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Exclusive Interview with American Crime’s Connor Jessup

 

AMERICAN CRIME - "Season Two: Episode One" - Issues of sexual orientation and socioeconomic disparity come to a roil when lurid photos of a high school boy, Taylor Blaine, are posted on social media following a school party, on the season premiere of "American Crime," WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 6 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ryan Green) CONNOR JESSUP

You might not know the name yet but that won’t be for long. Connor Jessup already has an impressive resume for someone so young. He appeared as Ben Mason in Falling Skies, Casey Demas in Skating to New York, and Sean Randall in Blackbird. He can currently be seen in the film festival circuit as Oscar Madly in the award-winning movie Closet Monster. He is also in the new season of American Crime. Which premieres tonight, January 6th, on ABC Television.

You are in the new season of American Crime. Can you tell our readers what this season is about?

American Crime is an anthology show. So every season is a totally self-contained story. New characters, new locations. It’s kind of like Fargo or American Horror Story in that way. We do have some people coming back from season 1 but season 1 was about a murder. Season 2 is completely different. It takes place in Annapolis and it revolves around an elite private academy and a public school and the dynamic after a student at the private school accuses members of the basketball team of sexually assaulting him at a party.

So from that central allegation the whole series spills out. It ripples through the community and pulls dozens of desperate people in the chaos of this crime. So that’s where the show starts and it just goes from there.

I got to see the first few episodes and it’s pretty incredible.

Oh thank you! I appreciate that.

I honestly have not had a television series affect me the way American Crime has.

Thank you that’s nice of you.

I can not wait to see the rest of it.

You’ve seen more of it than I have. (laughs). I’ve only seen the first 2. I know it’s weird. I could have watched them probably, but I’ve sort of been holding off until they air.

Your character, Taylor Blaine, goes through quite a lot this season. How did you deal with such an intense subject matter?

Taylor does go through a lot. (laughs) It’s a hard question to answer without seeming vague or obnoxious. To be honest it might sound like a cop-out but when it’s fully formed and it’s full-bodied, as it was on the page, because John who’s our writer and showrunner and his team of writers really do deliver scripts that are all there. It’s not really much you have to add to it. So it’s really a privilege to work with his scripts and with his stories and with his writing.

It’s one of those things that’s a case by case basis. You don’t know where you’re starting. You don’t know where the season is going to go. He doesn’t tell you literally what’s going to happen. Like the character does, you have to take it day by day, scene by scene, and moment by moment. You have to hope that it’s in a place that it’s an extense of where you come from and trust that you are. I don’t know how else to say it.

How did working on American Crime differ from working on Falling Skies?

They couldn’t be more opposite shows in a lot of ways. Falling Skies was a big budget, a lot of moving parts/sci-fi action. It was very plot driven. It was constant twists and turns, new places. It was very much a show on the move. American Crime is the opposite of that. It’s very intimate and it’s quiet.

In Falling Skies it was a lot of running and jumping and shouting and set pieces. American Crime is mostly people in rooms talking. As far as being in the show goes it’s an entirely different experience. Which is actually fascinating because it had the same structure in the sense of like a 5 month shoot. It’s TV so it had a pace to it in terms of how fast you shoot, but the content of that couldn’t have been more opposite. It was really fascinating to go so long on Falling Skies into this. It was really interesting for me.

You know they’re both a lot of fun in their own ways. I feel kind of lucky that I got to oscillate between the two because the pleasures of Falling Skies are not the pleasures of American Crime and vice versa. So it’s really fun to play around a bit.

Ben Mason seemed to be a very physically demanding character to play. How did you prepare for that role?

How did I prepare for it? I don’t know. I have no idea how I prepared for it. (laughs). It was a season by season thing. The character, it was 5 years ago, so he changed a lot from when I joined the show. He was very different in that pilot in the first season than he was by the end of the show. It wasn’t so much this is what the character is and go away for a few months and prepare. Preparation came from just from doing it over the years I guess. It kind of mirrored my own experience because I’m still very graceless to an extreme and Falling Skies really helped, especially the first few years, really helped pull me out of that and pushed me towards the physical. Towards being a bit more comfortable in how I move. So I think Ben went on a similar sort of path.

You are also in TIFF’s Best Canadian Feature Film winner Closet Monster. Can you tell our readers about it?

It actually had its American premiere this weekend at the Palm Springs Film Festival. Which was really exciting. I’ve just come from that. It’s really funny to go back to that movie after being in the American Crime head space for a while.

It’s a coming of age story, it’s a coming out story. It’s about this boy in a small town in Canada. Who witnesses a very terrible homophobic hate crime. It sort of pollutes his identity as he’s growing up and he’s kind of wracked with this internalized homophobia among other things, troubled family life and he’s just desperate to escape his town. It’s a traditional coming of age story with a whole bunch of interesting elements piled on top.

That sounds like an interesting movie!

I like it. I’m proud of it. It premiered at TIFF, like you said, in the fall and it’s been playing the festival circuit since then. People seem to respond well to it. I’m proud to have been part of it.

You seem to pick very interesting projects . How do you pick the projects you work on?

I don’t really. It’s sort of maybe a misconception that people have. Unless you’re really an A list star. Unless you’re Jennifer Lawrence or Brad Pitt very few actors are in a position where they get to actively pick, in the sense of getting 12 scripts and picking the one you want to do. (laughs). More than anything I’ve just been really, really lucky at the parts that have happened to come my way. It’s really all I can attribute it to. I’ve just been lucky that I’ve been at the right place at the right time to work with interesting people on a few interesting things.

You have worked with some amazing actors, including Isabella Rossillini, Lili Taylor, Doug Jones, Timothy Hutton, and Noah Wyle. What has working with those actors taught you?

Everything really. I’ve never had any sort of formal, theatrical education. I’ve never gone to school for it. I just really learned on the job and I’m still learning on the job. You can learn by trying stuff out and falling flat on your face and trying something else out. Through trial and error, but a much better way to learn is to work with really great people and to watch how they do it. How they think and how they work. I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of really, really wonderful actors and very different actors too. Which is even better.

Between Noah and Lili and Felicity. These are like extraordinary actors so I’ve tried, even through osmosis to pick up as much as I can.

What are the aspects of directing that you feel are most rewarding?

I’ve only directed a few shorts really. So my experience compared to acting is quite limited. Acting is a very internal process. It’s very smokey. It’s hard to grasp onto. Directing has a lot more, it’s much more logistical. It’s much more strategic. You sort of have to pull upon a whole different skills and elements. It’s much more about putting pieces together than acting is. That has a lot of pleasure. I find it’s very different from acting but it makes me smile when I’m lying in bed at night.

We at TNWU all have something nerdy/geeky about us. What is something nerdy or geeky about you?

A lot. (laughs). I’m a Japanophile. I’ve been obsessed with anime since I was 11 or 12. I’ve probably watched hundreds of series. It’s like half my life has been spent watching anime.

 

You can see Connor as Taylor Blaine in American Crime starting tonight on ABC. Check your local listing for the time.

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