Have a read to our interview with the British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen, protagonist of the Netflix series’ Haunting of Hill House and our cover boy! Full interview on ISSUE 10
Photography by Simon Emmett
Fashion by Sayuri Bloom
Interview by Silvia Mapelli
What’s the point of playing it safe? “That could be my epitaph”, says Oliver Jackson-Cohen, jokingly. It could also be used to illustrate his philosophy in life as well as in his career. Born in London, the son of Betty Jackson – the British fashion designer responsible for some of Absolutely Fabulous most iconic costumes – and David Cohen, her French-Egyptian husband, in the past few years the actor has been busy becoming a star. After the BBC drama Lark Rise to Candleford, he starred in the Emmy-nominated World Without End, NBC serie Dracula and the Man in the Orange Shirt, which aired as part of the BBC Gay’s Britannia Season commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act. In it he plays Michael, a man who falls in love with a fellow soldier during the Second World War. 191 cm tall, with piercing blue eyes and a deep charming voice, as a child, the 32 years old actor, became Kate Moss’s mascot after following her around backstage at his mother’s show and at 16, worked as a runner on a Royal Variety Show fetching sandwiches for Madonna. For his latest role he plays the part of Luke, the youngest member of the Crain family, in the Netflix critically acclaimed supernatural horror hit, The Haunting of Hill House. “Some of the most interesting things happen when you are pushed off your comfort zone”, he says, talking about his choice of acting roles, and reflecting on his response to other people’s attention. “Comfort is very important for the human beings, but I do believe that exciting things happen when you are out of it. In every job I do I’m scared and that pushes me further, because fear makes you grow, otherwise you stay stagnant”.
The Haunting of Hill House, is the perfect horror: a mysterious house, an isolated wood, addiction, memories of a tormented infancy. Did Luke push you outside your comfort zone?
Luke is an addict dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, childhood traumas and the way that manifests into adulthood, as a real person, not like a caricature. That’s what attracted me and that’s what pushed me. But I’m also fascinated by how what happened to us shapes us and I think it’s amazing that the varying degrees of what happens to us in our childhood, can forms us as adults.
Not many people are able to accomplish their juvenile ambitions, but you did. What made you decide at the age of 6, to became an actor?
My parents are friends with a lot of thespians and when we were kids, we were familiar with most of them. One day I went to a theatre to see Jennifer Saunders (Ab Fab’s Edina), my mum’s best friend, and I remember being shocked by how different she was. Seeing her being someone else, was a big revelation. I wanted to escape and she showed me a way to disappear into somewhere else.
What made you stick at it. The idea of living lives that are very different from your own or the desire to be known?
I loved that I’ve found a world where I can get lost. A world where you can be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. What made me stick at it? The fact that I still love hiding and I still love morphing into whoever I want.
Would you say that one of your biggest strengths is perseverance?
My parents are both very creative, and when I was about 10 or 11, they said to me “if you really want to act, you have to work very hard”. And that is what I did. And because I felt like it was what I needed to do – I’m not qualified enough to do anything else – it turned into a weird obsession. So, yes, it probably is perseverance, but also determination, and a bit of luck.
You went to the prestigious Lee Strasberg acting school. How would you compare your experience in New York with the one at the London’s Youngblood Theatre Company?
Youngblood was a bunch of teenagers who were set loose on a Saturday afternoon. It was a small group – I was there with Carey Mulligan and Imogen Poots – with no jealousy or rivalry but a lot of support for each other. The reason why I went to the Lee Strasberg school was because I didn’t get into drama school in London and my plan was to go to New York, do a foundational year and then reapply in London. At Strasberg, the way they teach is quite regimented, but I was offered a job and after only four months of attendance, I had to leave. Although they gave me an incredible “set of tools”, I didn’t quite learn how to act professionally and I still feel I’m not quite as equipped as other actors are.
To be continued…
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