Isobel Jesper Jones – Half Bad Series – Interview
By Claire Bueno
As a film journalist it is always a rewarding experience to interview talented, emerging actors; there’s an openness, enthusiasm and genuine sense of gratitude for the opportunity presented to them. One such actor is Isobel Jesper Jones, an erudite young actress that clearly has a skilful grasp on the application of her craft.
It’s an exciting time for Jesper Jones, not only is her screen debut a lead part on Netflix’s hit show The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself, but her second role will see her joining the Hunger Games franchise in the forthcoming The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
But for now I wanted to know all about The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. Convincingly portraying the sadistic, half-sister to Nathan, her ‘half bad’ brother, we had an insightful conversation about her approach, preparation, fun and her literal baptism by gunfire!
I’ve seen three episodes of The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself and I have to say Jessica is a bit of a minx, so she must be a lot of fun to play? (Laughs)
Yes, yes, definitely. It’s always interesting hearing people’s thoughts about her, I always feel that I should lead with an apology (laughs). ‘I’m sorry!’ (Laughs). Yes, she’s delightfully, deliciously mean to play (laughs).
They say it’s always fun to play the baddy. I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Gere once where he told me, when you are playing the antagonist it’s not down to the actor to make the judgement call on their character, people aren’t just black and white. So was it interesting for you to go on the psychological journey of finding out why Jessica behaves the way that she does?
Yeah definitely. It’s really interesting you bring that up, because you almost can’t play any character unless you get on their side, and on their team, and see their point of view. And I think particularly in this show Jessica keeps so much emotion and you never see that seep through. I think she associates emotion with weakness, and because of that you never see what’s bubbling underneath. But I do believe that any character that has a huge amount of anger, and pain, and enjoys inflicting cruelty on people the way she does; I think that’s always fuelled by their own pain and their own vulnerability. I think she’s felt a lot of loss in her life, the loss of both of her parents. I think she is someone who deliberately isolates herself from other people, and doesn’t trust other people. And exactly as you say, it was one of those things of doing a lot of work in terms of what’s bubbling under the surface, and then having that going on in the background, where she covers it all up with these other layers of her defences.
Absolutely. And the show is based off of The Half Bad trilogy by Sally Green, so how have the books helped inform your character and her motivation?
I think the first book, Half Bad doesn’t focus too much on Jessica. You meet her when she is living at home with Nathan and Gran, but it doesn’t follow her as she goes off to the Hunters. So for me it was way more of a spring board into her world, and the book actually explores what that living dynamic was like between her and Nathan. There’s a lot of chapters of that building tension which was really beautiful to imagine; these people cooped up living together. So that was really handy, and I also like how the book touches a little bit on different character’s powers, and how they are reflections of who they are. So in the book it’s mentioned that Jessica was going to be a shapeshifter, she was always good at lying. And I really like that idea that shapeshifting is just the ultimate form of manipulation, the ultimate form of lying. So it was really useful to read.
And because you’re shapeshifting you’re in the unique position you can kind of change character, change personalities, was that something fun to toy around with too?
Yeah definitely. It was fascinating watching, because obviously other actors come in and play the people I’m shapeshifting into. But it was really fascinating exploring what it would be like to be in a position where you can take on any identity at a click of a finger, I think it would really mess with your sense of self. In a way I discovered [this] as we were filming more and more, and particularly as the series goes on. It’s really interesting that Jessica starts to shapeshift unconsciously, so you discover if she is thinking about someone, or obsessing over something, she will shapeshift into that thing, and not even realise she’s doing it. And I thought that was such an interesting thing, ‘cos that’s a little bit like the truth slipping out between the cracks of her lies. There’s and amazing scene that you’ll come across, I think it’s episode seven where she kisses Kieran and she shapeshifts into Annalise, and she doesn’t realise she’s done it. And I found that fascinating to film.
The story is about witches, and I suppose I can say that bubbling under the surface there’s a war going on between the good and the bad. But what the show cleverly highlights is that it’s all about perception and there’s good and bad in everyone?
