Jessy Schram laughs when I suggest she's the hardest working gal on TV these days, but she shouldn't. In the past two years, she's had plum roles in three high-profile series.
The Skokie native and former Buffalo Grove resident currently can be seen at 7 p.m. Thursdays in ABC's "Last Resort" as Christine Kendal, the wife of Scott Speedman's rogue Navy officer Sam Kendal. She also stars as human-turned-alien Karen Nadler in TNT's summer hit, "Falling Skies," and played the dual role of Ashley Boyd/Cinderella in the first season of ABC's "Once Upon a Time."
"It's a little unreal," the 26-year-old says over the phone from Honolulu, where she's filming "Last Resort." "You kind of don't believe it as you're doing it. ... I'm like, 'Oh yeah, that's right. I have to sleep sometimes.'"
"I think the stars aligned and God was like, 'Hey, we're going to give you three [shows], and this is what they are,'" she adds, laughing. "Not bad."
Call it the stars aligning or good timing or a lucky coincidence, but Schram has been steadily working in TV since she moved to L.A. after graduating from Buffalo Grove High School in 2004 to play Lea Thompson's daughter in a series of "Jane Doe" movies for Hallmark. Her biggest role before the current three was starring opposite Damian Lewis ("Homeland") and Sarah Shahi ("Fairly Legal") in NBC's "Life."
And it all started in Chicago, where as a child she did commercials, modeled and made her theatrical debut at age 12 in an American Girl Musical Revue.
"I was the original girl Kirsten," she says, laughing. "She's a little blond Swedish one with those little Princess Leia wraparound [hair] things. I didn't have enough hair, though, for them to do that. So they were like, 'Just wear pigtails.'"
The experience firmed her desire to be a performer. She "dabbled" in singing during high school, performing around town with the band Joan Baby. But she always wanted to act.
"When I was younger I asked my mom if I could be in [show business], and I kept asking and then told her I wanted to be on the 'real TV,'" she says, adding that she and her sister would make up and act out their own TV commercials.
She credits her great grandfather with inspiring her with stories from when he worked in Chicago's silent film industry. "It's always been something that I loved doing, to perform and be around people and create a story," she says.
She's doing that, and then some. In "Last Resort," her character Christine is harassed by the U.S. government after her husband, who is second in command aboard the nuclear submarine USS Colorado, joins his commanding officer, Capt. Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), in questioning a shady order to fire nukes at Pakistan. As a result, they and their crew are being hunted by the government and have been labeled traitors. They have sought refuge on an island where they hope to clear their names.
Back at home, Christine is defiant in the face of angry neighbors, intrusive reporters and federal agents who are both spying on her and telling her lies about Sam. "Christine is definitely not someone who sits around and gets battered. She's not someone who cowers in a corner," Schram says. "Her world is being turned upside down and there's nothing to do but fight."
Christine continues the actress' current streak of playing strong women, but Schram says it's just a happy coincidence, not unlike her being in three shows nearly at the same time.
"I think that's just something that maybe I've just kind of instinctively brought to the characters," she says. "That's something that I'm able to bring to them. And those roles for some reason are calling out to me."
Schram says she feels incredibly blessed to be juggling three shows and hopes to continue. Karen is very much alive on "Falling Skies," she says, and there's always a chance Cinderella will reappear on "Once Upon A Time." She just hopes her "Last Resort" production schedule allows.
"I've stopped hyperventilating about it," she says, adding that she anticipates several flights from Hawaii to Vancouver, where the other shows are filmed. "And I've always got my little carry-on bag packed, and I've got my scripts." (She's had to use them already; as of Oct. 24, the actress is in Vancouver filming scenes for Season 3 of "Falling Skies.")
I chatted with Schram in August before the Season 2 finale of "Falling Skies" (read that here) but we talked about all her projects, growing up in the Chicago suburbs, where her family members still live--really, what didn't we talk about? Here's an edited version of our conversation, broken up by subject matter so you can read what you want.