I don’t know if Jessamine-Bliss Bell is her real, given name or one algorithmically composed for a fragrant, cool type of fame but it has got a gorgeous poetic rhythm. Say it, either out loud or silently in your head. Beautiful, right? It sounds more like a lost Cocteau Twins title than a name that appears on passports and utility bills.
I have never met Jessamine. I have seen a trailer for “Dragonheart” in which she is pretty much the central character amidst a national debt’s worth of post-production and digital alchemy. I watched her in a Mara Palena short “A Study on Behaviour” where she subtly beguiles as absolutely the central, and only, character with occasional clothing, a table, a cigarette, some food and wine, and almost nothing else.
Intimate to the point of almost uncomfortable, “A Study on Behaviour” channels the Downtown New York of 78 – 82 as much as Godard, Cassavetes and, possibly, Chris Petit’s “Radio On” as well as Van Sandt’s take on William Burroughs “Do Easy”
Soon she will star in Shalini Adnani’s “A Grown Woman” which, I think, might sit between the two extremes mentioned above. Billed as “A millennial pop thriller,” there is a good chance that it is going to make the gorgeous mouthful of a name “Jessamine-Bliss Bell” a bit more familiar to a wider public.
And that, at the point of commencing this interview, is pretty much all I know of Jessamine-Bliss Bell.
Graham Erickson: Hey, Jessamine, how are you?
Jessamine-Bliss Bell: I’m good thank you how are you?
GE: I’m OK. Judging from how difficult it was to work out where and when to interview you I’m guessing you’re super busy. What are you working on at the minute?
J-BB: Right now I am working on a ‘fairytale from the future examining climate change and animal extinction’ produced by the Wim Wenders Foundation, a dream!
GE: Pretty good to be able to drop the words “Wim Wenders Foundation” into the first answer in an interview! I should have done loads more research on you but I got sidetracked by your vintage cowboy boots. Are you still wearing them? Even though they’re 3 sizes too small – I respect your dedication!
J-BB: HA, they actually finally broke a couple of months ago and are at the cobbler’s undergoing some intense surgery, I begged him to salvage them (and stretch them).
GE: OK, I’m going to set my yoga intention to the survival of your boots. There seems to be no obvious common ground between “Dragonheart” and “A Grown Woman”. What attracts you to a role?
J-BB: Thematically both films are very different, but I was attracted to the characters. Both vulnerable, young and thrown into situations prematurely where they have to just figure stuff out on their own, they both go through a lot of change, just in different contexts. So I guess it’s a character’s evolution that interests me.
GE: And is there a difference in how you prepare and approach such different roles in very opposing types of film?
J-BB: Not really, the preparation varies depending on how organically I connect with a character, or not. But really they’re just people right, in completely different worlds: Sure, but the stakes are the same. And I guess the preparation is about making those stakes real to me in the context of the characters’ lives. If that makes sense? Haha
GE: I’m not an actor but that does make a sort of sense to me. I spoke to another actress, a friend of mine, and she explained how, when she finishes a piece of work there will be something of the character that becomes a permanent part of her personality. Is that something you feel?
J-BB: I have definitely found it hard to shake elements of certain roles, especially the intense ones. I’m not sure if they become part of my personality, but the experience of shooting each project definitely informs me in ways that contribute to my life experience. So in that respect, I definitely take something from each role for sure!
GE: Do you learn, or channel, something in a short such as “A Study of Behaviour” which feeds into a more conventional form such as “A Grown Woman” or even something like “Dragonheart”?
J-BB: “A Study On Behavior” was really important for me, exploring everyday human behavior on film is something I find fascinating. “A Study” looked at the difference between public and private behavior. The idea is that the performance should be as naturalistic as possible no matter what the film is. We have our second “Study On Behavior“coming out very soon in fact so watch out for it! I love doing work with a tiny crew in a single location. It gets things done fast and effectively.
GE: Yeah, there is something powerful in having to work with limited means and time. OK, so I deliberately have not looked for you on social media. What’s your thoughts on success and ability being gauged, somehow, on how many followers on Instagram you have?
J-BB: It’s nonsense. It informs us in such superficial ways and the hysteria around it is really problematic especially for younger generations. I have Instagram, it has so far proven to be a good platform to showcase my work, but ultimately some of the most ‘successful’ actresses (in my opinion) don’t even have it. Saoirse Ronan? She’s got more important stuff to do than count her likes and she is killing it.
GE: Are you at the stage where you get to choose which parts you want or do you still have to audition?
