Ozark Actress Jessica Frances Dukes is in love…with theatre!
The sparkle in Jessica’s eyes when talking about theatre is off the chart, and by off the chart, I mean, I could literally see the glitter and rainbows – which is super powerful since this is an email interview!
Even though theatre is the same show night after night, apparently it’s not. Jessica digs into this futher down, telling us why. Boy, I sure got it wrong!
But before we get to that, let’s read about Jessica Frances Dukes’ current character, Maya Miller on Netflix’s Ozark, Season 3. Any Ozark fans out there?!
You play series regular FBI Special Agent Maya Miller on the 3rd season of the just released Netflix’s Ozark. Tell us about your audition.
Yes!! I received a call from my agents that casting director Alexa Fogul wanted to see me for a recurring role on Ozark. I had about four days to prepare which was rare and so amazing. It was awesome to have that much study time with the text. It was a two scene audition, and about six pages all together. I auditioned just with Alexa and no one else and a month later I got the call. One and done and I was shocked and overjoyed!
Your character Maya Miller is pregnant. What was it like doing wardrobe fittings?
I received an email from Ellen the key costumer for the show about a month before we started filming, asking for my sizes. Luckily I had just finished a show and asked The Signature Theatre to send over what they had on file for me. I got to my first fitting after arriving in Georgia and they placed the beginnings of the belly bump on me. They measured it, fit it, and then someone whisked it away to work on it. They figured out what my bra would be to give me a little more pregnancy umph and then we tried on shoes. Within probably five minutes.. maybe 10.. the belly came back and they fit it on me perfectly. We then commenced to what was about an hour of the cutest maternity business attire for the whole season. I learned in this fitting that I wasn’t dealing with a character that cared about being flashy. Her wardrobe was efficient, practical, yet fashionable. The fitting actually really helped me to understand who everyone else felt Maya was and I loved it!
Ozark is shot in Atlanta, GA. How is it working outside of your home state? Does production allow you to come home every so often or do you have to stay on location throughout the entire filming?
Every job that I’ve traveled for is different. Ozark was a six month gig so there was a relocation fee and I could do whatever I wanted with that. A lot of people commuted back and forth, but for me I wanted to just stay put so I didn’t have to jump on a plane fast due to a scheduling change. In the world of shooting TV I learned that it’s highly likely due to weather, time, location etc. There was plenty of work to do in my house preparing for this season so a realtor helped me find a wonderful apartment before I got there. By the end of the season I loved Georgia so much I didn’t want to leave.
Jason Bateman and Jessica Frances Dukes getting photo bombed behind the scenes of Ozark.
What have you learned on set from working with / watching Jason Bateman and Laura Linney?
They are a just walking Masterclasses. I mean if you look in the dictionary and look up pro… there ya go! I truly felt like I walked out of that experience a different actor and on top of that they are the most generous people on set and I’m so thankful for how comfortable they made me. That set was one of the best places to work. I learned so much while being there working with them, watching them, and then all over again once the show aired. My favorite advice I got from Laura Linney was to not be afraid to mess up, “We mess up all the time”. Jason Bateman told me always study yourself. “Watch the playback. That’s how you learn what translates and what doesn’t”. Those were just two gems out of the hundreds I received.
Some actors want to stick to acting. You like to learn how things also work behind the scenes. Why do you find most interesting about the back-end process? Do you think in the future you want to work as a Director, Producer or crew?
Definitely. I want to eventually create my own work. I have so many dream projects, some already on paper, full scripts or just the idea. I hope to eventually share my vision with the world. I’ve been a fan of this show for sooo long! I’ve been a fan of these actors, directors, writers, for longer! It’s like, if you’ve ever gotten your car fixed and the mechanic says “Oh well, something’s up with the engine and we can’t figure it out. We’ve gotta pull it all apart and test the parts and then we will put it back together and see what’s up.” That’s how I felt. I wanted to pull this new world I was entering apart and watch and learn how every part worked Directing, DP, Camera, Scripy. I feel it will also make me a stronger player. I made sure though not to be in the way as I wanted to be respectful of my cast members performances and privacy so I’d always ask first. But that set and everyone on it was an open book and I am just so thankful for the bit of time I got to watch.
What’s the most frustrating thing about being an actor?
Dealing with yourself I think. The mind is a tricky place and if you live in there and don’t take care of it properly it can eat you alive. The amount of rejection an actor goes through in the day is unbelievable. You can’t let it get to you. In fact, let it fuel you.
With the current pandemic and show business being shut down, what are you doing to stay on top of your game?
For me the internet is full of so much information. I’m constantly looking to see what I can learn. And in return how can I enrich and inspire. Social media, YouTube, Google, Netflix, etc, is a rabbit hole of knowledge. I love listening to folks talk about the craft. I love to watch how certain things are shot. I listen to podcast and radio interviews. This time, for me, is an opportunity to come out a better person and product in this industry. Outside of that I workout. I rest. I meditate. I pray. I listen to music, I cook, I keep in touch with friends and family! And by the time I do all that. It’s the end of the day.
