Jessica Martin – Spitting Image Impressionist, West End Theatre Actor and Graphic Novelist

Jessica Martin, headshot session, with photographer, Jane Hobson, Upper Holloway, London.

Jessica Martin (born in London in the swinging sixties) is a multi-talented performer whose career has taken her from comedy impressionist to musical theatre leading lady. She graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama and shortly after developed a solo cabaret act as a comedy impressionist before going on to have television successes on LWT’s Copycats and Spitting Image alongside Harry Enfield and Steve Coogan, as well as guest-starring in Dr. Who with Sylvester McCoy.

As a stage actor, Jessica starred as Sally Smith in Me and My Girl at the Adelphi Theatre, also appearing in Olivier Award winning shows, Babes in Arms and The Card at The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Other leading roles include Mabel in Mack and Mabel at the Piccadilly Theatre and Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard at the Comedy Theatre. She also featured in the World Premiere of Marguerite at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Most recently Jessica played The Lady of the Lake in the Number One UK Tour of Spamalot; Lottie Lacey in the Coventry Belgade Theatre production of Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Lottie in Mack and Mabel at the Southwark Playhouse. This winter she will perform as Emily in Elf The Musical in the West End’s Dominion Theatre, a role she also played at Theatre Royal Plymouth and Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin last year.

Maintaining an extensive career as a voice over artists, Jessica has performing in countless animations and commercials. She has also recorded several audio books including Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Men and provides voice acting for the English-language version of the PlayStation 2 game Dragon Quest VIII – most notably as Empyrea.

In the last two years, Martin has successfully transitioned into the comic book industry, merging her passion for film history with narrative art. Her first comic It Girl about silent film superstar Clara Bow was self-published in November 2013 selling out several times over in London comic shops Orbital and Gosh as well as Foyles and BFI bookstores. It was selected as one of the Ten Must Own Comics 2013 by Broken Frontier’s Small Press website. Her first graphic novel Elsie Harris Picture Palace set in the 1930s British film industry was short listed in the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize 2014. It will be published in 2016. Jessica is also a patron of the Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America.

After graduating from Central you became an impressionist. How did you go about this and what is the most difficult part of this job?

I started out doing impressions at uni where my friends would encourage me to impersonate fellow course mates. I didn’t really practice – it just came naturally. I believe this is because I have a really strong aural memory so accents and voices just kind of sink into my system. I also walk around with a film narrative in my head – everything is a story. I love old Hollywood movies and started doing movie star impressions including singing in their voices. Fresh out of uni and keen to get an Equity card I appeared all over the place in a bunch of comedy evenings and also political news revues on the fringe in London and Edinburgh. While performing at the Pleasance with my one woman show I met Rory Bremner (who was there as part of Kings College Revue Players) at an open mic night and we hit it off right away. Through various fortunate twists and turns I ended up auditioning for producer David Bell at London Weekend Television– they really needed a female impressionist). I thought it was a real long shot so didn’t get too worked up or nervous. I basically impersonated all his favourite singers in his office, one after the other with the programme’s musical director at the piano. That had him hooked! I was 22 years old, one year out of college and suddenly on regular Television.

The hardest part about impressions is taking on and tuning into personalities that you don’t naturally feel a connection with but they are assigned to you by a producer/production.

What is the difference between performing impressions in a live theatre environment versus a television studio setting?

Live stage setting impressions as part of a comedy show or cabaret are short, sharp, with immediate audience reactions. You blink and your impression is over. For the screen, the process is much lengthier. It’s like sucking on a long piece of candy and the most difficult bit is keeping your momentum going while you’re waiting for tech. You may think you’re ready to go but in fact your make up needs retouching or the lighting is not quite right…there is a lot of pausing, stopping and keeping on top of your energy. Also of course you are in a different costume for each impression, rather than in one costume performing the impressions essentially dressed as yourself in one performance flow.

What is your favourite memory from Spitting image and working with Rory Bremner and Harry Enfield?

One of my main impressions was Edwina Currie – and I actually met her when we took part in one of those “the top 100 comedy moments on TV” productions. She brought her Spitting Image puppet along and I did an impression of her while she was sitting next to me – very surreal! I also have a fond memory of every male comedian on Spitting Image including Harry Enfield “auditioning” with their best Liverpuddlian accent in a mic line up on set to impersonate Jimmy Tarbuck in a special celebrity golfing episode – priceless!

You have partaken in many musical theatre productions. What do you love about the genre and where do you see musical theatre heading in the future? Are there any particular actors/directors that you would love to work with?

For me, a musical simply has everything. A brilliant book, songs to carry the emotion, choreography…they really are just a joy. They also show off a level of song writing that really just isn’t found musically anywhere else. I hope musical theatre will always continue to be original and push the boundaries – even if this is not always commercial. Musicals are like the modern operas now in terms of how they are placed in culture and society. My thirteen year old daughter is obsessed.

