There was never a time where Jess Alexander didn’t want to be an actress; it has consumed her life ever since she was five. Fast forward 14 years and now, at the age of 19, she currently stars on the hit Disney show ‘Penny On M.A.R.S’ as Lucy Carpenter and had a starring role in the British short film ‘Truck’. However, acting isn’t the only occupation the Londoner holds under her belt — she’s also an active model. Between countless photo shoots and filming, the up-and-coming star has been busy. As young as Jess is, she is already doing more than what people do in a lifetime; calling her a go-getter simply isn’t enough. Read on to see what she had to say about keeping up a social presence, where she hopes to take both careers and her future projects.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m London born and bred – I come from a normal, loving family – predominantly made up of academics, so it was always funny to me that all I wanted to do was the exact opposite of what my family did. I hate the idea of working a 9-5 office job, even though I find my parents inspiring, and have basically always been drawn to the weird, confusing, difficult things that demand creativity and a vast imagination. I’m an extremely aspirational and ambitious person and I’ve always been like that. I’m noisy, unapologetic and motivated. That’s me. 🙂
Alongside your acting career, you’re an active model. Do you find modelling helps you at all when acting?
Although most people know and recognise me as a model, modelling doesn’t always come that naturally to me. I actually feel kind of silly sometimes. I’d say acting helps with me with modelling, not the other way around. With acting, I find it easy to imagine myself slipping into someone else’s skin when I’m playing a character, and that’s exactly what I do most of the time when I’m modelling. I make up a character who embodies the essence of the shoot I’m on, or the clothes I’m wearing, and forget about myself. I think photographers recognise that too. I can be expressive and let my inhibitions go because I’m not Jess anymore. I’ve even had photographers who don’t know I act ask me if I do, because I snap in and out of different characters so much when I’m shooting. It takes the seriousness out of it all.
How did modelling come about?
I think the agency first saw me on someone’s Instagram story or something mad random. Honestly, getting signed to the Special Bookings board at Select was really surreal for me. It’s funny because about two months before it happened I remember being sat opposite my friend at brunch saying “I really want to get signed to a modelling agency. A good one. And I want to be signed as an actress, not just a regular model” – and it happened. The power of the universe and manifestation should never be underestimated, kids. Speak things into existence!
What has been your most memorable photo shoot?
Probably an editorial shoot I did about a year ago for the Lazy Oaf X Keeshu collection. I wasn’t even signed at the time, it was my first ever paid shoot and I basically got it because I crashed an event and someone from the company came up to me and took my photo. It was super colourful and quirky, the only makeup I had on was electric green eyeshadow and loads of blush, and the photographer let me do pretty much whatever I wanted. It was really liberating and I remember leaving and thinking ‘damn, that was actually fun. Maybe I can do more of this’. Now I get to fill my days with a lot of that kind of stuff, so I do feel lucky.
What do you make of this generation’s “Instagram models?”
To be honest, I won’t waste my breath going into it too much, because I don’t really have an opinion. For me, Instagram is a tool that I don’t take too seriously, and it allows me to express myself and build my own brand. If people want to make a living entirely off Instagram and be, as you say, “Instagram models”, then good for them. Everyone’s out here doing their own thing. I’m never going to be someone to knock other women down off their own mission. The only real problem I have with that kind of thing is that people with hundreds of thousands of followers bag jobs just because of their following, when casting directors could be giving up and comers a chance. I also worry about the unrealistic standards a lot of these “Instagram models” put out. I know if I was 13 and looking at half these girls, I’d feel like sh** about myself. Most of them photoshop their photos to high heaven.
Regarding modelling, where do you hope to be this time next year?
I have loads of stuff I want to do. There’s tonnes of big brands that inspire me and people all around the world, and being ambitious by nature, I want to work with some of the best brands that are out there. I can’t really say where I’ll be this time next year because this industry moves really fast and I think what I want to do changes all the time as I grow as an individual. I like to think I’d have done a Nike campaign or something, and maybe had a shot at runway… even though I’m short as hell! I definitely hope to see my face on a fat billboard too, can’t lie.
I have 203 Instagram followers and it can be quite overwhelming to keep up a social presence. You have 55,400 Instagram followers, do you feel the same?
