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INTERVIEW: JANE BY DESIGN's Andie MacDowell

With corporate intrigue, double lives, and forbidden romances, ABC Family's new serial drama JANE BY DESIGN sounds soapy-licious. It's a light-hearted drama about Jane, a teenager who lands a job at Donovan Decker, a hip fashion house, when they mistake her for an adult. Jane soon finds herself juggling life both as a regular high school student and as an assistant to a high powered executive in the cutthroat world of fashion... all while trying to keep her true identity a secret.

JANE BY DESIGN stars Erica Dasher (The Lake) as Jane Quimby; Nick Roux (LEMONADE MOUTH) as Billy Nutter, Rowly Dennis (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) as Jeremy Jones, India De Beaufort (ONE TREE HILL) as India Jourdain, Meagan Tandy (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) as Lulu Pope, Matthew Atkinson (CSI) as Nick Fadden. And featuring Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) who stars as Gray Chandler Murray - Jane's steely boss whose constant demands keep her on her toes.

We recently participated in a Q & A with Ms. MacDowell. Here's an unedited transcript of the interview.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Would you say that you became a part of this project in part because of the message it has for young women?
Andie MacDowell: I would like to think that that’s why I did it. I have to be honest, when I saw what the message was I was already attached, but I was like, “Yes, this is good. I’m really glad that that’s what they’re saying,” because I have daughters.

Actually, I have a daughter that is modeling and going to high school, which is so funny because it’s a lot like Jane. She’s a kid and I want her to be a kid and I want her to treasure her years in high school. So I’m having to reiterate that to her all the time. And then here paralleled, at the same time, I’m working on a show that is exactly that same story, which I find fascinating that that happened. That life is like that.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ABC Family often times has young people teach important life lessons to more experienced adults. I am curious, how do you see that theme come into play on JANE BY DESIGN?
Andie MacDowell: Wow, that’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about that. I mean that is something I think about all the time because I’m learning stuff from my kids constantly. I think maybe within different things that happen in the show, we can always see great lessons. Is that what you’re asking? I’m trying to answer your question. What does Jane do that could teach us lessons? Is that what you’re saying basically?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Yes.
Andie MacDowell: Well, I think she can probably make us laugh at our human foibles, the things that we do that are really silly and make us look at ourselves too. The things that we expect of kids and we expect of ourselves sometimes are not always the healthiest, and to be able to treasure the good things. I think a lot of times we make too many sacrifices for work and we don’t pay attention enough to the things that we should be paying attention to. That’s probably why Gray doesn’t have anybody in her life. So there’s an answer.

In your own career, what have you learned after working with people like your character Gray Chandler?
Andie MacDowell: The thing of it is that I think if Gray were a man people probably wouldn’t judge her so harshly. They were used to having men being this powerful and this strong. You might think he was a jerk too though. That’s true.

But I have learned from working with a lot of women that have to fight for their position. I think a lot of times she’s justified in her behavior, and then a lot of times she crosses over a little bit.

I’ve met some pretty wild people in my life. I started in the fashion business, and I’ve been working in an industry where you meet all kinds of people. So I have a lot of resources I would say from my historical time in life.

Based on what you’ve seen as an actress, at a high level, what do you think it takes to be a good executive assistant?
Andie MacDowell: Well I think what you expect, a lot of times, is for them to be able to think for themselves, to read your mind almost, to know you well enough to make the decisions that you would make. You expect a lot. I mean really obviously you can’t expect anybody to read your mind, but that’s sort of almost what people start to want. After a certain amount of time, you want someone that knows how you think and knows what you want; you don’t have to tell them.

What was it about this particular role that made you decide to come to television?
Andie MacDowell: Well honestly I think television is just a great place to be. I think there used to be this sort of idea that film was the most prestigious thing to do. I believe that that has shifted a lot, and there’s great work to be found on TV.

I just feel really fortunate that I’ve found a place that I feel like I have something to offer. That’s important to me, to feel like I may have something unique to offer to a character that hopefully would have some kind of longevity and you could bring something to the table.

The writing is really good. That’s fun. You can’t do good work without great writing. You can’t make a bad script a good script. It’s impossible. So the writing is just fantastic, and I think the idea is a really good idea. It’s a very appealing idea.

When you began working with the cast, did you find there was chemistry right away or did you guys have to spend some time gelling with each other?
Andie MacDowell: For me, it felt like I was walking into a place where each one of these kids, they know how lucky they are. You know the environment’s harder now. The world’s a difficult place right now, and finding work—when you find a job and you find a job that’s good, you’re ready to work. And that’s really the feeling I got from all of these kids. There’s nothing—they’re just very ambitious, hard working, focused, and really gifted and talented. So that’s the kind of energy I felt when I walked in.

And they were already just sort of just in the groove I would say. Here I am the seasoned actor. I’m supposed to know everything, and it was a little bit intimidating, I have to say, because they were all so good. But on the other hand, when you work with people that are really good, it makes you good. So I feel like I’m in great company.

Did you look into anything or anyone in particular for inspiration for the character of Gray?
Andie MacDowell: I started off in the fashion business, and I worked with a lot of really great fashion editors. She’s not a fashion editor, but she is within that sort of same realm of industry. I worked with some really incredible, very powerful, very strong fashion editors. There was one in particular that sort of discovered me in way, whose name was Polly Mellen. So Polly was part of my inspiration, and then I worked a lot with Grace who is very quiet. She wouldn’t be acting like Gray, but I’m hoping there are elements, because there is something very female and lovely about her.

