At the age of 26, actress Jessy Schram has made a huge splash since going out to Los Angeles less than 10 years ago. She’s starred opposite Chris Pine and Denzel Washington in Unstoppable, and appears in three separate television series on two networks, filmed on two continents. Talk about unstoppable. On ABC’s hit series Once Upon a Time, Jessy plays Cinderella; on TNT’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama Falling Skies, she plays Karen Nadler. This season she is a pivotal player in the role of Christine Kendal, wife of XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) in the new ABC drama series Last Resort. Last week, I spoke with the busy actress about all three series, and about her career.
So you’re currently filming Last Resort in Hawaii, but Falling Skies and Once Upon a Time, which you haven’t been in yet this season, are shot in Vancouver. Boy, what a big contrast.
Yes. It’s a very big contrast. You know you have the layover flight and the time change going up, let alone the weather change, and just completely different subject matter.
You have an impressive resume for the relatively short time you’ve been in Hollywood. I saw you. The first time I recall seeing you was in an episode of House, M.D. (“Needle in a Haystack”), and then in Unstoppable in which you played Chris Pine’s wife, as I recall.
Yes. I tend to pop up in places when you least expect it. I’m the one where you’re thinking “I know I’ve seen her. I would have no idea where.” You’re up late night when you’re flipping through all the infomercials and watching a good rerun of something, and [there I am]. House was a great show. That was one of the first things I worked on; I was a super fan of everyone [in the show] before I went on. And of course the entire medical team, except for House, was in the [scene]. And I was slightly going stir crazy because I was such a super fan at the time.
How did you get started in acting? How did you end up doing what you’re doing and doing it so well at such a young age?
I have to credit my mom in a lot of that. I had asked her if I could be on “real” TV, and she was responsible for getting me an agent. And through that it was really a team effort in the sense that I always wanted to do it. But when you’re only like 12 years old, you can’t drive yourself into the city (Jessy is from suburban Chicago) and go out to search for things. So my mom really was my partner in crime when it came to that in the sense of helping me get the things that I needed and positioning me.
I started quite young, around like 11 or 12, and was doing a few things downtown in Chicago. And then I started doing national commercials. I was constantly doing commercials, which is where actually I got my training. You know, how to hit your mark and redo it—my energy. So I learned pretty much through commercials, and then right after high school I moved to Los Angeles by myself. And I have just been continuously working and finding—and walking through—all different types of doors since then. I’ve been blessed to really. You learn to experience and learn from some of this and that, and the people that I’ve worked for.
You mentioned you’ve learned from those you’ve worked with…who are some of those you’ve learned the most from?
Every project has been so different in the way that you learn and what you learn from people. I remember one of the first series that I had done a recurring role, I worked on Veronica Mars with Jason Dohring. I was very green, and it was my first TV show that I was on for more than one episode. I remember that he had a certain technique, and kind of picking up things through that.
And you come across other actors where you just like the way that they are professionally on set, and the way that they lift up the crew or they carry the show. And other actors you just really admire and respect how they get into a scene. Like I had once done Life with Damian Lewis, and I was always just completely impressed. I was just observing and watching because his way of going about things was different from what I was used to. So everyone has a different quality that they bring, whether personally or professionally, that you just kind of almost absorb. And I think that I have been able to learn from some great things. and things also that I never want to do.
So I know that you had in Once Upon a Time last season, you had some scenes with Robert Carlyle who…
Ah, yes. That was magic. That’s someone also as well that you learn from, because he really is a humble and strong presence. And he just brings magic. He’s magical when you work with him. He’s very responsive in a scene and he’s very strong. And at the same time, you can flow together. So working with Robert was really—I call him magic. I remember him laughing at me when I said that. But it was definitely an experience. And I feel like working with someone like Robert really, really raises where you are in a scene or as an actor, and it really just raises the bar. And you can go other places, and you’re just a lot stronger when you’re working with someone that already has that presence and those credits.
You’re obviously extremely busy. You’re filming Last Resort now, and I want to talk to you in detail about Last Resort, which I really love. I ‘d seen the first three episodes on a screener before the first episode aired, and thought “how cool, that a show like this is on network TV…”
I feel like ABC really took a chance in taking it. It’s not [the kind of series] that most networks do.
They did, yeah.
All I can say is that the scripts just keep getting better and more solid. And it really is finding a direction.
In a way, it’s really a novel unfolding. You really don’t know where it’s going, but it clearly has a direction—an arc.
Right, very much so.
You really have to watch. You really have to pay attention. And it’s very dark and intense, serious adult drama. I’d love to see it thrive.
