Interview: Jess Barden

From the interview archives.

English actress Jessica Barden got her start in the film industry with a small role on My Parents Are Aliens and since then she has graced our screens on hit series like Coronation Street and Penny Dreadful. VULKAN caught up with Jessica to talk about her recent release The End of the F**king World and her upcoming film The New Romantic.

What attracted you to the role of Alyssa in The End of the F**king World?
I wanted to play Alyssa because I saw so much of my own personality in her and I felt like it was the type of young woman we should be seeing. She is deliberately shocking, which is something I usually just end up doing. I just say weird things or the first thing that comes into my head and it’s usually because I actually feel really shy or inadequate in the situation – Alyssa does this as well. It’s usually male roles that are shown as being out of touch with their emotions, but girls are that way as well. 

The film was originally created as a graphic novel and released in 2013. Had you heard of it prior to the film casting? Do you read any graphic novels and if so, which?
I had not heard of it before my audition for the original short film. I pick up graphic novels from time to time now, because of reading The End of the F**king World. I like that you can sit down and read them usually in one go. They aren’t as time consuming as books can be.

In it, Alyssa befriends a new school mate, James, who thinks he might be a psychopath. Teenagers think all kinds of things about themselves as they grow and adapt to their lives, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever thought about yourself growing up?
I just liked the wrong things growing up; I liked old films and I listened to country music and I made the mistake of telling people thinking other people would like it, which obviously didn’t work out. I also looked about 9 years old for a really long time. I didn’t have to wear a bra which people found hilarious….the weirdest thing I thought about myself was the fact that I thought I was weird, because I wasn’t at all, I was just myself. You get older and don’t have time to care what anyone thinks, apart from your Mum. 

Sometimes, the people we’re introduced to are not necessarily as they present themselves… what advice would you give to teens exploring new relationships?
Finding out that people aren’t what they first seemed isn’t something that just happens when you’re growing up, it’s a relentless part of life. My advice would be to first get used to it, then just focus on yourself and being your own friend and finding out the things you like and don’t like, ultimately finding something you’re passionate about, then do that. You will find people who are right for you, but find out about yourself first. 

How did you spend your time between takes?
I really love being on set. I love the crew, I love the drivers, makeup artists, everyone. It’s like a family on set and I have so much fun being with everyone that I work with, so when I have time in-between takes I just talk to whoever is around and sit down because I get tired. I don’t read books or take my phone to set, I would rather do that stuff on my own time while relaxing. 

What do you hope people learn from this story and these characters?
I hope people learn that all the characters in this show actually exist in some form in everyone’s life and that is the world we all live in. 

What has the role of Alyssa taught you or had you reflect about yourself?
Playing Alyssa taught me that I can get really angry like her and push people away. I also think Alyssa and I needed to learn to be more patient with people, or you can miss out on people like James being in your life. 

What’s the most awkward way you’ve found yourself befriending someone?
I have a lot of friends I’ve had to kiss or be naked with in a scene, and then ended up being friends with them. Some people would call that awkward. 

What has been the best performance by a fellow actor you’ve seen so far this year?
Hands down, Isabelle Huppert in Elle – it just changed the way I thought about myself as an actress. A lot of women wouldn’t take on a role like that for a lot of reasons, mainly because you’re playing a woman who is first degraded by being raped and then later you see her actually enjoying it and controlling it. She is sexually aggressive and disturbed, you could argue. You still don’t see enough women taking on roles that are, for lack of a better word, ugly or vulgar. Men can portray addicts and damaged people and it’s fine but if a woman does it she has to worry if people will still deem her attractive enough to play other roles. Isabelle Huppert is so consistently fearless as an actress. 

If you could sit down for a lunch date with anyone in the world, who do you choose and where do you take them?
I would take my best friend Bill, even though I can see him usually whenever I want. I just love him and I love going places with him because he knows just how much to let me show off before I make a fool of myself. I would take him to Sugarfish for sushi in LA because he won’t go until I take him, and we haven’t had time this year. 

What’s your go-to store to shop at?
Honestly, Marks and Spencers. It’s the first place I go to when I get home from a working away. I always buy new underwear and bed sheets when I get back from working for a long time. I don’t know why, it’s just a habit now and I would only go to Marks and Spencers for that. I am just an old woman now. 

What’s one quirk you have that people might not know?

I’m really afraid of small spaces. I don’t go in lifts – people have to build lifts if I need to film in one. I am petrified of the tube because it’s so small. I  am usually on the verge of fainting when I’m on the tube, it’s so annoying, 

Next year you’ll be appearing in The New Romantic, what can you tell us about Blake and your involvement?
The film is about Blake who is a hopeless romantic and is finding herself ever more in a minority of twenty something year olds who can’t have sex without being in love and do believe in ‘the one’. She is trying to be a journalist and she ends up accidentally exploring the lives of sugar babies. It was a really amazing experience and I got to work with a really great director called Carly Stone. It was really special playing a role my own age, with a director my own age, as I had never had that before. 

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