Jessica Barth dates a stuffed bear, finds her dream in ‘Ted'

Jessica Barth hopes her part as the girlfriend of the titular bear in "Ted" will be her breakout role. Claire Folger / Universal Pictures
Jessica Barth hopes her part as the girlfriend of the titular bear in "Ted" will be her breakout role. Claire Folger / Universal Pictures
Posted: June 29, 2012

Growing up, Philadelphia native Jessica Barth dreamed of being an actress — and of meeting Mark Wahlberg.

"I definitely had Mark Wahlberg's poster on my wall, in his little Calvin Kleins," she said. "I was a huge fan of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch."

While acting in the movie Ted, which opens in area theaters Friday, Barth got to accomplish both dreams. She plays Tami-Lynn, streetwise Bostonian girlfriend of the titular character, a magically alive teddy bear. It's the first live-action film for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. The part, which Barth, 32, considers her breakout role, was a long time coming.

Surrounded by film and television as a child, Barth attributed her childhood dream of acting to her family.

"My father and I used to watch movies all the time. That was our bonding time, so that's when I kind of fell in love with acting," she said in a telephone interview. "I fell in love with it from a young age."

At her grandfather John's casting agency in downtown Philadelphia, she took her first acting classes and became "obsessed."

Northeast High School didn't offer the type of drama program Barth was interested in, so she took classes elsewhere, including at the Wilma Theater.

After two years studying communications at La Salle University, Barth transferred to West Chester University, where she studied theater, acting, and creative writing.

Classmate Mark Savage says that at West Chester, Barth was always focused on her dreams: "She was always writing, whether it was writing plays, or writing movies, or writing characters. She would audition for all the parts, wherever she could. … Her No. 1 goal in life was to go to L.A. and be an actress."

After graduating, Barth spent the summer saving money before moving to California.

"I drove down to pick her up at her sister Gina's house, the car's packed to the roof, Jess is crying, the whole family's crying, it was a full family event," Savage said. "I remember at the time, I felt a lot of pressure, taking this girl from her family."

In Los Angeles, Barth started out working at three different restaurants to support herself as she attended auditions and built up her resumé. Good work was hard to come by, but Barth stayed optimistic.

"I had no idea what I was doing. But I always tried to stay in acting classes and trainings, and stuff like that," Barth said. "You just learn. Same thing with any business. It takes years of meeting people and learning different things to advance in the career, so that's kind of how I looked at it."

Once in a while, Barth would get discouraged and consider returning to her family in Philly. Each time, she'd land another small role to keep her hopes alive.

In 2011, Barth read the script for Ted. She felt immediately attracted to the character of Tami-Lynn, whom Barth describes as "very loving, but if you cross the line with her, she's very aggressive. She says what's on her mind, and she is always looking for a good time."

Barth was asked to audition for a different part, but she decided to take a chance. She recorded herself reading for the part of Tami-Lynn and handed casting director Sheila Jaffe a DVD copy after her audition. Jaffe was impressed, and the next day Barth was informed she was in the running.

For the next two months, Barth said, she was "on hold" while being evaluated for the role, including a direct work session with MacFarlane.

The director was "just listening, listening, listening to voices, and if it's not spot-on then he makes you go again and do it again and do it again," she said. "He was really concerned not with acting but with the dialect, the Boston dialect."

Barth's competitor for the role was a Bostonian who was not an actress but looked and sounded the part. Eventually, Barth's years of training paid off.

"They worked with her the whole time I was on hold, to try to get her to be able to do the scenes. But she wasn't an actress, and if you're acting with a bear that's not there, it requires training and skill, and they eventually realized that. And I got the part."

Then the real work began, and Barth faced her two biggest challenges: learning the Bostonian accent and working with a character who isn't physically present.

"I've never worked so hard on a character before in my life," Barth said. "I was literally thinking about Tami-Lynn all the time."

Listening to a dialect CD in the car helped with the accent, as did repeated viewings of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon movies — The Town, Good Will Hunting, The Departed. The ultimate compliment came when a local extra thanked director of photography Michael Barrett for hiring an actual Bostonian.

With the accent down, Barth had to face a second obstacle: working with a character who didn't exist. The actors rehearsed with a stuffed bear, but filming took place without any visual references.

For a make-out session between Tami-Lynn and Ted, Barth grappled with empty air.

"It was a challenge. That was probably the hardest thing, the physical stuff. That make-out scene," Barth said. "Because I didn't know how to do it. I didn't know where to put my mouth. … I had to react off of nothing, literally nothing."

Barth spent eight weeks filming in Boston last spring, and she hopes the role will get her noticed. A sequel? She'd love to be part of one.

Asked about the name of her blog, "15 Minutes Til Fame" ( http://bit.ly/Mqt9Q2), Barth said it's only a title — she's after more than fame.

"I'm sure fame is yet to come; however, it's not my ultimate goal. I really just want to be able to tell stories, and create, and do it for a living. I don't necessarily need to be famous. The only upside with that is the income that would allow me to be bicoastal. Not the only — I'm sure there are plenty of other perks," Barth said.

"Like meeting Mark Wahlberg."

Contact Jonathan Lai at jlai@philly.com.


Movie   Ted  Opens Friday in area theaters.

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