What does it really mean to make a bold choice? Australian actor and director Jessica Trueman is not afraid to poke fun at the way we use language in her short film thusly dubbed “A Bold Choice”. Her performance earned her Best Actor at the 2022 Focus on Ability Short Film Festival. Fresh off the heels of Trueman’s win, ABILITY’s George Kaplan spoke with the passionate filmmaker on her beginnings, her role models and process.
George Kaplan: What led you to becoming an actor?
Jessica Trueman: I started when I was a kid. I remember my first classes, when I was eight. I remember loving it. I did many plays and independent short films as well. I think it’s a combination of everything. And seeing stuff in so many different genres, in film and television, I was like, I could live such a big life portraying characters in all these worlds just in my singular life. To me, that’s always something that’s appealed to me about acting. That’s why I still love it, why I still do it. It’s something I’ve never stopped wanting to do.
Kaplan: Can you tell us about the process of producing your short film “A Bold Choice”? Was this the first short film you produced?
Trueman: No, it wasn’t. I did a short film—I did a filmmaking course, a Bachelor at film school. I produced a film there. This film is a little different because I wrote the script, I starred in it, I directed it and I wrote it. That’s because I had a really distinct vision. Producing it was hard in the sense that I was doing everything at the same time, but when I look back now, I’m like, it wasn’t that difficult. It was a really simple film, really short. It was not that difficult in the grand scheme of things. I just used a lot of what I had to make this. That’s what helped the process go a lot more quickly, I think.
Kaplan: What is the major takeaway you want when people see your film?
Trueman: I think—well, being autistic, language and understanding language was always a thing I had to put a lot of extra effort in. And specifically, things like idioms. As an actor, I knew for sure they would say, “Oh, just make ‘a bold choice’,” and I was like, what does that mean? People say a lot of things, and they don’t really carry a specific weight, which isn’t helpful. I want people to realize that sometimes you’ve got to be specific, don’t be broad. Get to the point, is what I would say. It also is a bit of a satire. When I speak to other actors who watch the film, they’re like, “Yeah, I experience this, too. This is the same conundrum I go through.” And it kind of is poking fun at that a little bit. Maybe not in the most obvious way, but when I was writing it, that definitely was what I thought. And performing it, too. There is a bit of a satirical undertone to it. If that makes sense. (laughs)
Kaplan: That totally makes sense to me. How did it feel when you received recognition for your acting at Focus on Ability Short Film Festival?
Trueman: I was so shocked! I don’t believe in awards, and that’s fine. For me, I always feel like making the film, getting to do it, having the film submitted in the festival, to me, that felt like winning. And that’s cheesy, I know, but when I was announced at the awards ceremony, I was like, “What?” (laughs) I knew the film was good, I knew I had a chance just like everybody else. It was a bit of a shock. It really is a blur, because when your name is announced to win an award, all the attention becomes on you, and it’s sort of overwhelming, almost, but in a good way. You’re just like, “Wow, I don’t know what to do!” Everyone’s like, “Go up there! Go up to the stage!” “OK, I’ll do that.” It was such a great feeling. The first award. I’ve got a trophy in my room here. It reminded me that I am on the right track with what I want to do in life. It’s not just me who thinks I’m a good actor, you know? (laughs)
Kaplan: Absolutely. It’s great to have that kind of validation, for sure.
Trueman: I agree.
Kaplan: In your short, your character has to do a self-tape. Do you have any fun stories of self-tapes gone wrong or any audition stories?
Trueman: Oh, many, so many! (laughs) There’s always the classic where I forget to plug in the microphone on my camera and I have no sound and I have to do everything again. It’s like I’ve just pressed “Start” and I didn’t even check! Now I always check, because that broke my heart that one time. A lot of commercial auditions, they get you to do some really funky stuff. One I had recently was, I had to be an unruly neighbor, making noise, using a jackhammer. And I live in an apartment building, I had just moved in, and I did not want to be the unruly neighbor, but I was like, “I have to do this tape! I hope they don’t come and knock on my door and be like, ‘Shut up!’” That was toeing the line of that, it was really hard. There more horror stories like, “Uh oh, this could go really wrong really fast!” (laughs)
Kaplan: Going back to your short, you directed it. You started as an actor first. How do you feel about also becoming a director?
Trueman: Becoming a director, the idea of it in the past was intimidating to me. I was like, “I’m not sure I can do it. I’m not sure I have that creative control.” But I feel it’s a lot easier to direct when you’ve written a piece, just from my experience. When I am writing my own stuff and performing, I have a very distinct idea of what things should look like, so stepping in the director’s shoes wasn’t as tricky as I thought it would be, because it’s easy when you know what you want. When you don’t know what you want, that’s not really direction, is it? When I did direct, I was surprised that I knew what I wanted. It kind of came naturally to me when I had that vision. Potentially I will do it in the future. I have a tendency to bite off more than can chew, do more than I probably could handle. So, I probably will do it in the future. I get protective over the work I create, because I’m like, it has to be specifically like this. I don’t know if I can put that trust in someone else. It’s like my baby, my child.
Kaplan: I figured also it would be challenging because you’re having to manage your performance and also watch out for your scene partner’s performance, and I imagine doing both, having both those roles happen simultaneously must be challenging.