It’s not really something I consider to be pressurising really, because like I said before, I really don’t take Instagram too seriously. I don’t really see it as “keeping up a social presence”. Some days I might not even open Instagram because I don’t want to look at it, but it is important to me as a creative individual as as someone who wants to continue to raise their profile to help my career. But Instagram is fun, not pressurising. If I vibe off a photo, I’ll post it and go. No refreshing comments, no refreshing likes, just put it out there cos you want to and leave it. Instagram is only pressurising if you make it that way!
Do you remember the first moment where you thought “acting is what I want to do?”
To be honest, I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I started acting when I was 5 at a little club in the church hall near my house and came home one day and told my parents I was going to be an actor. That has never wavered and it never will. I’m going to be an actor or die trying! I had a blip in high school though, where I thought I wanted to go into politics instead, but that faded pretty quickly. Acting is one of the only things that makes me happy.
What got you started in acting?
Professionally speaking, I was plucked from a history class at school when casting directors came round schools in the U.K. to find new kids for a movie. I was fourteen at the time. I remember being given a letter at the end of the day saying that they wanted me to come audition for something, so I went, and after about 8 auditions I got the role. Unfortunately, the funding for the movie fell through and it never got made (which happens A LOT in this industry), but the casting director saw something in me and introduced me to my agent at United. They signed me after two screen tests and the rest is history. But I don’t really think I’ve “got started” yet. The way I see it, I’ve got so much to learn and do – so I guess I’m just starting to get started! I really am in the very early stages of building a big, successful career for myself.
You’re currently on the show, ‘Penny On M.A.R.S’, but you’ve previously acted in the short film ‘Truck’. How have these two experiences compared?
Truck was my first proper acting gig; a 20 minute short for the BFI. It was gritty and dark – a dystopian vision of middle class Britain’s future in which a family is running from an unknown crisis. It was also all filmed inside a Truck. Literally the whole way through. And shot to look like it was done in one shot. So it was full of complicated, cramped logistics. And that Truck stank! Disney’s Penny On Mars is a complete parallel. It’s a kids show, so it’s bursting with colour and glitter and singing and dancing. I always call it High School Musical on steroids! It’s corny as hell, but in the best ways, because kids love that stuff growing up. I know I did. My character is a mean high school teen who’s been pushed and spoilt by her parents all her life, so she’s a bit of a brat. I also filmed both seasons of that in Milan, so I lived there for almost 6 months altogether, which was crazy. On Truck, it only took a week and I was living at home. Disney saw me uproot my life a bit, which is a life experience I’m grateful for. I learnt a lot about myself.
Where do you hope to take your acting career?
That’s a huge question… I’m sure most people would say “I want to win an oscar” or something. Really, I just want to be artistically fulfilled – by that I mean working on all kinds of movies and TV shows that inspire me and those who watch them. I want a taste of everything – action movies, coming of age movies, foreign movies – anything I’m passionate about and can get my teeth into. Of course, I’m not afraid to say I want to be big. I want to be remembered and I want people to know who I am, but that’s not to say I want fame over a successful acting career. I’m just realistic enough to know that the two do come hand in hand. I also want to direct and produce, and I want my acting career to take me to a place where I have a platform to work in other fields, like fashion and politics. I have a lot to say about the world we live in, and if being an actress will get me heard, then I’m in.
What is one piece of advice you would want to share with young girls hoping to make it in acting and/or modelling?
The main thing is you’ve got to have a thick skin. You need to be able to handle rejection, because 90% of the time, especially when you’re starting out, that’s all you’re met with. All the greats have been rejected and told they’re not good enough multiple times. I’d tell girls to be the force that those who reject them don’t believe they are – never stop trusting your gut and your abilities. If it’s really something you want, and are prepared to slave away for, often not making any money, then it will come. You just have to let the universe and time do their thing.
Any future projects you can tell us about?
Right now I’m working pretty tirelessly to bag another role, always going to auditions and meetings, so hopefully I’ll be back on screens in the next few months! I’ve started working on some music recently, which is really exciting and fulfilling. I guess that’s one thing to look out for from me next year – a single and then hopefully an EP! Stay tuned for greatness 🙂
Hair – Sharon Robinson
MUA- Eliza Clarke
Stylist – Morgan Hall