Ashley Jensen says she’s nothing like Agatha Raisin

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Scottish actress Ashley Jensen confesses she’s always been a competitive perfectionist. 

“I used to say I’m not very ambitious, but I spoke to an actor a few years ago and we were talking about when we were growing up, and he said, ‘Actually, you’re the epitome of ambitious because when you were a Girl Guide (like the Girl Scouts), you said, "I’m going to have an arm full of badges!"'

“And indeed, I did,” she says. “And I ran for my region for the Scottish Girl championship. And I think I was quite single-minded and quite a strong little character.”

That ambition stood her in good stead when she decided to turn her youthful passion for performing into a lifelong commitment.

“Since I was a child, it’s been undisputable that I would be an actress when I grew up,” she says. “For me, at the age of 10, it was, ‘Yes, this is happening. I’m going to be an actress!’ I don’t know where it came from because I did not come from a theatrical family. I don’t come from parents and grandparents who did theater. But I just always knew that was what I wanted to do, and I think I was quite single-minded about doing it. And here I am.”

Here she is starring as the plucky PR flack who finds herself heading a detective agency in the bucolic countryside in Season 3 of the popular “Agatha Raisin” series. Three movie-length installments are streaming now on Acorn TV.

Jensen insists she’s not anything like her TV counterpart.

“I think Agatha doesn’t take no for an answer and, quite frankly, doesn’t care what people think of her. She’s quite happy to bully her way into a situation. But I’m more, ‘Is everybody all right?’ ‘Are we OK here?’ I think I’m quite maternal, a bit more of a mother hen than Agatha ever would be. I think I’m much more of a people pleaser,” says Jensen.

Most Americans remember her from her stint as the high fashion seamstress on “Ugly Betty,” or as the slightly dim trouper in “Extras” with Ricky Gervais.

She was married for 10 years to actor Terence Beesley, who died three years ago. Now the mother of a 10-year-old son, Jensen says having a child changed her.

“I used to enjoy flying, but I’m a little bit stressed about flying now that I’m somebody’s mum,” she says. “I’m much more world-aware now. You’re a bit more selfish when you haven’t got a little person to worry about, and it’s more all about you.”

In spite of her determination, Jensen failed her first attempt at entering the National Youth Theatre, but managed on her second try. She remembers the early days, sharing a flat with her best friend from drama school.

“She was behind the scenes in television, she’s now a production manager in movies and does very well,” says Jensen, 50.

“One of the best things about sharing a flat with her was our wardrobe: ‘Have you got a jacket that would go with this shirt?’ ‘Yes, go and look.’ ‘Where’s that hat?’ We had an extended wardrobe. We always had a pot of tea on the go. I remember being so (poor) that we couldn’t afford orange juice. Orange juice was decadence,” she says.

Jensen borrowed a slow cooker from her mother.

“We would stick some sausages and potatoes in the slow cooker and when we came back we would have this sausage casserole, and we ate a lot of noodles and tuna, pasta, in a cold, cold flat in Edinburgh,” she says. “There was no heat. Frost on the inside of the windows. We used heat up our beds with a hairdryer. Then she got an electric blanket for Christmas and I was so jealous … Those were the days,” she sighs.

Jensen’s very first role was as a juvenile in “The Crucible.” Although she wasn’t a kid, she looked very young and came cheaper than hiring a child with the required chaperone. In her initial role on TV she played a girl in a betting shop. Her costar was a beautiful Persian cat who earned more than she did. “My feet were firmly on the ground and I crawled my way up,” she laughs.

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