When I received Jess’s answers back to this interview, little did I know I would be tears while reading them. Its taken me some time to compose myself to be able to start drafting this interview out.
As you’ll read in this interview Jess tore away from his rough childhood to excel in multiple martial arts, UFC, stuntwork and acting in independent and major movie productions. His drive and determination are clear to see, and I have a lot of respect for his journey not only as an actor but for the man himself. He gives a very honest account of his experience so far.
I’ve met some truly amazing people on this blogging journey and Jess’s interview will be here as a testament to the strength and depth of character shown by someone to achieve their dreams. That takes real courage.
May I wish Jess all the best in his career and many thanks for this interview.
Vikki: From an accomplished martial artist to an actor, what attributes do you feel martial artists bring to the acting world?
Jess: Dedication and discipline of course. You don’t get to be very skilled or compete at the highest level by accident or because you know the right people. You’ve got to work hard every day in the gym and not being scared of failure. The same way as an actor you need to work on your craft and be knocked down multiple times before finding some sort of success.
Besides, my actual skills was of no value as an actor at the tine but more as a stuntman. What I mean is that I would never get a role because I can bring a lifetime experience in martial arts to the table, it’s always going to be about who’s right for the role in the eye of the director or production. So martial arts did help me with failure and always questioning myself but at the same time being confident. The only downfall is that the film business is a completely different approach and it can be frustrating sometimes. To be good at martial arts you don’t rely on so many people, if you train hard and intelligently every day you will see an improvement and it’s the same as a fighter, each and every victory will bring you close to you title shot. But in the film industry you will always have to rely on many different people to get to your goal regardless of the work you may have invested in your craft or opportunities you may have created.
Vikki: Your IMDb biography states that you came from a very underprivileged background – what advice would you give anyone in this situation with hopes and aspirations similar to yours?
Jess: Basically I was physically abused by my father, he would beat me up nearly every day and that since I was a babe. I remember going to school with two black eyes and nobody would even ask me what was wrong with me because everybody was scared of him. He broke my nose, I have a fracture in my skull and various injuries sustained from his violence. So as a kid I was very introverted and shy and people thought I was very weird at school and they would bully me too. At 14 me and my mother and younger sisters ran away but we had nowhere to go because people were too frightened to help us. So we had to sleep in the street, churches or care center for some time until my mother could get a place. Anyway, I’m not going to give you all the details of my life because we could be here all day. At the end of the day everybody has problems and they’re probably not interested in mine. But it’s just to give you an idea of where I came from, so as soon as I left home and even so life was pretty hard I still felt free and liberated. So from now on I was not going to let nobody bully me anymore and luckily for me I was inspired by people from fighters to actors that had to go through hard-ship too, so I never felt that I was the only one suffering and that it was just a part of life and that I needed to keep going forward and work harder than everyone because nothing good comes easy. I never knew people that were rich or privileged so I couldn’t compare my life to others and didn’t know any better so I really felt that now those chains made of fear, hopelessness and defeatism were removed from me that the world was my oyster as long as I worked hard and never gave myself any limits.
Vikki: As a French actor based in the UK, are there more opportunities for you in London?
Jess: There is more opportunity because there is a lot more films shooting in the UK but to be honest the biggest role I had so far were in French movies. The commercial film market is very small in France and it’s basically half dozen different groups of friends making films with each other. They are creating their own opportunities I suppose so I can’t really complain if they don’t want to invite me in their party.
But now and again I do get surprised with an offer. Actually I will be shooting another film in France next year called Nevada from Barbes with a great role and it’s something completely different that what I usually do.
In the UK it’s been very difficult, especially the past few years where I barely did any auditions, but it’s not only me, I think most actors from different backgrounds feel the same. Basically some of the big casting directors are now mainly working with an agent and agency that they are familiar with and barely nothing gets advertised on Spotlight. The equity should be doing something about this but it seems like they are not doing very much for the industry anymore.
I remember casting for Game of Thrones or The Last Kingdom a few years ago but recently I have only been doing 3 or 4 auditions a year. I have tried to sign with a bigger agent, but they rather spend their energy on younger actors that they can build to an up and coming franchise or tv show. A guy like me wouldn’t bring them that much money but would require the same amount of work and favour to get me in the room. I am also aware that having an accent, my physicality, potato head, bent nose and cauliflower ears may not be the easiest thing to sell as an agent, I’m not naive. But at the same time with all those big action films and series filming here it shouldn’t be that difficult to get me auditions to play your typical meat and potato henchmen I think.
Unfortunately when I ask my agent to get in touch with production he’s always telling me to wait for the breakdown on Spotlight when other agents don’t wait and get there first. But I am hopeful because the industry changes all the time and like in life I can’t rely on people to help me move forward. So I make my own contact, find my own jobs and if that means going back into doing stunts just to get on set and have fun, I’ll do that too.
Vikki: You’ll be appearing in the upcoming Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, can you tell us about your experience on set?
Jess: It was very long hours, sometimes I would get a 2:30 am start because I would require four to five hours of make up everyday and then I would spend all day on set not being used or pushed in the background somewhere. In fact let me take you back on how I got that job. I did an audition like any other acting jobs with dialogue and various interpretations of the scene. A couple of weeks later I was told that I got the job so I was very excited. I had to do various make up tests and costume fittings and it was all slowly getting together and I couldn’t wait to be on set.
My first day of shooting finally arrived and I quickly realised that it was not going to be what I expected. Basically about a dozen actors all got the do the same audition that I did but at the end of it none of us had any dialogue and we were all just used for our looks and basically doing some background work. It did help that one of the producers didn’t like my costume and kept asking to get it redone. Basically I had three different costumes in the film and people kept saying to me to not worry and that they would CGI it to make it even. At that point I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing in the film. So it was a very long and frustrating six weeks to be honest. Lucky some of the stunts boys recognised me and got me involved in some of the action. I think it’s that film that got me wanting to do stunts again because I felt very frustrated.
Vikki: When you look back at your career so far, which film are you most proud of?
Jess: I think the most fun I ever had on set was working with the stunt team, I recently did Hobbs and Shaw and it was great. I flew over London in a helicopter and landed in St Pauls, run around with guns and kicked some butt. It was a blast. I had a pretty fun experience on Fast and Furious 9 too. But as an actor, the film I am most proud of is Night Fare. Not only do I play one of, if not the main character of the film, but it was a great adventure too. We made that film in 20 days and only shoot at night in the summer. Everybody from actor, stunt or crew were paid the same and we all put a lot of hard work and passion in this project and I believed that it showed. You may like or dislike the film but you can’t deny that it was made by passionate people, especially when you know how it looks and how little it costs. Because of that I would love to work with director Julien Seri again. I’ve worked in both massive blockbuster and independent movise and as an actor I would always rather do an independent film because of the freedom of it and the way is made. You always feel the passion of the cast and crew on an independent film and it’s so exciting and it really pushes you to get the best of you performance and it feels so rewarding at the end of it.