The new MTV series Awkward. is an irreverent look at the conflict, chaos and humor that defines teenage life, as seen through the eyes of 15-year-old Jenna Hamilton, played by Ashley Rickards (One Tree Hill). Like many things in high school, a simple accident becomes an epic misunderstanding that is blown way out of proportion, leaving Jenna to deal with a new not-so-fun stigma, while at the same time managing the other daily drama that comes with being a teenager. From a secret relationship with a popular guy, to being undermined by a mean girl, and parents who just don’t get it, Jenna’s misfortune will eventually serve as the catalyst for amazing change, but not without the missteps, mishaps and humor within the struggles and experiences that everyone can relate to from their formative years.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Ashley Rickards talked about how much fun she’s had developing her role on the series, how viewers of Season 1 can expect some crazy drama but also some real heart, keeping things authentic and real for teenagers, how close she’s become with all of her co-stars, the crazy pranking that’s been done on set, and how exciting it is to have the support of MTV behind the new show. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ASHLEY RICKARDS: Yeah, I got the script through my representatives and they helped me pursue it. I met with Lauren Iungerich and it all went really well and all worked out. I got to do the project, it got picked up and here we are.
When you got to read the script, were you able to identify with Jenna from personal life experience, or was it more about just being able to understand where she was coming from?
RICKARDS: As an actor, I think it’s always important to separate yourself from your characters because, when you include yourself in a character, you’re taking a liberty that you don’t really have unless you’re life is that incredibly close to the character. So, I just try to build all of Jenna’s experiences and make sure that she’s unique and separate from me.
How did you see Jenna Hamilton? What kind of a girl is she to you?
RICKARDS: Jenna is smart, sarcastic, a little bit witty and very intuitive. Like every girl – or every person, in every age group, really – she’s trying to figure out who she is and trying to see where she fits in. This whole journey on the show isn’t about being popular. She doesn’t want to be popular. She just wants to figure out where she belongs. One of the main themes of this show is that you can’t control the things that happen to you, but you can control the way you feel about them. Part of our responsibility on this show is to empower people and just let people know that they can control things, in a certain sense.
RICKARDS: Oh, it’s been a blast! Lauren is great. I have such a fun time working with her. She’s a great personal friend, as well as a wonderful creative person to work with.
What can viewers expect from the first season of the show?
RICKARDS: They can expect a little bit of a love triangle. They can expect some glow sticks. They can expect coffee down a bra. I won’t say who or when, but there is some of that. There’s some good stuff. There are some unexpected make-outs, a lot of fun, and also some drama and real heart. That’s in the pilot, but we also take it a step further.
With the accident that Jenna has being such a big part of the pilot, in establishing who she is and how people see her, did a lot of time go into deciding what that accident would be and what the body cast would look like?
RICKARDS: When Lauren was writing it, she was sitting with her now fiancé – she’s newly engaged – and he was like, “What if the cast was like this?,” and he did the arm movement, and it was genius. He was totally right. So, Lauren just rolled with it and the joke just came out of that. In terms of the actual specifics of the accident, that’s all Lauren’s creation.
RICKARDS: Not at all! They plastered me into it. It was like a real cast. I didn’t really drink a lot because I didn’t want to have to go to the bathroom too much. On the shoulder that that arm cast was on, at summer camp, when I was nine or 10, I had jumped off of a bunk bed and shattered and dislocated my shoulder. That was on the same arm as the cast was on, which I didn’t really put together until I was really starting to feel a little uncomfortable in my shoulder area, and then I was like, “Oh, this cast is on that arm. That’s what that is about.” So, it was a little uncomfortable, but it was not bad at all. We had some really amazing people working in our prop department who were pros at getting me in and out of that thing, very quick.
Is it important for you to make sure the dialogue is authentic to teenagers?
RICKARDS: I’m still a teenager myself, but that’s the thing about Lauren’s writing. It’s very authentic. Before they started writing for the show, once it got picked up, they actually went to real high schools to see how teenagers were talking these days. For me, I graduated high school at 15, so I’m separated from that vocabulary and current vibe. It was cool to be refreshed with some of that. And, we have a slang-tionary online that’s very fun. I think it came naturally because, when the writing is good, it’s not going to feel too uncomfortable. And, it’s also my job to figure out why the character would be saying something and making sure she comes across as comfortable.
