Interview with Actress, Writer and Filmmaker Jessica Rose
Today On What On What’s Good with host Jovin Tardif, I am here with Jessica Rose. Rose is a Toronto-based actress, writer, and filmmaker. She is the recipient of the AH! Emerging Artist Award from the Lakeshorts Film Festival in 2015 for Frozen Marbles. She wrote, produced, and starred in the short film, Alison, which was awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick and recently curated on the prestigious YouTube channel Omeleto, garnering over 400K online views and counting. In this interview, some topics include her journey to becoming an actress, her experiences with short film Alison, her roles in Man Seeking Woman, Saving Hope, Murdoch Mysteries, The Detail and Cardinal, and much more.
1. Can we discuss the first time you wanted to be an actress?
I wish I could say that there was one significant moment that I knew. It was more like I came out of the birth canal with jazz hands! I’ve just always known this is what I was meant to do, in the same way, I know the sky is blue. When I was little, my favorite games were playing dress-up and make-believe. That desire to get lost in my imagination and play and live inside different worlds just never went away.
2. Describe some of the training you received.
A teacher I had in third grade pulled me aside and encouraged me to audition for a performing arts school. That moment probably changed my life. I ended up getting into the program. Half the day was academics and the other half was art, music, drama, and dance. I really just came alive there. Once I graduated high school I majored in drama and finally pursued my BFA in Acting at the University of Windsor. I honestly can’t remember a time that I wasn’t pursuing this with all my heart.
3. Any favourite performers/storytellers?
I love art that sparks conversation and laughter. It challenges us to think deeply and helps us better understand ourselves and others. I think storytelling is such a powerful tool for empathy and compassion. Over time, my passion has extended to writing and filmmaking as well. I feel really inspired by women who create their own work, like Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Isa Rae (Insecure), Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson (Broad City), and Michaela Cole (I Will Destroy You). We live in a time where it is easier than ever to just write and create from our hearts. There are so many different platforms and ways to find an audience. I want to take advantage of that and keep making things.
4. Congratulations on being Vimeo’s staff pick for your short film for Alison. It has also been most recently curated by Omeleto this past year and has over 400,000 views. You were an actress, writer, and filmmaker in this short film. How were you inspired to create the short film Alison?
Thank you! This film is so close to my heart, so I appreciate how much it has resonated with people. I’ve always considered myself more of an actress than a writer, but I woke up one day and the story for Alison just flooded me. Reflecting on my own long term relationship, I was curious about those private moments between couples that don’t often get talked about. Even the healthiest partnerships are challenged once in a while when our triggers come up when the mundanity of day-to-day life makes us crave something new when our messiest selves come out of hiding.
Relationships are a constant negotiation, and they aren’t always easy, even when they are founded in deep love. I had seen so many movies about the beginning and end of relationships, but not that many about what it just is to love someone through the day to day for everything they are. Perhaps the evening depicted in Alison is still extreme in a way, but I do think most of us have had a night or two with our long term partners where we have to dig deeper for our love and patience.
Once the first image of the first scene came to me, everything else just flowed, and I think I wrote the script in an hour. I actually didn’t expect to become anything. I just shared it with David Lester, the director, like “Hey, maybe we can just make this quick little fun thing,” and the whole thing quickly snowballed, especially once it got in the hands of my co-star Kristopher Turner and he wanted to make it with us.
5. Can you describe what it was like to be a writer, filmmaker, and actress in this film?
A film gets made three times: when it’s written when it’s filmed, and when it’s edited. The film we ended up making ended up becoming far more than anything I could have conceived on the page. My writing was simple and sparse. I think what gave the film it’s weight was working with Kris, who brought so much depth and sensitivity to his role, and the direction by David. David just let the camera roll to see what kind of small spontaneous moments would happen between Kris and me, and so much of that landed in the final piece.
The challenging part was wearing different hats on the day, both as a filmmaker and actress, and needing to be on top of certain things like getting the crew fed, overseeing so many of the behind-the-scenes logistics and details, and simultaneously remain in the emotional place I needed to be in to perform these intimate, vulnerable scenes. I think I had an advantage because I had written the script, and had spent weeks helping to prepare for the day, so the character and story were already so deep inside me.
6. Can you describe the editing process?
The hardest part for me was actually in the editing room. At that point, I think I had lost objectivity because I was so close to the film and saw that what we filmed on the day had so much more breadth than the original script, so I had to shape it all over again. I spent two weeks in my room alone in the dark, editing, and living off jars of peanut butter. The smallest cut would change the flow of the whole story, so I was fairly meticulous, if not obsessive.
As a filmmaker, I had to be very clear on what the story was that I wanted to tell, but I learned so much through that process. We sent it out to a few different close friends with some variations to get their feedback. That’s when I learned that everyone has a different opinion and you can’t please them all. You really just have to stand by your own voice and make yourself happy, trust in what you want to say. I also highly recommend that every actor edit their own work at some point because it helped me see that my simplest work was always my best.
7. Big fan of television shows. Any fun memories from your roles on the following television shows
Man Seeking Woman
Oh, this was just the most inspiring and fun thing to be part of ever. I was working with Jay Baruchel and Fred Armisen, and it was this masterclass in comedy. I couldn’t believe my luck. Fred Armisen was playing Jesus. I don’t think it made the final cut but at one point the characters were playing charades. He just improvised for half an hour doing the funniest, most genius things I had ever seen.
I worked on an episode directed by Gregory Smith, who is just the sweetest man and such a talented director, and shared scenes with Linda Kash who is a Toronto icon (you might remember her as the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Angel, but she’s also an improv queen). I most remember Linda and I chatting a lot behind the scenes and I just loved getting to know her. She was just so funny and nurturing and made me feel so comfortable. Then the cameras would roll and she would instantly become this mean and bossy character ordering me around. She’s so good.
The hair! The costumes! The sets! I loved going for my fitting for this show and being elaborately dressed, corset and all, and then sitting for the most elaborate 1900’s hairdo. The little girl in me who used to love to play-dress was giddy the whole time.
This really was such a great experience. Grant Harvey was such a smart director and the cast was very playful and supportive and so fun to play off of. I was a young, um, “masseuse” named Karen that the cops came to interrogate, so I really enjoyed doing the character work on this and figuring out the tough persona she had to put on to do her job, versus the vulnerable young mother she really was, just trying to earn a living for her daughter.
8. Describe your role in the Canadian TV series Cardinal. Any interesting stories from your experience on-set? What was it like to be on the show?
In Cardinal, I played Margaret Murphy, the girlfriend of a character who kills himself, and when she’s told by the cops she initially comes off as pretty heartless and indifferent. I loved playing a tough girl because it’s so different from who I really am. I’m such a softie, and Margaret had so much grit, a really thick skin. I listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails to get into character. One day, they spent an hour putting tattoos all the way up my arms.
We filmed in North Bay, which is about four hours from Toronto, and I loved traveling to set with the other actors and getting to know each other, especially Kristen Thomson who has been a hero of mine for a long time. I used to study her one-woman show I, Claudia when I was in theatre school and I just adored her, so working with her truly was a dream.
9. Any upcoming projects coming soon?
I’m on a web series called Zooming which just premiered, and I’m finishing up my next script which I plan to film as soon as life returns to normal (after the pandemic). I’m also very excited about a few projects I have coming up in the new year, but they haven’t been announced just yet. Stay tuned 🙂