Photographer: Kirk Truman
Makeup: Justine Jenkins
Interview by Ines Shubshizky
I’m meeting Jennifer on Zoom. She is on her well-deserved holiday in Mauritius, wearing a summery white blouse, letting the sun shine on her face. Her friendly and vibrant attitude matches the easiness of her surroundings and excites me to have a relaxed and lively chat with her.
Jennifer currently stars as Nerva in the highly anticipated second season of the HBO series Raised by Wolves, which is streaming on HBO Max in the US and will air in the UK on Sky Atlantic and Now TV on 6 April.
Hi Jennifer, congratulations on the show. Why do you think people should watch it?
For brilliant escapism. It’s such a thrill to watch. It is imaginative, new and refreshing. It really is unlike any other series.
If people could take away one thing, what should it be?
I don’t know if there are so many lessons to be learned as such. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of humanity and human nature. The whole show is one subtle commentary on certain things. One of them is religion, without it actually being about religion. Some aspects, like race or sexuality, are not commented on directly, but they are definitely included with undertones. I think the series, albeit in very extreme ways, gives a lot of insight into other peoples’ lives and makes the viewer think.
What was the most exciting thing for you about playing Nerva?
She is very mysterious. You never know what’s going on inside her, what she’s thinking, where she’s going next. That’s why it’s so much fun to play her, because it means she can go anywhere. I’ve made her a really strong, really powerful character on the outside. But underneath the surface she has a lot going on, and that’s the mystery of it. The actual filming was really cool because all my scenes were on the biggest sets with the most people.
Was there anything that particularly stood out to you during filming?
The Fight Club scene in episode 3, where Father fights an industrial robot in a huge pit, was so thrilling. The set looked like a crater surrounded by cheering artists. And my character Nerva was like the leader in the ring, bringing these two guys together to fight. That was incredible. Generally, it blew my mind to see all the technical aspects and the craziness behind the scenes. We shot in South Africa, which has such incredible scenery to offer. So we didn’t just film in constructed sets, but also a lot in nature, on rocks by the sea and on dunes in the middle of nowhere. And I think you can really see that authenticity in the series.
Who would be your dream shooting partner if you could choose one person?
At the moment I can’t get away from Viola Davis. She is just so real and the way she works is so in the moment. I just want to sit across from her and experience her energy in person. I’m sure it would be so easy to work with her because I would be so invested. Once we were both working in South Africa and I had a personal trainer who told me he was training Viola Davis right after me. And I was having a proper fan moment because I realised that she was in that gym after me.
“Ultimately, the show is a celebration of humanity and human nature”
Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be an actress?
Not really. I always took one step at a time and was lucky enough to be successful with it. Along the way, however, I always kept working on the side, as a receptionist or waitress, so I didn’t have to rely on just one thing. It wasn’t until I was already in the thick of it that I thought: ‘Oh, I can be successful with this and actually live comfortably’.
Have you ever considered doing something else?
My best mate and I always joke that I could do a massage or physiotherapy course and work alongside acting. And every time I finish a job, I think about whether I should do this massage course now. The course never happens, of course, but it’s a standing joke. When I think about it, I think it would be hellish having to touch everyone that come through the door, so maybe it’s a good thing I’m sticking with acting.
What advice would you give to someone who is at the beginning of their career?
First of all, be a yes-person. Say yes to everything and do as much as you can. Even if you want to be a film actor, you’re certainly going to learn something by doing theatre. You never know who you’ll work with and what you’ll learn. And never stop training. Even if you’re working, take classes and practice in your spare time. Also, be kind to people, regardless of who they are. Be someone you would like to work with.
How do you deal with failure?
I try to learn from it. Particularly at the beginning of my career, I often thought I had failed when I didn’t get a role. But I realised that it hardly ever has anything to do with you or your talent and that it could literally be anything else. I think there’s something to be learned from anything you think is a failure. If I feel like I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, I try not to dwell on it, give myself some time to mourn and then move on. I failed my driving test three times. But today I am a really good driver.
“I like to think that you can learn something from everything that you think to be a failure.”
What is your go-to outfit?
I’m all about comfort and warmth, so probably my onesie. I would wear it out too, but the one I have at home is a koala bear one, so maybe another one would be a better idea. I always try to change it up a bit, but I rarely succeed.
I like to think that I’d prefer to be overdressed and then stand out for good reason than to go to an event in my koala onesie. But in reality, I’m probably more underdressed. Unless it’s for warmth – then I’m always overdressed wearing layers and layers.
What superpower would you like to have?
I would like to be able to click my fingers and travel back in time. I wouldn’t want to change things, but relive past events as a fly on the wall. That would also be convenient to overcome distances and be on a beach in Thailand in no time.
What inspires you?
Watching other peoples’ work. At the moment I’m really loving Euphoria. It’s so inspiring that they are so experimental with the show and you feel like it can go anywhere. I want to bring that freedom and imagination to other projects as well. I think the show really opens a door and you can always use that in any other genre.
What does the world need right now?