Ashley Jensen on Agatha Raisin, leaving Hollywood, and an Extras reunion with Ricky Gervais

"I've played a lot of best friends so it's nice to be at the helm," The Extras and Ugly Betty star explains as she returns to our screens in Sky1's Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

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Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death sounds a little…silly. Is it a comedy?

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It’s a detective drama but the antithesis to the very gritty, Danish-style dramas that we have had lately. It’s tongue-in-cheek.

What’s it about?

It’s based on the books by MC Beaton. It’s about a high-powered PR lady who moves to the Cotswolds in search of a new life and bakes a quiche for the village fete to ingratiate herself…only for someone to die from eating it. To clear her name she decides to find the actual killer.

What did you want to try your hand at sleuthing?

I’ve played a lot of best friends so it’s nice to be at the helm for the first time. When you’re a woman of a certain age, it’s tricky find roles that aren’t just about “I’m in my 40s and I need a man”, “I don’t have a child”. This isn’t about that. It’s about somebody not fitting in, and then the murder mystery. 

Who did you model Agatha on?

Me in a bad mood. When my husband looks at a script, he says: “is this Ashley in a good mood or a bad mood?” There are bits of Ashley in a good mood, too.

So not Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous?

There is an element! I love Joanna Lumley. I brought to the role my ability to walk in four-inch stilettos on grass and cobbles and gravel and sand…with lots of plasters.

Was there any other stunt-work?

There was a room of fire. I read the script and thought, “that’s alright, they’ll get a stunt woman in for that: a woman with a wee blonde wig.” But the day comes and there’s the stunt coordinator, the fireman, the special FX blokes lighting the sofa saying, “Ashley, you just lie there, six inches from the flame…” Evidently I survived!

Like Agatha, you swapped the bright lights of Hollywood for the sticks. Why?

I wanted to simplify my life. I didn’t want stylists and publicists and someone who blows leaves around the garden for me; I felt awfully comfortable with that kind of life. I played at Hollywood and I really enjoyed it, but there came a point where I just wanted to hide up a hill and pretend Twitter doesn’t exist.

How does Hollywood celebrate Christmas?

A bit mental. People would dress as Dickensian carol singers and there was a shopping mall that pumped out fake snow while the loudspeakers on the plastic palm trees sang Frank Sinatra. I didn’t eat meat for many years so I was introduced to the toferky: turkeys made of tofu. You could even stuff it.

Does it worry you that as the voice of Embarrassing Bodies, you’ll always be associated with unsightly skin conditions and diseased genitalia?

I remember saying to my agent: it’s not taking the piss, is it? I didn’t want to do it if it was like “ha ha ha” at these unfortunate people. I am aware that it divides people: why would you go on television and get your cock and arsehole out? Because they get it fixed!

Britons are known for being repressed but in America they are so uptight, they won’t show a woman with breast cancer without fuzzing it out.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of Extras. Would you team up with Ricky Gervais again?

Of course. Absolutely. Definitely, definitely. I love him. Whenever we see each other, we just laugh. It’s funny, whenever I see him I regress and become Maggie Jacobs a wee bit. Sometimes I say things to my husband and he says: “I’ve got to text Ricky that. That was Maggie.”

More Extras or would it be strange after all this time?

No, I would totally do it again. I loved playing that part and I loved that whole time. I suppose it was the job that people first knew me for. You know people say there are elements of yourself in every character? I’m afraid there are elements of Maggie in me. 

Yes, I would totally do it again.

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Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is on Sky1 on Boxing Day at 8.30pm