- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
In Jungleland, a gritty drama directed by Max Winkely in which she stars alongside Charlie Hunman, Jack O’Connell, and Jonathan Majors, Barden delivers another strong performance as a compromised soul in a film about people trying to claw their way out of the gutter with all the doors closing on them. It’s a familiar, but potent drama rife with strong, resonating performances.
Jessica spoke with Home Theater Forum from Los Angeles about what drew her to the role of Sky in the film, her passion for acting, and two of her actress inspirations she’d love to work with.
Jungleland is available to rent or buy from your favorite digital retailers.
HTF: Jungleland is quite the experience. I wanted to ask you what you saw in the script for Jungleland that stood out to you, that pulled you into its orbit and said to you, "This is a film you need to be in"?
"You have a lot of shows that have masculinity at the center of it, and usually told from the women's point of view. And I really believed in the movie showing it through a man's point of view."
Jessica Barden: I mean, the first thing that stood out to me was the relationship between the two brothers, Stanley and Lion. I really saw that this was a movie that was going to explore masculinity and what it means to be a man in working class America, or anywhere, [and explore] the way they're surviving, the way that they speak to each other, the emotion, the fears, and their dreams. And obviously, my character within that, when you get down to it, is an unsympathetic character because she’s playing a game. She also has her own insecurities and her own dreams and her own way of survival. And I felt like it was a really interesting take. You have a lot of shows that have masculinity at the center of it, and usually told from the women's point of view. And I really believed in the movie showing it through a man's point of view.
HTF: And I was really struck by the main trio in this film. They're all fighting souls, some physically fighting, others fighting in different ways, but they're also beaten by life and by the world at seemingly every turn. And there was sort of a fragile strength in their defiance, or at least how they're coping with their circumstances. They seem to wander through life trying to find the right way out, trying to make it out, and doing the right thing sometimes, doing the wrong thing sometimes. What do you see in that trio…what did that trio say to you?
Jessica Barden: To me, they are three people that are trying to survive every single day. They want to be people that don't want to wake up one day and be like, "What have I actually done with my life?" Which is what everybody's trying to do. All these characters kind of just represents the every man. They're trying to figure out how they can make an impact on the world, how they can have the happiest life and not wake up one day and be like, "What have I actually done?" The class that they're in is just surviving. You can have these dreams if you want and visions of what you want or life to be. But they're stuck in this life where you have to wake up every single day and they don't even know where they're going to sleep at night. So, it gets very complicated, and their lives are very messy along the way. But really, they're trying their best to make the most of their lives.
HTF: And this might be my Englishness coming out right now. But I marveled at the look of the film because the places, the locations chosen for the film seem very rundown, lived in corners of America that felt very European to me, really just felt like places in England I saw growing up. And I know, obviously, they're not trying to capture the UK. But I wonder, did you get a sense of that familiarity in some of the locations where you shot? I believe you shot some in Massachusetts and maybe even New Jersey. Did you get that sense too that there was a rundown sort of lived-in '70s Englishness about some of the locations you shot?
“…all of this was filmed in Fall River and New Bedford in Massachusetts which is an hour outside of Boston. So everywhere we go in the film was genuinely where it was shot. Everything's real. And it was a fascinating place to be.”
Jessica Barden: Well, all of this was filmed in Fall River and New Bedford in Massachusetts which is an hour outside of Boston. So everywhere we go in the film was genuinely where it was shot. Everything's real. And it was a fascinating place to be. And I think you're right to feel some kind of English influence on it because the places that we're filming in Massachusetts used to be [some of the] richest parts of America. So, it probably does have an English feel to it. I mean, I stayed in New Bedford when I was filming and it did kind of feel like England, with cobbled streets. I grew up in Yorkshire in England. It reminded me a lot of York, which is one of the cities where I grew up. It did have that old English feel to it. Mainly because it felt like time stood still. I don't think that anybody from these areas would mind me saying this but I think that it hasn't really had a lot going on there. Nothing really happens with time and that’s really looks like. And I think that's what these parts of America are like. Nothing changed there. They're not these really successful places. They're not the center of the industry anymore. And these are the people that live there. And yeah, it's interesting that you said that because it is what it felt like.
HTF: I never fail to marvel at the ability of actors from my corner of the old world absolutely nailing different American accents. And you did it so wonderfully. I know there are voice coaches for different dialects on set, but did you work on different accents growing up when you knew you wanted to be an actor? Did you play around with accents and practice them, like the American accent? Or is that something you've done largely when you've taken roles that have asked you to do a different accent?
Jessica Barden: Well, on this movie we had an amazing dialect coach called Wendy Overly who worked always in this part of America. She always worked around Boston. I did another movie with her called Holler, and she, sadly passed away a few weeks ago. She became ill during the pandemic and died. She was an amazing woman and really, it's all her once you hear accents in this movie. But in terms of myself and accents, yes, I was a kid that was obsessed with America. I always wanted to live here. Everything I watched was American TV. I was obsessed with the Disney channel. I was always going around doing an American accent. And I always felt a connection to America. I have no idea why. Maybe I was American in another life. But this is where I've always wanted to live and I've always loved American movies. I love playing American characters. I was always imitating American characters and used to spend a lot of time imitating Robin Williams' movies when I was a kid. So, I guess I made something good from it.
HTF: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you a question about The End of the F***ing World, which was a brilliant piece of work. It was a fascinating that show and a brilliant adaptation. Talk about playing the role of Alyssa on that show.
“I knew that it was unique at the time. And I do feel like Alyssa and James [played by Alex Lawther] and ‘The End of the F***ing World’ has influenced a lot of work since.”
Jessica Barden: I mean, at the time when we were doing the first series, we didn't know that people were really going to be interested in it. So, it was literally just another job that I was going to audition for. I always knew that it was a unique character. Some people think that I'm like Alyssa. I don't really know if I'm like her, but people are going to think whatever they think. But it was great to play that character. And I knew that it was unique at the time. And I do feel like Alyssa and James [played by Alex Lawther] and The End of the F*** World has influenced a lot of work since. And that's fantastic because these characters really were unique at the time and so great that it's opened up a lot of doors for other characters and other actors that you wouldn't usually see. They really paved the way for a lot of “oddballs”.
HTF: I was looking over your filmography and you make remarkably interesting role choices, unpredictable, that have really shone a light on the range and extraordinary capability you have as an actor. Is there anyone out there today you are just dying to work with? Is there someone out there whose work is drawing you to them?
Jessica Barden: Oh, my God. Isabelle Pierre and Diane Wiest. I really want to work with them both so much. I love their careers. I play these different roles over time because I just love people. And I'm just fascinated by people. I have no idea why we do the things that we do. And I want to explore it in my work. And, to me, Isabelle Pierre and Diane Wiest are two actors that really stand out, just making the most of those opportunities we get in this job to be a different person. You can learn about completely different aspects of life. And live this whole other life when you’re play these roles and they really make the most of it. So, if I could work with them, that would be the best. I would love to work with them.
HTF: That's wonderful. Jessica, thank you so much for talking with us today.
Jessica Barden: Thank you as well. And thank you for watching the movie!