Originally from the UK, Joanna Pickering followed her love of dramatic arts to New York City. Here, she was trained in Method Acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and has played worldwide in a number of films, indie as well as commercial, and in numerous stage and radio plays.
In her latest project, “Alice Fades Away,” she plays a British nanny who works for a very affluent family set in 1950s America.
Besides her acting, Pickering writes and is now embarking on screenplays with a focus on stronger, complex, female leads and contributes pieces on matters such as gender inequality and inclusive diversity for the magazine Backstage.
Downtown had a chance to sit down and talk to Pickering about “Alice Fades Away,” the difference between writing and acting, and being a strong female voice in the movie industry.
It was advertised in the magazine Backstage! I love supporting independent film. I have an agent, but I still check where these films are posted. Sometimes, you will find wonderful art house films or more challenging roles, with easier access to lead roles for women.
I had applied for another role, but I was asked if I would audition for this character [Dylan] instead. When I received the sides, I agreed, it was more exciting. The scene allowed the possibility the emotional content was the exact opposite of the text. I took a gamble and made strong choices for my audition.
I got the role, liked the script, and then heard I would be working with a superb cast, including award-winning Blanche Baker.
What spoke to you about the role of Dylan?
Wow, lots! The main draw was that my character’s backstory motivates the film. There was a lot of preparation work to do before shooting. My character makes the journey from the UK to the US, as I have in my life, but in the 1950s.
It was an affluent job for ambitious women with access to the American dream. But, the film is far from the American Dream, it’s a rather violent film dealing with oppression. I was intrigued by the impact the 50s has on my character. I really set the scene before filming — Postwar America, Eisenhower as president, clashes worldwide between communism and capitalism, cars with multi color paint jobs, television sets being sold. Second wave feminism had not yet begun. Imagine that and compare it with now.
I play directly a subservient character. My character expresses very little. This is a different experience for me to portray as an actor. It means while you see obedience and loyalty on the surface, you do not know the character’s real motives, or know her. I couldn’t help think of Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day!
What has been one of your most memorable days on set, so far?
The whole location shoot in Massachusetts has been breathtakingly cinematic and a memorable experience as a Brit in the US! My next scenes shoot in a mansion in Connecticut, I am really looking forward to this.
What has it been like working with writer/director Ryan Bliss?
It has been one of the most encouraging, positive experiences. My character could have easily been portrayed as a victim due to the story content. Ryan talked to me and wanted my thoughts and input. He did a small script rewrite. My character experiences the same events, but her overall portrayal is stronger. I cannot express enough my admiration for this. This is the future for female roles. It is why supporting and financing strong, new directors, male — and especially female, on independent films is vital.
The movie will premiere summer 2018, what are you most excited about telling with this movie?
That we are a main cast of strong female actors, all wonderful women that I was delighted to work with.
I’ve always been writing. I self-published my own work under a pen name and this attracted novel deals. My friend Emily Carmichael [director and writer for Steven Spielberg] read some of my work, and has been backing my talent — we try and support one another when we can. When women support one another it is very powerful. Then, I met my manager at 3 Arts Entertainment and his advice was writing was my strength, as well as acting. It’s new and it’s exciting.
What’s the biggest difference between writing and acting?
The actor uses creative energy to express to an audience, with many people involved, and it’s very physical. The writer needs to be able to lock themselves away, stay pinned to a seat, and cope alone! It’s definitely a dichotomy in the working environment — both are equally challenging, as well as rewarding.
You live in New York City, what’s your favorite thing about living in the city?
We are a strong voice for multi-cultural inclusivity, and as a city, we fight to embrace diversity irrespective of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion. I absolutely love it, I’m so proud, and we won’t stop!
Bowery Hotel at dusk, if even just to text a friend ‘meet me under the clock at sun down!’
When not filming, how do you enjoy to spend your time?
Writing, writing, writing! But, I take time to see other artists work — museums, readings, theater, music. I love late night supper, New York-style, with friends and lots of laughter.
Finally, what’s the best advice you can give young actresses in the big city?
No one is as important as they tell you, everyone can be replaced — and because you are your own source of success, be very attuned to surround yourself by positive, empowering people, and create your own DIY projects where you are in control.
Photography by Craig Macleod