by Geena Ling
A 22-year-old triple threat who set up his own film company at age 16, George Jaques has been dubbed the most exciting new face in the industry by Sky’s managing director.
Darling writer, Geena, caught up with the rising-star to discuss improv, channelling the ‘80s, and co-starring with some of the biggest names in the business (including Jude Law!).
Your new show, A Town called Malice, is set to launch on Sky. In your own words, what’s it all about?
It's about a family in South West London who, once upon a time, used to be quite a big crime family, but now they’re not as big as [they] used to be, and they get a new home over in the Costa del Sol and try and start a new name for themselves over there.
Are they trying to let go of their history of crime?
I think they’re trying to add to it! They go over there and try and become one of the best again, so we see this kind of faded, washed out family getting a new start, basically.
What are the main similarities and differences between you and your character, Anthony?
He’s nothing like me! He’s incredibly entitled; he’s pretty vulgar in most ways. I think he was a really tricky character to play because there are so many scenes where he’s so awful, but you still need to find the heart and you still need to have the audience connect to him in moments, and I think finding that bridge was particularly hard - but it was a challenge I quite enjoyed!
Although you’re nothing like Anthony, but are your on-screen family anything like your real family?
Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve worked with Jason Flemyng quite a bit, since I was about sixteen, and he’s always been a bit like an industry dad to me, so I think that was so nice when we both landed the role. He called me and he was like, “George, I’m playing your on-screen Dad,” and I was like, “No, Jase, you’re playing my grandad!” I think that kind of upset him a little bit.
We honestly made a family on-screen and off-screen. We all lived together over in Tenerife when we were shooting, and we just had the time of our lives. Martha [Plimpton] was so incredibly kind to me. We would have dinners, we’d do everything. Lex [Shrapnel], Eliza [Butterworth], Daniel [Sharman], Leanne [Best]: there’s not a bad egg in that cast; they’re all incredible.
What was your favourite part about filming?
Being over in Tenerife was incredible, but I also think working in such an ensemble cast was so fun. We really had some incredible actors, bouncing off each other in the big family scenes where we’re all doing some bits that were unscripted, and just having a laugh and really playing out family dynamics. Because you do so much work and so much prep, you get to a point where you all know your characters so well and you kind of take over from the script in some ways, and you’re just having fun. You’re sitting around the table like a normal family, even though they’re the most dysfunctional, messed-up family going.
Did a lot of the improvised scenes make it into the final cut?
Yeah, we would have the script and then Nick [Love, scriptwriter] was incredibly generous; he’d be on set like, “Throw in this word or whatever, throw in that,” and I think a lot of that stayed. I was quite surprised when I was doing ADR, which is where you re-voice bits because the dialogue might not be as clean, that they kept so much of the stuff that [we] just threw around on set and just had fun with.
So does it feel really natural and similar to a real-life family?
Yeah, I think you definitely get the little looks and the little eyebrow raises that your grandma might give you, or your uncle might give you or whatever, and that definitely makes it into the show.
It’s got all these ‘80s themes and I was born in 2000 so I obviously never lived through the ‘80s, but it was quite exciting to explore that era. Because so many people know it so well and love it so much, you kind of feel like you’ve got a great deal of responsibility for showing the ‘80s, and making it fun, and getting the voice right, and getting the costumes right with the costume team, and the makeup right and everything like that, but once you did that it was just the most freeing job I think I’ve ever done
What made you want to be an actor?
Truthfully, I wish I had that story that I’ve always wanted to do it, but I didn’t! I was at a school where sports were a big thing, and then I ended up getting one line in Bugsy Malone. I played the paperboy, which I think they added for me! Then a year later, I was playing a lead, and I was like, “This is what I want to do,” but I didn’t have an agent at the time and i was like, “How do you do this if you don’t have an agent, how do you get jobs, how does this become a thing?”
That’s when I started my production company and started writing and got into the industry like that. My family aren’t in the industry or anything like that, so it was quite hard those first few years breaking in, because the industry feels quite closed off a lot of the time, but when you’re in you end up knowing everyone and you get one connection after another.
What are your tips for people who want to break into the industry?
It’s hard for the acting side, so far actors trying to break in I always say: do classes, do workshops if you can. There’s loads of incredible companies that do them, and getting involved in those is a great way to meet people, and I think finding like-minded people was probably the most helpful thing when I was starting out; being surrounded by people who wanted to do it too.
