Jessica Harmon is a television and film actress who has appeared on such shows as Supernatural, Backstrom, Kyle XY and Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy. She is currently appearing on The CW’s iZombie as Agent Dale Bozzio and The 100 as Grounder Nyilah.
I recently chatted with Jessica about iZombie and The 100. Here’s what she had to say:
What do you like best about playing Agent Dale Bozzio on iZombie?
“That’s a good question, that’s a tough question because there’s so many things. I’ve been doing this for like twenty years and I’ve been on a lot of film sets and worked with a lot of people. Without taking away anything from any other set that I ever been on, any other crew or actors, there’s just something about that show, I swear it starts at the top and it trickles down. I said that to Rob Thomas like a month ago. I said, “You guys know what you’re doing obviously because the vibe on set is phenomenal.” It’s such an easy work environment for us. And of course, there are the issues that any work environment will have because there are a lot of people, a lot of creative minds working together but I’ve never seen a problem. I’m sure there are some but they hide them very well. The five leads are great to work with and off-camera, they’re really close friends. They’re all transplants; none of them are from around here. So they all hang out all the time.
When I showed up, it was a bit nerve wrecking. When you show up on a show and you’re only guaranteed a certain number of episodes and you want to make a good impression. They could kill you off two episodes in if they don’t like what you’re doing. So, I was a bit nervous but really excited when I showed up. The whole cast was just so welcoming from the first day. They really created such a wonderful environment that my favorite part is just showing up to work. They’re just one big giant family. Every one looks out for each other and every one’s got each other’s backs. It’s kind of like one big playpen where we all just hang out and laugh. Everyone gets along. So there’s just something about working under those conditions that brings out the best in all of us. I feel comfortable at times taking leaps with the character. When I realized that they liked me and were going to keep me around for a little bit, I was able to start taking more liberties with what I was doing and they welcomed it. The environment has enabled everyone who works on iZombie to be able to bring their A game. That’s got to be the greatest thing. And also, Dale’s sass because she’s sassy and it’s hilarious (laughs).”
Do you think Agent Bozzio will discover the truth about the zombies in Seattle?
“You can’t quote me on it in terms of me knowing anything because I know zero. (laughs). We only get the scripts like the episode before we shoot them, so we don’t really know what’s coming down the path. Your guess is as good as mine at this point. But I can tell you so far, no, she still has no idea. So I don’t know which direction that’s going to go in. My guess as an audience member would be that it would have to go there at some point. She’s got all these leads and Clive has already been working on the case since Season 1 and he has all of his suspicions. And then she shows up and is helping him along with that so I think bit by bit; they’re piecing things together. You can see it from watching. They’re going to have to figure it out at some point. So far, we’ve been thrown off the scent quite a bit and you’ll see that in an upcoming episode as well. We’re still working tirelessly to get the answers that we want, but we keep getting thrown off the trail. I think the answer is probably yes, one day she’ll figure it out, maybe not the zombie thing, but she’s going to figure out who’s involved. Who knows, she could show end up dead or a zombie herself next week (laughs). Again, your guess is as good as mine.”
Well she did make the Blaine connection in that episode.
“She did! So they’re on that path at that point. As the audience know, Major is involved in some shady business right now with Max Rager. We know there’s some weird things going on there and we know that Blaine is shady (laughs). I know right now we’re kind of honing in on the Blaine thing, but who knows. Every time I read a script, I’m thinking they’re going to catch him and they’re like, “No we’re not.” It’s kind of back and forth. We’ll see. I can’t wait to find out. Malcolm and I were talking about it last week on set. I want to know, what’s going to happen (laughs). We still have no idea what’s going on. We’re doing 215 right now and I know we’re doing 19 episodes this season. I can’t wait to read episode 219! I can never get enough! (laughs).”
You’re also on The 100 this season. Without giving away spoilers, what can you tell us about Niylah?
“Niylah is an interesting one. I’m actually blown away by the fan reaction to her so far. I had heard that the fans of The 100 are very involved, which is great to see, but they take it very seriously. I know that there are a lot of Niylah non-fans out there, but there are a lot of Niylah supports as well.
