Beginning her career with breakout roles on hit TV shows such as The Mentalist and United States of Tara, Jade Pettyjohn is one of the names you need to remember this year. Known primarily for her role as Summer on School of Rock, Jade has already been in the industry for a decade, working on everything from a hit Nickelodeon show to an upcoming crime Thriller alongside Nicole Kidman. Having just wrapped up some major films, Jade still manages to stay true to herself, grounded and motivated. We sat down with Jade at the Kimpton Everly hotel to talk about her new roles in upcoming shows and films, her struggles and successes in the entertainment industry and what self-care means to her.
Taylor Magazine: Tell me a bit about you and what you’re up to at the moment?
Jade Pettyjohn: I’m an actress and a musician. These past couple of years have been one hell of a ride! It’s been lots of fun – I’ve just wrapped School of Rock as a series and I just did a film with Laura Dern. Thankfully, I got another job straight after and did Destroyer with Nicole Kidman. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to meet some amazing people doing what I love.
Taylor Magazine: How did you get started with acting?
Jade Pettyjohn: When I was around four, I realised what actors did. I grew up in a house of artists – my mum was a photographer, my dad was a musician, my grandmother danced on Broadway so I guess it’s in my blood! I naturally just gravitated to the arts. I realised that actors were the people that played make-believe and I thought it was amazing that you could do that as a job. I told my parents everyday that I was going to be an actress and needed an agent when I was five. They didn’t want me to be an actress at first because I was really shy but I started doing little exercises to work on that and became an actress aged seven!
Taylor Magazine: A lot of people say it’s a tough industry to break through – how did you find that?
Jade Pettyjohn: It’s definitely an interesting industry to break into – because my mum was a photographer, she was friends with a lot of managers and agents so we were already familiar with the whole thing. My mum took my headshots, and a friend of ours had a little agency so I got into that, but I started with modelling initially. Modelling wasn’t my thing, so I did some commercials and then met my agent Karen Renna.
Taylor Magazine: Talk to us a bit about School of Rock – how was that for you and what did you learn from the experience?
Jade Pettyjohn: I used my own high school experience with School of Rock and learned so much career and technique wise, and I also got to understand more abotut how to present myself at work. I grew up with the cast and with their help, I learned how to grow up and be in the entertainment industry at the same time. It was beautiful, a great experience.
Taylor Magazine: School of Rock is so well known – were you nervous when you heard about your role?
Jade Pettyjohn: I really wanted to do the character justice for sure! I was excited because it was a film that I grew up with so when I got the audition, I was a little bit nervous but it was definitely more excitement. I wanted to pay homage to Miranda Cosgrove and what she did with it originally, but it was also amazing to put my own flavour and twist on the character. We worked so hard on it and it was a group effort – nerve-racking to begin with but we had such an amazing writing team and crew so it just worked.
Taylor Magazine: It must have been the ideal role for you because it pairs music with acting?
Jade Pettyjohn: Yeah, it really was! I was curious to see what comedy was like and it was exactly what I wanted. It’s the perfect combination. I loved being able to be an actor and do a show which is rich and fun, but also to have a band and figure out the music thing as well.
Taylor Magazine: How did you prepare for the role?
Jade Pettyjohn: I re-watched the movie and met with the producers and writers, and asked them what they were looking for and played with that a lot. We took improvisation classes and learned how to work together with comedy. You have to have a lot of chemistry with the characters – that’s what the show is all about. It’s always something that will be close to my heart – it definitely is always going to be a highlight.
Taylor Magazine: What would you say is the most difficult part of acting?
Jade Pettyjohn: It’s definitely a tough craft. It’s really important to be aware of how people work and you have to be interested constantly. The hardest part for me is everything else that comes alongside that. The business side, for example.
“You’re an actor primarily and your job is to make and create things. The industry throws a lot at you, a lot of that being white noise, so you need to have the ability to block that out.” – Jade Pettyjohn
Taylor Magazine: Because you started so young, do you think that has helped you build up a thicker skin?
Jade Pettyjohn: Yeah I think so – it’s a weird industry because it’s filled with rejection. When I was little, that’s just how it was and I knew that. When you’re younger, the idea of a barrier isn’t as real. Kids have thicker skin in general so it was easier when I was younger to understand the rejection that comes with acting.
