Neil Jackson discusses Stargirl’s Icicle, Mental Health and Absentia (Exclusive Interview)

If you’ve been avidly watching film and television for at least the past decade, British actor Neil Jackson would be a familiar face. He has guest-starred in numerous series, including but not limited to Westworld, The Originals, Stargate SG-1 and How I Met Your Mother. Neil has also appeared in several films, with Quantum of Solace, Welcome to Marwen and upcoming The King’s Man being some examples.

Between 2009-2010, Neil had a starring role as Olympic coach ‘Sasha Belov’ on the ABC Family comedy-drama Make It Or Break It. He followed this up with two seasons of Upstairs, Downstairs on BBC One.

As of 2020, Neil Jackson has major roles in two successful shows. On Absentia, he plays ‘Jack Byrne’, the protagonist Emily’s (Castle alum Stana Katic) adoptive brother. Neil also portrays Jordan Mahkent/Icicle, the main villain on DC Universe/The CW superhero teen drama Stargirl, which stars Brec Bassinger as the title character.

In this Exclusive Interview, among other topics, Neil discusses his roles on both shows, how earlier acting experiences have affected his career today as well as which Stargirl and Absentia cast members that he would like to hypothetically see crossover into the other series. Furthermore, we also dig deep into mental health, with Neil reflecting on battling depression and the importance of being open about your mental well-being.

Thank you to Neil Jackson for taking the time to talk with Courageous Nerd.

Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent/Icicle (DC Universe/The CW)

To start this off, how has life been for you during the pandemic?

Neil Jackson (NJ): To be honest mate, it’s not been too difficult to my normal life, to be perfectly honest with you. The life of an actor is feast or famine. My old acting teacher, Michael Armstrong, used to say, “It’s champagne or water days.” You’re either incredibly busy or you have an immense amount of downtime. Those sort of in-between job moments of an unemployed actor. I gotta say, that’s kinda like COVID, sitting around, trying to fill the day, making sure I’m productive as possible. My immediate hasn’t been affected that greatly. It’s been nice – the last three years have been back-to-back work for me which has been wonderful. To have some time with my girlfriend and my puppy without any guilt or fear that I’m missing out on anything because the industry’s just ratcheted to a stop.

It’s been nice to have that forced pause on life. I mean, ask me in three months, if I’m still not working and things aren’t opening up, I’ll be pulling out my hair, my girlfriend will be pulling out her hair and the dog will be biting out his fur. Right now, it’s not too different to normal.

You’re originally from Bedfordshire, thousands of miles away from Hollywood. What made you start acting? Did achieving the success that you have seem attainable back then?

NJ: It’s a really weird thing, to be honest mate. I started acting in school plays when I was a kid – 14, 15, 16. Never thought that the option of acting was a profession I could do. I didn’t know anybody who was in the industry, either as an actor or in any other facet of it. The closest I had was the amateur dramatics group who were in the neighbouring village. Through school, I did a little bit with National Youth Theatre. I was always, as the Americans would call it, a “jock”. I was always the sporty one, on every team I could get my hands on, loved playing sport. When I wasn’t playing or practicing sport, I was kicking a ball around with my brothers or running. I was always a very active kid. So the idea of dressing up in tights and pretending to be a Shakespearean character didn’t really appeal to me.

I didn’t know anybody in Film or TV. So, I sort of pursued a career in sports. I went to University to study Sports Science in Cardiff, got a scholarship to study a Master’s because I was a boxer. They liked the fact that I’d won some medals for them. Or the while, I had no real idea about what I wanted to do until I was talking to an ex-girlfriend of mine. I was just unhappy, was working as a bouncer in some clubs in Cardiff, some fairly rough clubs three or four nights a week. I was training as a boxer, five days a week in the club, competing once every three months, I would say. My life had very quickly skewed from anything creative towards very physical and kind of violent. And I was just unhappy.