It’s funny to me, they’ve got all these people who have already made up their minds about her and we haven’t even seen her doing anything yet (laughs). What I can tell you is. she’s a Grounder. She runs a trading post in the woods where Clarke has been coming and going for the last four months, during the gap between the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3.
I don’t think she’s really aware of what’s been going on with the Sky People and what’s been going on at the mountain. I know that she has some back-story with the mountain, which will be revealed in the show. So she’s got some background with that. She also ends up being kind of a protector to Clarke. To me, God knows where it could go on the show. You’re a fan so obviously you’re aware of how fast things can change on that show. I could drop dead at any second; there’s been mass genocide (laughs). I talk to Richard about that all the time. I’m like “Are you dead yet?” (laughs). Even the regulars aren’t safe.”
I don’t want Richard to die anytime soon! (laughs).
“I’ll let him know, he’s amazing on the show. I’m such a proud sister. I hadn’t seen enough of the show until I started doing it because I wanted to go back and figure out how the Grounders spoke. Obviously we speak in another language, which was not easy (laughs). But they made it as easy as possible. You work with dialect coaches and they give you all of the pronunciation guides and everything. The show’s been helpful when it comes to things like that. So I had a blast doing that.
And Niylah herself, what more can I say about her? I think she’s just a good person. I know there’s a lot of backstabbing on the show. My brother’s a perfect example of that (laughs), of a character who’s flipped-flopped throughout the show. He’s one-way one minute and another the next. So you’re never really know what you’re going to get. I think with her you kinda do. And like I said, who knows what the future will bring in terms of Niylah. She could turn evil, you never know what’s going to happen. But my take on her, when I first read the scene in season 3, episode 1 is that she’s a good person and I think she has Clarke’s back. So any fan that loves Clarke, I hope will end up loving Niylah.
I don’t think she’s there to cause any problems or cause any rift. She’s just a supporter of Clarke. She’s just a simple person, a simple girl and she’s there to help someone she believes in. She believes in Clarke. She believes in what Clarke has done. And that comes at a very instrumental time for Clarke because of everything that has happened to her in Season 2, especially, but also over the course of the series. She’s got a lot of supporters, but she’s also got a lot of enemies. And I think that Niylah is a nice way for Clarke to ease back into being back with the rest of the characters. Niylah’s a kickstart for her to get back to business and not just be alone in the woods anymore (laughs).
I’ve played some bad characters on other shows, so it was nice to show up, especially since Richard is a bad character sometimes, to show up and be the nice one (laughs).”
In what way is the set of The 100 different from the previous CW shows, like Supernatural and iZombie, where you worked?
“That’s a good question! It’s the same, obviously because I’m working for the same network. Supernatural has been around so long that it’s such a well oiled machine that they know what they’re doing and if there are any kinks, they iron them out. iZombie and The 100 are more new. But in terms of filming in Vancouver, there’s a bit of a difference, mainly because of the locations. The 100 takes place in a large portion outdoors. So you’re off the grid. The 100 films a lot at night and in bad weather, so the cast takes quite a beating (laughs). It’s grueling, but I have to hand it to them, they work hard. Not to say, iZombie doesn’t work hard, but it’s filmed in the studio a lot. Which is also closer to where I live. So after eight hours, I can say, “Good night and goodbye.” Then I’m home in time for dinner (laughs). For myself personally, it’s working indoors and the proximity.
In terms of the vibe, Supernatural’s two main characters lead the way and everyone follows. The guys are great to work with which makes it easy.
The 100 has a huge cast, like a really big cast. So being on that set is interesting because of the size. The trading post set is huge and beautiful. The actors are running around and screaming and crying as the characters. But it’s safety first so the crew looks after every one, keeps them safe and going.
And on iZombie, there are only five main leads and two of us who recur. I’ll go to the set one day and it’ll just be me and Malcolm.”
Do you enjoy the smaller cast of iZombie as compared to The 100?
“I’ve had different experiences. The 100 has a larger than life feel due to the fact that it has a large cast and a lot of different story lines. Plus I didn’t meet a lot of the cast. I only worked with Eliza and Zach (McGowan) who was up from the States for a few episodes. My brother wasn’t there that day. It was a very intimate feeling that day. But then, there are other days when a whole bunch of them are there.
