A redundant statement, but all the more true: women are powerful. As there is no use in denying the previous remark, the earth-shattering power and resilience that women hold is now being properly represented in the media, or as Jade Pettyjohn explains, in this particular era, the stories that are being told are eradication of stereotypes, where we’re representing women as women, not as ideas. This stellar actress has found herself portraying a multitude of ground-breaking roles throughout her long-standing career, as she is playing an active role in pushing past the barriers of a cliché, on-screen woman. While honing her talents and maintaining her craft through storytelling, Jade can now be seen in ABC’s latest drama series, Big Sky, along with her outstanding performance in Hulu’s adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel, Little Fires Everywhere. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Jade to discuss her newest role as Grace in Big Sky, an inside look into her biggest accomplishments, as well as difficulties that come with the industry territory, and her thoughts on embracing challenges.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Jade Pettyjohn: I grew up in a household of very artistic people. My mom was a painter and a photographer, and my dad was a musician. All of their friends and family did something within the arts and at a very young age, I picked up on how actors played make-believe and I thought that was really cool. When I was four-years-old I began to ask my parents for things like an agent or a headshot. I honestly had no idea what that meant, but because my mom is a photographer, I knew that you needed things like that. So, at a very young age, people like Dakota Fanning and a young Reese Witherspoon really inspired me because they were taking on roles and telling stories that I thought were really interesting and weren't patronizing. As I grew up, what acting really means to me and what it gives me has changed and evolved. I'm not seven anymore, I'm a 20-year-old woman.
MM: What did your life look like before you entered the entertainment industry?
JP: A lot of juice boxes and coloring. I was seven when I entered the industry, so I was raised on sets. However, I will say that my parents were really adamant about giving me somewhat of a normal childhood so that the industry wouldn't be my everything. I had little things, I went to a high school in Silver Lake and the thing that I happened to fall in love with instead of soccer, was this industry, this world, and being able to tell stories.
MM: Your newest show, Big Sky, just premiered on ABC, congratulations! What can you tell us about the newest series?
JP: It's a mystery thriller, think along the lines of a campy Twin Peaks. The story follows these two girls who get abducted on their road trip by a long-haul trucker and it then follows a set of detectives who are trying to find these girls. As this case evolves they realize that it's a much darker case than they'd expected and it runs a lot deeper, so they're racing against the clock to not only save these girls but to also stop the next victim from being taken. It's the kind of show where nothing is as it seems, it's a good combination of all genres. Most importantly the storyline keeps your blood pumping and it's a jaw-dropping, lawless thrill.
MM: What can we expect to see from your character, Grace Sullivan, throughout the storyline?
JP: Grace is a little badass. In the beginning, you see her as a sarcastic, witty teenager who listens to crime podcasts. She’s a normal teenage girl, but she gets kidnapped and enters this whole realm of human trafficking, and no one would stay the same after an experience like that. I feel like it's easy to tell the story of a girl being in danger, being a victim, and being in great fear. The fear that’s portrayed is something that would happen to anyone in that situation. I think viewers will be excited to see Grace fight, bite back, and not accept the fate that was given to her. That's been a really fun thing as an actor to explore is this character who doesn't give up, she's tough as nails, and she's resilient. She grows throughout the story, she has to, she's forced to grow and find any way to survive.
MM: You also recently starred in the Hulu series, Little Fires Everywhere, alongside Kerry Washington & Reese Witherspoon. What was your experience like working on this series?
JP: It was one of the most familial projects I've ever worked on. We were a family, it was so warm and incredible. I think everyone involved in telling that story, from executives to the writers, to the actors, to the crew, were very fierce storytellers. We were all so passionate about telling this story because It has so many complex storylines that are very important for people to hear right now. They're very relevant, very timely, and I feel like everyone involved in telling that story was very passionate about that. One of the greatest gifts is being able to work with people who are so passionate about the project, so it was an incredible experience. The show was almost all female, so it was a very warm and maternal environment. I've never worked on a show where almost the entire writers room was female and both production companies were predominantly women, that really changes the atmosphere on set. I had the time of my life filming that project, discovering my character, Lexi, and all of her flaws and little elements of who she is.
MM: The show does an excellent job of pinpointing different aspects of racial adversity & different conflicts minorities or women may face. Do you think the show does a good job of outlining these social issues?
