After joining the cast of Tracy Beaker Returns in 2011 as the role of Elektra, Jessica Revell has gone from appearing on CBBC to appearing on stage in front of Emma Thompson. Still at a young age, Jessica and her friends are running their own theatre company who have recently performed at Edinburgh Fringe. Having caught up with Jessica in London, we talked to her about her time in The Dumping Ground, what it’s like filming away from CBBC and whether she’d like a career in music.
On screen, you are best known for playing Elektra in Tracy Beaker Returns and The Dumping Ground, what did you enjoy most about playing her?
Oooh, she was a real baddie! There was always something exciting to play, so she always had a fun storyline. You’d go through the script and you’d pick one of her lines and you knew that it was Elektra because she just said things that were so crazy and bizarre. She was quite mean at times but then she had a real soft side and was really sweet. It was my first proper acting job so I’ll always have an attachment to her, I think that I’ll always really love her even though she was quite mean.
What storyline did you find the most challenging?
Probably the one when I had all my family come back, I was suddenly introduced to someone that was my mum, dad and sister and that was really bizarre. It was so out of The Dumping Ground kind of thing. I normally would have my friends around me to help support me if I was doing a really traumatic scene, and all of a sudden I was acting in front of strangers. Nevertheless, it was still really nice and everyone was very supportive, but it was just a different side of Elektra that people hadn’t seen and it wasn’t her usual defence mechanisms. I think that was the most challenging episode that I can remember, but then there’s also stuff like falling on a bridge and there were physical challenges, but that was the most emotional challenge that I can think of.
Do you like to keep up to date with what’s happening in The Dumping Ground?
I have! I do because some of my really good friends are still in the show and I’ll watch episodes where they come in and I’ll always try to keep up to date with what’s happening. I watched Mia (McKenna-Bruce) and Amy (Leigh Hickman)’s leaving episode last year, and Amy had an episode with a really famous person, and after she filmed it she told me to watch it so I watched that as well. If I know that there’s going to be a good one I’ll definitely make the effort and watch it, like when Warwick Davis came in with Annabelle (Davis), I watched that one because he’s Annabelle’s father and I think he came in and played her actual father. I try and keep up to date as much as I can.
In 2015, you appeared on The Dumping Ground Dish-Up, how did this come about and what was it like to film?
We all just got a phone call, it was really good fun. It was a day or two in Manchester and it was nice because I hadn’t seen Jessie (Williams), Chris (Slater) or Joe (Maw) in a long time. I’d kept in contact with Saff (her name is Saffron (Coomber) and in the show, she played Sapphire, so you just called her Saff!). It was nice to catch up with everyone. I remember being really panicked because it was cooking and I’m awful at cooking, I remember thinking, ‘oh they make it look so easy on TV shows’, they just sit there and chop things up and I was like, ‘I can’t do this for the life of me’. They’d go for another take and have to re-do all the food because one of us fluffed on our lines or something, but it was really good fun to shoot.
How was it filming for Sam & Mark’s Big Friday Wind-Up and what did it involve?
Oh yeah, that was funny! It was with Amy-Leigh Hickman and we got called up, we got the train together and it was really good fun. I remember Amy was on Twitter or something that morning and she was like, ‘Union J are saying they’re coming up to Manchester, do you think they’re filming it as well?’, I was like, ‘ah I don’t really know’. Amy said she was going to check the call sheet and then went, ‘Jess, Union J are filming as well today, we’re going to meet them’, I was like ‘oh okay cool’, and Amy said she had one of them as a doll and was like ‘I love them’, and I was like ‘oh okay right, well, just keep it cool, as cool as possible’. We only met them briefly and they were really nice guys, but I could see Amy behind freaking out, but she kept it so cool, as she does.
