As a young upstart suddenly thrust into the limelight in her dream profession, Erica Dasher can very much relate to her character in Jane By Design. Prior to nabbing the lead role of Jane Quimby in the ABC Family series, which premieres at 9 tonight, the actress’ previous credits include a web series called The Lake, along with a couple of guest spots on TV and a short film.
But now she’s rubbing elbows with the likes of Andie MacDowell, who plays her Devil Wears Prada-esque boss at a fashion company, where Jane has bluffed her way into an assistant’s job. Needing to earn some extra money so she and her older brother don’t lose their home, Jane surreptitiously lives two lives, one in the cutthroat world of high fashion, and the other in a conceivably more cutthroat and terrifying world: high school.
Dasher spoke with me recently about the show, why she relates so much to her character, and how breaking her ankle might have just changed the course of her life forever:
Erica Dasher: Honestly, I am not totally sure I’ve tapped into it yet. I’ve started to see billboards around L.A., and that is a completely surreal experience, and I’m having a lot of friends send me pictures from posters in malls or on buses in New York. But I don’t know, I’m not sure I’m prepared yet mentally. But I am excited, I do love the show. I’m ready for it to happen.
CGM: Is it something you can prepare for, do you think, how your life is going to change if the show is a big hit?
ED: I don’t know. I actually have a friend who is an actor that I saw yesterday, and he was like, “Everything’s about to change. People are going to recognize you.” I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.
CGM: Have you had to deal with that before, with people coming up and recognizing you?
ED: I haven’t. I was on a web series. I’m not sure anyone really saw it. I went to USC, and I studied theater in college, and I did theater growing up in Texas. But this is my first professional, real job, and they’ve done a lot of marketing and a lot of publicity. I think it will be a completely different experience.
CGM: Tell me about getting the role. Any ideas what put you ahead of all the other girls who auditioned?
ED: It’s funny, when I first got the audition notice, I got it on my birthday. I was with a friend, and I showed him the audition notice, and I was like, “I’m not going in for this,” and he was like, “Why?” And I was like, “I don’t know, because I feel like I could get it.” And he was like, “Then you should totally go in for it!” I sort of really felt connected to Jane from the very beginning, and then I think maybe the thing that set me apart is I broke my ankle before the test. What happened was I had done the pre-read and the callback, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, my manager called and he told me I was testing for the role, and I got so excited I fell over. I was standing near some stairs at a parking lot and I fell over and I broke my ankle. I was like, “Oh my gosh I’m so excited! Oh gosh, my ankle really hurts!” And it just started swelling, and I had to wear this boot when I went into the audition. I didn’t think it was broken at first, but we soon found that it was. But they kept me. They didn’t fire me, which was great. Everyone was super supportive when we were doing the pilot, and I had a body double for the first episode. I couldn’t do the running in high heels.
CGM: Well, gee, I hope you don’t have to break your ankle every time to get a role.
ED: I know, right? I said it was like a sacrifice to the casting gods, but I don’t ever want to do it again.
CGM: You said you felt connected to Jane right away. Why is that?
ED: She is vulnerable and she’s passionate and she’s pursuing her dreams, and she’s a little klutzy and she’s not very popular and she has a sense of humor about herself. I feel like she is a super-relatable character anyway, and I was not a cool girl in high school, and connected with all of those things.
CGM: What about the fashion part? Did you connect with any of that?
ED: Yeah, I’ve always admired the fashion world sort of from afar, and it’s been really fun to become educated and more well-versed in that world. It moves really quickly, so you really have to keep up with it and read all the blogs and magazines and there are tons of designers and new designers that are turning out stuff all the time. That part of it is really fun, and in terms of Jane, I think where she is in pursuing her dream I am in a similar place in my life, only it’s acting and not fashion. So that sense of it all being new and exciting is very much the same.
CGM: Being that this is your first big job, did that make it even more intimidating to work with seasoned pros like Andie MacDowell?
ED: Yes, when Andie first came to set, I was terrified. But she is truly a warm person. She’s really funny and really accessible and open. She would run lines with me before we went out and all that stuff. She’s really great. I had no idea how funny she is, she’s constantly cracking jokes on set, and I think that really breaks the ice. I’m definitely learning a lot from her. She’s a wonderful role model and friend.
CGM: It seems natural to make comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada. Do you think those are fair?
ED: There are definitely some similarities, and I think what’s fun about this show — I love that movie, by the way — and it delves further into that world and those relationships. But it’s very different. Certainly there’s a fashion backdrop, and there’s a lot of comedy in the show, and I think it’s really fun and different. It feels also very John Hughes-y. You know, Pretty in Pink, and there’s a lot of homages to that in the series as well.
CGM: I’ve watched the first two episodes, but I’m sort of blanking on why she lives at the house with just her brother. Does it say what happened to their parents?
ED: You’ll learn more about it through the series, but you hear a bit about it when she’s in the guidance counselor’s office in the first episode. Her mom was not really in the picture. She doesn’t really know where her mom is, and her dad passed away a few years ago. So it’s she and her brother just trying to make ends meet, which is why she initially tries to apply for the internship and get the job.
CGM: There’s an interesting relationship between Jane and her best friend Billy (Nick Roux). I know through the first couple episodes they have other people they’re interested in, but you almost gotta think they’re going to develop feelings for each other at some point.
ED: I think it’ll be a long journey, but there’s clearly something there.
CGM: And Nick Roux, your costar, do you guys have a pretty good relationship offscreen?
ED: Yeah, I’m about to go meet him to go shopping. Yeah, we’re great friends. He’s really just such a nice guy and takes very good care of me and really cares about the craft of acting and the show, and he’s a good kid. We’ve definitely become BFFs offscreen, too.
CGM: There is a lot of physical comedy on the show as well. Is that something you enjoy?
ED: Yeah, you know, I’m a huge Charlie Chaplin fan. And I’ve never really like thought about it in terms of my own career. When I was little I really wanted to be Jim Carrey, but I didn’t even really put it together that there is a lot of that. And there’s a lot of that in my own life, too, because I’m a very clumsy person, so it comes naturally.
CGM: Does Jane ever swing more to one half of her life than the other? I can see it a big temptation to forget all about high school and focus on her dream job.
ED: It definitely swings one way or the other, and that’s what makes her close to getting caught sometimes. It makes certain relationships difficult to handle. It’s a huge load, and she is certainly trying to figure out how to balance it, and it’s not always easy.
CGM: Will part of Jane’s growth include her gaining more confidence, both in dealing with the mean girls at high school and the office politics?
ED: As the show progresses and she becomes more established in the fashion world, she definitely starts to develop a confidence that she brings to high school. One of the first thing the writer [April Blair] said at the beginning of this process was there are so many things as an adult she wishes she could tell her younger self, and Jane has the opportunity to learn these adult lessons and take them back to high school with her the next day.
Photo: © 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Credit: Andrew Eccles