Three years after winning So You Think You Can Dance, Jeanine Mason finds herself back in familiar territory with a meaty role on ABC Family's ballet drama Bunheads.
The road to landing one-half of a talented, close-knit, well-traveled brother-sister dancing duo wasn't easy however. The process of getting the role "was probably the most trying audition process of my three years in L.A.," Mason admits in a chat with The Hollywood Reporter.
Though her first appearance won't come until Jan. 14 (coincidentally, her 22nd birthday), Mason -- who won season five of the Fox dance competition series -- was pro-active in searching for shows she believed she felt she "could be an asset to." Because of its strong dance element, naturally Bunheads was at the top of the list. (THR has an exclusive image from next week's episode, which features Mason performing at Fanny's dance academy.)
"I sent an email to my manager and said, 'What about Bunheads?,' " she recalled. "Two weeks later, this audition came in. It was serendipitious."
Mason, who appears in a forthcoming The Secret Life of the American Teenager episode, spoke to THR about the long audition process for the role, how winning So You Think You Can Dance prepared her for Bunheads and how her alter ego is different from her in real life.
The Hollywood Reporter: Do you think your experience on So You Think You Can Dance helped you deal with the arduous audition process?
Jeanine Mason: What's interesting about So You Think You Can Dance is that the experience happened four days after I graduated from high school. I was 18 and I don't think I had any idea what I was getting into. Because I was going with the flow, I was doing exactly what was expected of me and incredibly grateful to be there. In retrospect, I look back and think, "How the hell did I do that?" I honestly don't know if I could do that now being 21. Doing it really matured me -- being on the road, dealing with finances, making sure I was healthy; it's undoubtedly why I feel like I can handle L.A., get the good and bad news and not lose my sanity.
THR: How would you describe your character and what can we expect from her?
Mason: She, with her brother (Niko Pepaj), move into Paradise. They're nomads; they've traveled their whole lives. Because of that, they have this other-worldly quality. The town residents and students at the dance academy are interested in them and trying to grasp what it must be like to have lived in other countries. What's fun about playing her is that she is incredibly calm and collected. She has this air of cool; she's seen it all. She's very different from myself.
THR: Can you offer a specific example of how different she is from you?
Mason: In my first episode [airing Jan. 14], we ride Vespas; anyone who's lived in Europe would be incredibly good at that. But me, Jeanine Mason, I do not know how to ride a Vespa. [Laughs]
THR: When she and her brother come into the fold, how are they received by the others?
Mason: It's definitely a slow build. The idea is that Paradise is a small community and all of a sudden these two people come in who are different from what they're used to. The progression of the season is going to be interesting, to see how these characters can come to assimilate in this town and how the town comes to understand them instead of standing at a distance and being in awe.
THR: You've mentioned that your Bunheads character is different from who you are. Could the same be said for the dancing?
Mason: The choreographer for Bunheads tailored the dancing to me. So the first day I came in to watch, she's like, "I've been up all night watching all your videos and all your past episodes of So You Think. I want you to do this part and that part." In other episodes I do get to do a pretty significant performance and she was so awesome about making it so that there could be an homage to my past routines. Considering it's a dance conservatory, she does do a lot of ballet and a lot of pointe, and pointe in particular is not a forte of mine. I pretty early on knew it was something I wasn't interested in or was capable of pursuing on a professional level. Luckily I had a month before we started on production so I'd take two ballet classes a day to get in as much pointe practice.
THR: Was there a scene that you recently shot that stuck out for you?
Mason: That first episode is probably the one I'm most excited for people to see. The way that Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and the writers formatted it to introduce these characters is pretty hilarious because you're just observing them. And you, like the characters on the show, are like, "Who the hell are these people?" [Laughs] It ends on an amazing note.
Bunheads airs 9 p.m. Mondays on ABC Family.
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