When not fighting for her life in Fear the Walking Dead, actress Jenna Elfman keeps calm and carries on by taking time in her busy work and life (as the mother of two) schedule to breath—literally.
Beyond setting aside quiet meditative moments every day, the classically trained ballerina practices her first love of dance as a form of self-care. She took time to discuss her introduction to self-discipline at a young age, her experience with jumping between genres, and the importance of Epsom salts and long walks on a lake.
Tina: In the past you’ve been primarily known as a comedic actress, so how are you finding working in the dramatic slash horror genre different?
Jenna: It’s like driving two categories of car. One is like driving a semi-truck and one is like driving a Lamborghini. I started out as an actor but I didn’t consider whether I wanted to do comedy or drama. I was just interested in occupying different characters by way of playing different people. I just happened to get cast in a comedy show called Counties in 1996. And I kind of got discovered for my comedic ability, and then Dharma and Greg was created for me. And the ship started sailing on the comedy sea.
So being on “Fear The Walking Dead” has been kind of reconnecting with my original orientation as an actor. Even though doing comedy is fun and I’ll continue to do it because I love it, to be categorized as a comedienne isn’t true for me. That’s not the be all, end all of who I am artistically so that kind of narrative started feeling uncomfortable for me. I reoriented myself and when I made that adjustment, I was offered this role. It was kind of cool and validating in a way. And it’s been a very satisfying experience thus far.
Tina: How do you decompress after fighting zombies?
Jenna: Fighting is just stunt work so it’s really about decompressing from the intense emotional storytelling. The walkers are a backdrop. They keep the characters right on the edge of the cliff of survival and the storytelling maintains right on the edge of that cliff.
To decompress I go for walks and jogs on Ladybird Lake, which is this beautiful lake in Austin, Texas. And the nature and the sunsets are just extraordinary and I find that just helps me process the day, consider where my character’s at, what I’m going to do the next day and kind of helps me free up my attention a little bit from everything I’ve just spent the day doing.
Tina: Do you make time for self-care?
Jenna: As much self-care as one can manage when you’re a working mother of two. I’ve become quite expert at time-management just out of mere necessity. But you know walks are my thing and I find that to be my rehabilitation moment.
Because I don’t always have time to go get a massage (I don’t have a spa day), another thing I do is that I make sure throughout the day I go somewhere quiet, whether that’s the backyard or my office, and I give myself ten minutes and I do nothing. I just sit and consider the day or consider art or consider nothing or consider my family. Whatever it is. I just take myself off of the stream of production. And I just sort of breath for ten minutes. And just let myself be or do whatever. And then I get back to it.
And I find if I do that a few times a day, that’s my self-care moment. It’s just being calm and quiet.
Tina: How did being a dancer prepare you for your current career?
Jenna: I didn’t hang out with my peers in high school because I was in ballet class six days a week for three to four hours a day. So I mastered a fine art at a very young age, which was very good self-discipline as an artist. That was my first introduction to art as far as creativity. It’s my home base.
And so now I’ll go to a dance studio or rent a space for myself so I can just move in front of a mirror. It takes me back into who I feel I am. As an actor, having a good sense of body awareness is something I can use in creating characters, to understand how they hold themselves, or how they walk. I’m connected to my body in that way and that’s helpful.
On the mental discipline side, I have a strong work ethic that I developed as a dancer, which I find extremely helpful professionally.
Tina: Besides dancing, is this the most physically taxing job you’ve had?
Jenna: It’s definitely the most taxing acting job I’ve ever had. I’ve never purchased so many Epsom salts in my life.
Tina: When you’re not fending off walkers, what’s your off-duty look?
Jenna: Now that I’m in my 40’s, it’s become about skincare for me. I was always very lazy about skincare but now I’ve become interested in skincare. I don’t actually wear makeup: I’ll fill in my brows and maybe put on some mascara. It’s really just about great skin.
I rely on Joanne Vargas for great skin, and I love all of her products and use them every single day. And my friend came up with this moisturizer that you can almost eat. It’s called In Your Face Cream. It smells so good and it’s so moisturizing and plumping and it’s not full of crap. I put it on my face, my hair, my arms, everywhere. It just makes everything instantly moisturized and glowing and healthy.
Photography and Makeup: Tina Turnbow
Written by: Katie Dickens
Hair: Brian Fisher
Style: AmbiKa Sanjana
Style Assistant: Micah Sarai
Retouching: Mori Arany