She noticed that I had changed and wasn’t happy, she said “When was the last time you were happy?” I thought about it… “when I was doing plays, involved in acting somehow.” At that point, I was in to my fifth year of University doing my Master’s and didn’t have the time, money or inclination to put myself into drama school. I decided – naively or bravely, whatever you might want to call it, to write a play. My idea was that I’d self finance the play in fringes of the West End – small theatres and agents would come and see it, that would be my life as an actor.

A producer, Michael Armstrong, heard about it. We did a prepared read-through for him and said “It needed work but why did [I] write the play?” I said I wrote it to become an actor but he used to be a teacher at RADA. About twelve years before we met, he’d set up his own Acting Academy. He said “Well, I’d love to give you a scholarship to come onto my Acting Academy, come and work with my production company, write for my production company.

Neil Jackson as ‘Sasha Belov’ in Make It Or Break It (ABC Family)

For two years, that’s what I did. Part-time in London, every Sunday part-time for two years. Acting course, worked as a personal trainer four days a week then worked at Michael Armstrong’s company one day a week which became two days a week. Worked for them doing administrative stuff, it was basically the best induction I could get into the industry. Not only was I studying acting although the training was theatrical-based, I was involved watching them put together theatre productions, touring productions and dealing with all the administrative stuff in what it means to run a production company. I was kind of getting this ‘behind the curtains’ look of what the industry was like.

A very lucky thing happened, I was nearing the end of the acting course I was doing, the two year acting course. Just knocking on, being twenty-five. There was a production of Miss Julie, Strindberg play, put on by Armstrong Arts. They didn’t have an understudy. The lead who was playing ‘Jean’ in the touring production had gone over to Los Angeles and called saying, “I’m not coming back. I’ve just booked a job.” So, it threw them into disarray. They asked if I would step in as understudy, I quickly learned the lines and ended up rounding out the last part of the tour. I’d been in the West End for four weeks with it. It was just an incredible gift of a first job.

Anyway, I did the course, finished the course on the West End stage which was a ridiculous dream come true. An agent came and saw me, said he wanted to represent me. That was 19 years ago.

That’s classic ‘right place, right time’, isn’t it? It ended up working out really well for you.

NJ: Yeah, it was one of those gifts. I never had aspirations to be in theatre, I have a lot of admiration for Theatre and I have a lot of admiration for theatrical actors. The ability to get up, do eight performances, replicate what they’re doing and make it fresh for the audience every single time is phenomenal. As a medium, it doesn’t make my heart soar. When I was a kid, I wasn’t begging my parents to take me to plays. I was begging my Dad and Mum to take me to the cinema – to see anything I could see. Richard Donner’s Superman, all the way through to Star Wars because I’m a child of the 80s. Anything I could get my hands on to watch. We had a Betamax, then VHS. I would devour movies and watch them as many times as I could before we had to take them back.

Film was always this thing that just took me to a place that I loved. The moment I started acting, I did a couple of TV shows and then I did a film. The moment one of the films that I did – Alexander, this Oliver Stone film – that had a premiere in LA. I jumped at the chance to get over to LA, took some meetings. It was always where I knew I wanted to end up. If you want to be in film, LA and Hollywood is kind of the Mecca.

Early in your career, you appeared in British television series such as Dream Team and Heartbeat. How have the learning experiences from that period helped in more recent jobs?

NJ: That’s a good question. I think… I don’t think, I know, every single job is always going back to school for me. Because I’m always discovering something new – in my approach and something new in the way that I can convey story through the character. The way that I relate and liaise with the other actors and the creatives on set – directors, writers and everybody else, to kind of collaborate and make this thing happen. One of the best and biggest learning grounds for me was Dream Team. It was either 32 or 34 episodes in a season and I only did one season, I think season 7. I came on as this really against type character, which I loved playing. He was sort of this lovable, bumbling buffoon, not the smartest guy in the world. He won the lottery and used his lottery money to buy the football team because he always dreamed of being the manager of his Dream Team.