It was really good fun, we had to surprise these two girls, their favourite characters were Carmen and Elektra, they had no idea we were on set, so that was really fun, sneaking about. We dressed up in these builders outfits, and they had to look for the treasures and for a prize or something to go and visit The Dumping Ground set, it was something like that, I can’t quite remember. We were just stood behind, it was all completely live so they hadn’t quite told us what was going on, they were just like ‘at some point, take your fake moustache off, and your hat, and reveal yourself, and hopefully the girls will recognise you’, I was like ‘I don’t think they’ll recognise me, I don’t have blue hair or anything’, but they did. We gave them a nice big hug, they were really sweet and lovely. It was just a really fun day, and Sam and Mark are the nicest guys, they’re so cool, and they’re just as fun and entertaining in real life as they are as soon as the cameras switch on, they love what they do, you can just tell, and that’s always really refreshing to see.
You presented a few times on CBBC, would you like to do more of it?
I have a friend, Sammy Moore, who does a lot of it for Disney and he does it so organically, and he’s so fantastic at it, I always watch and I think, ‘ooh I don’t think I’d be that good’. When I did a bit for CBBC I really enjoyed it, but I don’t know whether it comes as naturally for me as acting, unless I’m given a script and things to say. I’m not one for shutting anything down, and if someone turned around and said, ‘we’d like you to present this’, I’d be up for doing it absolutely, but I don’t know whether I’d be the best at it, haha!
After filming for CBBC, how different was it filming for Casualty and Doctors?
Doctors was really fast, it was all filmed in one day, which is unheard of, but they warn you, they said, ‘it’s really quick’, and I was like ‘yeah’, but they were like, ‘no, it’s really, really quick’. You couldn’t really go and analyse your performance, you had to just film it and then move on to the next scene. With Casualty, they took a bit more time because it’s a longer episode, so I was there for longer. They really wanted to make sure everything was done right, and it’s funny because I don’t really have a preference as to which way I work. I enjoyed doing both of them because I liked the fast pace of just get the shot done and then move on. Because I was a guest star in both of those, you kind of have to tip-toe around and kind of just join in, and just know that they hire you because they want someone who can just walk on to a set and feel comfortable, and not be overwhelmed.
With CBBC, because it was my first job, they kind of warmed you into it a bit more, and they let me learn a bit more I suppose. On my first day on Tracy Beaker, I remember when they did the clapperboard, and then you’re supposed to wait for action and then go, I heard the clapperboard and then I just thought, ‘right, that’s it, we start now’, so I walked on into the scene and they were like, ‘no, sweetie, you’ve got to wait till action’. I feel like, in Doctors or Casualty, I don’t know whether they would, actually you know what, they probably would! They were such a lovely bunch that they probably have a lot of people doing a first filming, and they are really patient with it. I suppose there isn’t much of a difference, apart from Doctors was just really, really quick and fast-paced, but I really enjoyed that. It made me think that if I was ever in a role again, in a TV show, and a guest actor came in for the day, to just try and make them feel as comfortable as possible, because I felt so nervous walking on to those sets and not knowing anyone and luckily all the crew and all the cast were so nice and lovely and welcoming, but I can picture walking on to a set where they don’t speak to you or something like that. It just made me realise, always be nice to the guest, because they’re really nervous, and just always be kind if you can.
Would you like to appear in a feature-length film?
Yeah, absolutely. I watch so many films, I think I spend too much time watching films and I think ones that really represent women in a good way especially. There’s this thing called the Bechdel test, whether a film passes the test, is if two female characters talk to each other about something other than a man in a film, a book, TV series or in a play, you’d be surprised about how many films don’t pass the test, just two women having a conversation about something other than a man. I think that’s something that in the last few years has really become important to me, having female-fronted films and TV shows, educating and teaching young women, also females all around the world. It’s something I’d really like to partake in, but also feature films or any kind of films that have a good story behind it and a good text, or something really cool, like a good action film would also be so much fun. I’m open for absolutely anything, I’m never one for saying no, I’ll always give it a try, hahaha!
What TV shows do you enjoy watching?