JP: The show tackles so many different experiences that women and men may go through, including abortion, systemic racism, and adoption. There are so many little qualities that represent really big issues in the show and I think Liz Tigelaar, our showrunner, did a really incredible job adapting the book to showcase these issues. The story takes place in the ‘90s, so these points are not new, unfortunately. These are issues that have needed to change for a very long time. Having the show take place in the ‘90s sort of reveals that we aren't as progressive as we seem.
MM: Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
JP: I do. I wish that I could talk about it, but as of now, I'm sworn to secrecy. I will say that I do have some exciting projects coming up. There are things that I've never done before and roles that are unlike anything I've played, so I'm really excited for people to see that. But, until then, Big Sky is airing every Tuesday on ABC, and I'm excited for viewers to see who Grace is and what she becomes by the end of the series.
MM: So if you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
JP: There are so many that I can think of! What I would say is just be unafraid to experience anything. To live life without being afraid of things, being willing to make an ass out of yourself, and to just experience life fully and wholeheartedly. It's easy, especially as a teenager, to take on other people's worries or judgments that sort of stops you from living life. The advice I would give to anyone is that all of that doesn't really matter, and if you go off and live passionately and fully, a lot of beautiful things can come from that. I think that's something we're all still learning.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
JP: Yes! I'm a total hipster, artsy person, so music is a really big part of my life. I love making music and it's something that I've been doing a lot to unwind from Big Sky. It's such a heavy show and storyline, so when I come home I want to do something that makes me feel light and whole again, so my nights consist of blasting music, cooking dinner, playing guitar, and writing. I think art feeds art, so those activities make me feel calm, happy, and whole.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
JP: Oh my goodness, of course. With every project comes a new set of challenges, and I welcome that, otherwise, there's no room for growth. When I was younger, I was a series regular on a children's network show for the first time, and it was my first step at comedy and I didn't really know how to navigate it. When I was working on Destroyer with Nicole Kidman, I played a character that was very beaten down by life and had a very different background than I did, so some challenges came with that role. The first stint of being recognized is also a whole situation to juggle, so there are challenges that come with all of it. But, I love a good challenge because, again, that's where people grow and evolve. When I look back at different projects that I've been a part of, Little Fires Everywhere, Big Sky, or Dead Wood, my favorite moments were the challenges, because I changed who I was and I grew from them.
MM: What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been as an actor or as an individual?
JP: I feel really grateful that I've been able to play characters who are real women and that are very flawed. I think in this particular era, the stories that are being told are eradication of stereotypes and I'm really grateful to be a part of that era and play characters who are real, flawed, and imperfect in many different ways. That's something that makes me feel the most whole and accomplished at the end of the day, representing women as women, not as ideas or stereotypes. I hope that I’m able to continue to accomplish that with many different kinds of characters while representing many different people who are unlike me and maybe discover similarities that I wouldn't even have thought of beforehand.
MM: In terms of fashion, what would you say your personal style consists of?
JP: It changes a lot. My style is very fluid because I think fashion is one of the greatest forms of self-expression. As I'm embarking on my twenties and this new adventure, I feel like I've been pretty edgy and trying to be bold with things. I usually like to mix it up and play with texture, color, and represent strength through my clothes. I feel like that's what everyone needs in 2020. Sometimes I want to feel strong and badass in some Levi's 501 jeans and a leather jacket, and other times I feel delicate, warm, and want to wear something a little bit more feminine and delicate.
MM: I completely agree. I used to be obsessed with frills, beads, pearls, and very feminine pieces, but now I'm so much edgier, it's so interesting.
JP: It really is, fashion is a beautiful reflection of what we feel and how we want to be portrayed in the world. I think there are more trends of women wanting to feel strong and empowered. I love a good suit look.
MM: Suits are the way to my heart. Who would you say your ultimate style icon is?
JP: It changes so much, but I have two. Stevie Nicks is just a continuous style and artistic icon. The way she uses clothes is in a very expressive way and I love how free-spirited it is, she's a style icon. The second is Brigitte Bardot. She's just timeless and everything she wears is just beautiful. So it's a mix between those two. again, very different styles. But, it's 2020, so we’re mixing it up.
Photography by: Jason Benson
Hair + Makeup by: Nadia Hoecklin
Styling by: Joanna Kulpa