"Made in Jersey's" leading lady Janet Montgomery couldn't be further from her character Martina Garretti on the upcoming CBS legal drama, but she sure has tried to educate herself on everything Jersey. Below, the actress talks about perfecting the Garden State hair and accent, why "Made in Jersey," which makes its debut on Fri., Sept. 28 at 9p.m. ET, is more "Working Girl" than "Legally Blonde" and much more.
How did you feel about becoming a Jersey girl seeing as they always get a bad rap?
Yes, I keep hearing this. I actually just hired an assistant who is from New Jersey who has been giving me the low down in details. She is like Italian New Jersey, so she is just perfect for me to really get a feel for exactly like the lifestyle, because I just need to really submerge myself in this role. They do get a bad rap, but then I think coming from a place like England where there is so much classism and like people from Manchester get a bad rap or people from New Cockney get a bad rap ... My eyes are open to that kind of ignorance.
So you're well-versed in “Jersey Shore” culture now?
I am. I think I know it like the back of my hand I hope, but [my assistant] is kind of blown away by how different I am from my character, which, I mean, most people are so I think I just manage to switch it on. It is nice to be able to switch off again and be me for a while.
Yeah, definitely. Tell me a little bit about your character on the show.
Well, she was born and raised in New Jersey. She comes from a working class family, an Italian family. She definitely has an important role within her family of being the one that they all turn to. I think that was something that happened at an early age with their problems. And she decided to go to law school -- she put herself through law school. They gave her this good edge that other people -- her peers at Stark & Rowan where she works -- they don’t have. They don’t have that edge, and they can’t often relate to juries and think outside the box in the way she can ... It is her using the real life situations and just having real conversations and real heart with people. She can be a good lawyer.
She also has some sass.
Yes, definitely. I think she is really interesting, because her sisters have different personalities, but I think Martina has like a real strength ... I am about the themes within the court room and stuff because she has a temper and she seems to be passionate, which you don’t often get I think. I think she really cares about people, which I guess in the practice of law is quite rare.
Yeah. It must also help to know that the creator of the show Dana Calvo is also from Jersey.
Yes, it definitely helps. She is not a Jersey girl in the sense that ... I don’t believe that the early people who are from New Jersey are like the people on “Jersey Shore.” I mean some of the best actors we have leading today, like Meryl Streep, are from New Jersey. I think it gets a bad rap, which has been reality TV recently ... The only significance it really has to this show is the fact that she has these two worlds and they are both so pivotal in who she is.
Also, there was a bit of a controversy over your hair on the show.
Yeah, the bane of my life. It’s a constant thing about my hair and how big it should be ... Unfortunately, there is a constant battle with it because there are so many people involved. It is not like I just get to decide what my character wants so it is getting used to that way with network TV. I think I immediately knew exactly what this character should have, how I responded to her when I first read the script and started creating her. Dana had her view on it, which is obviously important because she wrote this character. So we collaborated together to come up with something. I can tell you something: Hair extensions are a real pain in the ass.
I thought it was so interesting because Dana was talking about how if she had it her way the bump in Martina's hair, it would be like six inches.
I think there is a way that we can have it at some certain point for this character, but I mean why make her a caricature? I think she is well educated. She is not cheapening an outfit. She knows when she needs to tone it down. She doesn’t wear like Juicy Couture track suits to the office. She dresses the best she can ... She is still a lawyer and she is also incredibly smart. I don’t make her look like “Legally Blonde.” I think she is actually darker than that.
The show is bound to get some “Legally Blonde” comparisons.
I can see where people would think it is similar, and I have moments where it is like that, but it’s not. We are not recreating anything I don’t think. I think this is something new, but obviously you take on stuff that has been done in the past, and I think if you know “Legally Blonde,” you can say there are similarities. “Working Girl” for me is the most similar, and yeah that is part of where we are going with her.
Have your parents seen the look?
They have and what is so funny is my mom saw the trailer for the pilot and she said, “Let’s see your tattoo then.” I said, “What new tattoo?” She was like, “Let’s see it.” I was like, “No, mom. I didn’t really get it done.” My mom works for the post office so this world to her is just bizarre. She does not fully understand it, but I think she thinks the accent is weird to her because it’s not me. It’s not my voice because I tend to change when I do an accent. As much as I try to speak in my own voice, I find that it does change because I find a new voice for a character.
Yeah. Did you have any certain inspiration for the accent or it is just something that you came up with?
I think there was a Mira Sorvino interview from like 1992 when she was on David Letterman, and I loved the quality she had to her voice and she is from New Jersey. So it was sort of like kind of grounded mix of accents. It was more just listening to people from New Jersey and working out what would work for this character, because there is no kind of specific accent of New Jersey. There is Central New Jersey, and North New Jersey. It’s so different within ages and with education as well and who your friends were. I had to listen to what my family were doing, my parents and my sisters and just follow my gut and make it work for whatever my character’s feeling. There are times where I am about the accent and then times when I decide that this would be a point where she would want to speak properly.
See how well Montgomery transformed into a Jersey girl when "Made in Jersey" premieres on Fri., Sept. 28 at 9p.m. ET on CBS.