Behind a sea of corkscrew curls lies the bright smile of Jasmin Savoy Brown, an acting wonder steadily making her way up the Hollywood ladder. Returning for Season 3 of HBO’s The Leftovers on April 16, we caught up Oregon native to find out what makes her tick.
HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: You grew up in Springfield, Oregon. What was that like?
JASMIN SAVOY BROWN: You know, some things were wonderful and some things really terrible. The people of Springfield are nice, funny, humble, and loving. Springfield is also very Caucasian and conservative. So, existing there as a non-straight person of color was interesting. It was this constant back and forth of creativity and love, and feeling unheard or misunderstood.
I got a lot of, “You’re the whitest black person I’ve ever met!” types of comments, which caused identity crisis, anger and confusion. I also spent several hours of my life in nature, exploring, hiking, praying, and creating with incredible people. The experience was full of dualities and imbalance. At the end of the day, I’m grateful for all of the experiences provided by Springfield, especially the more painful or difficult ones, because they helped shape me.
HM: When did acting come into the picture?
JSB: My second day on earth? Haha. I have been telling stories for as long as I can remember. Be it just going on an extremely detailed explanation of an interaction with a stranger, or describing a visceral dream, or making up songs for people on the street, I’ve always been performing. At four years old, I did my first church musical, and by age eight decided acting/performing is how I wanted to spend my life. I started working professionally when I was 18.
HM: Biggest influences…
JSB: Regina King inspired me as a kid. There was this period of time where I saw several of her movies back to back – this may sound silly but the two that stuck with me the most were Miss Congeniality 2 and Daddy Day Care.
HM: You’ve jumped into an industry where there are more actors than roles to go around. How do you deal with the competitive nature of it all and the pressures young women face to be a certain size or look a certain way?
JSB: I study with an acting studio in Los Angeles and am artistically fulfilled there, so that helps with the dry audition spells or the superficial industry feedback. The competitive nature of the industry doesn’t phase me, it actually fuels me, and I’ve found audition waiting rooms to be extremely friendly. I understand on a gut level that everything works out in the end. If I didn’t get the job, it’s because the girl who got it is better for the role, OR because the executives who chose to cast her are dumb and they’ll regret that decision later on.
Probably seems cocky, but I think you need that level of thick-skinned confidence to survive. If I let my heart get broken every time I didn’t book a job, my heart would be broken 149 out of 150 times. It’s much easier and more self-empowering to say, “Good for her! What a queen! She deserved it anyway!” Or, “Man they are dumb. LOL! Moving on.”
Dealing with the aesthetic pressures are much harder for me. I feel very confident and ready to take on the world and make a change in the privacy of my bedroom with my retainer in, glasses on and dancing like a fool, but when I walk outside and see gorgeous girl after gorgeous girl, that confidence quickly fades. For me, really, it isn’t about size as much as it is color. I was raised on media that did not often present me in the characters I saw. I never saw myself as beautiful or desirable, and that was only reiterated in high school. To this day, those voices in my head are loud and clear.
It takes active energy to remind myself that I too am beautiful, and even more energy to actually believe that. That’s part of the reason I do what I do. I want my little cousins to see me on TV or to watch Moana and realize that we are a representation of them, and they too can DO anything. I hope and pray every single day that they not only WILL do everything, but will do it without the voice of criticism and negativity constantly telling them they are not “enough” because of the color of their skin.
HM: Best career advice so far…
JSB: “Don’t take everything so seriously. And save your money.” Kevin Carroll.
HM: Let’s talk about The Leftovers which returns on HBO for Season 3 on April 16. The show’s jumping off point is the aftermath of the Sudden Departure, an event where 2% of the world’s population disappears and societal breakdown ensues. A number of cults also spring up like the Guilty Remnant. You play Evie Murphy, daughter of Erika (Regina King) and John (Kevin Carroll), and neighbors of the Garvey’s (a family headed by Justin Theroux’s Kevin). Had you read Tom Perrotta’s book, which the series is based on, before you joined the show?
JSB: I had not read the book, nor did I realize it was based on a book until I was involved with the show. I bought it, and began to read it on the plane ride to Austin (to shoot season two), but I stopped at about four pages in. Although the story is the same, the tone is different, and I did not want to confuse myself in the middle of my creative process.
HM: Tell me about Evie, the character you play? Who is she and what is her story?
JSB: Evie is a teenage girl. That is key. She is complex because she’s human, and female, and confused because the whole world is confused after the Sudden Departure, but she is angsty because she is a teenage girl. I am not dismissing her opinions and decisions as just teenage angst, but that is a major contributor to her shift. I remember all of those hormones and how amplified every feeling was during my teenage years.
I can imagine processing an event like the sudden departure with those amplified feelings. Evie was a Christian because that is how she was raised, and her twin brother is devout, but she never believed everything on the same deep level that her brother and father did. She faked it, for them. She faked a lot for her family and her community. She was tired of it, and wanted someone to recognize and respond to her cries for help. Meg did. So Evie followed her.