What I did with that, I used it as this testing ground, to see what worked. It was the most amount of time I’ve had on being on set and working with a camera. I’d done episodics before, jumped in and done an episode here, an episode there. This was my first time to be all day, five days a week, for 34 episodes. Basically most of the year working in front of camera. I’ve used it as a technical exercise to speak with the cameraman, find out focal ranges, find out what the difference is when the camera’s close up or far away. Of course, your performance is gonna alter slightly depending on where the camera is. If you’re doing very small, nuanced movements and the camera’s on the other side of the room on a flat lens, then it’s not going to pick up the nuances. Whereas if you do a big performance, in a super close up it’s going to look terribly over-acted.

All these little nuances I started to learn, the tricks of the trade that you sort of pick up on. Darting between the two eyes when you look at someone, we naturally change between the left and right eye when we look at people. On camera, especially in a close-up, that can look like you’ve got some strange twitch or abnormality. You learn to make your focus the ‘camera eye’. Whichever of their eyes is closest to the camera, focusing on that and minimising blinking. These are things that I got to practice and explore, then I would see it. The show was running concurrently as we were filming, so I would get to watch an episode that I shot five weeks before and be like, ‘That didn’t work, that was forced, that emotion didn’t come through. Let me try it if I’m still. What happens if I’m incredibly still in the scene? How does that look?”‘

Stargirl Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson as ‘Phil Wallis’ in Dream Team (Sky One)

It might sound like I was being sort of disrespectful to Dream Team in doing that and I wasn’t. I was definitely trying to give the best performance that I could possibly give. But within there, I was using it as a playground to see what worked, what didn’t and hone my skills. It was invaluable for me. One of the greatest lessons I got from that was… there was a guy, Luke Madeley, a fantastic British actor who’s in Dream Team. He went on to star in a film that I wrote, several years later called Star Crossed, which is again based in the world of football — soccer.

He had been in several seasons of Dream Team before and they brought him back for two episodes in the season that I was in. I’m half-way through the season, kind of figured out how to do everything by that point. I was good at learning my lines, I could turn up and do my job. He turned up one day with his folder, script in with his particular scenes highlighted with tabs sticking out from it. He had his notes all over his script. I said to Luke, “What’s in the folder?” He sat me down and showed me the work he’d been doing and I realised it was the work I used to when I started out doing theatre. This is only three years later. I stopped doing it on Dream Team because I’d kind of fallen into a groove that was comfortable. I’d stopped challenging myself. He was a very good reminder that there’s always room to improve and challenge yourself in every role.

It’s my job as an actor to take the blueprint of the script and figure out how to make it the best it could possibly be. It’s not me standing in front of a camera reciting lines, it’s me trying to… not elevate because that sounds pompous but it’s me trying to turn that into the best iteration it can be. In that, there’s no room for complacency. I learned so many things from that job, I’m so grateful for that. It’s still transposed into my work today.

In Absentia, your character [Jack Byrne] battles alcoholism. What steps did you take to accurately represent someone battling addiction?

NJ: I’ve had friends of mine who were alcoholics or drug addicts. I spoke to a couple of friends of mine who are alcoholics. The main thing for me was making sure that I’m not a tourist in that. I didn’t want to feel like I was doing a poor account of what it would mean to be an alcoholic. I didn’t want anybody to be disparaging. Then of course, you never judge the characters you play. I can’t judge any characters I play because characters don’t judge themselves and their actions necessarily.

The big thing for me was leaning into what the cause of his addiction was. Addiction, yes addiction, alcoholism is a disease. I believe that alcoholism is asymptomatic of an underlying thing that the person is dealing with – most often emotional stress, psychological. And in this case, Jack Byrne had a lot of things that were going on.

