SXSW Interview: Jenna Ushkowitz on Executive Producing ‘Twinsters’, ‘Glee’ and Her Advice to Actors

"Leave it at the door. Don't take it with you afterwards. It just ruins your day and it's really not meant to do that" - Jenna Ushkowitz on Auditions

Jenna Ushkowitz Interview

Jenna Ushkowitz isn’t the type of person to sit back and let her career just happen. In fact, this year has been busier than ever for her. Glee, where she starred as Tina, has just finished it’s six season run, she’s running a foundation called Kindred and Twinsters, the documentary she executive-produced, just premiered at SXSW.

Twinsters is the crazy true story of Anaïs Bordier, a French fashion student who stumbled upon a YouTube video featuring Samantha Futerman, an actress in Los Angeles. While watching it, she noticed that they look remarkably alike. She did some research and found out that they were born on the same day in Busan, Korea and both put up for adoption. Anaïs quickly reached out to Samantha via Facebook and soon, decided that it would make a great documentary. Samantha reached out to Jenna (via the agent they shared) and she couldn’t help not to get involved.

I talked with Jenna before the film premiered at SXSW and she was clearly excited. We chatted about Twinsters and her role as an executive producer, the last days of Glee, how she accomplishes so much in a day, auditions, her advice to actors and what’s coming up next.

You’re very busy. It seems you have a ton of stuff going on.

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yeah. It’s kind of funny, I asked for 2015 the one thing was to be busy. I should be careful what I wish for. Yeah, I did Twinsters here, absolutely is my priority at this point and we’re premiering tomorrow. We just finished sort of the Glee finale and the shooting as well as promoting it. And we also just threw our inaugural benefit for our foundation that was sort of a baby out of Twinsters. So it’s been pretty crazy.

How did you get involved in the film?

Jenna Ushkowitz: So Samantha Futerman, one of the Twinsters, she and I had gone back since we were little auditioning together on the East coast. And she reached out to me through our agent, we have the same agent, and she said, “You may wanna hear this really crazy story. Do you wanna meet?” And I said, “Ok.” So she told me about Anais and finding her through Facebook and I was like, “What?” This sort of really, really crazy story. And so I said, “How can I help? How can I be involved? What do you need from me?” And so she said, “I need a executive producer,” and I said, “Absolutely.” And then she said, “I wanna start this foundation,” I said, “Absolutely.” So it sort of all happened all at once. And it’s been a really fun experience to play producer and do a different hats sort of situation.

What was your role as the producer?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Sam really wanted to keep it within the adopted community family, people related to adoption, people have some sort of personal experience with it.

It was sort of a collaborative experience. Hooking people up and sort of saying, “I know this person, maybe they can help with sound,” and just being a presence there for her. And social media as well and getting the word out. So it was kind of this weird collaboration. There was no one true role, but she just said, “I’m gonna surround with all these great people who have experience in some way or another and then help me make this movie.”

How did you like doing that?

Jenna Ushkowitz: I loved it.

Can you see yourself producing something again?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s a different part of the brain, I think, you use. It’s not acting. It’s really fun. I just really, really enjoyed it. It’s like the business side of me, like the CEO side of me, that would’ve been. So I get to use that as well.

And so through that you started a foundation, right?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yes.

Or was that first?

Jenna Ushkowitz: No, they sort of came at the same time but then the concept of the foundation came later. It was the Kindred Foundation for Adoption and essentially Sam said because of the Kickstarter and their crowdfunding that they did for the movie, she had this outreach of so many adoptees around the world saying, “I relate to you, I need help.” She just realized that there was a lot of aid needed. And so we decided to sort of start this foundation and create an emotional support system for adoptees around the world as well as being a go to resource.

Before all this happened did you ever envision yourself sort of getting into this side of the business?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yeah. Not so quickly and so roughly, but yes. Absolutely I thought…

But it’s good to be thrown into it by trial by fire.

Jenna Ushkowitz: 100%. You just think, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be that and then a producer.” But we’re grown up. So I forget.

I don’t even feel like that myself.

Jenna Ushkowitz: So yeah, it’s kind of crazy. It’s with young filmmakers and we’re all sort of doing the same thing and learning the same things at the same time, so it’s actually a really great support system as well.

And I’ve always wanted to direct as well, so it’s something… that was actually on the forefront and then that kind of got pushed back when Twinsters happened. And the foundation as well. I’ve always been pretty into charity work and attending various charity events, trying to actually find the ones that really clicked with me. I’ve actually found them now in the last year b ut then Kindred came. It sort of sprung off and it happened so quickly that I didn’t even realize how we created it this fast. You know? It all sort of happened before I even thought about it.

Do you wanna direct a documentary as well or a narrative?

Jenna Ushkowitz: No anything from TV to film or short films, anything really, just to sort of get yourself going., that momentum. They’re such different parts of the brain, again, that you have to sort of work at different skills and it’s a skillset that I don’t have just yet. Or I haven’t honed in on yet.

I feel like I’m so unproductive at times. How do you manage your day? Teach me!

Jenna Ushkowitz: A lot of lists, a lot of lists.

Are you paper or do you have it on your phone?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Both. In my head, on my phone, and on paper. I’m type a, obviously, to get all of that done in one day.

