Jessica Barth is a Frankford native and Northeast High School graduate who studied theater arts and creative writing at West Chester University.
In October 2001, a few months after graduating from college, she drove cross-country to California to pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
Barth wasn’t expecting to become an instant star.
“They say it takes ten years to make an overnight success,” she said. “It’s a process.”
Well, 10 years later, Barth is hoping that a forthcoming movie will be the start of something big.
The 33-year-old actress, who can easily play younger parts, will appear in a pretty prominent role in Ted. She spent eight weeks, off and on, filming scenes in Boston from May through July.
The movie will hit the big screens on July 13. It stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Patrick Warburton, Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi.
“I got to see a private screening of it,” she said. “The cast is phenomenal. It was pretty incredible that I got to work with all of them.”
Barth, who attended the Fox Chase Elementary School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School, grew up with a connection to the entertainment industry. Her grandfather, John Barth, owned a casting agency and appeared in roles ranging from Man of La Mancha on Broadway to the Tidy Bowl man on a television commercial.
Barth appeared as an extra in the 1990 film Rocky V and took some acting classes as a teenager at the Wilma Theater. She also played softball and took part in gymnastics in her youth and worked at eateries such as Olive Garden, Old London Pizza and Quality Pizza.
On Sunday nights, she and her dad, Rocky, would watch movies together. “Since the time I was little, I’ve been obsessed with movies and television. I fell in love with acting,” she said.
Barth spent two years studying communications at La Salle University before transferring to West Chester, where she took part in the student-run experimental theater program. She starred in Hamlet and The Importance of Being Earnest.
Looking back, she believes that her days at West Chester helped her in pursuit of a professional career.
“There were a lot of opportunities,” she said.
Since arriving in the Golden State a decade ago, Barth has appeared in such television shows as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Days of Our Lives and How I Met Your Mother. She’s been the voice of Brandee and Kate Hudson in episodes of the Fox animated series Family Guy.
And she played a flight attendant in the 2008 movie Get Smart.
“It was a small part. I was on the set for three days and got to see Steve Carell work. He’s so nice and humble,” she said.
Along the way, she spent eight years working at the Burbank Bar & Grill.
The movie Ted represents a big leap in her career. The film is in the post-production phase. It was written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy.
“He’s fantastic,” she said. “He’s probably the smartest person I’ve met in my entire life.”
MacFarlane provides the voice for Ted, a teddy bear. Barth plays Tami-Lynn, the bear’s girlfriend.
The film is about an average guy (Wahlberg) and his teddy bear, who comes to life as the result of a childhood wish. The bear, though, gets in the way of the man’s romance with a woman played by Kunis.
Barth describes the flick as a “buddy story.” It’s an R-rated comedy.
“I think it’s going to be really good,” she said. “It’s hysterical in the vein of Family Guy. Mark Wahlberg is so charming in it, the way he interacts with the bear.”
Barth researched her character by watching MTV’s Jersey Shore and getting a hairstyle like Snooki’s.
“She’s kind of white trash with a short temper,” Barth said of the character Tami-Lynn, not Snooki.
Barth had to drop any hints of being from Philadelphia or Los Angeles. “I had to work really, really hard on a Boston accent,” she said.
The preparation worked. Barth heard one of the local actors tell the director of photography, “I’m so happy you guys hired a girl from Boston.”
Barth is confident that her performance in Ted will be more fulfilling than the 2007 film Next. She spent four days shooting the film, which was about a Las Vegas musician who could see into the future and is pursued by FBI agents seeking to use his abilities to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack.
In the end, Barth was seen on screen, but her speaking parts were left on the cutting-room floor. “I still got to stay at a beautiful hotel and hang out with Nicolas Cage,” she said.
Recently, Barth was in town for Thanksgiving, staying with her mom Mary Beth in Parkwood.
A few days earlier, she was invited to the GQ Men of the Year red-carpet party at the fancy Chateau Marmont hotel in West Hollywood, where she met Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z.
In Philly, she spent plenty of time with her five nephews and two nieces, and helped her sister, Gina O’Rourke, open the new Loop Café in Fox Chase.
Barth is back home in L.A. with her husband Brett, a graduate student in marriage and family therapy at California State University, Northridge.
Next week, she’ll be filming on the set of the ABC Family comedy Melissa & Joey, starring Melissa Joan Hart and another Philadelphia-area native, Joey Lawrence.
When she’s not acting, Barth is teaching Pilates classes and “Piloxing,” which mixes boxing and fitness exercises.
The decision to move to the West Coast, she believes, has been a good one in retrospect. She’s represented by David Guillod, of Intellectual Artists Management.
“Career-wise, it’s been phenomenal. I’m so grateful. My goal is to continue to work in film,” she said. “The only downfall is that I’m so far from my family.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org