Recently, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA, where he goes in and just tells a restaurant that they’re really bad. Apart from that, I love Black Mirror, I love The Good Wife, I love Skins, I loved Thirteen Reasons Why, Parks and Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, Fleabag, oh I could go on, there are so many! Anything that is really relevant and really hits the nail on the head in terms of our culture and our society. I think that’s what Black Mirror does so well, you can’t watch too many of them in one go because you’ll start thinking that we’re all doomed, it’s so clever the way that they’ve done it but kind of something that’s sometimes a bit futuristic and teaches you a lesson without shoving it in your face. I started watching the second series of Doctor Foster on BBC and that’s really good, but anything with great acting and a great script has always got my heart.
Earlier this year, Emma Thompson went to see you perform in Games and After Liverpool at Edinburgh Fringe, what was it like knowing she was in the audience?
Oh my god, it’s such a funny story! I was having lunch with my mum and my step-dad, and my mum just suddenly went, ‘that’s Emma Thompson’, I just got up and started chatting to her. I started crying, I don’t know why, I was like, ‘you’re my idol, I love you so much’, she made some joke about the fact we were both wearing dungarees, I can’t remember what the joke was but it was very funny. I can’t remember what she said, something like, ‘what are you doing up here?’ and I said I was doing a show at The Fringe. My mum was there with a flyer and said, ‘come and watch it, it’s really good’, and she said to book her six tickets for the following day. I messaged the guys who were in my theatre company, I was like, ‘we need to book six tickets for Emma Thompson tomorrow’. She walked in and she sat in the front row with her daughter Gaia, Hayley Atwell and her friend Jackie, and I think somebody else. She was so lovely and sweet, and so excited about the show, she really loved it which was nice.
It was very nerve-racking and my friend Sammy turned around and said, ‘guys, I know that it’s Emma Thompson but please can we just do the show the same that we’ve done it every night?’. I was like, ‘yes, no suddenly over-acting and looking directly at her!’. It was fantastic, she’s just such a humble, gorgeous human being, which is so lovely, when you meet someone that you really admire to know that they’re like that is really refreshing. She’s won an Oscar and I was like bowing down to her and she was like, ‘no, I’m just normal’, it was incredible, really incredible.
Where did you tour with People Are Messy and can you tell us more about it?
I toured around schools with the play. I was really fortunate to have a fantastic crew, I’d always done my own plays and my own thing, it was the first time I’d been on a stage I think properly. I was very lucky, I had my best friend, Ross McCormack, also in the show with me. I met one of my other best friends, Louis, and we just had the most fun going around these schools. Some of it was really tiresome because you had to wake up so early and bring the set into a school, and it kind of taught me the values of theatre. You had some really bad crowds, then some really fantastic crowds, so I’ll never be scared to put on a show again I think ever, because I’ve had my worst crowd hopefully. It was a great opportunity to do it, doing the show every day and learning the craft of keeping your energy and your voice was something that I hadn’t learnt before. It was for two months, I think, we rehearsed for a month, and then we did it for two months. It was a really interactive show with the kids that were watching. I loved it, at the time I’d never been more tired, but once I’d done it, I was so pleased that I did it. I also got to tour the country and see a lot of the country which was really nice as well.
You are performing in pantomime in December, who are you playing and where will it be running?
I’m playing Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, so that should be exciting. It’s in Buxton, I’ve never heard of it, I only know it because of the Buxton water! I’ve never done a pantomime before, so I’m excited about that. I think it’s running the whole of December, I think it will be a really nice lead-up to Christmas, and it will get me in the festive mood… or I’ll be sick of it! I’m sure I’ll love it, I’m really excited!
Would you like to do more stage shows and would you want to do a musical?
Yes, I think I would like to do more. I have a real passion for theatre which developed in the last few years from living in London. Seeing all the theatre that you can, the theatres in London do this amazing under 25s thing where you can get discounted tickets, so I just book everything. There’s stuff that I don’t like and I do like, but there’s something really exciting about the buzz of live theatre, it’s different from filming. With filming, if you get it wrong you go again until you get it right, whereas theatre if it goes wrong it’s there and you have to adapt to it. It’s that buzz I don’t think you can get anywhere else but theatre. I’d really love to do more of it I think, but I don’t really want to categorise myself into one thing. I’m open to doing everything I suppose, but I’ll always have a passion for theatre that I think will always shine through.