Really it’s about just step by step. Getting to the next 15 minutes, getting to the next hour, getting to the next, you know, meal.

I’m afraid that in April that it’s just gonna stop and I’m not gonna know what to do with myself. It’s one of those things where I create it for myself. I create the opportunities, I create the chaos, and then I complain about it. So, it’s like I bring on my own pain, but I don’t really know it any other way. Like the last 8 years I’ve been going nonstop and I’m not really sure that I know how to not do this. You know?

What are your plans? Do you have anything lined up after this?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Well, literally I go to Paris on Wednesday to do a farewell Glee convention and meet some European fans with a good amount of the cast. And then sort of see what the next move is and focus back on the acting thing for a second and see what other projects come my way. I’d definitely love to develop a TV show or produce something.

I feel like they say focus in on one thing, but I think all the things in the mix, if you leave a few the probability that two will happen out of the five is a good chance. So you keep yourself sort of busy and then when one comes, you focus on that, lilke we’re here at SXSW.

And then we’ll probably throw a summer Kindred party as well for some more funding so we can start to help these adoptees. And then we’ll see. Yeah. It’s exciting though. I’m excited to see what happens. It’s weird though because Glee has been on for so long and I haven’t been without a job, so…

Yeah, and you’re not gonna have a day now.

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yeah, yeah. It’s a little weird. Obviously I’ve kept myself busy, but yeah. I don’t know. I feel like it’ll sort of fall into my lap the way it’s supposed to.

Now, I know you’ve done some theatre as well. Would you maybe try and do some of that?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny, people ask me right after Glee are you going back to Broadway? And I guess people thought that because I was a Broadway girl coming in, but I really consider myself an actor as well. I love my life in LA, I like the TV film world, so I’m allowing this, the plays and musicals, to sort of come my way because I think that’s what people know me for. And then the other stuff I have to peruse a little bit more. But, yeah. Absolutely I would totally do it again. And I plan to.

I’ve got a couple of actor-y questions for you. What is the worst audition that you’ve been on?

Jenna Ushkowitz: I’m not gonna go into specifics, but I will say there have been some that… they’re not the most constructive critically. So, to go into an audition when you don’t really feel the greatest to begin with because you don’t know this character very well, you don’t know really what they’re truly looking for just yet, and then to be criticized but not in a way that is helpful at all, I’ve had a few of those recently. Not a few, but I’ve gotten that recently and it’s not… you don’t feel good afterwards. You just come out thinking, What did I do?” And I can’t think, “How can I fix that?” Because you weren’t given anything good critical to fix. You know what I mean? Constructive to fix. So, those are the worst. And then there are times where you just blank out and that’s not fun either.

I’ve had many of those.

Jenna Ushkowitz: Right? You just go and you blank out and you’re like, “That wasn’t good. I didn’t do anything that I wanted to do in there.”

And you’re driving home and you’re like…

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yeah, you’re staring at the lines afterwards. “Did I do that the way I wanted it to?”

You always get the best audition in the car.

Jenna Ushkowitz: Always, right before. It’s literally right before the rehearsal. That’s why you always tape the rehearsal.

Do you try and memorize the sides before you go in?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Yeah. Yeah. I always hold them, but I do try to memorize them.

Something I’m also working on is focus and the way into somebody’s sort of soul is their eyes. And so if you’re staring down at a paper, nobody’s gonna get that. Especially off a tape. So I definitely think that I try to be as 110% prepared as I possibly can to prepare for the worst. But I won’t not hold the paper. I don’t think that’s never expected of anyway.

Yeah, I tried to do that once and blanked. Completely blanked.

Jenna Ushkowitz: There’s no safety blanket. If you know you have it you’re usually better off.

What’s your advice to actors?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Broad question. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just… it is what it is.

And leave it at the door. Don’t take it with you afterwards. It just ruins your day and it’s really not meant to do that.

And I think auditioning wise, the casting directors want you to be the one. They’re not working against you most of the time, so I think that if you go in with that mindset instead of, “Oh my God, I’m gonna mess up, this is gonna be horrible, I’m gonna give the worst audition of my life,” it’s, “Oh, they want me to do this. They want me to be the one.” So there’s no reason to feel like you’re gonna fail, which is I think a lot of actors’ problems. They’re setting themselves up for failure.

And then just my last question about Glee, what was the final day for you on set? Was it just tears?

Jenna Ushkowitz: Severely emotional. That I wasn’t prepared for. Coming in and out of the show and not being there every single day for the last 6 months or so, I was ready. I had sort of felt what it was gonna feel like when I wasn’t there and when it wasn’t going on and not seeing everybody every day. And then you come to this day and you’re surrounded by the people that you love, knowing that you’re not gonna see them all that much. Your crew members that are grown men with families, you know what I mean? You don’t exchange numbers and then… I was not prepared for that. I was like, “I’m gonna be fine, this is gonna be great. Everybody’s gonna be moving on to bigger things. Everybody’s gonna be so successful and wonderful.” And then you’re like… and Lea [Michele] and I cry already so much that it’s expected, but when you see Matt Morrison, grown men cry, it’s heartbreaking. You never like to see a grown man cry. Or you don’t see it as often.

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