By Ali Moosavi.
For fans of fantasy and sci-Fi Tv and cinema, Jessica Henwick is a familiar name. After refining her acting skills in a number of British TV series, Hollywood beckoned, and she landed parts in such iconic projects as Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens (as Jess Testor) and Game of Thrones (as Nymeria Sand). Her big break came with the leading female part of Colleen Wig in the martial arts/superheroes TV series Iron Fist and The Defenders. Earlier this year, she was among the crew of oceanic researchers, together with Kirsten Stewart, Vincent Cassel and others in the sci-fi – horror adventure, Underwater. Jessica has an eye-watering slate of upcoming films including Godzilla vs. Kong, Matrix 4 and Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks, starring Bill Murray.
Jessica Henwick’s father, Mark Henwick, is a successful novelist. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he writes sci-fi / fantasy novels, including the highly successful Urban Fantasy Bite Back Series featuring the female vampire detective, Amber Farrell. Mark also happens to be my old school friend!
We conducted a remote Q & A. First with Jessica Henwick:
When and where did your interest in acting originate? Did you study acting or it came naturally?
I’ve always been fascinated with storytelling. Getting into acting felt like a natural progression. I studied part time with the NYT and LAMDA throughout my schooling.
How did you break into professional acting?
When I was sixteen, I had my first big audition for a show called ‘Spirit Warriors’. Three auditions later I dropped out of school and joined the Actors Union.
How much did acting in British TV series like Spirit Warriors, Inspector Lewis, Silk, contribute to the development of your acting skills?
I’ll always be grateful to Jo Ho for creating ‘Spirit Warriors’, and kicking everything off. Inspector Lewis was a very short job for me, those procedural type shows have a monster turnover. Silk was eye opening – I’d considered pursuing law prior to that, so it felt like I was getting insight into some alternate dimension where I’d made that choice!
You made a big impact in Iron Fist. Were you disappointed that it ran for only two seasons?
I would have loved to see what Colleen did with the fist, but between Iron Fist and The Defenders and Luke Cage I felt like we gave the fans a taste of the Colleen Wing they love from the comic books.
On the Rocks, with Sofia Coppola directing and co-starring Bill Murray, looks like being a major turning point in your career, how was that experience?
Sofia Coppola has the most incredible eye, I’d work with her again any day. Bill is a riot. My first day he serenaded me out of the blue. Twice.
Have you considered playing the role of Amber Farrell, the ass-kicking heroine in your father’s series of books?
Alas, I think I’m too young to play an ex-special ops private detective, but maybe in another decade!
Which is your favourite film by The Wachowskis?
The Matrix, of course!
Have you played Dreamfall Chapters? Would you consider more voice acting for video games in future?
I was a fan before I signed on, actually – I wrote to Ragnar Tornquist and begged for the job. I’d love to do more video games in the future.
Then it was the turn of the father, Mark Henwick
It seems you started writing professionally shortly after Jessica started acting professionally. Is that a mere coincidence or did she inspire you?
The actual timings of these careers can’t really be described as the direct result of inspiration either way around. Jessica’s first major role was in 2010, but she’d been keen to act well before that, and without me pushing her in that direction at all. I started writing professionally in 2011, but I wrote long before that, starting my first novel aged about 7. The impetus to begin writing professionally came from an opportunity to step back from my career.
Was Jessica in any way the inspiration for Amber Farrell, the female vampire detective in your novels?
No. Jessica’s role is Amber’s assistant, Tullah. I generally think of ‘who’s the Jessica character?’ when I start outlining something new. There’s certainly a lot of her in Zara, the heroine of my main SciFi novels.
Have you thought of writing a screenplay based on one your novels?
Yes. Writing a screenplay is very difficult and different to writing a novel. Jessica is actually in the final stages of negotiations for a couple of TV series she’s written, so she’s good at this discipline. My main objective in my weekday job is to deliver the 7th book in my main Urban Fantasy series. At weekends, I’m writing a SciFi series in episode format which I may try and convert to screenplays with her help.
Fantasy and science-fiction are very popular genres in the movies these days. Have you nudged Jessica in maybe asking movie/TV producers to take a look at your books with a view to adapting them for the screen?
No. The main series is Urban Fantasy, which is a whole different thing and generally not well done on TV. On the other hand, Jessica and I have outlined a thriller with the intention we will write and publish it together. Still haven’t started the actual writing.
What advice, if any, have you given Jessica in relation to her career?
Anything has been at the very top line level. Self-discipline, focus, managing expectations internally and externally. Nothing specific – I’m not qualified to give advice on acting or the industry.
When I see her off to a new venture, I give her the traditional actor’s encouragement – “break a leg!”
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).