The pantomime at Christmas will be my first musical. I went to New York recently and I watched Dear Evan Hansen, there was a young girl part, the actress is called Laura Dreyfuss. I have really close friends that are in musicals, and have a friend who was understudy in 42nd Street, I watched that and I’m like, ‘there’s no way I could do that’, you need to train really hard. I think a musical which the main storyline is told through drama, and then the songs come into it, with not too much singing and dancing, I like to think I could do, it’s definitely not something I’d say no to, I’d definitely love to try and give it a go. I don’t think I could do anything with too much tap dancing or too much running about on stage, but who knows, maybe, it’s definitely something I’d like to try one day.
Is there an actor or actress you would most like to star alongside?
Since I met her, probably Emma Thompson, hahaha, playing her daughter! No, she has her own daughter who’s also an actress. Judi Dench, but also the kind of actresses that have inspired me, probably Phoebe Waller-Bridge who did Fleabag, just because when I’ve watched her in interviews she seems really fun and bubbly. Oh, I’ll tell you who I’d love to watch work, Olivia Colman, because I think she taps into something that I don’t think any other actor has quite sussed out yet. I’d love to just watch her and, not steal her ideas, but just watch her work, because for some reason I just picture her being really humble and having a laugh, and then as soon as they say action, she probably just goes straight into it. It seems that way anyway, maybe I’m wrong. Olivia Colman would probably be my top pick right now.
What can you tell us about The Actors Class London?
Ah, do it, if you are an actor. I’ll explain a bit – Mary Doherty runs it, she was a teacher of mine from the school that I went to. I started doing the classes and it was probably one of the best things I did as an actor. It was every Saturday, so it was weekly. You meet some of your best friends and you become comfortable in an atmosphere, you can feel like you can act. I do workshops quite often and you have to suddenly meet these people, and then be really intimate with them, and sometimes that can be quite intimidating, but the great thing about The Actors Class is that it develops you as an actor. Mary really takes your quirkiness and celebrates it rather than creates you into this mould of a certain actor that other people might want you to be. If you’re considering looking for a class, and you’re willing to travel to London, do The Actors Class, it will give you the biggest boost of confidence, and will really make you believe in yourself as an actor, and also teach you things that you might not necessarily learn on a set or anywhere else. She’s a fantastic teacher, anyone that I meet that has heard about it, I always say just do it, do it do it do it! It’s so good, I could be an ad! I love it, I just think it’s the best thing.
When did you know you wanted an acting career?
I went to a performing arts school when I was twelve, so I guess probably from the age of ten. My parents were fantastic, I mean if I had a kid and they turned around at twelve and said that they really wanted to do something I’d be like, ‘oh, are you sure?’, but they completely believed in me and really pushed me to make sure I was doing what I wanted and sent me off to a performing arts boarding school when I was twelve. They obviously believed that I really wanted to do it, and as soon as I got to that school it kind of confirmed it for me, that that’s what I wanted to do. I really loved it, it was spending half your day doing academics and then the other half acting, singing and dancing, it was the perfect school for me, I absolutely loved it. When I watch back all the footage of me when I was really young with my brother, and my brother would be being filmed, all of a sudden I’d just go, ‘no, it’s all about me! Me, me, me, film me!’ I feel like there were probably clues along the way that my parents probably saw I’d say. So yeah, quite young… ten.
We understand you have a passion for music, would you consider a music career and can you play any instruments?
