Ashley Rickards as Jenna Hamilton
Cursed with an ungainly broken arm, mistaken for a potential suicide case, the victim of a vicious anonymous letter – what else could possibly go wrong for 15-year-old high school pariah Jenna Hamilton? The central character on MTV’s new teen comedy series Awkward is certainly easy to feel sorry for, but as impressively portrayed by actress Ashley Rickards she is nevertheless brought to hilariously relatable and poignant life on screen.
I caught up with the actress at the TCA Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles recently to talk about the critically acclaimed new show, which features a cast of young characters navigating their way through the trials and tribulations of high school. Rickards exuded warmth, grace, intelligence and a blessedly opinionated nature as she discussed the series’ bawdy sensibility, the possibility of introducing future gay storylines, and (best of all) the potential horrors of a certain Tea Party-backed Republican presidential candidate.
“I mean, Michelle Bachmann… I’m terrified of her,” said Rickards when I asked her about the same-sex marriage debate. “Like, I don’t know, the Mayans might have seen her coming. That might be what 2012′s about. You know, it’s just preposterous. Marriage is about two people who are in love. I mean, in human history there have always been these relationships. It’s not some new thing. It’s not gonna lead to some apocalypse. It’s people who love each other. And you have no right to dictate your own beliefs that affect other people’s [lives]. That’s their decision, you know? If you don’t like it, don’t do it!”
It was a terrific moment of candor from the young actress, a pretty and petite charmer primed to break out given her well-received lead performance in the series, which has been scoring impressive ratings since its debut. Its success can partially be attributed to the honesty in the writing, particularly when it comes to the exploration of Jenna’s two personas – one a witty and wise-beyond-her-years teen blogger, the other a meek and blundering high school outcast.
“She can be the shy, introverted girl, whereas on her blog she’s snarky, she’s introspective, she’s a little bit wiser, she’ll write the truth… and then probably not act on it,” said Rickards, who told me she herself used to maintain a blog entitled “You Have Your Right Answer” in her spare time. “Which is very realistic, because nobody is their real self all the time. There’s usually like a few safe places where you can be [yourself], and her blog is definitely one of those safe places.”
The candid tone of the show is also apparent in the specificity of its teen dialogue, something series creator Lauren Iungerich researched by spending time with actual high school students. Much of the language she learned from them has subsequently been both featured on the show and passed down to her young cast, though Rickards admitted that even she, at 19-years-old, found herself woefully ignorant of some of the terminology.
“[Lauren] learned things like the ‘awkward turtle’,” she said. “I did not know what that was for a really long time. Apparently you’re supposed to – when somebody says something awkward – one person will do this [makes the shape of a turtle with her hands and flutters her thumbs out to the sides] and then everyone does it, and that somehow makes it less awkward. I think it’s completely ironic, but…”
Obviously passionate about the subject of gay rights, Rickards also voiced her hope of delving into gay issues down the road with the series, which it sounds like we may not have to wait too much longer for.
“We do,” said Rickards when I asked her if the show plans to feature any gay characters this season. “In our later episodes, we have this really fantastic character, Clark, who’s amazing and he’s such a nice guy. And then one of our characters, I won’t say who, ends up maybe taking somebody of the same sex to a dance… so it’s gonna be interesting. I don’t want to give anything too specific away! But…[it will happen] this season.”
In other words, you can bet we’ll be keeping a close eye on the show going forward.
Awkward airs Tuesdays at 11 PM on MTV