I’ve spent more time on iZombie and because there are only five leads and I’ve got to work with each of them, it’s a different feel. It’s kind of a homier vibe because I’ve been there longer. It also does help to be indoors (laughs).”
You’ve worked in television and film, which medium do you prefer?
“That’s a tough question. The thing I’ve always liked about film is that I love a character arc, a beginning, middle and end. There’s something about that which is almost easier in a sense. You pick it up; you do it, live it, and then move on to the next one.
On television, you could be on one series playing the same character for a long period of time. Not that’s a bad thing. In the past, I would have chosen features over television. But television has come such a long way in a short period of time. There are some remarkable television series. I’m happy spending my time in television, not that I would turn my nose up at features, but because I’m not locked in one show, I do get to bounce around and play different characters. There’s something about growing a character. I’ve been playing Dale for 11 episodes and I honed in on some things about the character and made her my own. I think the writers and the producers saw that and have included some of my traits and personality and added to the character. Television is more freeing now and I’m enjoying television. It’s a good time to be in television now.”
Is there anything about Jessica Harmon that you think would be interesting for fans to know?
“I’m a big Notre Dame fan, Richard and I both are. Because our father is from upstate New York and we spend a lot of time going to games. We try to get to go to Notre Dame games. Fans of Richard will know he’s a huge Notre Dame because they’ll see a lot of tweets from him during college football season. I’ve been to Japan. I lived there for a few months. A friend of mine, her father owned some restaurants over in Toyoko. We went there after high school, like 18 or 19 and ate a lot of food. I think I gained a pound a day (laughs), you couldn’t stop me from eating everything around me. (laughs). And I’m obsessed with Van Morrison. I know every word to every song, but I probably couldn’t tell you the name of any album.”
Do you have any dreams of stepping behind the camera someday?
“Yeah, actually that’s something I want to do. The reason I started acting was because my parents are filmmakers. Our father is a director and our mother is an Executive Producer. So we were raised on film sets. Before Richard was born, I’m about six years older than him; we spent a lot of time traveling around to different states throughout the U.S. The first six months of my life was spent in Little Rock, Arkansas. We moved around from there because Dad would go from one film set to the next. Then when Richard came along and I when I was about 8 or 9, mom got a job out in Vancouver so we moved out here for a film.
I had adjusted to spending most my life on set with adults. I was far more used to being around adults on set then I was being in school. I was always going from one school to the next, so I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was younger. When we moved here, they finally put me in a school where I remained for the duration. I was like, “I want to go back to set! I want to hang with my people, the adults (laughs).” It was great being at school, but I really missed being at their work. There were homes that we had that didn’t feel like homes, but sets always felt like home to me.
When we came to Vancouver, I became very obsessed with getting into film. Unfortunately, they didn’t let 8 or 9 year olds be grips or electricians (laughs). The only thing I could do was act. And Richard is kind of the same way. We didn’t want to be on set because we wanted to act; we just wanted to be on set. So acting was the only plausible solution when you’re ten years old.
I started when I was 10 and Richard ended up starting when he was 10. I kind of set that precedent. I fell in love with acting and bringing that joy to people. But there’s something about filmmakers. So the next step for me is being behind the camera. You never know when your next paycheck is going to come, when your next job is going to come with acting. You might get too old, or too big or too small or you have bad skin. I had a period of time when I had bad acne and I had gained a bit a weight, which is not a great thing when it comes to film. I’m glad that’s changing; you don’t have to be a size zero anymore.
My mom is always trying to get me to go into producing. She says, “I have a great mind for it and she can teach me”, but I want to get into directing. That’s definitely something I want to do.”
What do you want your career to mean to others?
“I would love to have people look back and remember that we’re all in this together. We all experience happiness and pain. And entertainment is a way of escape. A writer comes up with that idea and an actor conveys it. If I can make someone’s day and make him or her feel better, that’s the dream. That’s from an audience standpoint.
For my crew, I want anyone I ever worked with to say that I was dedicated and worked hard. I want them to say I brought to life the words the writers worked on creating. We all work hand in hand. From the PA to the director to the Executive Producer, no one person is better or more important. That’s always my take on the industry. I want the people I worked with to say, “I helped to support what they do.” We supported each other.”