His father loved him but loved his step-sister more. He poured the love that Jack wanted into Emily Byrne (Stana Katic) and that wasn’t even his blood. There was an element of resentment there and the feeling that his father didn’t really value him. The father always wanted a child to go into policing… Papa Byrne is a policeman and my character ends up in the medical field. So, he felt like he was failing his father but it all came to a head when his sister died. That’s the beginning of Season 1. And dealing with the death of his sister threw him off the wagon and into alcoholism as a way of burying/drowning the feelings that he had. That’s the mainstay of all three seasons. Battling with this addictive personality but really trying to come to peace with the underlying factors beneath it.

Once I started understanding what they were – the alcoholism, the drinking, was less of a thing. It was about his way of suppressing feelings that were way too raw for him to deal with cognitively. That meant I knew how to play it where it didn’t feel like I was doing a facsimile of something.

Concurrently, you also play Jordan Mahkent on Stargirl for DC Universe and The CW. Did having a prior working relationship with Geoff Johns [on Blade: The Series] mean you were approached or was it an audition?

NJ: No, he approached me. It was January last year, 2019. He just gave me a call and said, “We’ve been greenlit for this live-action version of Stargirl“. I knew of the comics because I knew of Geoff but I never read them. He said, “I’d love you to play the lead antagonist, Icicle.” He pitched me the character over the phone and I was in. The moment he started pitching me the backstory of this guy who had his family, was perfectly happy with the family that he had. Then his wife died but his wife was essentially murdered because it was the negligence of a big pharmaceutical company who polluted the ground that she worked on. He made it his life mission to not only get retribution for her death but to also make sure that other people don’t suffer the same injustice as he suffered. So he formed the Injustice Society with his fellow villains – all of this is in heavy quotations.

Neil Jackson Stargirl
Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent/Icicle on Stargirl (DC Universe/The CW)

Because suddenly I realise that he’s a hero. Every villain sees himself as a hero but this one is very relatable story. He’s one click away from being heroic. The things that he sees as positive to make society better are actually fairly villainous in other people’s eyes. Once he pitched me that story, I fell in love. I love this character because one of the best things that I think you can do with a villain is to make audiences relate to them.

If audiences can relate to and empathise with the villain, then they become conflicted because some part starts to root for the villain. If you’re rooting for the villain of the piece, that’s a wonderful dramatic device that causes conflict in the audiences watching. As much as they obviously want Stargirl to win, good and justice to prevail, there’s a skerrick of them hoping Jordan succeeds because they love and relate to that character. That’s everything that Geoff created, which I thought was just beautiful.

It’s an interesting perspective you’ve touched on. Jordan is the villain from Courtney’s point of view. If the show was called ISA and Jordan was the main character, people might have a different perception of whether what he was doing was right or wrong.

NJ: You’re absolutely right. It touched on for us, when we were doing it, the Avengers series. What Thanos was doing in the Avengers series. His overarching goal, he realised that the universe was essentially cannibalising itself from over population. If he could indiscriminately wipe out 50% of the population with a click of his fingers, as heinous as that would seem, the other 50% have a greater chance of surviving and thriving. Within there, 50% of the population had to disappear. Of course, everyone wants to fight for their loved one. He believes that he was the hero, he was the only one who had the strength or volition to make that hard choice that would ultimately mean everyone else is better off.

And very, very similar to that is Jordan. Jordan believes that he is the one who has the strength of character to make the hard choices that ultimately will mean everybody thrives. He’s okay that he gets labelled as a villain in the process. He knows what he’s doing is for the best of everyone. What a beautiful position to start from – incredibly righteous and that’s been shown all over history. Of course, Hitler thought exactly the same thing. So did the Crusades, Bonaparte – every single dictator that comes through has this idea. But when you break down what Jordan’s trying to do… there’s a great episode, I believe Episode 11 so minor spoiler alert for anybody in the States who gets to see it. The JSA – Stargirl and all of her cohorts, finally find out what Jordan’s plan is. Some of them go, “Wait a second. That doesn’t sound so bad. Why are we trying to stop him?”

So, what a wonderful place for audiences to be as well.