I would love to work with director Jamie Lloyd (Urinetown) whom I first met when he was a student at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) – what a long way he has come. Elf the musical for which I start rehearsals shortly also has a greatly inspiring cast and creative team I will be working with.

You guest starred in Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy…any behind the scenes titbits you can tell us?

Well this is a funny one. The episode I guest starred in is called “The greatest show in the Galaxy”. Due to a strike or scare of some sort we were unable to film at Elstree as planned and so the director decided to build a pop up circus tent on the Elstree parking lot – and we shot the episode there!

Performing for radio you have covered a great deal of material including providing voice overs for PlayStation 2 game Dragon Quest VIII. How do you become a voice over artist and what do you need to succeed in this market?

My voice over career was triggered by my success on Spitting Image – before that I wasn’t considered for any of it really but having a Television presence changed everything. Voice over artists used to be in demand if they could reel off a wide variety of accents, voices and characters – and were versatile. Nowadays it’s all about being as natural as possible. Casting director want the “real accent” meaning they hire only native artists rather than actors who can put on the accent. I think the best way to get a foot in the door in this field nowadays is to pursue a similar route that I did: Make a name for yourself on the comedy/revue scene, develop characters and a distinct personality and then contact voice over agents of fellow cast/production members. Also, find a great script writer who can put together a top notch voice over demo script for you.

To add to your many achievements, you have also recently become a comic book artist. What fascinates you about this genre? How do you decide which stories to write/draw and how did you start out?

I used to draw a lot as a child and collect comics such as the Girl collection – I still have red, cloth bound copies of some of the issues I found at garage sales. Watching old movies I then sketched out film stars in different scenarios and did an A-level in art, theatrical and observational drawing. Concentrating on performing for many years I completely forgot about this passion for a while…but was then reminded when I picked up a book called The Creative Licence by Danny Gregory at the Tate Modern gift shop one afternoon a few years back. I had no idea this would change my life but I started drawing again the next day sticking to Danny’s principles: Use a pen so you can’t edit yourself and just draw what you see. And keep drawing. Then, during my time performing in Spamalot UK tour fellow cast member Phil Jupiter (a big comic book fan) encouraged me to pursue a graphic novel – essentially a script with pictures. It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I decided to take on online course in comic book work. The result is Elsie Harris Picture Palace – a 140 page graphic novel, which will be published next year by Miwk Publishing. The story is set in the mid to late thirties and follows Elsie from her job as a London tea girl to Hollywood.

You are back in the West End shortly with a role in Elf the musical. What do you think makes the West End so special and unique and what do you think is the hardest part about being a professional actor?

The West End for me is the magic of London. I used to take it for granted a bit as I was born and raised here (so knew no different) and my father worked as a jazz musician at all sorts of wonderful establishments I was privy to. But I have come to realise that a West End theatre is a bit like a place of worship – the sound is similar to that in a church and the buildings have such history that the energy from everything and everyone that has taken place there over the years, still remains and lives on.

I think the most difficult part about being an artist is giving yourself validation when you don’t have an audience. You are also constantly in suspended reality – opening night in the West End can be like going to Disneyland – it is real but then again – it is not. It is then hard to adjust to the reality of everyday life again, especially is the show closes/your contract finishes. Those without a strong support network of family and friends can find it very tough. The transience is hard. Essentially one has to see it as a lucky dip – at some point or points your name may come up – or it may not. It’s all about right place, right time, circumstance and luck.

What are your future aspirations and goals – personal and professional?

I would like to venture into multi-media storytelling and also make a film.

Who is your inspiration and what do you believe makes an inspirational woman?

Top writer and Vertigo artist Mark Buckingham who has been my comic book world mentor.

In terms of women, Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. Women who have created a substance of success and creative career over many years and through their work also created work opportunities for many others, which I believe makes them inspirational.

To find out more about Jessica please see: http://www.officialjessicamartin.com/ and for her online comic book shop have a look at https://www.officialjessicamartin.com/shop/index.php.

To pre-order Elsie Harris Picture Palace please go to: http://www.miwkpublishing.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=81.

Jennifer Reischel
About the author

Jennifer Reischel is the Business Development and Communications Manager for Entertainment Media Group, which includes the St. James Theatre in Victoria. Completing a theatre degree at Mountview Academy Jennifer first pursued a career as an actor performing on stage and screen. Migrating into writing and penning the award-nominated guide book “So you want to tread the boards”, Jennifer became a theatre critic and feature contributor for The Stage, as well as launching the global video audition website The Stage Castings. Additionally, Jennifer has acted as a judge for the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian Competition of the Year, cast plays for Soho Theatre and hosted industry events workshops in the West End and at the Edinburgh Festival. Twitter: @jenreischel. Website: www.performingarts-auditionguide.com

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