Visual Tales magazine has the privilege of an exclusive interview with the exceptionally talented actor, Jayden Elijah. We delve into the depths of Jayden's craft, exploring the inspirations, challenges, and transformative power of storytelling. Through this enlightening exchange, readers will gain insight into the mind of a remarkable artist, witnessing the magic that unfolds when talent and passion collide.
Yinan Xia: Can you tell us about your background and how you first got interested in acting?
Jayden Elijah: I've been into acting since I was very young - I went to a Saturday school where you spend the day training acting, singing, and dancing every week when I was 6. Since then, I've worked in the UK industry on TV shows, film, and theatre. I've always been interested in the mystery of people and why they do what they do. I don't even know why I do what I do, so to attempt to figure out why others do anything and inhabit their mind is an endless pursuit I’m obsessed with.
YX: You’ve had roles in both film and television. What are some of the key differences between the two mediums, and how do you approach each differently as an actor?
JE: In film, you know your character's arc - beginning to end - so you can prepare for it; I like to work backward from the end to contextualize the beginning and middle as I think often we subconsciously decide the fate of our story. But on TV, you might not even know your character's full story. For Edwin, I had the novel by Alexis Shaitkin it was based on, so I knew the direction we were going, but the scripts did change things about Edwin's story - so beyond the very rough outline I got while speaking to the writers soon after coming on board the project, I had to chase down anyone involved in the writer's room for any very early draft scripts or anything they could tell me. That was certainly a strangely exhilarating and terrifying experience, where each time I opened a script, I didn't know what would happen to my character!
YX: What has been your favorite role to date, and why?
JE: A few of my roles I love for different reasons. In Edwin for Saint X, I feel so lucky to play such a complicated anti-hero with a downward spiral trajectory; I learned so much from him. In another project I did, The Last Tree, I played a character called Tayo, where I learned so much about what creating a film could be ideally - telling a story you really believe in with people at the top of their game. What could be better?
YX: Can you walk us through your process for preparing for a role, from reading the script to getting into character?
JE: I make sure the first time I read the script, I center myself, sit down and take the time to read it. A drama teacher I had when I was younger shared with me that the only time you'll experience a story, anything like the audience will, is on that first read of the script - so you'd better give it the respect it deserves. Then I re-read it, and again and again, making notes of the clues about my character in the script - until I feel compelled to start developing this specific person. Sometimes I'll start with their posture, backstory, or even a song I think they listen to. It'll all be based on the clues I find about them in the script. From there, I do some script technique analysis I've picked up over the years and then see where it takes me. Each character is unique, so my process should be too! Getting into character is a strange thing for me - I don't really know what happens; it just does. Something I do pretty consistently is make a playlist that has the character's energy. I find it helpful to have 'keys' into a character like this - a playlist, an element of their physicality, their clothes, a thought that they can stop thinking - but ultimately, I try to trust that feeling in the moment where I know the key that'll get me into a character - and then I just try to keep that close.
YX: How do you approach a character that is very different from yourself, and what challenges have you faced in doing so?
JE: Well, I'm not really sold on the concreteness of who I am, so for any character significantly different to me, It doesn't take much to think of the circumstance where I could act like that. I also build the character up into their own fully-fledged person using my imagination based on clues in the script, so once I can identify with them, I can just slip into their life. Any challenges I've faced with this are physical, like if I’m sure my character doesn't look, move or sound like me, so I have to train to change my body to bridge the gap - get thinner or bigger, stretch more to be more limber, train my voice to speak in a different register etc. I wouldn't call this a struggle, though, and it is, in fact, a part of the process I really love.
YX: As an actor, what do you think is the most important quality to have, and why?
JE: I can only speak personally - I couldn't act without my obsessive curiosity about people. If I wasn't an actor, I'd be in the field of psychology or sociology, both exploring, at different levels, people.
YX: Can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments or experiences you’ve had on set?
JE: My second scene filming for Saint X was one where I had a lot of dialogue, and when arriving on set, I was told that I would be making a cocktail while saying my lines. I had to prep the cocktail ingredients at a specific line during each take, help with the blocking/ camera position, and keep the scene continuity consistent. That was already a lot for me to think about, especially on day 2, and then I remembered I had to act too! I actually liked the challenge of it all; got in the zone and got a grip on what I was supposed to do and, out of that scene, set a good momentum for overcoming any challenges the rest of the shoot.
YX: You’ve been acting for several years now. How do you think the industry has evolved during that time, and what do you think the future of acting looks like?
JE: Something I've felt directly is the expansion of the number of stories the industry is now willing to tell about underrepresented groups - Black people, Queer people, etc. This is long overdue yet very refreshing. Also, these underrepresented groups in creative leadership positions behind the camera - e.g.Directing, Producing, Showrunning, etc. - have increased but still have much more room to improve. But overall, I'm pretty optimistic about the future of the industry.
YX: What do you think is the most underrated aspect of acting, and why?
