" and I said, "Yeah."
5. When you initially joined "All My Children," what made you want to audition for the show? Before "All My Children," I had already done three soap operas and people would say "Oh my gosh, you do soap operas?" In those days, the 60s/70s, soap operas were frowned upon. Then in the 80s the soaps were really in and I got asked to audition for "All My Children" and my husband said, "Well darling, they're now in fashion, go do it." I did it. I met Jackie Babbin, the Executive Producer of "All My Children" at the time, and she hired me without even auditioning. She said to me, "Well, you're only going to be on three months." Thirty years later, I was still there, having done the last few shows before it went off the air.
6. What was it like having been offerred a contract position on "All My Children"? I was under contract on an off on a lot of soaps, twice on "All My Children." I'm glad they put me under contract. I loved David Canary so much. I think he's a genius. He's an angel to work with. He's a gentleman, he very charming, he very funny, and he's extremely talented.
7. What did you learn about working with David Canary? I didn't really learn much of anything, I had already established myself as a performer. We were on the same par and we trusted each other. He used to call me his Geraldine Page. The ball was always in the air, we never dropped the ball, we were always in sync with one another. We laughed a lot.
8. What's your most cherished memory from "All My Children"? Wow, I have so many. When I was first hired, Jackie Babbin said, "You're going to have to sleep with a 19 year old." I said, "Well if it's okay with him, it's okay with me." The story line with Michael Knight and myself in the 80s, is still from what I've heard, even Carol Burnett said recently, "Of all the years she watched the show, her favorite storyline was when I was sleeping 'Tad' and my daughter was sleeping with 'Tad' and we were all sleeping with 'Tad.'" That was one of the most popular story lines on "All My Children." The writers have told me that over the years as well. So that was really exciting and well written, so it was really fun to play. Marcy Walker, was a brilliant, brilliant actress (she's still alive, but I don't think she works in the business anymore). She was extraordinary. She never made a mistake. Working with her and Michael Knight were just as great as working with David Canary. We all trusted each other. I think my most favorite memories is when I started having the affair with "Stuart," thinking it was "Adam." It was funny and moving. At that time, it was unheard of, for a couple to win "Favorite Couple" at the Soap Opera Digest Awards, who were over 40, and we were way over 40 when we won it. We were "Favorite Couple" and it was really, really great.
9. You recently completed the new short film "Timeless," which has been making it's way around the film festivals, and I recently got to see it. I thought it was wonderful. Thank you. It's really a wonderful film and it's helping to bring awareness to brain cancer. The woman I played in the film was misdiagnosed for 10 years and by the time they found out what it was, she had two weeks to live, and she was hanging on to say goodbye to her daughter. The woman playing my daughter in the film also co-wrote it and produced it. We've kind of become mom and daughter now. I've adopted her. She's a beauty, looks just like Angelina Jolie.
10. How did you get invovled with "Timeless"? My manager, Jasper Cole, got me out for the audition. I read it first. I thought this was something I really, really wanted to do. Then, when we started working together, we all kind of meditated and said some prayers, and during that time, I asked "Sheila," who is the woman I played, what it was like to have brain cancer, because I had no time to research brain cancer or find out what it was like to have brain cancer. Basically, I got the role and we started filming and made the film in three days. We did a lot in three days. I did everything myself...all my stunts. It's an extraordingary film. There is a shot for us to get into the Cannes film festival, which we're waiting to hear back on.
11. How do you feel this role helped you grow as an actress? I don't consider myself a great beauty, but when I go out to audition, I get a lot of people saying, "She's too pretty. No, she's too pretty." When people see this film, no one will ever say that again because I'm certainly not pretty in this film. I was really excited about wearing that false eye and having that eye pushed out of my skull by the brain cancer and putting age make-up on. I had a great, A GREAT time!
12. What other projects do you have coming up that you are able to talk about? We are going to be re-doing my late husand's Broadway musical, "Grand Hotel" that Tommy Tune directed. I've written a series called "Nightfall" which I have out to quite a few people. Here's the log line as to what the show is about: "In a secretive world of vampires, warewolves, and animal-sick witches, a special ops group of supernatural dectives collaborate to track down blood-thirsty criminals of their own kind and restore peace in New York City. Think "Twilight" meets "Criminal Intent." We have a pilot already written. My husband has a Broadway-bound play that's never been done and we have a very big star that is reading for the play at the moment. I'm waiting to hear back about that.