Your co-star Hunter Sansone plays Jordan’s son, Cameron. When I spoke with Eric Goins, he discussed how The Gambler doesn’t have a child to motivate him. How was developing that dynamic and Jordan’s motivation?

NJ: Well, that’s everything for Jordan. In terms of his motivation, on her deathbed, his wife said “Make sure you make this world a better place for our son.” Then she said, “Destroy anybody who gets in the way of that.” Everything for him is about trying to make a better world for his son to inherit. I think that that’s the motive of every father. Everybody wants to make sure that their children have a better chance of life than they do. It’s the overarching desire of anybody who has children. He’s taking it to the ultimate extreme because he has two levels of power that he wields. He has a huge amount of independent wealth, a very renowned businessman. He uses his business acumen and his wealth to try to change the problem.

When he can’t do it through business diplomacy, he ices up, becomes a warrior and does it in slightly nefarious ways. Everything is from the perspective of making – not just for his son but primarily for his son – the world a better place.

Jordan is the leader of the Injustice Society of America, which could almost be described as an ensemble within the ensemble. With this in mind, did you feel you had a leadership role among that group of actors?

NJ: To a degree. I think it’s just a natural sort of parallel when you’re on set if your character happens to be in a leadership role. They number the characters on set. The biggest, most prominent character is always number 1 which of course in the show that’s Courtney Whitmore, played by Brec. Every character, in order of appearance, gets a number. Normally number 1 on set becomes the leader of the team because they’re the one that has the most at stake from the project. It just becomes this natural thing that the number 1 ends up doing that. And I found that kind of happened with the ISA. I wanted to make sure we were knitted as a group so I’d organise dinners, events so that we could get together and socialise. I did feel like it was slightly incumbent upon me to step in. But also that’s just who I am anyway. I’m one of those people, when I start a job, I start a group WhatsApp so that we’re all connected and can communicate.

Having been on sets for the last nineteen-and-a-half-years, they can be quite lonely places. By and large, you’ve got a large group of people who have travelled from somewhere else to be somewhere. They know nobody else there, they don’t even know the people they’re working with. Often, people have left families, wives, children, husbands, everything. The only thing you really have is each other as actors and the crew to knit us together. There tends to be a lot of very fast bonding when you arrive on a job because they’re the people that you rely on, socially and professionally.

You had me coming from Canada, several people from LA, New York actors. Everybody who came in – I think I was the only one who came internationally, even though it’s still North America. Everybody’s disciplined. There were a few people, like Eric, who’s from Atlanta. Most of the cast were from other places.

Speaking of people who are in the cast, two of your co-stars on Stargirl are Luke Wilson and Amy Smart. How was your experience of working with each of them?

NJ: [Joking]: They’re both terrible people and I hate them. Rotten, rotten black cores.

I did more work with Amy. Of course, I’m a fan of their work. I’ve seen them through the years watching a lot of stuff. It was kind of fun getting to geek out a little bit with them over the stuff that I’d watched. I love this beautiful Indie called The Skeleton Twins, which Luke was in. So we were talking about that. It was one of the things I love about my job. I’m a fan, first and foremost. I love film, love TV. The fact I get to watch these people and then at some point work with those I’d watched and admired is just amazing. I’m not shy anymore about gushing about fandom when I meet people. There’s no point putting on airs and graces. They’re both wonderful people, very, very giving.

Luke, I very much admired for the simple fact that he would mine a scene. He was constantly digging and mining a scene, to see if he could make it better. We’ve might’ve done 3 or 4 takes of this but Luke is always looking for ways to tell in the story in the most efficient way possible. His mind was constantly in it. Amy is such a ray of light, smiley, happy and wonderful. She’s Barbara Whitmore. She’s everything you’d expect Amy Smart to be. A joy to work with, very professional, meticulously good at her job. Every time you looked at her, she just had this big grin on her face. Both wonderful to work with.

You have starring roles on two successful shows. So, if you could bring someone from Absentia to guest-star on Stargirl or vice-versa, who would you want to see inhabit the other world?

