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Although primarily known to American audiences as seamstress Christina McKinney on the hit comedy series "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010), actress Ashley Jensen had long reached prior notoriety in the UK on screens both large and small. Honing her craft on the stages of London and Scotland, the versatile actress made a name for herself on British TV projects, such as the comedies "May to December" (BBC, 1989-1994) and "Bad Boys" (BBC, 1995-96). Jensen also landed feature film roles, first in Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy" (1999) and later alongside comedic actor Steve Coogan in "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story" (2005). She made substantial inroads with U.S. audiences on the Ricky Gervais cable comedy "Extras" (BBC/HBO, 2005-07), in which she played a socially awkward, man-hungry aspiring actress to riotous perfection. Her major stateside breakthrough came with three seasons of "Ugly Betty," followed by more appearances in the UK, as well voice work in the hit animated family adventure, "How to Train Your Dragon" (2010). A true double threat, equally adept in the genres of comedy and drama, Jensen continued to enjoy success on both sides of the Atlantic in roles ranging from ditzy best friend to leading lady.
Born Ashley Samantha Jensen on Aug. 11, 1969 in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland to parents Ivar and Margaret Jensen, she was raised solely by her mother, a special needs teacher, with the assistance of her grandparents after her father's early departure from the family. Jensen expressed an interest in performing as a young student, and after initially hesitating, her mother eventually agreed to send her to London's National Youth Theater at the age of 15. A few years later, Jensen enrolled at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University, where she studied drama and speech. Scotland's theater scene would become home for the young actress, where she worked with such companies as Citizens Theatre in Glasgow and the Traverse in Edinburgh, as well as the edgy theater troupe 7:84, with which she toured the country. For 7:84, she performed opposite actor David Tennant in a production of "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui." Before long, Jensen was also appearing in a succession of guest spots on UK television, beginning with a 1990 turn on the comedy series "City Lights" (BBC, 1986-1991). Other work included a pair of early-1990s appearances on another popular comedy, "Rab C. Nesbitt" (BBC, 1989-1999), which led to joining the show's theatrical tour, culminating with a sold-out performance at London's Hammersmith Apollo Theater.
As Jensen's professional résumé began to grow, so too did the size of her roles. She joined the cast for the final season of the beloved British sitcom "May to December" (BBC, 1989-1994), as well as two other short-lived programs - the oil rig dramedy "Roughnecks" (BBC, 1994-95) and the bizarre slapstick comedy "Bad Boys" (BBC, 1995-96). Jensen's first role in a major motion picture came in the form of Mrs. Tringham in director Mike Leigh's "Topsy-Turvy" (1999), a comedic biopic about the early career of theatrical legends Gilbert & Sullivan. With her career picking up momentum, she became a bit of a UK TV staple, branching out from comedy to drama in efforts like the crime series "City Central" (BBC, 1998-2000) and on "Clocking Off" (BBC, 2000-03), a blue-collar drama examining the personal lives of a group of textile workers. Jensen returned to the big screen in director Michael Winterbottom's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story" (2005), as the agent of an actor (Steve Coogan) playing the lead in a film adaption of Shandy's autobiography.
It was, however, with creator Ricky Gervais' television series "Extras" (BBC/HBO, 2005-07) that Jensen truly established a name for herself on both sides of the Atlantic. As Maggie Jacobs, best friend and cohort of struggling actor Andy Millman (Gervais), her character was consistently and hilariously socially inept, particularly in her pursuit of men. For her work on the celebrated series, Jensen won British Comedy Awards for Best Newcomer and Best Actress, in addition to garnering BAFTA and Emmy nominations. Jensen's other high-profile television project at the time was on the science-based thriller series, "Eleventh Hour" (BBC America, 2006), in which she portrayed a bodyguard assigned to protect a government scientist (Patrick Stewart). Although the highly-anticipated series lasted only a season, she was soon to join the cast of an American show which would bring her to an entirely new level of recognition.
An Americanized version of the popular Columbian telenovela " Yo soy Betty, la Fea," "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010) followed the trials and tribulations of Betty Suarez (America Ferrara), a plain, sturdily-built young woman trying to make it in the superficial world of high fashion. Jensen played Betty's friend and confident, Christina, an aspiring designer and resident office gossip maven. Although Jensen left the series after the third season due to location conflicts once the show's production moved to New York, her popular character did manage to return for the series finale. Now in popular demand, the actress kept busy with film and television work, landing a regular role on the Jenna Elfman single parent sitcom "Accidentally on Purpose" (CBS, 2009-2010). Although the show lasted for only a single season, Jensen was busy with various other projects, including the lead in the romantic comedy "Accidental Farmer" (BBC, 2010) and voice work on two highly successful animated features, "How to Train Your Dragon" (2010) and "Gnomeo & Juliet" (2011).
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