13. I love that you do all mediums: TV, Film, and Theatre.
Jennifer: Well being trained at the Royal Academy, I started out as a stage person. Then my first 10 years, I did back to back Broadway shows. Then I moved out to California and did a lot of movies and sitcoms for about 10 years and then came back to "All My Children" in the 90s when they brought Marcy Walker back and then I did some stuff at the Tribeca Playhouse.
Me: I think it's great that you continue to do theatre. I've seen a few other people I first came to know from seeing them in theatre and then they got a TV show and then they don't come back and do theatre. So, I think it's great that you did theatre throughout your career.
Jennifer: I was supposed to do "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," but since it just closed, that's not going to happen. It's to bad because I was really excited that I was going to be part of this show.
14. What have you learned about yourself from being an actress? I never knew what I was capable of doing until I did it. I had an agent one time who told me I was going to audition for "Lady Macbeth" and I said, "I can't do Lady Macbeth," and she would say, "Yes you can," and I was say, "No, I can't," but then I read for it and played "Lady Macbeth." I think actors limit themselves, but if you have a good agent, they can expand the stuff you go out for. What I love most about being an actress, I did a job in Africa because I wanted to go on a safari and there was a terrible television show, which I don't remember the name of, but I said to my agent, "I want to read for that show." and he said, "Why? It's a terrible show. It's one of the lowest rated shows," and I said, "I know it is, but it's in Johannesburg and I want to do a safari." I got the show, flew to Africa, did a safari. Now, I can't wait to go back to Africa.
My husband's show that we're reviving on Broadway was done in Japan twice, we were in Berlin and France, and now that we're reviving it, hopefully it will be done all over the world again.
15. What's the best advice you've ever received? I'll tell you a funny story about Bette Davis. Someone said, "Miss Davis, what advice do you have for actresses coming to Los Angeles?" Betty said, "Tell them to take Fountain" (which is a specific street in LA). As far as advice that's been given to me, I worked with a famous director George Abbott, who directed the "123 Praise" on Broadway (his first Broadway show, 1913) and he died at 107 redoing "Damn Yankees," which he directed. I learned more from that man in the few months I was in his Broadway show than I learned from anybody. He was a genius at comedy. He could tell you how to get a laugh. He was on panel with some of the most famous directors in the country, Elia Kazan and Joshua Logan, and they said to him, "Mr. Abbott, we understand that you say there is only one way to say the line in a comedy show." George said, "No, no, no, no, I never said that. I said there is only one right way to say the line in a comedy show." He was right. I finally said to him, "George, which was rare, because most people called him Mr. Abbott, but I said to him, George, why didn't I get my laugh?" He said, "Because you took your hand off the doorknob." I said, "Oh, damn! Oh, thank you." He knew everything. He knew exactly why your performance was on or off. All the advice I got from him was the best advice. We stayed friends for many, many, many years. I shall miss him always.
16. Favorite way to spend your day off? You mean when I'm heavily working? I just try to catch up with my life. When you are doing a Broadway show and you're doing 5 or 6 days a week. You have to do your life things. It's not like you can go, wow, it's my day off, I can do this, this, and this. You have a lot of life things you have to do. My favorite kind of day off would be, if I still had my country house in upstate NY, would be to jump in my car and go there. I would like to light the fire and look out at the mountains, with my feet up on the coffee table.
17. Favorite skin care product? I've got so many skin care products. I have a new lipstick that I'm wearing, that I add a little gold to. It's $65 a tube, but the reason it's $65 a tube is because it does not move. It's the only lipstick I've put on that stays there. It doesn't bleed, it doesn't move, it just stays there. It's made by Claire de Peau. There's a product called Awake and you take a little bit on your finger and put it on your eyes wherever you have lines and you touch it. It's liquid collagen and then it dries in the wrinkles and the wrinkles are gone.
19. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? I would like to be someone who helps the planet and tries to abolish poverty and starvation and homelessness. Some wonderful creature who can wave a wand and end hunger and cruelty to man, or comfort a someone who's lost their husband or wife. I just want to be a help to humanity. That's the kind of super figure I'd like to be.