She’s best known for her turn as the OCD-addled guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury on Glee. But this week, Jayma Mays brings her quirky charm to the big screen as expectant mom and Smurf savior Grace Winslow in the animated/live-action hybrid The Smurfs. Vulture spoke with the actress about delivering lines to jelly molds, dealing with Glee’s twentysomething “teenagers,” and what’s up with Emma and Mr. Schue. Can they have sex already?
When I first heard you were in the movie, I assumed you were voicing a Smurf. Did anyone ever tell you that your voice sounds a little like a cartoon character’s? In a good way!
Oh no, but I would absolutely love to get into animation and voice-over work. I feel like that has to be so freeing because you can’t be typecast, really; you can do so many different things. It hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully it will in the future.
I read that you had to act against jelly molds for some scenes. Was that challenging, or just funny?
You know what? It really was challenging, because I wanted to sell it. I wanted to make sure it didn’t look like I was talking to nothing. I wanted to make sure it felt like an emotional moment; I think those [moments] are really important to the movie. There’s a lot of funny stuff — Hank [Azaria]’s amazing and the Smurfs are really funny and the cat is really funny — but I know that our director and producer wanted to make sure that there was another story in there as well, a story of heart.
Your character does really love the little guys. What’s harder to master, maternal instincts for Smurfs or for teenagers in Glee?
[Laughs.] Teenagers, definitely teenagers. It’s funny, when we shot the pilot, which is almost three years ago, I was like 27 or 28 at the time, and I feel like some of the kids were in their early twenties, and so I didn’t feel like I had the authority that I needed to have as a guidance counselor. But I feel like because Emma gets flustered with stuff and she doesn’t communicate well with the kids at all times … I think the fact that she gets a little bit nervous worked in my favor at first.
Someone actually made a video for class with Emma an example of someone with OCD. Did you know that?
I didn’t! Oh, I’m making psychology classes now!
Is the influence of the show ever overwhelming to you?
It’s been amazing to see how people respond. I don’t know that we ever set out to touch all these people in this way.
Do you ever think you know what is best for your character?
I think these writers are so unpredictable and good at their jobs. I trust them 100 percent. And I know that’s not the case for every actor. Sometimes you feel like, What are they doing with my character? I don’t have that problem.
Were you as surprised as the rest of us when word spread that Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, and Cory Monteith would graduate off the show?
Yeah, well, first it was just a rumor for a few days, and I’m like, “No, no, it’s just a rumor.” So, yeah, I was surprised. But to be honest, the creators don’t ever want to do the predictable thing, so in that way, it wasn’t a surprise. Like, of course they’re going to do something completely unpredictable. [Editor’s note: Now it seems the triumvirate isn’t go anywhere … at least not yet.]
What are your expectations for Emma in season three?
She started taking medication last season and I’m not an expert on this stuff, but I’ve tried to do a little research here and there on it. And I know that medication will sometimes help people and sometimes it doesn’t — so we still have a blank slate as where they take her. I’m really interested to see.
It’s almost like she’s a teenager herself, with her virginity still intact. Do you see that changing?
I can only imagine. I was absolutely terrified when I found out she was still a virgin, like even after being married because I thought, Oh God, what are they going to make me do on-camera? I’m assuming that they held her virginal position for a reason; I mean, you want her to [have sex] with Will at some point. I’m so nervous. I just feel like let’s not talk about it!