Amid all the foolish fratting around, blubbery bromance and testosterone-level testing in “22 Jump Street,” there's one welcome source of practical feminine perspective.
That's supplied by Amber Stevens, one of the truly delightful surprises in this sequel to the satiric reboot of the TV cop series “21 Jump Street.” She plays Maya, a down-to-earth college art student who gets drawn into Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko's (Channing Tatum) undercover investigation of a campus drug ring death.
“Maya knew the girl who died, and so Jonah has to investigate her and, in so doing, a somewhat romantic situation develops between them,” says Stevens, 27, a Los Angeles native. “The fun thing about it is that she's not the kind of girl who is into labeling or cute guys or trying to be beautiful. She really just loves art and she's in school to learn, but his character is needy and wants a girlfriend right away. She's more like, let's just mess around.
“Girls are mostly seen as the needy and desperate ones, but mine couldn't really care less. She's just very carefree and open and whatever happens, happens. It was fun to do that.”
Although she's been acting professionally since she was going to Beverly Hills High School, Stevens says the well-reviewed sequel to the 2012 hit is the biggest opportunity she's had to date. And that includes a four-season stint on the television series “Greek.”
“I was brought into this huge studio film with all of these experienced people, and I just had to jump right in and see how I fit in with that,” she explains. “The whole thing was a learning experience, it was so much fun. And I really appreciate that Phil and Chris (Lord and Miller, who were also behind “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie”), the directors, kind of just let us play. We got to improvise all we wanted, and I don't know if I'll ever get that chance again because not a lot of directors and writers allow for that — at least not in my experience, because I've worked mostly in television, where you can't change anything.”
Though she only attended a few semesters at Santa Monica College before her acting career took off, Stevens has played a coed on TV — and now in “22 Jump Street,” which comes hot on the heels of last month's hit frat comedy “Neighbors.”
Why the insatiable interest in college humor?
“I think people have nostalgia for that time in their life,” Stevens says. “It's your first time away from your parents, you're finding out who you are, and you're kind of given this free pass to act like an ass for a few years. I think that's what's fun about it.”
Unlike your typical movie collegiate, however, Stevens appears to be a pretty grounded young adult, something that results more often from show business families than the public would like to believe. Her dad, Shadoe Stevens, is a local radio industry legend, “Fred Rated” from those old electronics store commercials and the announcer on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.” Mom is international model Beverly Cunningham.
“They encouraged me to kind of get involved, so I did a little modeling, but it was always on the side and school came first,” she says. “My dad has been through every up and down in this industry that can happen to you, from being at the very top to not being able to get hired for a while. So that's really given me a realistic perspective on how this industry works.
“And I think my parents instilled in me a very strong work ethic, like how to live, budget-wise, between jobs.”
Stevens grew up in Westwood, Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks, and now lives in Los Feliz; you won't find a more enthusiastic hometown booster.
“I've never wanted to leave L.A. and I still don't want to,” she says. “I think it's the best city in the world, and I've done a lot of traveling and spent time in a lot of places. It's such a happy city; cheesy as it sounds, I think everybody who comes to L.A. just really wants their dreams to come true. I mean, you find some crazies out there too, but everyone is passionate about making their lives the best that they can be. All my friends here are just really happy, kind people, and that's one of the biggest reasons I love Los Angeles.”
The biggest one of those reasons is actor Andrew J. West, a “Greek” co-star who is currently working on “The Walking Dead.” He and Stevens plan to marry at the end of the year.
“We've been together five and a half years, so we're ready for the next thing,” she says with a laugh. “He totally gets what I do for a living and he does it also, so we really have this amazing understanding of the relationship. We really support each other and we have a blast together. He's my best friend — and my parents like him!”
As for her professional future, Stevens is trying to remain as practical about it as she can.
“It's all going to go by so fast, I know, but I hope that I can ride the tide as long as possible,” she says. “I'm so grateful that I'm in this film, but who knows where it will take me. I mean, it could take me nowhere, worst-case scenario. But I can still remember that I got the chance to do it!”
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