Trueman: It’s pretty easy to watch the other actors perform, because I know what it’s like in their shoes and I’m always standing in the eyeline next to them and watching them perform. I feel like directing actors is easy because I’ve had that experience as an actor, so I know what language to use to help them. For me, that was definitely one of the challenges I had. As I said, I think it helped writing my own material because I knew the character and had done the work to know what I wanted. When I did perform, I would always watch it back, and I would keep notes. I would also ask my fellow actors and the crew what they thought as well, because sometimes taking on more than you can chew distorts how you think, so I would always ask for a second opinion if I’m overthinking things. Which I often do. That was definitely helpful as well. And of course, once I got the right take and I was like, “Yes, this is it!” I was like, “We can move on now.” (laughs)
Kaplan: How long a shoot day was that?
Trueman: It was one day, eight hours, in my house at the time.
Kaplan: Do you have any role models you look up to in the industry?
Trueman: Oh, so many, so many! I have a long list, and for different reasons, too. I really love people like Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Kaplan: Oh, yes!
Trueman: She’s incredible. Even someone like Donald Glover, he’s someone who’s always got his hands in different pies. I think the work he does is pretty cool, too. For actors, I love people like Toni Collette and Jodie Comer. They’re two of my favorites. I watch them and I’m like, I want to be that, you know? I love Viola Davis as well. She’s—oh, my God, mate! She’s a force, in my opinion. I think from a producing respective, someone like Reese Witherspoon, what she’s done with “Hello, Sunshine,” I’m just like, “Damn!” I follow her book club as well and the way they adapt books into projects is amazing. So many. They’re definitely the first ones who come to mind for who I look up to.
Kaplan: That’s great, those are a lot of great ones. I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Toni Collette I love. She’s been in so many movies in America that I feel like so many Americans wouldn’t even know that she’s Aussie.
Trueman: Yeah, she is!
Kaplan: What’s next for you? Are there any other projects you’ve dreamt of that you would like to work on?
Trueman: Yeah, definitely. There are so many that I have problems choosing what I want to do next. There is a short that I would love to make. I’ve written it, I’m starring in it. There’s no argument about that on my end. I would love to make that. I have an idea to adapt that short into a feature. I have the basic idea, and I want to flesh it out when I can. I think it’s a great idea, and where I want to take it makes me excited. That’s why I’m like, I really want to do this! Which is when you know you’re on the right track. I’ve got a few others I’ve dreamt up and I think about all the time. But again, when you’ve got so many ideas, it’s so hard to concentrate on just the one, and then you do nothing. And I feel bad, I make myself feel bad about it, so it’s like, ugh!
Kaplan: (laughs) Yeah, one step at a time!
Trueman: Yeah, and I’m not good at that! (laughs) That’s a lesson that I’ve got to learn. But to answer your question, yes there is something I wish to do in the future. I think I know what the next one is. It’s got a lot more planning than “A Bold Choice,” and I need help to do it. It’s a lot more ambitious. Watch this space! (laughs)
Kaplan: Aside from that, just to harp on that, do you have—and it’s OK if you don’t have an answer for this one, is there a dream role, maybe a character that’s out that that you would like to take a stab at?
Trueman: Um, for me—this is hard because there are so many things I’ve—I think more in terms of genre and time periods. I love period pieces like the old stuff, and I also love things from the ’90s and the ’80s and the ’70s. I’d love to do stuff that’s set in the past, whether that’s 10, 20, a hundred, or a thousand years ago. I kind of want to keep my toe in all genres, to be honest. They all have something unique about them that I’d love to enter. In terms of doing roles, if they ever made, like, a Kate Bush biopic, I’d want to be in that. I’d want to be Kate Bush. I’d love to even before Running Up That Hill. What an avant garde queen I adore.
Trueman: So that’s definitely something that’s out there, out there as in, it’s totally outlandish, but if it ever happened I wouldn’t say no. In fact, it would be resoundingly, “Yes.” I would do this. Or Cher. Someone like that. I’d love to play someone who’s a real person in a biopic, and definitely a different challenge as well, when you’ve already got the material laid out for you. And bringing them to life.
Kaplan: I’ll definitely keep my fingers crossed for that Cher biopic.
Trueman: (laughs loudly) Let’s speak it into existence!
Kaplan: Yeah, this is your opportunity to speak it into existence. Do you have any advice for any other actors who are maybe up and coming or wanting to start?
Trueman: That’s a good question. I would just say, just try to act as much as you can. Go to classes. Try fun ways to be creative outside. I think that’s really important. Don’t let that be your only creative outlet, whether you do it as a hobby or as a job. I feel like I would get stuck in just performing. Broaden your horizon. You’ll be happier and you’ll be a better actor, I think. That’s what I would say.
Kaplan: Sometimes they want actors who can water ski, and you can say, “I know how to water ski.”
Trueman: And I’ve never done it, but I’d love to water ski, jet ski.
Kaplan: Again, speak it into existence. It’s happening.
Trueman: Yeah, we’re going to water ski! Do all the water sports, yeah.
Kaplan: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Trueman: If you have ideas and if you want to make your own content, I say do it. If you’re not getting the work you want, create it, make it. It can be definitely challenging, I won’t sugar-coat that, but it’s ultimately rewarding when you have your own stories and ideas that you want to share based on your life or anything you’ve dreamt up in your imagination. As long as you’ve got that vision and you’d like to do it, go for it! I held back for so long. Try to pursue those things and make them happen. You’re much happier. It gives you a chance to practice your skills. And you learn a lot. I would say that.
Kaplan: I think that’s great advice!
Trueman: Thank you! I do, too! (laughs) Of course I would, it’s my own advice!
You can watch “A Bold Choice” here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHzdgHEa_OM)