Brow Beat

Becoming a Character: Zoe Jarman, The Mindy Project

Zoe Jarman in The Mindy Project

At age 30, Zoe Jarman, who plays Betsy Putch on The Mindy Project and was camp counselor Poppy on the late lamented ABC Family show Huge, already has a long history of playing weirdos. She spoke to Slate about her role on the show and learning to be a character actor.

Slate: On The Mindy Project, you’re the “weird character.” Amanda Setton played the “hot character.” You’re just as hot as she is. How does that sort of niche-casting happen?

Zoe Jarman: That’s something that’s out of my hands. Weird, for me, is very visceral. When you play a weirdo long enough, you get to understand what makes them weird. If I played the New Jersey hot character, for it to be a real character, I think I’d have to work with an acting teacher to make it very grounded. I’m lucky to have enough self-esteem and self-confidence—I think that any character actor has to, because you get audition breakdowns where they’re asking for, “Plain” or “Just fine-enough looking,” and you’re like, “OK!”

Slate: For your characters on The Mindy Project and Huge, you didn’t use your normal voice.

Jarman: “Doing a voice” isn’t necessarily a choice that I made, but I think the character comes out in the inflection. I try to keep that to a minimum, because I don’t want to get trapped in a character voice that isn’t sustainable. It’s a mixture of accident and choice.

Slate: The Mindy Project is very much an ensemble show. Is that tricky?

Jarman: Being one note in an ensemble is incredible, because not only do I get to have a funny moment, but I get to set up funny moments for other people. Betsy is a weirdo straight man.

Slate: I always wonder about the psychology of actors—dealing with rejection is such big part of the job. Isn’t that hard, even though you know it’s not personal?

Jarman: It’s just practice. The more you audition, the more distance you get. The trick is not to get worn-down or jaded by it and just to be open.

Slate: That seems useful in real life too.

Jarman: Right? It’s equanimity, which is very hard to practice. I don’t necessarily know if it’s as big of a virtue as it’s supposed to be, but I try to at least think about that word.

This interview has been condensed and edited.