Jane Levy had only one credit to her name – five episodes of Showtime’s Shameless – before landing the lead role of Tessa Altman in ABC’s Suburgatory. But watching the young actress hold her own against established actors like Jeremy Sisto, Ana Gasteyer and Cheryl Hines, it’s clear her talent is greater than her years. Now, the ingénue is on the radar of Emmy voters, too.
TVLINE | What has it been like carrying a show?
I don’t really feel like I am, [but] I’m constantly told that. At first, it was heavily narrated, and most of the show was about either Tessa or George’s storyline. But halfway through the season, [series creator] Emily [Kapnek] realized that we have such a strong ensemble cast and she had to use them. I feel extremely safe, like I don’t even need to do anything because I’m surrounded by incredible actors and hilarious people. Because of them, I don’t feel the need to be funny.
TVLINE | There are a lot of comedy veterans in the cast. What have you learned from them?
Honestly, it’s hard to learn about comedy from comedians [because that’s] not something you necessarily learn or can imitate. You’re funny or you’re not, and you hope what you’re doing is funny. But mostly what I’ve learned from them is [about] how they act on set. They’re all extremely positive, supportive, funny professionals. When I’m really tired, and I’m feeling sorry for myself, all of them are always there telling me to suck it up. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Has there been a scene where you thought, “I’m really in my groove”?
Acting with [Carly Chaikin, who plays Dalia] is really easy. I don’t know if it’s because she’s so funny, and I just have to listen to her. But every time I’m working with her, I feel like something is happening.
TVLINE | A lot of female-driven comedies came out this past season, like 2 Broke Girls, Whitney and New Girl. What voice does Tessa add to the mix?
What I like about Tessa is she’s a 16-year-old girl on a network show. The only TV shows where there are teenagers as the protagonist are [on] Nickelodeon, Disney or The CW. I don’t really know if it’s a thing having female-driven comedies, but if she is a part of that movement, if you want to call it that, she’s the voice of a teenager. That’s really cool.
TVLINE | Did you and Jeremy Sisto naturally have that great father-daughter chemistry right away?
Jeremy and I just get along really well. Whenever we’re working together, [we’re both] having a good time. I think that’s what people are responding to – our enjoyment of each other’s company.
TVLINE | Did it surprise you that some people saw a sexual chemistry between your characters?
Yeah, it actually did surprise me. I didn’t have much of a reaction to it because I knew it was so absurd. But it did puzzle me a bit. You could come up with a bunch of reasons of why people would sexualize that relationship. Maybe it’s because Tessa acts so much older than she is and the world knows Jeremy as the teenager from Clueless. I can’t tell you how many times people have said, “I can’t believe Jeremy Sisto’s a dad!” People forever see him as a studly 20-year-old. But I hope that’s changed.
TVLINE | Do you have a favorite episode from Season 1?
“Down Time” [which aired April 11] was my favorite. What Emily does is really difficult, and I admire her so much [for being] able to fit nine characters into 21 minutes and to make the storylines make sense. Also, it was the first time you saw how vulnerable Dalia is and Dallas is. It hit the funny parts, as well as the pain. It was really well balanced.
TVLINE | What would it mean to you to be recognized by the Emmys?
Whoa. That’s something I wouldn’t really be able to grasp. Probably nothing at first. I wouldn’t really be able to register what that means. I can’t right now, especially.
TVLINE | Do you think being a young actress handicaps you?
I’ve never thought about that. Are they ageist? That’s not really why I do my job –- to think about [awards], you know?
TVLINE | But does the possibility of going to the ceremony excite you?
Again, this is such a big “if” and something that I don’t even really know how I feel about in the first place. But yeah, I’m sure it would be really flattering. I’m sure I’d be really nervous. I would be more happy if the show itself got nominated.
This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.