NJ: That’s interesting, that’s very interesting. I think it would be really interesting to see Brec – Stargirl – in the world of Absentia. Brec is Stargirl. The very first time I met Brec, I’d just flown in because I was shooting The King’s Man in the UK. I flew into Atlanta to do two days of camera tests, costume tests and make-up tests, everything else like that before I went back to finish shooting that film. I arrived into the make-up trailer and there was this bubbly spark of a girl, who was sat with these shocks of blonde hair. She’s like, “Hi! Are you Neil? Oh my God, do you play Icicle?” I was like, “Yeah, I play Icicle.” She goes, “I’m Brec! It’s like breakfast, just without the ‘fast.” I was like, “God, you’re adorable.” She is just so bubbly and fun, it would be hilarious to see her in the really dark, gritty, grainy world that’s Absentia because the two are so diametrically opposed. It would be really funny to see.

Similarly, it would be really interesting…. I would take Patrick [McAuley], my character’s nephew in Absentia. I would take him and put him in Stargirl because he’s the age of the kids. He’s had a very different upbringing where his mother has died, raised by a step-mother, father’s an alcoholic, he’s been shot at. People have been trying to bury him, drown him. Then suddenly, he gets dropped into Blue Valley and he’s part of Blue Valley High, it’d be interesting to see him come in. I think he’d end up being a villain.

You’ve spoken openly about battling depression. We’re in a very precarious time. How important do you think it is to be open about your mental health right now and what sentiment would you offer to people who may need it?

NJ: It’s a good question and I’m glad you asked it. I think mental health and talking about mental health issues is for me, one of the most important things. Because there’s still a huge stigma in Britain, you can attest to this, there’s a huge stigma around mental health. My Mum still calls psychologists ‘shrinks’. The idea of the acceptance… and she’s very open and understanding and wonderful. It’s just a vernacular that she uses without thinking about it. There’s a stigma surrounding mental healthy in Britain and everywhere. In addition to that, the idea that somebody is depressed, isn’t an attractive quality. You break your leg, you break your body, you hurt yourself. Everyone wants to rally around, try to help you because they can see that you’re broken and get you fixed.

Talking about depression is not an attractive thing to be around, there’s no sensational quality to it. It’s a very, very lonely experience for me. Because of the loneliness of the experience: one, it doesn’t attract people to you and also it doesn’t make me want to be around people. When I’m in the melees of depression and the sorts of black cloud, black dog is at my heels or above my head. All I want to do is hunker down, ride it out. But in there, it makes me feel like I’m incredibly alone, like I’m the only person on the planet who’s going through this. One of the real joys for me has been being open about my depression and these fears that I had. In the process, it opened a dialogue with other people who have experienced depression.

One of the things that’s helped me pull myself out and get help was leaning into the community. Finding out that I’m not alone, these feelings are commonplace, more commonplace than we would ever accept. Many people are going through this sense. It’s nothing to do with success or failure, riches or poverty, race, creed, anything. Depression couldn’t give a s**t whether you are black, Asian, white or middle class. As proven by the fact that people could seem to have everything they could ever want in life, talk about depression or have lost their lives to depression. People who don’t have depression can look at that and think “What do they have to be depressed about?” because they think depression is sadness. They think that depression is a feeling of woefulness, self-loathing, something like that.

Neil Jackson as ‘Jack Byrne’Absentia (AXN)

And it’s not. It can range from a chemical imbalance, to emotional imbalance to just sense that every so often, a melee tars everything with a bleakness. Talking about it only dispels the illusion people have that it is only something that happens to people who have a reason. You’ve got cancer, therefore you’re depressed. Your family member died, therefore you’re depressed. You lost your job, therefore you’re depressed. There are triggers to depression but it can also happen to someone who might otherwise be happy. Depression might click in a way that seems hard to compute for someone who doesn’t understand. It’s only through talking about it that we start to dispel the myths around it.