Also, mentors: I was incredibly lucky after I staged my first show which sold out. The managing director of Sky got in touch with me; his daughter happened to come to the show, and he then went on to support lots of my work and thought I was going to be one of the most exciting writers. Sky really became amazing in that sense when I was, like, seventeen. They were just like, “What stories do you want to tell?” and gave me really useful tips and stuff, because you don’t know what you’re doing. I think there’s something exciting about that; you are fearless when you’re starting out because you don’t have a set way of doing it.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
I remember meeting Jason [Flemyng] when I was sixteen or seventeen. I’d just done my first sold-out show which was exciting, and it got a lot of buzz and stuff. Jase and I met through an estate agent, and he ended up putting some money into my second show. I always remember the kindness he showed me; he didn’t know me, we’d had one phone call, and he just had my back. When I think about what I want to be like in the industry, it’s like that. I want to be someone that makes people go, “Wow, he’s a really nice person to work with,” but also support people getting into it. There’s not a person on a set ever that says Jason Flemyng is not nice, so it’s a good place to start.
I’ve always watched amazing performances: people like Emma Thompson who also wrote and acted, and I was always like, “Wow, that’s incredible,” so there’s a lot of inspiration in that sense.
What rituals and techniques do you use to gear yourself up for acting?
It’s funny, I did a show called The Third Day: Autumn, my first lead, which was a twelve-hour live show with Jude Law. It was a theatre company called Punchdrunk who do immersive shows, with HBO and Sky. I was twenty. The thing with Punchdrunk is everything happens for real, so it’s minimal acting. Jude Law and I got kidnapped together and had to dig our own graves for real. We then got crucified and buried alive; the show was mental! Having done that when I was a bit younger means [I’m] always trying to recreate that experience. I’m not method in any way but I like that feeling of doing the work before I’m on set; you know your boundaries. I do a lot of research when I get a role: I read all the scripts then research into the era, the politics, the fashion, why these characters are the way they are, and that bit of the process is so fascinating. By day one on set, you kind of forget about all that in some ways because you know it so well, and then you’re just free to play in that little state.
I also write a diary for every episode of TV I’m in as the character, because you shoot out of order a lot of the time. It means you can read your episode six diary or episode two diary, and you’re like, right, I know who I hate at this moment, or who I’m getting on with, or what I’ve been up to, and I find that useful.
With The Serpent Queen, the big difference was that I had a stammer coach, so I worked with The King’s Speech team on that for a long time, and then with Malice it was very different. Music was a big thing for me; I had a playlist specifically for Anthony but also the ‘80s playlist was exciting. I researched the 1983 favourite men’s cologne, which was Calvin Klein Obsession, and I bought that. I think it was, like, twenty quid, and it stank. I’d spray that on each morning, and I got my uncle in the show, Daniel Sharman, to write a note saying “Happy Birthday” or whatever, and every morning it just made me go, right, this is me becoming him. That smell! I feel so bad for all the other cast members. They were probably like, “What is wrong with George? Why is he wearing this?”
You seem very dedicated!
I think you’ve got to be; it's such a responsibility playing any role on screen, and such a luxury, and I always feel so lucky to get these roles. Sometimes you’re playing real people, like Francis II, and I feel like it’s the minimum I can do for the show, to research it and dedicate myself to it.
What was Jude Law like to work with?
Amazing. I was so nervous before I met him, and then we met on this beach in rehearsals, and he was so kind. He was so interested in everything I was doing, and we still stay in touch. We worked together last week; we did a workshop for a play. He’s a good friend, an incredible inspiration, and incredibly kind most of all.
You’ve got a lot of skills in your repertoire; you’ve done writing, directing and acting. What’s your favourite role and why?
It’s too hard to answer; I never can! I love them all for different reasons, I honestly couldn’t choose. I love acting because of the freedom you get on set. You turn up, you know your stuff, and then you’re allowed to play all day, basically!
Directing and writing is something I’ve done since I was sixteen. I love it and it’s incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly hard. You’re seeing something from the moment it’s born, all the way to the moment it goes on screen, and beyond that you’re in charge of getting it distributed and stuff like that. It’s the best feeling.
I don’t think I’d really want to act in something I direct. There’s incredible people who do that incredibly well, but for me, because of the way I work as an actor, it’s incredibly focused but also intense. I feel like I need to stay in that moment and not be worrying if the vegan breakfasts and bacon sandwiches are there! It’s a really hard thing to manage and I don’t think I could do them on the same project.
You set up your company, Athenaeum Productions, at the very young age of sixteen. How was that experience?
It was different. I think it was a really weird way of getting into the industry when I look back at it, but I was a sixteen-year-old kid. I was growing up in South London and there was a big teenage drug culture, and I didn’t really know anyone in the industry. I kind of ended up writing a play and thought, I’m just gonna do this, and wrote about teenage drug culture. My physics teacher at the time, his best mate was a script editor, and he told me to go and meet him, and I did.
He was like, “I’m gonna read your play,” and I was like, “Oh my God, this is so exciting!”
He called me and he was like, “George, are you writing this to be good or are you writing this for your mates?” and I was like, “To be good,” and he was like, “Then I suggest you rewrite the whole fucking thing.”