JE: The most underrated bit about acting for me is the actor themselves, filling up their own well. In my opinion, this is often overlooked by both people interested in acting externally and by actors. I'll explain - how do you, as an actor, know when a script is good or bad? By reading scripts and building your taste. How can you empathize with a wide range of people in order to slip into their life? Perhaps by learning about other cultures, studying philosophical concepts, and diving into history. How can you be ready to give this character all of your heart and soul - being completely impulsive and emotionally open? Maybe by diving into your own psychology and tending to your own traumas, having therapy, meditating, etc. I find the more profound core work happens far before the scene; before you even know about the project.
YX: You’ve worked with some very talented actors and directors throughout your career. What have you learned from them, and how have they influenced your approach to acting?
JE: I worked on The Last Tree, a film directed by Shola Amoo, when I was only 17, so I absorbed all I could. On this, I learned that great art can be made when great creatives of many disciplines come together and tame their ego to serve the thing to benefit us all: the project. This doesn't mean there aren't creative differences; I believe friction is beneficial to illuminate the best path to traverse, but ultimately, it is all in service to the story. On acting, I took a lot from Shola's shooting style, which is quite full of long takes using one camera. Even in some scenes, he'd tell us to throw away what was written on the page and improvise the scene based on the scenario. This immersed us in our characters and demanded that we be in the moment - as we didn't know what was being said next. I've taken this spirit of character immersion and the possibility of complete spontaneous improvisation into my process, and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon.
YX: How do you balance your personal life with your career as an actor, and what do you do to stay grounded?
JE: Although acting takes up a large chunk, I balance it with the other things I love to do, like making music, writing scripts, reading books etc. These things, plus acting, are my life, so there is not much balance there. I love it, though, so it doesn't feel too strenuous. I try to stay grounded by putting into perspective anything I might be complaining about. I'm from an area of London where there is historically (and presently) a real lack of money in the parts of the community that really need it, and I saw the results of this first-hand. In my friends that I went to school with - just children, the area where I live, my home, even. I can't forget all that and start acting like I'm better than those who aren't in my position due to the government's negligence in protecting their citizens - something entirely out of their hands. It's so much bigger than me, and I remind myself that when it's very tempting to get swept up in all the hype.
YX: Can you tell us about any projects you’ve worked on that have been particularly challenging, and how you overcame those challenges?
JE: All projects have their challenges. One from Saint X was sustaining a character like Edwin for so long. We shot for about 6 and a half months, and because of my character's intense internal conflict, that was a constant that I carried with me for much of that time. So how did I overcome this? I didn't. I leaned into it and used it; it helped quite a lot with my performance. It wasn't fun, but it was worth it.
YX: What do you think sets you apart from other actors in the industry, and what unique qualities do you bring to your roles?
JE: Oh, I really don't know. I think what sets any actor apart is… them. No one is or ever will be you, and that is your greatest strength as an actor. I find it helpful to lean into that. I think the more I realize that and self-discovery, the more at ease I am with myself as a performer.
YX: Who are some actors or directors that you admire and look up to in your career?
JE: Wow, the list is expansive - Jordan Peele, Daniel Kaluuya, Dee Rees, Al Pacino, Mahershala Ali, Riz Ahmed, Shaka King, Michaela Cole, Barry Jenkins, Ari Aster, Denis Villeneuve, Jeremy Strong, Matthew Macfadyen - I could go on forever, but I'll spare you that.
YX: What advice would you give to aspiring actors who are just starting out in the industry?
JE: Learn to absorb the no's and use them as fuel to make you work harder, be more committed, more emotionally curious, more committed to proper rest, or ignore the no's. I heard in an interview Sarah Snook (another actor I admire) said her mother once told her - the no's are a part of the job. So try your best not to take it personally, even though that can be hard. Also, learn, train, practice - do as much as possible, as often as possible. (Making more than adequate time for rest, of course.) Make sure that acting is something you love so you can do this without your life being miserable, and then, in large part, dedicate your life to it. Always keep in mind balance, but - I think a relatively high level of obsession is a common thread I see in actors and peers whose work I love and find inspiring. I have this obsessive quality naturally, and I usually don't decide what it gets fixated on, so I was very grateful for it to be acting. When you commit yourself to learning, training, practicing, and doing your craft as much as you can, you will be amazed at how much you can improve in extraordinarily little time compared to your journey as an actor in its totality. I don't want to talk about this like it is something I have mastered - not at all -, but the times I have done this, the results have been transformative. Finally, accept that you're probably going to be… not very good at the beginning. That's okay, really. acting is a craft, meaning you can work on it and improve. So don't be discouraged by being a beginner; that's the only way to improve.
YX: What do you hope audiences take away from your performances, and what impact do you hope to have through your work as an actor?
JE: I really like watching things - film, TV, theatre, anything, and some of the things I've seen, I've left being so inspired I feel like a kid again; having remembered why I'd fallen deeply in love with this craft in the first place. It'd be my dream to inspire someone in this way. It makes me excited just thinking about it.
YX: Lastly, what are some personal goals that you have for yourself in your career moving forward, and how do you plan to achieve them?
JE: In acting, I want to carry on being a student, aiming to learn and improve endlessly. I'd like to push myself to see the maximum I can do and then break past that maximum the next time. I love to write also, so I would love to tell a story where I am solely behind the camera.
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