For Jennifer Marshall, who’s recently starred on “Stranger Things” and “Hawaii Five-O,” being an actress isn’t the most important part of her life.
The Santa Clarita resident said she values a work-life balance. Between auditions, she works hard to hone her craft by taking acting classes, working nonstop to improve — and not keeping track of how many shows she’s booking. She also volunteers, devotes time to her four children and helps connect veterans in the industry with media opportunities.
Acting was something that “happened by accident” for her, Marshall said, well into her adult life.
“Acting was never one of those things where it was like, ‘I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 8,’” she said.
Marshall grew up in a suburb of Colorado, and served in the U.S. Navy for five years. After her service, Marshall saw acting as a way to deal with emotions — a contrast to the environment she was in in the Navy.
“In the military, you have to compartmentalize emotions,” she said. “And acting is the opposite. It encourages expression and it encourages honesty.”
Marshall came to the Greater Los Angeles area in her early ‘30’s, choosing to settle in Santa Clarita in 2011 with her husband and four children.
Initially, auditions were rough, she said, as she competed with people who had been auditioning since they were in high school or earlier.
“You have to work 10 times as hard as the people who’ve been doing it way longer, who you’re competing with, who have extended reels and all this other stuff,” she said. “It was difficult because of my age. I knew I wasn’t going to be the skinniest, prettiest, most well-connected person. But I did know my work ethic is excellent. I’m very business-savvy, organized and I really prided myself on being prepared and working hard.”
Marshall has guest starred on shows such as “FBI: Criminal Pursuit” and co-starred on “Colony” since 2013. She landed the role of Susan Hargrove on the second season of “Stranger Things” last year, and was shocked to see her phone blowing up after the season premiered.
“I didn’t even realize how big it was until my inbox was flooding, and my friends were texting me and all that,” she said. “It was so surreal, and I didn’t even realize the magnitude of the show until the season premiered.
“It was also great because I grew up in the ’80s, and the Duffer Brothers did such a great job capturing the feel of that era,” she said.
Marshall’s success has mounted since her booking of “Stranger Things,” and she credits her start in acting to the veteran acting community.
The actress volunteers with Veterans in Media and Entertainment, an organization devoted to helping veterans in the entertainment business get a start.
“If any veteran says, ‘I want to get into this business,’ I want to help them and help them avoid pitfalls of this industry which can be tough,” she said. “I’ll give them the tough love they need. I’m happy and grateful acting has given me the opportunity to really advocate on behalf of veterans.”
A veteran himself sat down with Marshall when she was beginning auditions and gave her insider tips that she has tried to give back to the community, she said.
One example is casting directors have recently started going to veteran actors such as Marshall if they are trying to cast an amputee for a storyline on their show.
“Of course, the gig has to pay well and it has to be a non-exploitative storyline,” she said. “But veterans want to tell their own story, if these stories are going to be about them. And casting a veteran for these roles, a person who understands the significance of the uniform they wore and the weight of what they went through — that’s really important.”
In her spare time, Marshall also volunteers by delivering meals for the Santa Clarita Senior Center, helping at the Santa Clarita Veteran Center and participating in Pin-ups for Vets, a nonprofit dedicated to helping active-duty personnel and injured veterans recover.
Marshall and other veteran women dress up as World War II-era pin-up girls and visit veterans in hospitals and nursing homes, sharing experiences from serving and providing a base for connection.
Ultimately, Marshall strives for a way to have a balanced life between being a mother, wife, veteran and community member beyond being an actress.
“A lot of this business is working hard, doing what you say you’re going to do and not taking it personally when you get rejected,” she said. “I used to have thin skin, and that’s a dealbreaker in this business. I became levelheaded about it. If they don’t want a woman with red hair for a part, I’m not going to get it. I try to have perspective that it’s not the most important thing in the world, and nothing in art is a linear progression. But the way to succeed in acting — in anything — it’s being confident in who you are.”