More importantly, and this is the one for me, make people with depression realise they’re not alone. What I do with that is I like to talk about things that really help me and have helped throughout the years. Deal with my depression and overcome it in moments. I’ve been open on my page about perspectives – the perspective for me, one I’ve talked about, is to make my future self grateful. I find that making a small choice in a moment may not help me in that moment but my future self. Or exercise, doing exercise.

Neil Jackson with Stargirl and Blade: The Series co-star Nelson Lee (Zimbio)

I’ve talked on my social media about receiving a card from a girl at a Comic Con and about how watching this show I did called Make It Or Break It was one of the main things that helped her get through the death of her parents. Film and TV has meant so much to me over the years. There are several, several shows and films that have been touchstones for me as I’ve gone through my life. As a kid, as an adult that have either helped me through a moment, helped educate me through a moment or made me feel like I’m not alone when I see a character going through something. Or helped lift me out of a moment when it’s been joyous and an emotional release.

Stories have an incredible amount of power. I have a lot of reverence and respect for stories, the power that they have in all aspects of our lives. But the idea that something I’ve done, a character I’ve played can mean so much to somebody to help them navigate their own emotional well-being is everything to me. It blew me away. I’m so glad I was able to find her in the Comic Con afterwards and have a conversation with her. We both kind of welled up a little bit and talked about it.

We go off and shoot these TV shows and these films. You’re in a sort of bubble as you’re shooting them and have no idea about the way they’re connected or received on an individual level. It means everything to me, the fact that somebody can sit down and watch something I’ve done or anybody’s done and gain something from it that is greater than the story itself. Gain something that actually gives clarity, perspective, release or happiness in their life. That is everything to me.

Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson and Stana Katic – Absentia (AXN)

For me as a writer, I write and direct as well, that’s the kind of stories that I navigate towards. The two short films that I’ve directed are in that vein. I want to make people feel, I want to make people fall in love. That’s the power of story to me. It can transport us and our emotions to a place that either lifts us out of where we’re at, it might be a darker place. Or helps us to understand and dig deeper in, if we need to do that. I mean, I’m sure you’ve got exactly the same experiences. I’ve seen films or shows that made me want to call my Mum. That made me go, “God, I’ve got to speak to my Mum now.” I haven’t spoken to her in two weeks and I need to hear her voice.

I’ve had gorgeous conversations with family members or friends that have been inspired by the things that I’ve watched. So, if anything I’m a part of can be that for somebody else, that both breaks my heart and heals it. It’s gorgeous.

You’ve mentioned having a platform. I’m sure you reaching out to that girl and taking the time to try and find her, that probably meant so much, that you would do that. I can only imagine what that must have meant to her.

NJ: And what it meant to me. We’re all human beings and all, ultimately, looking to be seen. I think that’s the constant of being a human being. We exist within this vessel of a body but we really want another person to look across the void, whatever that void is, and see us. I think what we’re being seen as, from my perspective, is this child. The child within all of us that we’ve built up armament around, physical and emotional. To try and protect so that child doesn’t get hurt. But we’re really just that same 3, 4, 5, 6-year old child that’s looking at the world with wonderment and hoping something doesn’t hurt us.

There’s a wonderful documentary [Won’t You Be My Neighbor?], about Mr. Rogers. He says it in there, that talking to children is no different to talking to adults. You just need to find the child in the adult to talk to. When you can see that child in the adult and talk directly to that, you’re talking to their soul, who they are. And that moment when she came and found me, that wasn’t this woman in her late teens/early twenties talking to a guy in his thirties who’s an actor. It was two children reaching across and going, “I’ve been in pain and you helped me.” And me saying, “You sharing that pain has opened up something in me.” Our souls connected, it’s just one of the beautiful things about being a human being. Getting to see somebody and be seen in return is all, in my opinion, life is about.

So, getting to do that for somebody else is everything.

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Follow Neil Jackson on Twitter (@TheNeilJackson) and Instagram (theneiljackson).

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