HM: The show deals with issues on life, death, the afterlife, religion and so much more. What is your perspective on how the show tackles some of these subjects?
JSB: I think it’s brilliant. This show changed the way I think about all of those things. They take these complex concepts, and simplify them. And vice versa. They take simple concepts and examine their complexity. Love, for example. What is more complex than love? What is more simple than love? How can the most simple feeling/emotion simultaneously be the most complex? How do you even begin to tackle explaining love truthfully without being incredibly boring or monotonous? You are Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta and Mimi Leder, that’s how.
HM: How do you think you would respond to a mass disappearance like that, if it really happened?
JSB: I would immediately go out into the woods and start praying. I’d write a piece, probably a play for the mourning and put it up as fast as possible. I would pray, write, and perform. I wouldn’t know what else to do.
HM: Regina King plays your mom on the show. That had to be cool. What was it like working with her?
JSB: She is the coolest. Working with Regina was literally a dream come true. She is so giving, as an actor and as a person. She is humble, bad ass, hilarious, and inspiring on a deep level. Shooting the scene on the bridge was challenging because she was so raw and passionate – it was hard not to break down crying! I will cherish working with her forever.
HM: You have the TNT drama, Will, coming up this Summer. Tell me about the show. What do we need to know going in?
JSB: WILL is such a cool show. It tells the story of William Shakespeare’s arrival in London and how he became the William Shakespeare that we all know and love – his secrets, trials, romances and inspiration. The story is told over a modern soundtrack, making it edgy and modern, despite it being set so long ago in and around London.
HM: Tell me about the character you play…
JSB: I play Emilia Bassano, who is believed to have been “The Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets, as well as the inspiration behind many of the female roles in his most celebrated plays. She was the first female English poet to publish under her own name, and went on to do many incredible things. When we first meet her, she is a bit bored with her life until she and Will meet for the first time, which the viewers witness.
HM: Let’s talk a bit of fashion. Three designers you are digging right now…
JSB: Nina Tiari, Vejas, Sophie Chang.
HM: On a day off, what would you be wearing? How would you describe your personal style?
JSB: On a day off, I would be wearing sweats, an Oregon Ducks t-shirt, my favorite worn-in red boots, and my girlfriend’s jacket. My roommate describes my style as “completely mismatched nineties grunge that doesn’t really work” and I couldn’t think of a better description myself. I love mismatched patterns, bright colors, and pairing things that other people never would. Really, I just love being comfortable and never had money growing up to afford nice clothes, and as a result, never really cared about fashion. I just throw on what I have and call it good.
HM: If you could raid one celebrity closet, whose would it be and why?
JSB: Diane Keaton, because she fluctuates between masculine and feminine looks while always maintaining a sense of comfort and “IDGAF.” She is so cool. OR Janelle Monae for the same reason.
HM: When you have downtime, what do you like to get into?
JSB: Musicals. Music. I love listening to Broadway musicals. If I could only listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” for the rest of my life, I would be perfectly content. Right now, I am obsessed with the Moana soundtrack, and this brilliant artist called Kweku Collins. I discovered him at SX and he completely blew me away. I have listened to his music every single day since. He is SO talented. I also love to explore with making smoothies and to travel.
HM: Tell me something we’d be surprised to know about you…
JSB: I struggle with adult acne. Because I grew up in a very natural, almost hippie lifestyle in Oregon, I do not like taking pills or messing with chemicals unless absolutely necessary, so I’ve avoided most acne products and putting harsh chemicals on my face. I am still searching for the right method and product line to help me, but at the moment and since 2012, I continually fluctuate between slightly blemished skin and an utter break out. I do my best to remain confident and feeling beautiful, but it does get me down when it’s at it’s worst.
HM: You support a charity called Peace over Violence. Tell me a bit about the organization and what they do…
JSB: Peace Over Violence is a non profit organization that aims to build communities free from violence, and does so by providing people with free education, prevention and recovery services. They have several hotlines open 24/7 and programs to help victims of abuse recover and thrive.
HM: If you look five years down the line, where would you like to be?
JSB: Five years from now, I would like to be happy. I’ve given up saying what I want the future to look like, because it is always changing and it stresses me out to try to control the uncontrollable. I want to have been on Broadway at least once, traveled to Africa and Greece, perhaps released an album, spent a lot of time with my mom, and made countless memories with the ones I love most. And to have a puppy. I’ve never had a dog.
‘THE LEFTOVERS’ SEASON 3 PREMIERES ON HBO, APRIL 16 AT 9 P.M.
JASMIN ON TWITTER: @Jazz_minBrown
JASMIN ON INSTAGRAM: @miss_jasmin_savoy
PHOTOGRAPHY: RYAN WEST