I love that you say that it’s like a novel. That is an amazing way of describing it. And it’s intense too, because it brings up subject matters that [that other network shows] don’t usually touch. And when they do on TV, usually it very skimming the surface. But we have a lot of really intense controversial things that pop up. Whether it be in the personal lives of people or in the military or Washington or home, or whatever. You have so many subjects to query, but in that same way it’s like a novel in the sense of that it’s always unfolding and it goes a little bit deeper each time.
Tell me how you get cast on Last Resort.
I was actually coming back from doing the finale of Falling Skies, and it was somewhat at the end of pilot season. They were in their last process of auditions, and it was my first time of going in [to read]. I’d had three scripts to choose from, and I chose Last Resort to go in on and give it a chance. And then they called me over the weekend, or actually that Monday. And it was like “all right, can you get on a plane in three hours. We’re going to need you to film.” So it was very, very quick.
It was something that I had read on the plane after doing all the night shoots [for Falling Skies], and living in the alien world. And this script really, it was the most relatable. And out of all the ones that I was reading, I thought “there is nothing like this on television right now.” Like you had said, it’s not a procedural, yet there’s mystery. It has so many different elements to it.
The role of Christine is such a beautiful heart. And I think that I also like the role of Christine in the sense that it represents a lot of Middle America. We focus so much on the people that are overseas, that sometimes we forget to look at the people that are waiting for them, or the home life that’s left behind. So I almost like representing the aspects that we don’t always shed light on.
You’re absolutely right. And that’s one of the reasons I think Christine is a really interesting character, because she can easily become either a pawn or a hero.
Yes, very much so.
And back at home—that’s where a lot of the drama happens. Because the guys who are actually in the moment of the crisis are in the crisis, but it’s…so much harder in a way for the loved ones back home.
Right. And also it’s interesting too, because I liked going into it thinking okay well this is representing this certain part of America and looking at the home life. Like you had said, [the show’s plot] is almost the futuristic reality of right now—what it could be. Christine, my character, has been put in that situation of wanting her husband to come home, but at the same time she’s almost like her husband in the sense that she will fight for what she believes in. My character is constantly being knocked around, and everything is taken away from her.
She’s constantly discovering new things about what she thought was true, whether in the economy or in her home life. She has no way of knowing what the truth—only what she believes. So she really needs to figure that out. And characters come in from the Washington world that you think are friends but that aren’t, and others that you don’t think are friends but really are. So it’s really an interesting situation, because everything is part of this heightened situation. And I thought like “okay, yeah, I’ll be representing the home life.” But now the home life is turned upside down, and it’s very intense.
So, now there’s this old friend of Christine’s husband Sam, who seems to be protector. And so he’s supposedly a friend, but he’s clearly not.
Oh, I think that the audience can tell right away. I’d gotten some phone calls [after episode where we first meet him]. “Don’t trust Paul Wells (Jay Hernandez)!” [I was told]. And I think that the audience can tell that it’s a trick, that’s it’s something where he has other motives and that Christine can’t see them. And through the process, this really is the only person that she can trust right now, the only person that’s on her side. That being said, I think she learns the lesson of be careful who you surround yourself with.
She also learns the lesson of you’ve got to play the game. So in the [the October 18th] episode, you kind of see some time has passed, just a little bit maybe, like five days or so or four, and everything has been taken away from her, her credit cards, everything that has been in Sam’s name because of the military. So everything is taken away and she really doesn’t have anyone. And people are turning against her who she thought were like family or friends, because now she’s a traitor because of her husband. So she’s been thrown into the situation that she really never signed up for, and that she thinks is unreal. So Paul Wells does come in as this friendly voice and this way out. But we’ll see what happens. Christine kind of snaps and takes the choice of, well I’m going to do something about this, as opposed to just let it keep happening.
You haven’t so far (at least not that we’ve seen), but are you going to have any scenes with the brilliant Andre Braugher?
You know, that is what I’m hoping for. I believe our characters [eventually] meet up. But I’m hoping to get to the island, not just so I could kiss my husband [exiled on the island with the rest of the crew], but so that I can work with Andre Braugher.
He’s an amazing actor; talk about intensity.
Oh my gosh. He’s just—he gives me chills every time I watch him.
I want to switch gears a little bit and ask you what draws you to playing a particular role? You’ve had some great roles, and you’re currently working on three primetime series. I’m out of breath thinking how you can do three roles at one time.
You know what? You know that really was actually four, because when I was doing Once Upon a Time and Falling Skies at the same time, I was also doing a Hallmark movie where I’m playing a teacher for special needs kids. Then this role came along. And I think the similarity right now in my life with all these characters is that they all have a strength, and they all have a vulnerability, but they’re all fighters and they’re very independent. So they’re fighters in a very soft way. But they kind of prevail, and they’re all women almost that find their voice, that have always kind of been kept under, but they find their voice through whatever circumstance it is. So it’s really about having the courage and trusting your instincts. And believe me, I guess clearly those are the roles that have been speaking to me. You know, when you read something, I think it either grabs you or it doesn’t. And you either read it and it comes out naturally and you can create it and you feel it, or you really have to work at it. And a lot of time, when you really have to work at it, you know that it’s not for this moment in time. And most people may not think it is either.