So I would hope that I could have some of those elements at some time, because I think anytime a character is just one—you can’t be just hard. You have to be soft and tender too somewhere because that’s only real and I don’t think anybody is all hard. And then a bunch of other people that I know that are just really strong women.

How do you feel about comparisons made between a show like JANE BY DESIGN and The Devil Wears Prada, for example?
Andie MacDowell: I just think that’s an easy comparison. So if you want to tell somebody what it’s like—because I’ve even used it, to tell you the truth. If you want to explain it to somebody in a nutshell kind of what the show is, you can say, “It’s not really this, but it’s kind of like that.” And that’s the truth. It’s not really that. It’s only kind of like it.

So it’s not exactly that story by any means. There’s much more to it because she has the whole high school life going on, and that is really an important part of the story. That’s one of the most powerful things of the story is being able to see the difference between these two worlds, and that wasn’t at all in The Devil Wears Prada.

So you can compare it to it because it is about an assistant and a boss and it is the fashion world. So those are really the main similarities.

Who or what inspired your personal fashion style?
Andie MacDowell: My personal fashion style—I think it’s my nature probably more than anything. I just go with things that I like my personal self. The things that make me feel warm and comfortable. I’m really into boots. I like jeans. I don’t know, I’m kind of a country girl, but yet I can also enjoy dressing up because I think I was exposed to certain things in the fashion world.

I come from a small town and I grew up very simply so I think there’s a piece of me that will always be that. But I’ve been exposed to high fashion so there’s also going to be that piece as well.

What is a typical day like on the set of JANE BY DESIGN?
Andie MacDowell: Fast. It’s very fast. We work really hard. The writers and the producers don’t have a life. They were there all the time. The kids are just great. They’re gifted and talented and smart and funny and they gave me such amazing energy. Watching Erica work was really—I can’t tell you how good she is. The kid’s great. And they all know how lucky they are. You can just see it. Rowly was really wonderful and even helpful to me. They were just sweet.

We’d hang out in tiny little trailers. Eat—they have nice food but we don’t have very long to eat. We’re changing hair really fast. We’re getting dressed really fast and we’re running back into the set. Working late at night sometimes, which is really hard when you’re my age. Having to remember your lines at midnight. But it was all fun. It was a lot of fun.

What does Gray see in Jane? What is the special thing that not only makes her hire Jane but to connect and keep her around?
Andie MacDowell: I think she sees that she’s got great style, and maybe she sees a little bit of herself when she was younger, the capacity to think quick, and then something in her that is trustworthy.

How have the fashion elements enhanced the show either for you personally or for the quality of the show overall?
Andie MacDowell: I think the set’s beautiful, and I think the clothes are beautiful. It’s fun to go to work everyday and put on amazing Alexander McQueen and Gucci and Vivienne Westwood. It’s a lot of fun. … was sort of deja vu of how I started out. I played so many mommy characters that didn’t wear anything nice, and it’s a lot of fun to play this particular character because I enjoy getting dressed up every day and going to work.

And Erica looks amazing, really fun. I think that the kids are really going to—the young people are going to love just seeing how she’s dressed. And India too, they look great.

Areyou planning on doing any more films with your daughter?
Andie MacDowell: I hope so, but we’ll just have to wait and see. At this moment, we don’t have any plans. I hope her career takes off on her own. That’s what I really hope.

Did you film a lot or do you have any projects coming up when it’s done filming?
Andie MacDowell: I’m getting ready to work on something. I’m not going to talk about it yet, but I’m getting ready to work on something. We’re looking for other good things, but it’s hard. I don’t want to do just anything so I’m being patient.

It’s always been a pleasure to see anything that you’ve been in.
Andie MacDowell: Thank you. It’s not always easy when you get older. You have to be patient, I think. There’s loads of work. There’s a lot more work because it’s a very youth oriented business and so I can’t take it too personal.

Jane has to think quickly on her feet to keep up this charade of a dual life. I was wondering if you could tell us about a scene maybe in the first couple of episodes where maybe that happens or something funny where she was trying to cover up her tracks?
Andie MacDowell: The first couple of episodes—I’m trying to rack my brain. You’re asking a 53-year-old to remember something. Well I know she was like running between the show and having to get in between school and the show.

When she had the date, that one was really cute. Where she was trying to go the prom and trying to work at the same time and trying to change her clothes in between the two and really trying to exist as a teenager and have this treasured moment but she had to work.

I think that was a pretty compelling setup for a teenager. To see her having to deal with both of those, the sacrifice that she was making to work. And that’s interesting, you know, to think of a child having to make those kinds of sacrifices.

What is it that you admire most about your character on the show?
Andie MacDowell: For me, it’s finding the opportunity to find humor within the ridiculous attitude that she has towards her work. It’s just classic. There are so many people out there like that that are highly demanding. They’re all about the work. There’s just nothing else in their life. They expect everybody else to be that, and it’s just accepted that that’s the way the world runs. I guess that would be it for me, and finding the humor in that.

Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a Harvard alum who is currently working as a staff contributor at welovesoaps.com writing theater and web series reviews as well as other in-depth features. Read all his Web Series reviews here. To contact Kevin, email kevin@welovesoaps.com.

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