Wednesday, 8 November 2017

THE PRINCESS DIARIES: Focus and ambition create a winning formula for fast-rising actress Shantol Jackson

JEWEL OF THE NILE: The 24-year-old star is balancing film and theatre with tertiary studies and other pursuits.

With a pair of hotly anticipated movies due in 2018 – Idris Elba’s Yardie and Storm Saulter’s Sprinter – Shantol Jackson’s career is just warming up. TALLAWAH sits down with Jamaica’s hottest young actress to talk about her artistic growth, her first sex scene, her academic pursuits and her bright future.

SHANTOL Jackson spent the first week of May to the final week of June in England. She was there to film scenes for her starring role in Yardie, a gritty Jamaican film by a Golden Globe winner and future James Bond making his directorial debut: Idris Elba. It was time well spent, memorable in countless ways. On the one hand, it offered a rising actress, a queen-in-training of the Jamaican stage, the opportunity to work with one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men-turned-filmmaker. On the other, the movie demanded something of her she’d never had to deliver before: shedding her inhibitions to perform a sex scene.

“I was freaking out,” Jackson remembers, her doe eyes widening. Lucky for her, she was working with a patient and supremely understanding director. “[Idris] was very helpful. He saved it for the last scene of the day. It was a closed set. Everyone had to leave, and he came in and sat on the floor and told me not to worry,” Jackson tells us. The scene wasn’t going to be one of those buckwild romps like Taraji P. Henson and Tyrese Gibson’s smackdown in Baby Boy. “He wanted something very sensual. He wanted it nice and sexy,” Jackson recalls.

Even so, the 24-year-old actress still needed some liquid courage to get her mind ready, to get her to that place. “I had wine and rum before we started,” she recalls, laughing, adding that her love interest, the lucky guy (played by Aml Ameen) was equally supportive. As for the level of nudity? Nothing to phone home about. Just a little side boob and the small of her back will be shown on screen. “There’s no nudity in the film, nothing raunchy,” the slender and tender-voiced Jackson assures us. “That scene is probably going to be about 10 seconds long, but shooting it felt like 10 years.”

Yardie, which was partly shot in Rose Town, Kingston, is about family and forgiveness and making wise decisions to secure one’s future. An adaptation of Victor Headley’s novel, it’s about a young man and future drug dealer (Ameen as Dennis) who, after witnessing the murder of his brother (Everaldo Creary) leaves Jamaica and goes to London, where he reunites with family, including a former girlfriend now the mother of his child. That’s Jackson’s character Yvonne. Without revealing too much, Jackson says Yardie offers a realistic plot anchoring a film that Jamaican audiences especially will enjoy. “It’s a very nice film,” she says. “It’s not the stereotypical story. The way it is written, the characters are humanized. And it’s a love story.”

In the same breath, she has nothing but high praises for Elba, who went beyond the call of duty to make the film authentic, true to the Jamaican experience – down to the use of the patois. “He didn’t want to underserve the dialect. He wanted the real thing and he wanted to work with real Jamaican actors,” she says. Rayon McLean, Carol Lawes, Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley and Sheldon Shepherd (playing a don) all make appearances in the film.

Shantol is a huge fan of Elba’s directorial style. “Idris is an excellent director. He tells you what he wants but he also lets you do what you feel so that he has options when he’s editing,” she says. “And he’s ridiculously shy but a very down-to-earth and cool guy.”

In the end, working with Elba confirmed for Jackson just how important the actor-director trust is. “That was one of my most memorable directorial moments,” he says of the ‘love’ scene, “how he made me feel comfortable after seeing that it was something I wasn’t totally comfortable with.”

A Star Is Born

On a balmy Monday evening at the Centrestage Theatre in New Kingston, thousands of miles away from the UK, Jackson is not in costume; she’s dressed college-girl chic, rocking a simple white tee, shorts and a backpack. But this is the same young lady who stunned critics and audiences with the incredible conviction and emotional intelligence she brought to theatrical productions like last year’s winner Country Wedding, Bad Apple, Thicker Than Water, not to mention her butt-kicking portrayal of Camae, the feisty maid who encounters Dr. Martin Luther King (Alwyn Scott) in The Mountaintop.

Now she has two big feature films – Yardie and Storm Saulter’s latest feature Sprinter – in the works, both of which will premiere in 2018. The splendid little short film Sugar and the TV series Real Friends (which is about to begin filming its second season) also add weight to her growing résumé. 

Perhaps what sets Jackson on a rung above her peers – why every Jamaican director wants to work with her – is that certain oomph, coupled with her fantastic natural abilities. Still, she has a little confession to make. “I am a very confident actress but I’m not a very confident person. I believe in becoming the character to give a good performance. But Shantol is very shy, sometimes a bit awkward,” admits Jackson, a product of St. Andrew’s Ardenne High and the Suzanne Beadle-led Tableaux troupe. “As an actress, I don’t think I’m the greatest or the best. I’m not there yet, but I take what I do very seriously. When I’m auditioning and when I’m working with a director and my castmates I’m very professional, and I do my best to give a good performance.” 

Matey Chronicles costar Sharee Elise sees a bright future ahead for Jackson. “She’s making great strides right now,” Elise tells TALLAWAH over the phone, “and it was a real pleasure to work with her.” 

Girl’s Got ‘Class’ 

At present, Jackson is pursuing her first degree (in Business Administration) at the University College of the Caribbean (UCC). But due to performances and productions and travelling, she’s had to ask for leave of absence on quite a few occasions. To that end, there’s no telling when she’ll complete her tertiary studies. But having a college degree to her name is an absolute must. “Hopefully, I’ll be finished in two years,” she says. “If more opportunities come up I’ll consider them, but I definitely intend to complete it.” 

By opportunities she means the film scripts that will be coming her way and the phone calls to come read for stage roles that will challenge her in fresh and exciting ways. The night is young on her career. “I definitely want to do more film and TV. I cannot leave theatre. Ever,” says Jackson, who is also gearing up shoot Thicker Than Water 2 for a local TV run with Dahlia Harris and her former castmates. “Whatever opportunities I get to grow as a performer I’ll take them, as long as it’s decent work.” I

In the meantime, Idris Elba is not finished with Shantol just yet. She will be flying to Los Angeles to do some more voice work for Yardie. They’ll be working on several scenes. 

Photography by Steven Roper.

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