Jessica Barden’s Candid Tips for Getting Cast on Netflix + in Indie Film

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Jessica Barden is a young performer who has talent and wisdom beyond her years. The actor, best known for Netflix’s “The End of the Fucking World,” recently joined Backstage via Instagram Live to chat about her two latest features, “Pink Skies Ahead” from MTV Films and filmmaker Nicole Riegel’s “Holler,” which depicts the life of a Midwestern girl named Ruth who joins a scrap metal crew to help pay for school. The lifelong performer, who came up as a child and teen actor, had plenty of advice to share about making it in Hollywood. 

Barden knows herself well. 
“I feel like I really know myself a lot as a person and as an actress, and I feel really grateful for that. So when I read something and I audition for it, I know if I’m right for something and I know when I’m not. When I know that I’m not right for something, I step away from it. When I know I’m right for something, I want to work really hard for it and do whatever I can.”

She has a lot of gratitude for the big names who helped shape her career as a teen. 
“I worked with Mark Rylance when I was 16. I did a three-hour [play called “Jerusalem”] with him…for a year and a half. I also worked with Stephen Fry when I was 17. He was extremely influential on me wanting to do this for the rest of my life. When I was a teenager, I was extremely lucky. I worked with these really successful and also extremely kind people, and I learned so many things from them.”

She prefers to work with laid-back, instinctive scene partners. 
“I like people who don’t want to talk about it a lot before we do the scene. What makes a great scene partner [is] someone who has their own process and someone that is confident in that. I love acting with other people. I love not knowing what they’re going to do. I love not knowing what to expect. I don’t care if people forget their lines. I like things to be really in the moment. I don’t want to talk about it; so many people probably don’t want to work with me because of that. I don’t like rehearsing. I’m really happy to just turn up, see the lines, and see what’s going to happen. I love working with people who are the same, who get that it’s not a big deal. Doing acting, making a TV show, doing a scene—it is fun. It’s make-believe. If it doesn’t go right, you can just do it again. So I like people who are relaxed and just go with the flow of it.” 

While filming on location in Ohio for “Holler,” Barden worked at a real scrap metal yard to better understand her character. 
“I worked in a scrap yard for real. [The set] was a real, working scrap yard. While we were filming, people were dropping off cans and cars. I worked there, and I enjoyed it, actually. I quite like doing practical things like that. Also, me and the actor Gus Halper, who played my brother, were left in the middle of nowhere in a house in Ohio. I don’t want to say that we were left to survive—but we were left to survive. It also was a polar vortex in Ohio. The universe gave us an extremely immersive experience, truly—like, surviving Ohio. The landscape of Ohio informs you of everything you need to know. Something can look really close, but it’s really far away. It’s kind of a good metaphor for the characters in this movie.”

Her best advice for actors is to understand the harshness of the industry, but never let it crush your vulnerability or creativity.
“You’re gonna get the parts you’re meant to get. You get the things that are right for you, and the ones you don’t get, you weren’t meant to do it—and that’s it. It’s kind of like what you would apply to your life, really. What you’re meant to do isn’t gonna pass by you. You just have to believe in that. It’s not a great industry. It’s not nice. There’s more rejection than success. The only other thing I would say is: Don’t get tough skin. With all the rejection, a lot of people talk about how you have to have tough skin. Don’t harden yourself to the industry. If you wanted a role and you didn’t get it and you want to cry, cry. Don’t forget that the whole point of being an actor and being creative is that you are emotional. Don’t deny those experiences. If something good happens to you, be happy. Celebrate every single win that you get. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. Feel everything. You don’t have to be indestructible to be an actor—it’s actually the complete opposite. You want to try and stay as normal and vulnerable as you can.”

This story originally appeared in the July 15 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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