How challenging is it to tell this story in half-hour episodes, that are really only about 20 minutes with commercials? Do you think it’s found a good balance with being able to tell the story and further the characters, in such a limited amount of time?
RICKARDS: It’s very challenging. We have arcs, and we have ups and downs, in every episode. In Episode 12, we shot a lot of extra footage that I’m sure will be in the extended features. There’s always stuff that we have to cut down when we have too much footage or too much is written. You just have to compact it all into however long you have, so that can be challenging, but at the same time, it’s really, really fun.
RICKARDS: The rest of the cast has been great to work with. Beau [Mirchoff] and Brett [Davern] are so much fun. They’re so close, in real life. They’re literally talking about buying houses next to each other, with no fence in between, so that they can always hang out together. They’re unbelievably close. Bromance is an understatement. And then, the rest of the girls are all awesome. Molly [Tarlov] is incredibly sweet and funny, Jessica [Lu] is hilarious and works out almost every day, Jillian [Rose Reed] is just as witty and perky and fun as her character, Desi [Lydic] is a blast, and Nikki [Deloach] is just so sweet. I could say wonderful things about everyone in the cast. I love them!
How important was it for you that, even though this girl has the worst luck, that she’s not a total outcast and still has these great friends who are there for her?
RICKARDS: Yeah, I think that’s a truthful part of it. She does have friends. She’s not a complete outcast, she’s just the every girl. She’s not popular, but not unpopular. She’s in between. Her two friends are very unique and very different, and that adds a lot of contrast to her and it makes her more interesting. It adds a lot of dynamics to the show, which are a lot of fun to watch.
RICKARDS: Well, we do investigate physical intimacy versus emotional intimacy. We explore the dynamics of a female friendship and what can happen when jealousy enters the equation. There’s a lot. We go all across the board this season.
Has it been fun to explore the dynamic between Jenna and Sadie (Molly Tarlov)? Will viewers get to see the reason behind Sadie is the way she is?
RICKARDS: Absolutely! We definitely delve into why Sadie is so mean. I think that that’s something that viewers can learn from with my character. She doesn’t judge people, right off the bat. She’s actually one of the few people who isn’t mean back to Sadie. We investigate further why Sadie is the way she is and why she treats Jenna that way, and it ends up giving Jenna and her crew a whole different perspective on her. I hope that the rest of the audience will feel a little bit less included to dislike Sadie.
Do you guys get to do much improvisation on the show, or do you pretty much stick with the script?
RICKARDS: It’s a little bit of both. We definitely do some improv. It’s 50/50. We can improv, if we want to, but it just depends on what we can and can’t air.
What’s been the most fun thing about being a part of this show, and what have been the biggest challenges for you?
RICKARDS: The hardest part of the show has probably been all the pranking on set. Beau and Brett would lock Jillian in her trailer without her knowing. The whole season, she actually thought that she had a faulty trailer, so she would call them and be like, “Hey, can you help me out of my trailer?” And then, I got a bucket of ice water dumped onto my head during filming. There were quite a few pranks.
How does it feel to know that MTV believes in this show enough to pair it with Teen Mom, which is one of their highest-rated series?
RICKARDS: Oh, it means the world to all of us. It’s such an exciting opportunity. I just think I work for one of the best networks because they’re so creative and they really listen to the show creators. I talk to the people at the network at least once a week. They’re just great people. They’re very approachable and relatable, and it just means the world to us that they believe in it so much.
Are you looking to balance your work on this series with film work?
RICKARDS: Yeah. I did a movie right after we shot the pilot, called Fly Away, where I played a severely autistic girl. That’s obviously quite the departure from Jenna. I’m doing another movie right now, called Struck By Lightening, where I play this goth rebel girl with nose piercings, who’s extremely different from Jenna. I’m always looking to do different roles and play around a little bit. That’s always the fun part of my job.