April 17, 2024

Jessica Barden on discrimination and female vulnerability

As she continues to rise up the Hollywood ranks, Jessica opened up to GLAMOUR about female vulnerability, getting typecast into younger roles and why she’s always been an old soul.

While you’ll probably recognise Jessica Barden as Alyssa, the unapologetic high school outcast who gives no f**ks, from Netflix’s dark-comedy drama The End of The F***ing World, her playful, optimistic personality couldn’t be further from her on-screen character.

One scroll through Jessica’s Instagram and you’ll find ironic selfies (‘Me being tragic’), bottles of rosé (‘Me safe and happy surrounded by friends’) and a photo series of ‘good dogs that I have seen’ AKA the kind of girl we want as our BFF.

In her latest film Scarborough, Jessica takes on the role of Beth, a teenage student in a relationship with her art teacher, “You think of her as this vulnerable young girl but she’s the most manipulative person in the script,” she said. “It’s so easy to think of that as the man’s role because that’s what you always witness on screen but women can play that role too. ”

When you first looked at the script for Scarborough, what was your initial reaction?

From the moment I read it, I couldn’t keep it out of my head. I read the script nearly two years ago when I was in my early twenties and I was auditioning for a lot younger roles. I was really interested in the intricacy of this relationship and the way Beth felt so much older than she was. That was something I could massively relate to so I was really keen to play the part. The opportunity to do was just so fantastic to me at the time.

What were you like as a teenager growing up?

Well, I certainly wasn’t having an affair with a teacher but I definitely fantasised and romanticised things in the way Beth does. I would take a moment or a thought and live on it. I always had crushes on the boy who 100% were not interested in me but I’d fantasise and daydream about it. I definitely wanted to be a woman and be treated as an adult, I wasn’t interested in being young at all. That whole dependence you have as a kid was something I really struggled with. I never used to admit to that but I now regularly reflect on it now I’m in my twenties. Beth is similar – she takes a thought or feeling and lives off it. That’s what I loved most about playing her.

Did acting help accelerate your journey into adulthood?

Acting was definitely a comfortable place. It didn’t force me into adulthood because I was ready to be independent. I was ready for the responsibilities of being in a professional in a working environment and all the benefits of that. Independence was something I really wanted from a young age and I think it really helped me make sense of myself, more so than perhaps say going to university would have done.

The film explores an interesting subject of how we react differently to the sexual exploitation of men and women. What did playing Beth teach you about your own sexuality?

I was really drawn to this element of the script. Female vulnerability is the first thing that comes to mind. You think of her as this vulnerable young girl but she’s the most manipulative person in the script orchestrating the entire relationship with Aiden.

I loved exploring female sexuality in Beth. The way she was able to manipulate the situation because she felt free to. She’s naturally the vulnerable person but it’s so far from that. It’s so easy to think of that as the man’s role because that’s what you always witness on screen but women can play that role too. She has the free reign to take advantage of the guy and not the other way round. I thought that was really cool.

How did you get in the headspace to play this character?

We started filmed five days after we wrapped the first series with End of the F****** World. I went to Scarborough the next day and then we started filming a few days later. The reason I could get into this role was because it was so different. I really just did it from instinct and my imagination. Being an actress, I want to play people that are not like me or the characters I’ve previously played. It’s easier to get roles if you play a certain type of character but I don’t want to do that. As a person, you’re constantly changing so I don’t want to be typecast into one role. As I look so young, I’ve had periods of being trapped in playing the same age bracket.

Do you think having a young face has worked in your favour or do you feel caged in by it?

I don’t have a problem with it at all. My young genes have given me a fantastic career where there is no limit on the age I can play and I hope it continues for a long time. As a person in life, I don’t judge people on their age. I have friends who are years older than me and ones that are way younger. It’s honestly shaped me in a really positive way because it means I don’t judge people within the constraints of age, I hope that I continue to look young for a long time. In this industry it’s what everyone wants.

Have you experienced sexism throughout your career? How have you dealt with it?

Constantly! Where I look young and come from a working class background, people have treated me very differently but I’ve prided myself on being someone who can handle it in a constructive way. Unfortunately it’s an unavoidable part of life so I remain practical about it. You can’t fight every single battle, though it is upsetting and frustrating, so I try to ignore it and so I kind of put a lot of it into my work, it’s one of the things in life which are upsetting or frustrating, so I try and use my influence in a positive way.

I really try not to pay attention to it. I had the blessing of being somebody that gained a large following on social media and just seeing the humour in it. I’m confident and comfortable in myself which helped me remain control of social media madness. It’s is a very overwhelming space that people in the public eye have to deal with. It’s not normal to have that many people paying attention to you on a platform that’s not real-life.

I refuse to be the type of person that is shaped by it, I won’t allow it to add or take anything in my life. As much as I enjoy it and have fun with Instagram, it’s not real and if you don’t realise that, it can have a detrimental effect. I urge anybody who feels in any way negative or affected by social media to just not go on it and take a break because it shouldn’t have the power on your life.

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