Interview: Joel Jackson

Alex Russell, Daniel Radcliffe and Joel Jackson in Jungle.

Actor Joel Jackson puts his heart and soul into playing Marcus Stamm in Greg McLean’s harrowing survival thriller, Jungle.

“I don’t know if Marcus’ family will see this picture, or what they will think, but you become hyper-aware of paying your respects to somebody who went through these things in real life.”

Interview by
Matthew Eeles

Reading your biography made it very difficult to decide where to start with this interview. You’re such a high achiever and you’ve accomplished so much for someone your age. What was it like growing up in a town like Karratha with your artistic aspirations?
I never once thought I was in a place of disadvantage. Growing up where I grew up, I felt like I had more creativity and more space to play and more room to make noise and I also had so many different influences. There where a lot of older musicians around and I was learning from those incredible musicians and that gave me the opportunity to play with the likes of Jon Stevens, Daryl Braithwaite and people like that. The dream to perform with other greats never felt unattainable to me. In a way it gave me so much confidence and made me so hungry because I was so young and I wasn’t getting a lot of feedback. I wasn’t like one of the local bands in Sydney who would play a gig and be reviewed. I was just playing and no one was telling me what to do and what no to do. I had a lot of freedom and I try to hold on to that with what I do now, with my team here in Australia and America looking for stuff that is diverse and challenging. I still feel like a kid who was 16 years old learning to play drums in the back of a sea container at Mum and Dad’s house. I still feel like I’m playing and trying to figure it out. I feel very lucky.

Deadline Gallipoli was a huge critical success, but it was Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door which really got you noticed. How much did playing that character change your life?
Immensely. I don’t think I fully reckoned with that in the year that it came out, and the awards that came to so many of us involved in the project because it was such an ensemble piece, until much later. I still get on a plane now and someone will lean across the aisle and say, “You played Peter Allen didn’t you?” It’s kind of unbelievable to think of the impact it’s had on my life and I think I will be holding on to that performance for quite some time. If I ever get stuck on something I’ll always try to remember what I did during a sticky situation on set then because I did feel so green and so young and fearless that if I just did my best something good would come out of it. Shawn Seet was an incredible director so a lot of thanks goes to him for that also. Peter is still a very present person in my life and it’s incredible to be able to say that.

It’s lead you to your first feature film, Greg McLean’s Jungle. Tell us a bit about your character Marcus and what it was like to play him in the film.
Marcus Stamm is a school teacher who’s on a bit of a love sabbatical. He leaves Switzerland to travel South America on the request of his girlfriend at the time to go and get out and explore before they married and move on with that part of their lives. Within three months of him taking off he receives a letter from his girlfriend telling him that she’s moved on with someone else. And this isn’t in the script, but this is a great description of this love sick, sweet guy who’s very humble and very caring and loves his friends. Because of that he follows them into what’s meant to be the adventure of a lifetime where maybe someone of his temperment doesn’t belong. Getting to play the physical and mental changes of a man who holds himself so proudly in these tough situations is what drew me to this role. Again, working with a great director and a great acting ensemble helps.

Speaking of this ensemble of actors, last year it was The Daughter and this year it’s Jungle as the best cast ensemble in my opinion. Share a story or two with us about working with the likes of Daniel Radcliffe and Alex Russell.
Wow, that’s a great compliment. Thank you. Alex and I walked into the readthrough together, very excited to meet Daniel and Thomas Kretschmann, and instantly Daniel walked over to us and shook our hands and spoke about our work to us and told us how excited he was to work with us and immediately he just pulled us all onto the same playing field. It was beautiful and we all sat for a good week talking about scenes and where and when the tension and aggression should be there. It was a very open and collaborative experience and Daniel and I would stay up reading scenes well into the early hours of the morning and deciding what we were going to do with the day’s scenes after what had happened between our two characters in what we had shot the day before. It was a very collaborative process. Greg was more than happy to hear us out if we felt like we had something to add to the script. It’s a great story of friendship.

Alex Russell, Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann and Joel Jackson in Jungle.

Without giving too much away, Marcus goes through his own harrowing experience in the film. How do you prepare mentally to portray someone in so much pain?
When you’re on a set like this where everyone is so close, it is tough to do those scenes where you are meant to feel isolated in a world where you know that you’re very loved. On those days I would take some time out to be by myself and slowly do things inside of my head to trick myself into thinking that people weren’t there to support you but actually that they were there to apply pressure. You just use everything around you to feed into that. Daniel was in full support of that, and so was Alex, so on those days the boys would give me some space and maybe we would do a fair bit of ad-lib before scenes to build that tension and isolation and the turning of the friendship. Again, it was one of those things where you rely heavily on your fellow cast and I hope that shows through.

Does someone like Marcus stay with you?
Yeah. One hundred percent. Same as Charles Bean and Peter Allen. Everything you do stays with you. After I played Peter I remember my girlfriend saying that I would dance in my sleep. [Laughs]. Someone like Marcus was so interesting in the way that he operated and the positions he would put himself into just to be with his friends is such an admirable quality. We can all be better friends with the people we love and we can all give more of our time to better causes. I think Marcus instilled into me courage in ernest and courage in love and if something happens not to fight it with aggression or hostility, but to fight it with love. More than often your problems will disintegrate quicker if you bash them with love rather than bashing them with a hammer.

What a privilege to play a character like that.
It really was.

These are real people you guys are portraying. Did it make you think about how you’d go if you found yourself in a similar situation?
Oh yeah. And that’s a part of the personalisation process where you ask yourself what you would do. Even if I were the most experienced or the person who could tolerate the environment the most, but if something happened to my feet like it does to Marcus, and I was relying upon the physical strength of my mates, I think my world would disappear from underneath me. It’s like coming home to find your house had been burnt down. Everything you love and own would dissipate. It certainly made me think about these guys’ family as well. I don’t know if Marcus’ family will see this picture, or what they will think, but you become hyper aware of paying your respects to somebody who went through these things in real life. At the same time you also have to realise that you’re paying homage to these guys, and I have the privilege to play this guy, but you also have a responsibility to the film and not make it a documentary.

You mentioned Marcus’ family. Have you heard from them?
No. I didn’t reach out and I didn’t want to. This was their son and this character on screen is our depiction of Marcus. The first time I saw photos of the real Marcus was at MIFF and I was blown away by how alike we were physically in some respects. But those things are theirs and this is a different version of their son.

You’ve got a short film doing the rounds at the moment which I know you’re very passionate about. Can you tell us about Stranger?
One of my favourite writers is Sam Shepard and the world the he created with Paris, Texas and growing up in the bush and being around that sense of isolation but also that sense of wonder that comes around from those worlds and the lyricism that you get from the people who are silent. My buddy and I created this character known as The Stranger and it follows this mysterious wanderer as he drifts through an outback Australian hotel. Something changes within him and he has an unexpected conversation with one of the hotel maids. We were very ambitious with the film and I’m being vague because there are so many hidden gems within this film that we intentionally keep information away from people so that when they watch it they’re surprised. We’re very proud of it and we wanted to create something that was very much an Australian picture but also doing something that was very cinematic and European which would have an international appeal.

Jungle is in cinemas now.

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