ON THE COVER: JESSICA BARDEN
talks playing teenage tearaways and falling in love on set.
Jessica Barden would make excellent company in the pub. She’s a straight-talking livewire, loves a whisky cocktail and is unable even to visit the loos without dancing her way across the room. The problem would be getting into the pub in the first place. With her heart-shaped face, wide blue eyes and delicate 5ft 2in frame, you could easily mistake the 25-year-old veteran child actor for an impish teen. A lot of people do – ‘Yes I am 25’ is her wry Instagram bio.
In fairness, it’s an easy mistake to make. In new Netflix/Channel 4 drama The End Of The F***ing World ( TEOTFW), she’s utterly convincing as 17-year- old runaway Alyssa. Ditto playing the vibrant but helpless titular tearaway in Ellen, last year’s acclaimed, brutal Channel 4 drama about grooming. Back when she actually was a teen growing up in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, she earned her Coronation Street spurs playing naughty Kayleigh Morton. ‘I am always ID -ed at bars or when buying cigarettes and alcohol. I have to carry my passport around with me,’ she says. ‘People look at my ID and then me and go, “Whaaat?”
They can’t believe I’m 25. I’m, like, “Yeah, I have no idea why I look like this either!”’
But underestimate or patronise Jessica at your peril. She’s whip-smart, ultra-ambitious and brutally honest. ‘I have no work lined up whatsoever,’ she declares when I ask about future projects, with the breezy confidence of someone who knows she won’t be twiddling her thumbs for long. She co-starred opposite Carey Mulligan in the 2015 film version of Far From the Madding Crowd, playing Bathsheba’s mischievous (there’s a theme here) servant Liddy. She encourages her lady to send a joke Valentine’s card, an act that has disastrous consequences. So is she a Thomas Hardy fan? ‘No! I read the book and found it boring,’ she giggles. ‘I can’t lie – I have one of those faces where you can tell. It’s expressive and lends itself to being cheeky. I always tell the truth even when I should probably tell a white lie.’
Based on Charles Forsman’s graphic novels, TEOTFW sees wild-child Alyssa, who has been pushed aside by her mum and stepdad in favour of their baby twins, embarking on a gloriously chaotic and criminal road trip in search of her absent father. In tow is her sort- of boyfriend James, a deeply awkward boy who thinks he may be a psychopath. It manages to be both cartoonishly violent and poignant; hyperreal but relatable.
Jessica understands where Alyssa is coming from. Her mother, who works in an accounts department, and her prison-officer father split up when she was 15. ‘I enjoy the fact that I’m representing something that I went through. Alyssa thinks she doesn’t fit into her family any more. So many people’s parents separate and for my generation it is very normal. But I remember feeling as though nobody ever spoke about it. You were never allowed to say, “It’s so hard, my dad is living in a different house now.” But as a kid you take it very personally when your parents divorce.’ Jessica’s father later remarried and these days she’s very close to her parents. She credits her love of performing and ‘showing off ’ to her gregarious, movie- and music-obsessed father, a man who would randomly perform scenes from comedies in the supermarket (‘I didn’t find it embarrassing, I loved it’). Meanwhile, her mother deftly guided Jessica through the tricky early years of her career when she was working while her friends were living it up on holidays in Ibiza: ‘She told me I’d have to make sacrifices to pursue the thing I loved.’
Her TEOTFW love interest James is played by Alex Lawther, 22, who starred as the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Tibby Schlegel in the recent BBC adaptation of Howard’s End ‘Alex and I are like brother and sister. We would bicker a lot because we spent so much time together, but there was an appreciation for each other,’ she says. ‘Alex keeps himself to himself, while I mess around with everyone. But the chemistry worked.’ Has she ever fallen in love at work? ‘Yeah, of course. I’m an actress!’ she laughs. ‘You fall in love with everybody. When you’re younger, you have a love interest and think, “This would be an amazing story. I hope we get married!” But it doesn’t work out. I have so much respect for actors who end up together because it’s so hard.’
The notion of trying to make a relationship work when you’re both working for long stretches on different film sets in different countries doesn’t appeal. For Jessica, work always comes first. ‘I’m obsessed with my career. I’m 25 – it shouldn’t really be any other way. I’ve had boyfriends in the past who haven’t understood that, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it. If a man has a problem with the fact I work 20 hours a day, I don’t have to explain myself.’ Jess is a proper old-school grafter, which, she says, put her at odds with some of her fellow millennials. ‘The problem with our generation is that we were raised in a world where you can get everything you want instantly, and our parents gave us everything. So people freak out about not having enough money and not owning houses. But you have to work really hard for it.’
Jessica recently started a relationship with a man she met while filming The New Romantic in Canada (she plays
JESSICA BARDEN photographed by JOSEPH SINCLAIR. JUMPSUIT, Temperley London. EARRINGS, Colette by Colette Hayman.RINGS, Ruifier
From left: Jessica in The End of the F***ing World opposite Alex Lawther; in CoronationStreet with Sam Aston, 2008