On turning challenges into opportunities
On turning challenges into opportunities
Words: Jiselle Liu @jiselle03
Photographer: Edvinas Bružas @edvinasbruzas
Stylist: Olga Timofejeva @olgatimofejeva
Makeup Artist: Nadia Altinbas @nadiaaltinbas
Nails: Iram Shelton @iramshelton
Style Assistant: Rebecca Evans-White @rebeccamevanswhite
I still remember my delight upon seeing Jessica Henwick on the big screen as Jessika Pava in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had no idea who she was at the time, but I was excited to see an Asian woman play an X-wing pilot and hoped that we would get to see more of her in the subsequent movies. Unfortunately, Henwick did not reprise her role, but since then we’ve seen her in other memorable roles such as Nymeria Sand on Game of Thrones and Colleen Wing in Iron Fist.
Earlier this month, Henwick took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with Timid Magazine. We started by asking her to tell us about herself—Who is Jessica Henwick, and what would you want people to know about you?
“Jessica is a state of mind…” She responded immediately, then laughed. She had been in the middle of a press tour at the time and was getting some variation of this question a dozen times a day. “I wish I had a succinct, thought-provoking answer for it,” she said. But rather than reciting something prepared, she stopped to consider her response.
“I am the daughter of Mark and Pearlyn,” she said after some thought. “I act, but not always. I am of mixed Eurasian descent, which shapes the way I see the world and the way the world sees me. I am 29 years old. Next year I will be 30.”
Regarding her childhood in Surrey, England, she told us, “Life was simple and good. I spent most of my childhood exploring the local forests with my brothers and getting chased off of a farmer's land. Growing up there really instilled a love of nature in me. It's my happy place.” It wasn’t always easy though, and Henwick added that growing up as an ethnic minority was difficult. “School was hard. Kids are brutal.”
As Henwick reflected on how she got her start in acting, she remembered how single-minded she was. “I just knew I had to tell stories in some way.” She and her mom had been having dim sum in London Chinatown when she came across a casting call for two East Asian kids for a BBC series. She had been too old for the roles, but her mom convinced her to reach out to inquire about an opportunity anyway. And it worked. The role was rewritten, and four months later, Henwick found herself on the set of her first professional acting job, having dropped out of school to pursue acting as a career full-time.
Unfortunately, what followed was two years of unemployment. “I could not book a job to save my life,” she recalled. “But just as I was about to give up, I booked a play in England. That sparked the next thing, which sparked the next thing, and on and on. It's been a whirlwind. I'm extremely grateful.”
Throughout her career so far, Henwick has witnessed a positive change for representation in the entertainment industry, both in the United States and the United Kingdom. “I remember when I first went to America in my late teens. There was very little interest in booking Asian actors. If a show was casting five roles, they would allot one role for ethnic minorities. It was so unspecific. Then in my early twenties, it shifted to this obsession with ‘ethnically ambiguous’ casting. But now the entertainment landscape is so oversaturated and people want to hear different stories. These days, rather than casting diversely for the sake of it, there's an actual interest in telling uniquely Asian stories.”
When I asked Henwick about how she prepared for her roles, she broke down her process for different characters: “With Game of Thrones, I had to listen to Pedro Pascal on repeat. He created the Dornish accent on the show that myself, Keisha [Castle-Hughes], and Rosabell [Laurenti Sellers] had to learn. On Love and Monsters, the prep was mainly hanging out with Dylan O'Brien and trying to build a friendship that would translate to screen. And for Iron Fist it was all physical. Our stunt coordinator Brett Chan put me through the wringer on that one! I needed to look like I'd been doing martial arts my whole life. No small task.”
This month, we will see her in the highly anticipated The Matrix Resurrections, a sequel to the Matrix trilogy. “There was a lot of pressure going into it,” she revealed. “This franchise is so beloved. I had to throw that awareness out for my sanity. You can't replicate the original. It's perfect. This had to be something new, or there was no point doing it.”
Henwick plays Bugs, who she described as a believer of Neo, the main protagonist in the franchise. “When we find her, she's convinced he's alive and determined to track him down,” she told Timid. For the role, she learned how to shoot a gun without blinking, which she told us was “surprisingly difficult.”
Undoubtedly, her recent projects have involved a lot of physicalities so when I asked about future ones she would like to tackle, she replied, “I would like to take a role where I spend the entire duration of my screen time sitting down. I say that every time I finish an action role, but I'm serious this time! No more tackling people. No more running. I want to be seated in every scene. I'm going to make this a thing.” Whether or not she gets that wish, Henwick will certainly step up and into her role with the dedication and care she has in her previous ones.
What stood out through our conversation was Henwick’s versatility and openness in facing opportunities and challenges. As we wrapped up, I asked her about our issue’s theme on Metamorphosis and of change, to which she responded without hesitation: "I mean change is the only constant in life, isn't it?"