Wonderland.

JESSY BARDEN

Set to star in Kelly Oxford directorial debut Pink Skies Ahead, the actor talks the films depiction fo anxiety and her breakout role in comedy series The End of the F***ing World.

Jessy Barden in blue two piece

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Jessy Barden in blue two piece
Blouse, shorts, socks and shoes FENDI Bodysuit NANUSHKA Sunglasses GENTLE MONSTER Watch OMEGA

Taken from the Summer 2020 issue. Order your copy now.

Five minutes before our scheduled Zoom meeting, I get a notification that Jessica Barden, star of Channel 4 and Netflix’s dark and bloody comedy-drama The End of the F***ing World, is ready to join the call. It’s not quite 10am in LA (where the Yorkshire-born actor now lives), but the sun is already streaming through the leaves above her and Barden is wearing the biggest pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses I’ve ever seen. “Are you calling from London?” she asks, almost immediately following up with, “Cool, how do you feel about coronavirus there?” Barden herself is thousands of miles away from her family, who are all key workers. “It felt like we were on the Titanic and we’ve all separated,” she says; “I just take it day by day, because if not, it is really overwhelming.”

Despite everything, Barden is staying positive in lockdown, and anyone who follows her on Instagram will already be familiar with her much-loved reviews of her favourite LA takeaway spots, as well as frequent Q&A sessions with her fans, where she answers questions on topics ranging from film and TV to coping with anxiety. Though Barden is currently taking a break from the app, she tells me she’ll be back on it in due course, explaining: “I just feel like, as a person, my comfort zone is being friendly with people […] In life, when I’m doing an interview, when I’m doing an audition, or on social media — it makes my life a lot more fun, being genuine with people.”

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Jessy Barden omega watch
Blouse and shorts FENDI Bodysuit NANUSHKA Sunglasses GENTLE MONSTER Watch OMEGA

This openness and transparency about her mental health in particular led in part to Barden being approached by writer Kelly Oxford for the lead role in her directorial debut Pink Skies Ahead, which is set to be released later this year. In the film Barden plays a 20-year-old college dropout named Winona, whose life has suddenly been turned upside down by anxiety — a role somewhat based on Oxford’s own experiences — and explores her realisation that there isn’t a specific “type of person” who is affected by mental health, “it can happen to anybody.”

Barden has followed Oxford ever since she was introduced to her work by her friend Bill Milner and says her work immediately resonated. “I was like, ‘Whoa, this person feels the same as me,’” she says warmly, recalling the first time she read the script in a taxi to a Christmas pantomime. “[Oxford] is somebody that broadens everybody’s idea of who a person with anxiety [is]. For a long time, they’d be the nervous person in a movie, and you always associated anxiety with being nervous — which it’s not.”

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Jessy Barden in orange dress
Dress and bodysuit NANUSHKA Earring TATA-LA Watch OMEGA

This year Barden will also star in Jungleland, a film following bare-knuckle boxer Lion (Jack O’Connell) and his brother Stanley (Charlie Hunnam) across the country, where they pick up her character Sky as a travel companion and form an unlikely bond. Like Barden’s Alyssa in The End of the F***ing World, Sky is a teen runaway, and I ask the actor if she’s consciously drawn to playing rebels and stowaway.

“[With] The End of the F***ing World, within my family and friends the joke was that I am the least likely person to ever do something like that,” she says, explaining that despite putting a lot of her own directness and deadpan humour into Alyssa, the similarities have their limits. “I’m not really a rebel… I’m really like someone’s mum. [In] both of those roles I wanted to explore somebody that’s running away from something and has this anger and upset but doesn’t know how to have a relationship with their own vulnerability.”

The End of the F***ing World obviously holds a dear place in Barden’s heart, and she tells me how the runaway success of the show came as a surprise to her and co-star Alex Lawther. “[We] were on E4 — we weren’t even on Channel 4, we were on at like 10pm — and the rest of it went on 4OD,” she muses. “I love Channel 4 and they changed my life, but no one was watching stuff on 4OD, man.” The day after its debut Barden woke up to glowing reviews and a zealous new fandom — one that she was concerned would lose its intimacy when the show was inevitably picked up for a second series. “Me and Alex were really worried that it was going to feel different in some way and it 100% didn’t,” she says. “It felt just as secret and as low-key as the first series did.”

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Jessy Barden with omega watch
Top and trousers NANUSHKA Sunglasses GENTLE MONSTER Watch OMEGA

I ask Barden if she’ll be reprising this beloved role anytime soon. “I’m gonna give you the answer because you’re a nice guy,” she replies generously, stating firmly: “This is such a dire time [and] no one’s hearing the truth anymore, so I’m going to give you the truth and you can print it… The plan is that you come back to them, and to me and Alex as well, when we’re in our late 20s and 30s.”

Though welcome, the news will likely be bittersweet for fans of the show, who will have to wait “seven or eight years” for a third season. But Barden seems excited about the prospect, and when I ask if she’s looking forward to returning to an older, perhaps wiser Alyssa, her reply suddenly sounds very much like her. “Yeah,” she deadpans, chuckling, “if I don’t work again, at least they have to cast me in that…”

Photography
Max Winkler
Fashion and casting
Deborah Ferguson
Words
James Coward
JESSY BARDEN