SWAMPSCOTT — Actress Jamie Denbo spent decades playing a part in other writers’ stories. Last month, she got a taste of what it’s like seeing her own story on the big screen.
The 45-year-old Swampscott native, who has appeared on projects including “Orange is the New Black,” “The Heat,” “Sex and the City,” “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” and “VEEP,” had her own show air on Lifetime. The renaissance situation comedy, as she describes it, is titled “American Princess,” and its first season wrapped up at the end of June.
It follows the storyline of an Upper East Side socialite named Amanda (Georgia Flood) who discovers her cheating fiancé, hours before their wedding. She runs away and finds herself in the middle of a Renaissance Faire with no way to get back home. “American Princess” is a play on the monarchy acted out by the characters in the sitcom’s Faire, Denbo said.
“As my husband would say, the Jewish in “American Princess” is silent, which is another factor in the show’s name,” said Denbo. “A Jewish American princess is a term many Jewish girls use to describe themselves; a little spoiled, proper and high-class. Putting that lifestyle in a muddy, dirty place with people not as high-brow as she is used to forced Amanda to realize that they are all the same.”
Denbo said the sitcom’s storyline is not entirely based on her own experience, but it is representative of it.
“I had no idea I’d have the opportunity someday to tell this story, but I’m very grateful that I do,” she said. “It’s a story I wanted to tell for 25 years.”
In the beginning of Denbo’s career, shortly after developing a passion for doing improv at Boston University, where she studied Communications, Denbo found herself a job at a Renaissance festival. What she initially thought was an acting job similar to Shakespeare in the Park ended up being something entirely different, she said.
“I had no idea what the festival was and this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t research it properly,” Denbo said. “I had no idea people lived a nomadic and gypsy lifestyle where adults could play for a living. It was an interesting transition for somebody who grew up in a suburb outside of Boston. Not too many people grow up and join the circus, so it was not something my friends and family understood at first.”
Her work at the festival led to a number of odd jobs, such as playing a character at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. She acted in a variety of commercials and television pilots before she went to New York and landed her first guest role in “Sex and the City.”
Denbo said she was in a scene where she came out of a bathroom stall and said one line that “made her parents blush.” She continued to land small roles before moving to California in 2002.
“I had a very interesting career when I was acting full-time,” she said. “I liked to call myself a career guest star. Being on any kind of set, whether it was with a big star, on a show doing really well, or on a show that was struggling, was always an interesting experience. It definitely helped me showman my own show, as did my experience in improv, because so much of what you do is problem solve and adapt.”
But Denbo said the numbers on how many people watched the show were terrible. While she loves that Lifetime took a chance on the sitcom, she said it was a challenge resonating with an audience that is waiting for the next episode of their favorite Lifetime reality TV show.
“The audience that watches ‘Dance Moms’ isn’t the same audience that would watch a sexy, comedic romantic show,” she said. “I would rather have a small number of people find it and love it passionately and get it for what it is than a zillion people watch it and be like ‘What the heck is this?”
“American Princess” has 10 one-hour episodes that can be found on Amazon Prime or the Lifetime mobile app. Unsure if a season two is going to happen, Denbo said she feels lucky she had the opportunity to share at least one season with viewers.
Whatever happens with “American Princess,” Denbo said she is not done creating. She has a few other writing projects in the works and she is looking forward to start work on them. After spending decades in the acting industry, the actor-turned-writer has found her niche.
“If you want to act, write for yourself,” she said. “If you wait for other people to write for you, especially as a woman, you’re going to run into frustration. You know best what you can play as an actor.”