So it’s really instinctive for you? Your instincts have been dead-on, because you’ve chosen some really, really good things.
Well you know they’ve more chosen me. There are things I’ve been excited for, and these are definitely three roles I’ve been excited for, and fought for. I’ve worked hard at it, but it’s not something where I feel like it’s completely out of left field. So these roles have kind of chosen me, so I’m very, very blessed in that way.
So where do you like working better, in Hawaii (where Last Resort is shot) or in Vancouver (where Once Upon a Time and Falling Skies are shot)?
Oh, that’s a tough question. Hawaii is beautiful. It’s the place where people come to let go, and you know, there are those waterfalls. But Christine, in Last Resort, is kept in the Kendal household, which is basically just in a four-wall studio the entire time. So filming for me is much different than the rest of the cast. But both places have so much good to offer, and also obstacles as well. I don’t need to choose where I live. They tell me where to go, and I go.
So, now let’s turn to your role on Once Upon a Time. You play Cinderella, who has not been seen yet in season two. With your shooting schedule on Last Resort, are we going to see her this season at all?
As of right now, that is completely up to the storyline and the writers and also the schedule. Because I’m working on Last Resort, which is another ABC show, there’s hope that if the storyline comes along that since it’s the sister show, I just get to skip on over. But as of right now, I’ve been watching season two, because I’m such a fan of the show. And it really is taking a different direction, and I think they are establishing a really strong place. And like last year, they’re bringing in a slew of new characters. So I know that we’ll see Cinderella again; I just can’t tell you when.
Okay. Fair enough. So you’ve told me you’re also a fan of the show. I have to ask you, as a fan, do you have any favorite pairings, characters, storylines…
Well I’m a little biased obviously, and I love Cinderella.
Of course. Well that goes without saying.
Each episode is so completely different, and they’re bringing in such twists and characters, and I love the Mad Hatter. I think that he’s just—his storyline with his daughter is so beautiful, and he’s just such a good actor, it’s awesome. I’m really loving the Mad Hatter aspect of things and Red Riding Hood. But I just love the show. So I can really say that one is better than the other.
But I’m a little biased. I love “The Slippers.” And I grew up kind of always loving “The Slippers,” so it’s something where it just—I’m loving “The Price of Gold” (the episode featuring Cinderella—and those great glass slippers!). Of course, Robert Carlyle is so stunning in it. It’s kind of interesting because in those first maybe like six or seven episodes, I think the show was still really kind of finding its footing. So they kind of rounded up the character stories in a different way than they did throughout the season. So they are a little bit different from the second half. And it’s very interesting to watch each one, but all of them are so good.
So tell me a little bit about Falling Skies and your role in it.
Falling Skies has taken so many changes from when it had first started. You come [into the story] six months after this invasion from aliens; it’s a post-apocalyptic world. And you’ve seen the civilians kind of band together [forming] the Second Massachusetts. In the first season, everyone’s hiding and trying to figure everything out. And I start out as one of the scouts. So I’m riding dirt bikes and doing all that. I’m one of the fighters—one of the civilians who becomes a fighter. And in that process, my character gets taken away [by the aliens] in the first season.
And so basically, the purpose of the Second Massachusetts is to get people back [from the aliens]. After the abduction, I kind of become a vocal cord for the aliens. And because I have such a connection with the Second Massachusetts, it’s a very hard card for them to play. They can’t just capture me. They can’t just kill me. I’m one of their own, and I was one of their fighters and I left as well. So my character is interesting in that I have this personal pull with the Second Massachusetts and everyone there, and I also have this devotion to the aliens that is not of my own making. So really from the first season to the second, my character has a huge transformation in being one of the Second Massachusetts to then being under the aliens’ control, and being about [my loyalty].
During the first season, people are kind of trying to figure things, running around, and fighting, and there’s lots of [unanswered] questions. In the second season, more time has passed and you kind of see the skin that each person has grown because of the circumstances that they’re under. So—because of the losses that they’ve had, and the different battles that they’ve fought, and the different things they’ve learned—everyone transforms in such a really intense kind of way. So it’s neat to see the transition. And now we’re filming season three, which is a whole other standpoint. So throughout the seasons you really see distinct changes.
Jessy will be appearing sometime in November on the Let’s Talk TV radio show to talk more—and talk to the fans.
Last Resort airs Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. on ABC.