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When Jessie Ennis launched herself into Hollywood, after completing her degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College, she steeled herself for disappointment and reality, knowing full well how rare success in Hollywood can actually be.
“Nearly every job I’ve gotten, I’ve gone out for another part and they’re like ‘actually you might be better for this other thing,’” she says. “I go into auditions knowing full well that rejection is far more common than booking the job.”
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Upon college graduation, Ennis made a deal with herself. She would spend four years auditioning as much as possible and trying to meet as many casting directors as she could and if she still hadn’t booked a job she would pivot. The backup plan, though, was a bit loose: she never really forced herself to consider a world without acting, because she’s been on a “war path” to become an actor since childhood.
Luckily, a career in interior design wasn’t necessary in exploring: Ennis, at 29, has been on some of the most lauded comedic shows in the recent decade, from “Veep” to “Better Call Saul,” and is now seen on “Mythic Quest,” in a role that was written just for her. She also co-hosts a podcast with her best friend Brie Larson, called “Learning Lots,” which started during the pandemic and doubles as scheduled BFF time where the pair, who are bonded by shared curiosity, get to pepper those who fascinate them with questions. All in all, it’s going pretty well for Ennis thus far.
Ennis was born in Boston but moved to L.A. when she was two because her dad, the actor and comedian John Ennis, wanted to give Hollywood a go. The family packed up and drove cross-country in a Volvo station wagon after a friend of her dad’s promised he could get him a gig writing for a TV show. But by the time they arrived, the show had been canceled. Even though she was only a toddler at the time, the narrative of how fickle and fast Hollywood can be was imprinted on her as she continued to grow up in L.A.
“That was a very realistic experience for me to have as a kid,” she says. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money so I would go to auditions with my dad all the time and that was a really helpful example to have because I had a realistic understanding of what being an actor is. And that sometimes it means that you don’t get the job that you were really well prepared for, and sometimes it means that you’re working on something that you got cast on yesterday, and all those little insights via my dad’s career have really helped me with mine.”
Courtesy of Ryan West
Her dad was on the ’90s HBO show “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” and the cast of David Cross, Mary Lynn Rajskub and more were hanging around her house throughout her childhood.
“Normalcy to me was grown men wearing wigs, goofing off,” she says. Since life at home was a lot more active than the idea of kindergarten, young Jessie was rather reluctant to leave behind daily hang time with David Cross for the classroom. The solution?
“My mom figured out a way to essentially bribe me to go to school by putting me in acting class on Saturdays,” she says.
Ennis landed “Mythic Quest” after auditioning for every female part, before getting called into the table read for a role written just for her.
“I really like that she doesn’t care what people think about her,” she says of her character, Jo. “It’s fun playing a problematic character.”
The series was three days into production on the second season when it was shut down for the pandemic, resuming five months later in strict safety conditions.
“The shared uncertainty between us really brought us together. There was this magnetic fold to have some semblance of a community,” she says. “It was a bonding retreat that you can’t find anywhere.”
She likens “Mythic Quest” to being a “training camp that you get paid to attend.”
“I show up, I get to act in these incredibly well-written scripts but then on top of getting to play this character that I love in a show that I’m actually a fan of, I have been invited into the writers’ room, I’ve been given access to watch dailies. We got to watch the editing process, which was incredibly helpful. And Rob also let us shadow him as a director and then I got to direct toward the end of the season,” she says.
With the season out for viewing, she’s hard at work on a new project as well as the podcast, which wasn’t meant to be a “pandemic podcast” but has been a saving grace for her and Larson.
“An ingredient in the recipe of why we get along is that we’re both really curious. We’ve been going on these crazy adventures for a decade now and so there was this whole opportunity to share that with people and welcome whoever wanted to join us and open up the conversation to be broader. We get to invite friends and also strangers and experts and learn from them, so it’s been really fun,” she says. The pair have been friends for over a decade, having met at the Williamstown Theatre Festival during a production of “Our Town” and bonding over the fact that they accidentally showed up in matching outfits on multiple days.
“It was kind of that kindergarten thing where you’re like ‘do you want to be my friend?’” Ennis says.
Her dream podcast guest is Miley Cyrus, but in the meantime she’s equally thrilled about the guests they’ve booked thus far (she cried when Amy Poehler agreed, even though, as Larson pointed out, Poehler is one of Ennis’ mentors).
“Sometimes I’m amazed it’s all working out,” Ennis says. “Sometimes I wake up and I’m like, ‘wow it’s all still happening.’”
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