Actress Liz Jenkins is playing the long game in Hollywood. The former Alief resident has appeared in small roles on series including Black-ish, American Horror Story, and Southland. But even she gets impatient waiting for that big break. While most roles were supposed to be for only one episode, once Jenkins asserts herself on set, the directors and creative teams often invite her back for more.
After graduating from Elsik High School, where her big role was as the lion in The Wiz, Jenkins trained at the University of Evansville and got her MFA at the University of California San Diego before heading to Los Angeles. There she was able to land some guest spots on shows like How to Get Away with Murder, S.W.A.T., Criminal Minds, and NCIS: Los Angeles—but she really wanted to do comedy.
It was when she was wrapping up filming American Horror Story: Cult that she caught wind of a one-scene guest spot on Black-ish as Miss Biggs, a substitute teacher. When Miss Biggs first meets her class of elementary school children, she introduces herself saying, “Yes, my last name is also my body type.” It’s a wonderfully written line, perfectly delivered, but Jenkins saw an opportunity.
“After saying my scripted lines, this little voice in my head said You could play around here. You know what you’re doing. Have fun. I decided to improv a little bit and they really liked it. To my surprise, they brought me back again, so I kept having fun, and they kept bringing me back. Now Miss Biggs is Principal Biggs.”
Jenkins spends a lot of her time carving out a space for a plus-sized African American woman in the acting world. After a decade in Hollywood, she’s seen the beginnings of change around the ways size and color affect her opportunities, but it’s slow going. Until the industry catches up to reality, Jenkins understands that while the roles she’s offered may be limited because of her size and race, her talent isn’t.
And if she wants her own life experience reflected on screen, her own voice heard, she can write her own scripts, like WERK, a 2017 comedy web series she co-wrote and produced with partner Molly Fite. The show was based on the pair’s actual experiences as young actors scraping things together in Hollywood. The five-part series recreated their short-lived and slightly disastrous careers as dog walkers, ride share drivers, and party entertainers.
Ultimately, one of her goals is to star in a television comedy about a single mother juggling family life with work and personal relationships, love, and laughter. She saw her own mother do it, spending a lot of time, money, and effort raising three kids and letting them pursue their interests in theater and sports. Jenkins thinks it would translate well to the television screen.
She often draws from her Houston background, in fact. Along with her own family and friends, Jenkins says she summons the wonderfully diverse characters and cultures she saw while growing up Alief, where it’s not uncommon to hear a dozen languages spoken at school.
“Yes, the two-step is ingrained in me and you better believe I love a good kolache, but the diversity I grew up around gives me a bit of an edge pursuing this career and in my writing,” she says. “All the different perspectives and cultures are like an endless fountain of information when I’m creating a character or building on a role.”
Is there anything she especially misses about Texas? Tex-Mex food is her immediate answer. California can’t seem to get it quite right. “I miss it dearly," Jenkins says. "When California tries to play around with my refried beans and flour tortillas, I don’t like it.”
To which we say: You’re welcome home any time, Liz.