Three Great Things: Jenna Ushkowitz

Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz, now starring in 1 Night in San Diego, shares some of the things that make her life more meaningful.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the November 17 release on digital 1 Night in San Diego, the new raunchy comedy starring Jenna Ushkowitz, Laura Ashley Samuels and Alexandra Daddario, former Glee star Ushkowitz shared some of the things that have made her life special in recent times. — N.D.

I’ve been a total tennis junkie for the past two-and-a-half years. I’m hooked! I subscribe to the Tennis Channel, I play probably three times a week, I’ve got a ball machine – I’m definitely all in. I love team sports but I’m not very coordinated, so it’s good for me to be on my own. Tennis is a good focus for me; I love a challenge and something you can get better at over time.

I grew up acting and never really had time for anything else, so when other kids were doing sports, I was working. There was something really enticing about starting a sport I hadn’t done before, and my fiancé was also already a very good tennis player because he played a lot as a kid. One day, he and I tried to play tennis together and it was just a total disaster. But I stuck with it. I found a coach very quickly after and now my fiancé and I can play recreationally without getting super angry at each other! I’m very competitive. My fiancé once told me that the only player that gets better when he’s angry is John McEnroe, because I would get mad and throw my racket so much.

My fiancé and I also enjoy watching reruns of the old epic matches between the pros, like the Agassi-Federer match. It’s really fun to go back and watch those older matches; sometimes we’ll just sit there all night. We also listened to the audiobook of Open by Andre Agassi, which helped me see through his eyes. It’s really nice that tennis has brought us together in that way.

I recently read Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. I’ve always really gravitated toward self-help books and autobiography, so when I discovered Glennon through Brené Brown, I fell in love with her writing. It was at the beginning of quarantine and I thought, “I guess I’ll pick up a book, because there’s nothing else to do,” and I’d seen a lot of women on social media who’d been reading Untamed. I loved it so much and bought it for some of my closest friends.

The book goes back and forth from when Glennon was with her husband, to when she met and fell in love with Abby Wambach in 2016, and all the way to present day. There are anecdotes about her being a new mom, about her deciding to leave her husband for a woman, and what happened when she came out to her parents. It’s very feminist and focused on female empowerment.

Untamed really spoke to me and I think that there’s a lot that Glennon and I align on, in terms of being open, being vulnerable, facing your fears, putting yourself out there and taking risks. I love stories like that, and I love the way she turned her life around. I think as an artist, you have to be open and vulnerable in many ways, but as humans, we can kind of hide behind that in our work, so I think there’s something very interesting about being introspective about your demons.

There is a quote that she put up on her daughter’s wall when she was a baby which said, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” That resonated a lot with what we are going through now. I thought, This is something that I can learn for myself, and for when I myself am a mother. This is a book I could pick up in 20 years and it would still resonate. It will stand the test of time.

Political TV shows
My fiancé and I watch a lot of TV and lately the things that we’ve been watching most are hopeful, inspiring political shows like the HBO Max special of The West Wing and Madam Secretary. In 2018, I watched The West Wing for the first time all the way through. It changed my life. We are currently watching season five of Madam Secretary on Netflix. I found myself very politically active leading up to the election, because I felt like there wasn’t any choice. Watching shows like The West Wing and Madam Secretary, with its female president, was really inspiring, as we could see a powerful leader who leads with love and hope. It’s been very much needed now during this strange time.

Watching Madam Secretary this year, it gave me heart palpitations because midway through every episode I would bounce back into reality and realize, “Oh, shoot, this isn’t real life, this isn’t even close to close to where our country is…” So there’s a real comedown after watching an episode. Sometimes watching such inspirational, hopeful shows would also bring me to a place of thinking, “Oh, I wish this is where we could be.” But, ultimately, I am really moved by the show’s hope and inspiration and am focused on the things that will keep me motivated to go forward, rather than staring into the darkness of what’s happening right now.

Jenna Ushkowitz is currently starring in the raunchy comedy 1 Night in San Diego, opposite Laura Ashley Samuels and Alexandra Daddario, which is out now on digital through 1091. She is best known for her role as Tina Cohen-Chang on the award-winning Fox show Glee. She made her Broadway debut in the 1996 revival of The King and I and returned to the Broadway in the Tony Award-winning production of Spring Awakening, and later played Dawn in Tony-nominated musical Waitress. Ushkowitz made her producing debut on Broadway with the revival of Once on This Island, winning her a Tony Award; she has also served as co-producer of Be More Chill, and received a Tony nomination for The Inheritance on Broadway as a co-producer this year. Jenna is the co-founder of Kindred: The Foundation for Adoption, an American foundation to aid adoptees, and released her memoir Choosing Glee, in May 2013.