Taylor Magazine: Do you have a dream collaboration or role you’d like to play?
Jade Pettyjohn: So many! I love the idea of being able to work with Wes Anderson – he is a genius. I’d love to work with Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Gary Oldman too! I like to play characters that are rich, dynamic, but also ones that challenge me.
Taylor Magazine: Tell me a bit more about the films Trial by Fire and Destroyer.
Jade Pettyjohn: Trial by Fire is based on a true story – it’s with Laura Dern and Jack O’Connell, and follows a case of a man who is falsely accused of murdering his three children in a fire. Laura Dern, who plays the character Elizabeth, finds out about this and tries to help him because she believes he’s not guilty. It talks about the death penalty and how people see what is right and wrong. It’s so important as a story and relevant to today’s society as well. I play Elizabeth’s daughter, Julie. Playing someone that actually existed was a great experience. Destroyer follows Nicole Kidman, who plays Detective Erin Bell, and a case comes up which brings her into her past when she was an undercover cop. It’s a mystery, it’s super gritty and follows L.A. life. I play Nicole Kidman’s daughter in that.
Taylor Magazine: They are really different roles to School of Rock – how did you find that?
Jade Pettyjohn: I was looking for that and I wanted to do something I’d never done. Doing comedy helped so much with how I play my more dramatic roles. It was difficult, but exactly what I was looking for.
Taylor Magazine: Music is a big part of your life too. How do you keep the music side going?
Jade Pettyjohn: It was a crazy balancing act which I’ve just managed to figure out! Acting is my main thing, but music keeps me going. It’s complete self-expression and that’s so important for me. I believe art feeds art so I’ve never stopped with music. I’m starting to collaborate with people now too! Music is a part of who I am so I have to keep going with it, and when I’m ready, I’ll release my stuff.
Taylor Magazine: What would you say inspired you with your music?
Jade Pettyjohn: My dad was a bass player and taught me how to play guitar, so it was always a big part of family life and music was all around me. Then I just discovered on my own what I liked, and the type of music I gravitated towards.
Taylor Magazine: Who are you listening to at the moment?
Jade Pettyjohn: Everyone! As far as modern music goes, I love Lorde. I’ve seen her twice now and she is the epitome of an artist – she brought these beautiful, complex lyrics into mainstream pop music and that is just brilliant. She is very much herself, and she sounds like the future of music. I also love jazz – Billie Holiday, Etta James, all of that sort of stuff.
Taylor Magazine: What advice would you give someone who wanted to get into the entertainment industry?
Jade Pettyjohn: The first thing to do is to have the right headspace. If you love it, it’s worth it. Go into it knowing that you should work really hard.
“Stay true to yourself. Trust yourself and know what you want to do and who you want to be – keep a hold of that always.” – Jade Pettyjohn
Taylor Magazine: Favourite film?
Jade Pettyjohn: It’s always between Kill Bill and Casablanca.
Taylor Magazine: Favourite book?
Jade Pettyjohn: Again, it’s between two! On the Road by Jack Kerouac and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Taylor Magazine: Favourite place that you have been to recently?
Jade Pettyjohn: I feel really connected to New York but my favourite place is probably Nicaragua. The culture is so intact there and it’s just beautiful – amazing beaches!
Taylor Magazine: How would you spend your dream day?
Jade Pettyjohn: I’m an adventure and adrenaline junkie, so my dream day would be to take all of my favourite people and go for breakfast, maybe see a concert and go to Six Flags – a completely fun-filled day. I would love to jump out of a plane as well. Sky-diving is most definitely on my list as soon as I turn 18!
Taylor Magazine: We’re all about self-care. What would you do if you were having a bad day and needed to feel better?
Jade Pettyjohn: What I’ve found is that exercise relieves so much tension. Physically doing something feels really good – I run a lot and do some boxing. I’d take a really nice shower, relax, lay back, listen to music and just have someone to talk to or sit in silence with. Having someone there is really comforting for me.
Taylor Magazine: What’s coming up for you?
Jade Pettyjohn: I’m about to start working on a pilot called L.A Confidential, that’s my next one. Longer term, I want to continue to tell stories, particularly about people that haven’t been represented.I’d love to do more TV, release an album and just continue to meet great people and have more adventures!