J-BB: I definitely still have to audition. Of course, I have a say in what I audition for, but it’s a key part of the process and keeps us all busy!
GE: Does the audition, or any other situation in the acting process, make you nervous?
J-BB: Absolutely. I think part of the process is to, with time and experience, relax and give in to those nerves. It’s something I’m working on, but I’ll still always have a slight knot in my stomach I reckon, it’s excitement really.
GE: I lecture at Chelsea UAL to design students and I ask them if they really want a creative career. Nobody ever really warns them about the vulnerability, anxiety, and psychological conflict that becomes a part of your existence. Do you ever look at what you do and think there must be an easier way to get ahead?
J-BB: Nothing is easy in the creative industries. And I don’t think it should be. For example, when I look at my friends who are doing really well, they all worked and continue to work so incredibly hard. It’s beyond imaginable how hard they push themselves. The best thing I feel is to accept that vulnerability and anxiety, find a way to deal with it. I mean you kind of have to cause it’s not going anywhere. It’s a real struggle, but again it’s part of the process.
GE: Is there anything that you’ve watched recently where you’ve thought “I really, really wish I had been in that”?
J-BB: “American Honey,” every time I watch it. Andrea Arnold is amazing.
GE: Yeah, I loved that film and can see where you could have slotted in quite perfectly. Who, in what role, made the really young Jessamine want to act?
J-BB: Definitely Judy Garland as Dorothy.
GE: Really? I have a confession that comes up every year. I have never seen “The Wizard of Oz.” I promise I will now watch it. Watching your work I am struck by your ability to look entirely different every time I see you. I guess that is an asset in preserving a degree of public privacy. Like now I wouldn’t recognize you from the various versions of you I have seen on screen. How do you do that?
J-BB: Haha, I honestly don’t know. But I like the idea of being unrecognizable!
GE: Well, there you go, I think you nailed it. You were raised a bit in Paris, and you have lived in New York. Are you now an official committed Londoner?
J-BB: I can never stay in one place for too long. London is fine for now, but in the next few years I would like to move back to the States I think.
GE: Really? For political, social, professional or personal reasons?
J-BB: I definitely would want to get out of the UK — not that the US is politically functional at all. I desperately hope things will change. But after Brexit I wouldn’t want to be sticking around.
GE: Are you from an acting background? Are your parents part of the industry in any way?
J-BB: Mum is a Pilates teacher and my Dad manages funk bands, so no.
GE: Are you a decent dancer? Has the combination of your parent’s professions resulted in a child with unnaturally great moves?
J-BB: I can’t say for myself, but I definitely like to get down.
GE: Is there anywhere you haven’t lived yet that appeals?
J-BB: LA for sure; I would also love to live in Mexico City for a while. New York I could handle for a bit too, I miss it.
GE: Well, you’re young enough to fit in all those places still. For now though, what’s your perfect evening in London?
J-BB: Pamela Bar where my favorite girls work.
GE: Oh, I love that place. It is about 3 minutes away from my house. Good call. So, getting ready to go there, what do you listen to?
J-BB: “Doo Wop Miss” Lauryn Hill
“A Little Bit Of Luck” DJ Luck
“Dancing In The Moonlight” Thin Lizzy
GE: Good selection. Really. And your choice of getting to and from and out and around. Uber, taxi or public transport?
J-BB: Public Transport
GE: Ok, and then the morning after. What’s your perfect London morning?
J-BB: Straight to Hampstead heath and into the Ladies Pond
GE: Which director do you secretly hope reads this, sees the photographs and thinks “That’s her!”
J-BB: Oh, there are so many, but definitely Andrea Arnold or the Safdie Brothers.
GE: Which director, alive or dead, any era, would you love to work with?
J-BB: David Lynch in the Twin Peaks days, Hitchcock. Fellini. Xavier Dolan, Luca Guardanino… too many to name!
GE: And why should I go and see “A Grown Woman?”
J-BB: It’s an insight into what it’s like to be in your mid-twenties, right now. Hopefully, you would come away with the understanding of the Journey that Alice goes through.
GE: Jessamine, you’ve been great. I hope your day goes nicely. Best of luck with “A Grown Woman” and whatever else you have coming up.
J-BB: Thank you for having me!
What’s in a name? Meeting Jessamine-Bliss Bell | TEAM CREDITS
Photography / Benjamin Tietge
Story / Graham Erickson
Stylist / Julia Lurie
Hair Stylist / Declan Sheils using Aveda
Makeup Artist / Anete Salinieka using “Anastasia Beverly Hills”