One of the big themes of the show is this idea that there is no such thing as right and wrong, or good and bad. A lot of the characters in the show are grappling with the problem of being told they are one thing; rather than, they want to discover their own identity for themselves. I think the fairborn hunters that Jessica joins are a group of people, who have set their hearts on the idea that there is a right and a wrong; and that they are in the right, and that blood witches are in the wrong. [So] as an organisation that’s really interesting, especially in the world we live in today. They’re so strong in their beliefs that they’re in the right. But as the series goes on you discover they’re really willing to push the limits of what’s acceptable; and especially Jessica. She’s convinced herself that blood witches are awful, and that’s her justification for her behaviour. And I think the way our writer Joe Barton handles that is really nuanced, because you begin to discover as more and more episodes go on, that the fairborns are not in the right at all, but also, the blood witches aren’t necessarily morally neutral either. [So] there’s this battle of a mixture of right and wrong in everyone.
And with regards to your background, you studied at RADA, so you’ve done a lot of theatre, and now you’ve transitioned to acting for film and TV. The techniques are different, film is very technical and a much more contained performance is required, as opposed to theatre where you have to project to an audience. So how has that transition been for you from stage to screen?
It was really unexpected, all I had ever done was theatre and The Bastard Son is the first job I got when I left drama school. So it was my first day on set, my first day on any set, and we were filming all of the trainer hunting stuff, when I’m learning to shoot a gun. That was my first day, and I was like, ‘Oh gosh.’ (laughs). You’re right it’s a totally different world, I found it really beautiful in its own way. I think screen acting has an intimacy and a subtlety to it that’s really beautiful, and you have to put so much trust into your partner that you are working with, because it really is the tiny details of reaction and emotion that the camera picks up. Whereas a theatrical performance is slightly more about taking a wide arc of the story all the way through. So I was so lucky that I had people like Paul Ready who plays Soul, who taught me so much about screen acting and about how you can build a relationship between two characters. Jessica and Soul have such a fascinating relationship that gets more and more complex, and more and more unusual as the series goes on. So I’ve loved it, I wasn’t expecting it at all, it was a baptism by fire, me standing with a gun on a shooting range on my first day. I think I had the record for the most takes of a shot, for taking a long time. I had to do it about; oh it was awful, I did it for about 30 times or something. The director was like, ‘You’re winning at the moment for how many takes.’ (Laughs). And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, it’s my first time here.’ (Laughs).
And you are working with Andy Serkis’ production company The Imaginarium, he’s like the king of fantasy. What was it like working with that team?
Oh it’s been amazing and Andy’s lovely. I think there is so much fantasy at the moment, there’s a real interest and hunger for it from fans. But working with The Imaginarium, working with Andy, gives this show a real edge. I think the fantasy in it is really beautifully done, even some of the goriest scenes, the special effects are so meticulous and beautiful. I think the script doesn’t take itself too seriously, it clicks along at such a pace that it makes the show very different to a lot of other fantasy shows, it’s not reverential, or doesn’t get too plot heavy, it’s more about the characters, the excitement of creating different worlds. Andy is so proud of the show, when we were doing interviews with him, he said he feels like a proud father of all of us, he’s been brilliant.
And you mentioned hunger, you’re going to be in the new Hunger Games film (The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) I know you can’t say much about it, but what can you share with us?
I can’t say too much, I’ve just got back from filming it. I play a very feisty red head called Mayfair Lipp, who’s the daughter of the mayor of District 12. What I would say about the film is that it’s got everything you want out of a Hunger Games film. It’s a beautiful script and it’s got a huge cast. I think The Hunger Games is brilliant at casting new talent, there were so many people just like me; this is my second job. It was such a beautiful experience, ‘cos they really do find new talent. That’s all I can say, I think (laughs).
And going back to The Bastard Son knowing what you know now is there a piece of advice you’d give yourself having left drama school and going into TV, is there anything that you’ve learned?
Yeah I would say for actors particularly at the beginning of their career, I think it is really important to remember your job is your character, so you are going to be the expert on them. Everyone is responsible for their own world and their own character. I think that it is really easy to get overwhelmed by everything that is going on, but you know your character best, you’ve done the work on them; and to trust that you are breathing life into this person, that wouldn’t exist if you weren’t there doing it.
ISOBEL JESPER JONES
THE BASTARD SON & THE DEVIL HIMSELF
now available on NETFLIX
Photographer: Pip Bourdillon Stylist: Farrah O’Connor Hair: Shukeel Murtaza Makeup: Maria Asad
Production Stills: Netflix - © 2022, Photo Credit: Teddy Cavendish
With special thanks to Premier Personal