I was like, wow, okay, this is a real baptism of fire! I rewrote it and rewrote it, and eventually I thought it was quite good, and started the company, and found a group of young actors from all different parts of London, and hired a railway arch in London Bridge, an abandoned one, and I put this show on when I’d just turned seventeen. It was amazing. I think when you do one, it’s so addictive; that buzz was incredible and the stuff that happened afterwards was pretty mind-blowing for me. I was just a boy who didn’t know many people and then I had my second show at the National [Theatre], and then I finished school and finished my A-levels and it was just like, now what do I do?
So, do you take a lot of inspiration for your stories from your own upbringing?
Yeah, when I started the company I focused on socially conscious subjects. My first show was about the teenage drug culture and my second show was about teenage suicide, and I still focusing on writing and directing work that has something to say about the world, but it’s now broader than just socially conscious, issue-led subjects, which is really nice but I think that’s still in our DNA. A lot of the stuff I’ve written about over the years is either personal to me or personal to my friends or family. I was an ambassador with Childline, which meant I knew a lot of young people that had struggled with certain things, so that was always harrowing and difficult to deal with.
How do you handle the potential sensitivity around these subjects?
It’s really hard at every step. When writing it, you’ve got this incredible sense of responsibility, because if it’s not something that you’ve personally gone through, if it’s a friend, or friend of a friend, or someone you’ve read about, I always feel like I owe it to them to get their story right and to get every bit of detail around it spot on, so it takes me a lot of research. It’s also obviously incredibly emotional because you’re working with such sensitive subjects and meeting people who have gone through that. I was young when I was doing that and I think that’s really difficult to manage.
Then you have to deal with putting it on screen. Ultimately you’re making entertaining or provoking shows, and that’s a different game entirely because you’re now translating those visions and the things you wrote on the page onto screen.
So it is tricky at every process, but it’s rewarding and I’m proud of the work I’ve made.
As you should be! Did the idea for your film, Black Dog, come from your own life too?
Yeah, I was working in a barbershop and on a market stall. All my mates went to university but I turned it down because I’d landed a lead in a TV show, but then it fell through! I was kind of left in London like, this is pretty crap actually. All [my] mates were having the best time at university or wherever they were, and I remember feeling very young in quite an adult industry and quite alienated in that sense. I was eighteen, I’d just finished school and the dream that I’d worked so hard on to get a lead had fallen through and I was left thinking, now what?
Jamie [Flatters] and I had met when we were quite young, and Jamie went off to be the lead in Avatar 2, 3 and 4. We had just finished my first short film, Silence, which Jamie played the lead in and I had directed and written. I had got support from Jason Flemyng and Warner Brothers and Sky and stuff like that, and Jay and I ended up writing Black Dog together. I think we both took our different experiences growing up in South London and those of our friends around us, and kind of created this coming-of-age road movie. There’s bits of me in that script and there’s bits of him in that script, and there’s also bits of friends of ours and things that have happened along the way. I think it’s highly personal but it’s not, by any accounts, my story or Jamie’s story.
How do you deal with setbacks in your career?
I think it’s really hard at any point. I wrote something down the other day: when you’re starting and you get told “no” as an actor, it’s so hard because that’s your ticket out of your part-time job or the job you don’t want to do. Then when you’ve done a few jobs like I have, you still get the “no”s, and you’re still like, “Wait, what? I thought this was gonna get easier!” I always wondered, when actors who’ve made it, whatever that means, get a “no”: do they still feel like that? I take a bit of comfort in knowing it’s the same for everyone.
A really good friend of mine, Leanne Best, who’s also in Malice with me, always says to me: “You’re allowed one day to be sad about a project you didn’t get, and then you have to dust yourself off and get back in the ring,” and I hold onto that a lot. Things are slightly different now, but you get setbacks every day on every project, and I think it’s those that make you better because that’s the real testament of who you are.
What’s been the most ‘pinch me’ moment of your career so far?
That’s so hard! There’s been loads, to be honest; I feel like I’m constantly pinching myself, but I think on Malice, being in Tenerife around the table with Jason, Martha, Eliza, Lex, Daniel Sharman, all of us. It was pretty amazing because you see the scene in front of you and you’re like, wow, this is my job. That was pretty surreal!
Also, when we finished The Third Day: Autumn and got nominated for BAFTAs and won RTS Awards; all that stuff is amazing, but all so different. There are always ‘pinch yourself’ moments. We lost the BAFTA to Springwatch! It was up for Best Live Event, and it always makes me laugh that we literally went through hell on that job and we lost to a lamb giving birth.
You win some, you lose some! Lastly, have you got any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I’m not really allowed to speak about anything! I’m on my best behaviour so I don’t spoil something, but I’m working on my second feature film as a director, which is exciting and will start hopefully next year. I’m reuniting with a lot of my team on that again. I’ve got a TV show in development, which is exciting, too. Again, I can’t talk about much and I’m really trying to be good on this because I’m really tempted!
Acting-wise, there’s a few roles that I’m eyeing up, and fingers crossed I land them
A Town Called Malice is currently available to watch on Sky.