I can play the guitar and the piano. I started a band recently with my friend Lucas Button who’s also an actor, he then got a part in War Horse touring around the UK, so it’s been more difficult to make music. It’s a passion of ours, but we didn’t know whether we really wanted to go anywhere with it, we just thought, ‘oh let’s make some songs and see what happens’. The songs we have made, we haven’t released, but what we’ve shown people, they’ve been like, ‘this is really good, you guys should release it’. I don’t know whether I’d like to do it full-time, I know there are some great actors that have music careers as well, so it’s definitely something that I’d never say no to. I don’t think I’m really like a pop princess, I can’t imagine having a music video. I think it’d be more folky and more just me with a guitar or a piano, it’s definitely something I’d love to do. I love writing songs, it’s been something that’s become a passion of mine in the last year, just sitting down in front of my piano is one of my favourite things to do.
Have you ever thought about starting a YouTube channel?
I did start it and then I kind of stopped it. I’m thinking of posting with Lucas, some of our covers and some of our original songs because it’s such a great platform for musicians to get known. I don’t think we’re planning on it completely taking off, it’s just nice to know that if someone wanted to watch some of our material, it’s such a great place to watch it. It’s that weird line of not knowing whether I’d be good enough as a presenter like the YouTubers are. It’s like you have a real personal relationship with YouTubers I think, because they completely divulge all of their personal life, I don’t know whether I’d be so good at doing that, I like having a part of my private life private. You can see the struggle that YouTubers have with learning to keep that balance between privacy and telling the internet everything, some of them do it, and the majority of them do it really well. I think mainly for music, not so much for like, me Jess Revell, but who knows it could change, I don’t know, I’m not saying no to anything, haha!
Do you enjoy travelling and where is the best place you have visited?
I love travelling, that’s such a good question. My parents both worked for British Airways and so I was very lucky, I’ve been travelling since quite a young age. I would always go on trips with my dad and mum so my brother and I were always going somewhere and doing something. I’d probably say Thailand, I went there quite a few years ago and I’d love to go back and have a really good look at the culture out there, and look at the madness of it I suppose. I went to LA recently on my own for a few days and then my friend joined me, there was something really refreshing about going somewhere on my own, I rented a car and I drove to friends of my stepdad, they didn’t know me but they said that I could go and stay with them, they were lovely. I’ve never been so scared landing somewhere and being like, ‘I don’t actually know where I’m going or what I’m doing right now’, but that excitement was something that I think everyone should experience, but in a safe environment, obviously I wouldn’t say go to places that they don’t suggest for females to go running about on their own. The great thing about my job is that you can get sent anywhere across the world, so hopefully I will be able to visit the countries that I want to visit as well with work. Any spare money I have always goes towards travelling and my next adventure. I think it’s really important, experiencing culture in different countries.
How do you like to spend your time off from acting?
Making music. I recently started writing for just my own personal pleasure, writing plays or TV scripts, but music, seeing plays, oh I sound like such an actor! Seeing friends, I live in the most amazing city, I live in London, personally, I think the most amazing city in the world, so always trying to take advantage of London. I have fun with my friends here, the majority of my friends live in London as well. I also have a theatre company and we are trying to put on our own shows, and open up those doors ourselves, try and get our shows on, I suppose that is to do with acting though! I love shopping and like going to Ikea. I like eating Sunday roasts, I’m not very good at cooking them, but I can eat them very well! It’s funny, I always get asked that question and I’m like, ‘oooh um’! I’d probably say music, if I get a spare minute I’ll pick up the guitar or play the piano or something, so music probably I’d say.
Have you got anything that you are working on that you can tell us about?
I have! My theatre company Blind Elephant just had a show on at the Fringe, we’re hoping to bring it to London, we’ve also had some interest across the pond in the States, so we’re kind of trying to get that ball rolling in terms of creating our own work. I’ve also started a writing project with two friends of mine, Mia McKenna-Bruce and Emily Burnett, and we’ve just started writing a series, but who knows if it will go anywhere, but it’s just really good fun for us to sit and just write and have fun with that as well. Those are the two projects I think I’m the most headstrong for at the moment. Anything can come up really as an actor, you could get an audition, you could be filming something next week, but those are my own personal projects I think that I’m trying to go forward with at the moment.
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