Interview with Neil Jackson
Actor, writer, producer. Villain, vampire, coach. Neil Jackson has worn many faces. In America, he’s known for his performances in Push (2009), Quantum of Solace (2008), Alexander (2004), Blade: The Series and ABC’s Make It or Break It. His British acting resume is equally rich, including such series as Heartbeat, Ultimate Force, Silent Witness, Dream Team and the new Upstairs Downstairs. An active screenwriter, Jackson is also founder of the film, television and theater company Paper Dragon Productions, for which he wrote and starred in the 2007 film The Passage. Formerly, he was a gold-winning competitive boxer. It’s amazing that such a diverse career could belong to one man, but Neil Jackson is no ordinary man. Today, I have the pleasure of asking the multi-talented Mr. Jackson some questions about his craft, his projects, and what helps him prepare for a role.
Your first American role was in Oliver Stone’s Alexander, correct? What made you decide to pursue acting in American productions when you already had an impressive resume in England?
I don’t think that the lure for me was geographical. As an actor I look for the best work, the projects that excite or resonate with me. Also, at the time, I hadn’t done a film and this was a huge production with massive stars attached and a director that I respected and admired. The fact that it was an American production wasn’t a factor in the decision making process for me.
For a little while, you seemed to be playing a lot of villains. Did you ever feel typecast as a “bad guy”?
No, I’ve never felt typecast playing a villain, though I did start to wonder what it was about me that made me seem more antagonist than protagonist. That has since changed, but I still relish the opportunity to play the “baddie.” Their parameters are less defined, meaning that the scope for range in a villain is broader. They live and exist outside of the heroes world and this can be reflected in the performance, which is a lot of fun.
What kind of physical preparation do you have to do for your more action-heavy roles, like those in Blade: The Series, Quantum of Solace and Push?
I train a lot on an every day basis. My belief is that it is easier to stay ready than to get ready, so as long as I maintain a good physical fitness I am always prepared for whatever challenges a role may present. Then, for each individual role, I approach the necessities specific to that character. For Blade, the moment I got the role I started training with a teacher in samurai swords. There was no fight for my character in the scripts as yet, but I knew eventually Blade and Marcus would fight and I wanted to be prepared and to be Blade’s equal in combat. I worked every day with the sword for three months until it came [time] for the final battle scene. And when it came I was ready.
Your current role as Sasha Belov on ABC’s Make It Or Break It isn’t an action-heavy one, but is still centered around sport. Was your past as a gold-winning competitive boxer helpful in preparing for this character?
I think that having an athlete mentality has been really helpful for me as an actor in every sense. I prepare for roles and auditions in the same (psychological) way that I would for fights when I was boxing. Discipline, focus, commitment, hard work.
Do you have a preference between acting in television or film, or does it just depend on the role?
It all depends on the role, the project and the other people involved (director, producers, cast).
In the nineties, before you began acting professionally, you wrote your own musical. You returned to writing in 2006 and 2007, writing the screenplays for the films The Passage and Star Crossed. Are we going to see more writing from you in the future?
I have been writing for eleven years now and, though the two films you mention are the first to be produced, I have three projects in development now and very much hope to see them get financing in the next calendar year.
Your London production company Paper Dragon Productions opened up American offices in Los Angeles just last year. What is the focus of the company?
The focus of the company is to make good films that we are passionate about and to facilitate creative artists to get their voice heard.
I noticed that Paper Dragon Productions was also involved in the launch of the new London Repertory Company. Is theater something that’s still close to your heart?
I was trained in theatre and my first jobs as an actor were in theatre. It is very close to my heart.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently acting in the second series of Upstairs Downstairs for the BBC.
Any “dream projects” that you’d love to do as an actor or writer, or as both?
Every project is a dream project. Dreams change.
Visit Neil Jackson online at www.neiljackson.info
Learn more about Paper Dragon Productions at www.paperdragonproductions.com
You can also follow Neil on Twitter at @TheNeilJackson
Rosemary Van Deuren is the author of the young adult fantasy novel, Basajaun. View more of her fiction and essays at www.rosemaryvandeuren.com. You can also be Rosemary’s friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @rosemaryvan.