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After taking small roles in films like The Hole and TV shows includingFoyle’s War and Hex, Jemma Powell will next be seen as Alice’s sister Margaret in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. She has also started her own production company.
What training have you received?
I studied Theatre, Film and Television at Bristol University and then I went to the Oxford School of Drama. I also spent every summer from the age of 15 to 19 with the National Youth Theatre, taking shows to the Edinburgh Festival and into London. All these institutes taught me about the craft, and I formed friendships with people who I now work with all the time. I was very grateful for my classical training at drama school, too—on stage there is no waste paper basket, no take two, three or four, and you cannot miss a beat in the dialogue otherwise it ruins the rest of the scene. Drama school taught me the discipline of acting.
What kind of roles attract you?
I think the roles that I can relate to in some way; if the character has had similar experiences to me. The experiences are what make us who we are now—they shape how we see, feel, listen and speak. It would be a challenge, also, to break away from my stereotype; to be cast as someone completely different to me. I’ve always wanted to play a character in history, someone who has somehow made a difference. It would be wonderful to do all that research and reading around a real life character as a starting point for playing the role.
What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?
An actor once said to me about how difficult the business is, and if work felt sparse, “As Winston Churchill once said, ‘If you are going through hell keep going!’” I do think it is a case of just being relentlessly focused and determined. There is so much rejection, you just have to keep believing in yourself. I think it’s important as an actor to live your life experiences to the full, in Technicolour surround sound; good or bad, these are the emotions that take you deeper into the people you play. In this way, acting for the actor becomes a cathartic experience and a means of expression.
Tell us the most significant moment in your career?
Working with Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland.
You’ll die happy when…
When I have done everything I have ever wanted to do.