Just before Jessica Henwick was cast in “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the then-aspiring actor had already left Los Angeles for her hometown in England.
“I ran out of money, so I went back and moved back in with my parents,” she recalled.
Although she hadn’t quite given up on acting, Henwick was struggling to find jobs in front of the camera. Before leaving LA, she did work as a crew member on sets — an experience she drew from for her role in Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” which debuted on Friday on Netflix.
In the whodunit film boasting a star-studded ensemble cast, Henwick plays Peg, the assistant and handler to model and sweatpants line founder Birdie (Kate Hudson). But her experience as a crew member was more than just a source of inspiration for her character — it was “hugely educational” for her as an actor, Henwick said.
“To be on a set and listen to how the director communicated with the cast and with the crew and how it worked, it was hugely insightful,” she said.
Although her performance as Bugs in “The Matrix Resurrections” garnered critical praise, she still considers herself a “jobbing actor.”
“I’m not just getting things handed to me,” she said, though she admits working with Keanu Reeves felt like a turning point in her career as well as a personal triumph.
“I mean, what an icon. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. It’s kind of sad,” she said.
Reflecting on her experience with Reeves, Henwick lamented the ways in which the Hollywood landscape has shifted.
“He’s from an era where it meant something to be a star or an A-lister,” she said. “There are so many actors nowadays. I don’t know if it’s just diluted or maybe we’re overexposed with social media.”
Henwick had always known the chances of her making it in Hollywood were slim, which she says informed her decision to drop out of acting school after being cast as the lead in the BBC series “Spirit Warriors” in 2009.
“Maybe I got too big for my boots. I don’t know. I just think that I realised you don’t have to do that,” she said when asked why she quit. “If I had continued going to that school, I would have been in debt.”
She said she struggles with the issue of equity in acting given the high cost of training in England.
“It’s definitely predisposed towards people of privilege,” she said. “I know that we have some of the best teachers in the world, so I fully support how much schools charge, but it does mean that people from lower income families can’t afford to go.”
Henwick, whose mother is Singaporean Chinese, was also mindful of the limited opportunities for people of colour in England, which she said was one of the factors that prompted her initial move to Los Angeles.
“England’s main export, in terms of entertainment, is period dramas. We do it better than anyone else in the world. Shakespeare, Austen. Even at the time, the biggest show was ‘Downton Abbey,’” she recalled. “I used to want to be in one of those so bad. The costumes, the language. It’s poetry.”
When asked how to address that lack of representation, Henwick praised “Bridgerton” executive producer Shonda Rhimes for her ability to bring diversity to the genre.
Henwick is looking forward to a more rooted and restful 2023 after years of traveling and big projects. But she said, if she has her pick in the future, she hopes to work with Nicolas Cage one day.
“I just want to see the method behind the madness,” she laughed. “I also feel like I’m working my way through ‘90s action heroes. I’ve worked with Keanu. I’ve work with Edward (Norton). Nicolas Cage, you’re next.”