Jessica Frances Dukes and Jenni Barber in By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.
You’ve also done tons of theatre in which you won many prestigious awards, most recently the Audelco Awards for Best Lead Actress in the play By The Way, Meet Vera Stark at New York’s Signature Theatre. Do you get bored in theatre because it’s the same show over and over every night? Is there a different vibe you feel when working in theatre than on the screen?
OMG I NEVER GET BORED with theatre. It’s the love of my life. And it’s never the same show every night lol. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a show where that was the case. Maybe I’ve been lucky. The audience is always different, they react differently, they can be drastically different shows due to the audience. Even your cast will shock you, surprise you in a moment and vice versa. The work doesn’t stop, for me, at opening. Every night is a quest to get this moment right, get that joke down, pull more truth out of that emotional break etc. I just love it. I love what we do! The screen is definitely a different vibe but it is just as exciting and fulfilling in a completely different way. I don’t think one is harder than the other. They are different machines. It’s like playing football and then switching to basketball. You might still be on defense but it’s a whole different game with different plays, skills, equipment, etc.
How did you get your Actors Equity Card?
I became EMC on my first show in an Equity theatre and gained my points, but funny enough the minute I got all my points, I did a show at a big theatre that ended up turning me Equity anyway.
Do you have a workout / diet / beauty routine?
I have a trainer, I work out five days a week, sometimes four. I try to eat very healthy but still what I want sometimes too. I’m human, and love alllll the things, but that’s also why I workout so hard! It builds stamina for those extremely physical shows and has me ready for whatever. I also have a beauty regiment, with all my facial products in the morning and at night so I can keep my skin healthy for the camera. I have a teeth regiment to keep my teeth healthy and camera ready. I drink tons of water and tea. I want to be a walking image of health and strength for women and men to be inspired by. My biggest thing I try to stay away from is sugar. Except for fruit.
Please give us some family history because your name is really cool!
Aww! THANK YOU so much! My fathers’ father was Jesse Dukes, My mother’s mother was Frances Yancey, so that is definitely my whole name that my parents gave me. I used to hate when people called me Frances but after my grandmother passed I chose to have her right there with me! I was born in Washington DC, I was raised in Riverdale, MD about 10 minutes outside of NE DC and then after school moved back to NE DC until moving to NYC. So up until five years ago, with the exception of college, I lived within 10 minutes of my childhood home passing the same landmarks I passed as a little girl. I love the DMV.
Share a story from your childhood of something that you regret. Has this helped you with characters later in life?
I hate to say it because it’s not very juicy but I regret nothing. All the good and the bad has made me who I am. Everything that has happened in my life has shaped me to be the woman you see. I have been surrounded with so many different types of people from all walks of life, and I got to just absorb them all. I think that’s why I play so many different types of characters, because I have so many different types of friends and experiences.
Jessica Frances Dukes in By The Way, Meet Vera Stark.
What advice do you have for people who want to join the entertainment industry?
Do the research. Make a 10 year plan. Write it out. Give yourself a blueprint of what it looks like to get what you want. I wrote an article about the business and it says… “I always tell artists who feel stuck to write it out: ‘The Big Dream!’ I have treated my career like I do my character work: I ask, ‘What do you want? What are your obstacles?’ And I’m honest with myself. For most of us, those obstacles are ourselves and our responsibilities outside the craft but I also think you can push past them if you have a very specific set of goals, and a plan with strategy and tactics.
That puts you one step ahead; you’ve started the work towards your dreams. They may not manifest themselves the way you envision, but the work is never wasted. It’s like that saying, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ If we are constantly in pursuit of bettering ourselves, everyday becomes a relentless hunt to connect the dots to the moon.”
Anything else you want to say?
In this time our spirit, patience, physical health, and mental health, is being tested. Trust your body and mind. If you can, find things that bring you joy. Try not to allow things, people, or images into your space that cause pain, anxiety, or fear. Be careful how much news you read, and what news you read. Find your joy in this moment, if you can. If you can’t keep trying. There are also so many mental health services as well that can help you understand yourself and the dips and valleys and mountains of emotions that you will find yourself in. Subscribe to the mental health hashtags that will help you process these emotions. Therapist are at home too and offering virtual services and free services. As far as being stuck in the house… There are going to be moments in your career where you are stuck in the house for a month or more because you aren’t getting paid in between jobs, you can’t work a 9-5 because you have to be open for auditions, unemployment is just enough to pay your rent and food, so all you can do is create a routine that gets you closer to who you want to be and hold yourself accountable daily. I wish you all the best. Stay Safe and Stay Home!
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Jessica Frances Dukes in Dracula – Photo by James Leynse