Jade Pettyjohn has always possessed a deep passion for both acting and music, both of which inspired her to pursue her dreams at a young age. She began performing on a professional level when she booked a national commercial, after which she landed a major role on the hit crime drama Criminal Minds. Since then, she has worked on a multitude of projects, including the shows United States of Tara, The Cape, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, Grimm, Revolution, The Last Ship and Henry Danger. She also scored prominent parts in the films McKenna Shoots for the Stars, Dakota’s Summer, All I Want for Christmas and Shangri-La Suite.
Now, she’s playing Summer in Nickelodeon’s series School of Rock and can soon be seen as Bird in the indie film Girl Flu. In addition, she hosts a YouTube web-series, “Jade’s Jukebox,” in which she discusses her favorite musicians. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jade about her acting and musical inspirations, working on School of Rock and the upcoming premiere of Girl Flu. Check it out below!
What inspired you to go into acting?
When I was younger, I fell in love with making up different characters and accents, and when I realized that was what actors do professionally, I was like “Ok, I’ve got to try this thing out!” (laughs). So, I started doing it and the more I did it, the more I fell in love with the craft.
Who do you look up to acting-wise?
There are so many people who I look up to as an actor. I love Emma Stone, I love Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Johnny Depp—the list honestly goes on and on. There are so many people who I look up to.
You’ve already been involved in a variety of projects as an actress. Which project has challenged you and taught you the most?
You know, each project that I’ve done has always been a learning process for me. With each project, I feel like I’ve grown in different ways. “School of Rock,” for example, taught me a lot about physical comedy, especially working with Tony Cavalero. I also learned so many things about character development. So basically, with each project that I do, I learn something new.
How do you balance your acting career with your normal life responsibilities?
I find it actually to not be as hard as people think. I love acting and I also have one of those normal, teenage girl lives, you know? I just happen to do what I love as well. So, it’s definitely not as hard as people think. I still find time to hang out with friends and have sleepovers and that kind of stuff. (laughs).
So, what was the audition process like for “School of Rock”?
It was a crazy process! But it was fun, though. We had a lot of auditions—it wasn’t just like one audition; we had several. In the final auditions, I got to work with other actors who were going for other characters, and that’s where I actually met the rest of the cast. We were working with each other for long periods of time—coming in and trying different things and working with the executives. It was a very good process all around.
Did you feel that the cast had a good energy from the get-go during the audition process?
Absolutely! We absolutely had a good energy. It was funny; during the audition process, I could feel who was going to get it because we all worked together so well. It was really special.
In what ways would you say that you are like your character Summer and in what ways are you different?
Summer and I are similar in that we are both really athletic; we are both really determined to make things go right. We have style differences—she’ll wear cardigans and pearls, and I’ll wear Doc Martins, and we have different interests. But another really important similarity between us is that we are both very studious.
To what extent is your portrayal of Summer similar to Miranda Cosgrove’s in the film version of “School of Rock”?
I’m definitely taking aspects of Miranda Cosgrove’s portrayal for mine, like the sarcastic element and things like that, but because it’s a TV show, we have more time to play with characters and their development, which allows me to put my own spin on it. It’s a little bit of both, but I have more time to add more things to her character.
Do you have any funny, behind-the-scenes stories that you could share from the set?
Oooo, I have many of those! (laughs). Let me choose just one…well, here’s a little fun fact from behind-the-scenes: we have all of the music scenes, with amps and drums and all that. If you look behind the amps, you’ll find all of Brianna’s and my snacks in there. We have little snickers and various candies and water, so if you turn the amps around, you’d find all of our food (laughs).
So what are you most excited about in regard to season two of “School of Rock”?
I’m excited to see where it’s going and to work with the rest of the cast again—they really are my best friends, so I can’t wait to work with the cast and crew together. I’m excited to make more music on the show. It’s pretty much a win-win situation; it’s been really great. I’m really fortunate.
What do you hope to see happen with Summer’s storyline in the show?
I’m excited for Summer. I’d love to see her take more risks and develop her relationships with other people. There are some very exciting things coming up so I can’t wait for people to see it.
You mentioned being excited about having the opportunity to make more music on the show, and I know that, in addition to being an actress, you are also an aspiring musician. Who inspires you musically?
Like I said with acting, I also have so many musical idols. I absolutely love Jack White—Jack White is amazing. I think he could just make music just with him and a beat-up guitar and nothing else, so I have so much respect for that. I love Beck; both of those artists really inspire me. I also love Alethea Carter—she’s a recent, newer artist but she inspires me as well. But I really have such a wide-range of influences.
I love that you mentioned Jack White and Beck as musical influences because you don’t hear that very often. They are so amazing but they’re what I call word-of-mouth artists; they aren’t all over the radio or on the front of magazines. So, it’s very cool that they inspire you so much.
They are so amazing, and there are so many more amazing musicians out there—so much more than just what’s on the radio, so it’s really good to explore that.
It is! I’ve discovered so many musicians through Pandora and whatnot that I probably never would have otherwise.
Pandora has so many treasures; it’s amazing! I love Pandora, and I have a record collection so I go to actual record stores all over Los Angeles. I love going there and just talking to people because the people at music stores are the people who are into music and they listen to everything. You can go in there and the guy next to you is listening to Rihanna one day and the next day, he’s listening to a Billie Holliday album. There’s such a wide variety there and I love it.
How would you describe your own musical style?
Well, I think I’m still discovering that for myself. But if I had to put it in a genre, I guess you could call it kind of alternative, singer-songwriter-y with blues undertones. And maybe some alt-rock. And pop. Everything! (laughs) I take inspiration from so many different artists in my own sound, which I don’t really know how to describe just yet. But I mix all of them together in a blender, take elements from them and try not to focus on what genre I’m supposed to be.
So, I’ve watched a few episodes of your YouTube series, “Jade’s Jukebox.” Where did the idea for that series come from and do you have any plans in the works for a new episode?
The idea actually originated when I was talking to my mom in the car. I was telling her about all this crazy music that I listen to, and I had a conversation with a friend at school or something like that, and I brought up a band that’s had such an impact on my life and on other generations, and they wouldn’t know who they were. There’s such a large quantity of music that a lot of people my age don’t know or don’t know how to find it.
I wanted to share this music that was so important to me and I wanted to figure out a way to talk about music because I love that. So, then I was like “Oh, I can make a YouTube channel and just a talk about music and the bands that I discovered and the history about them, and hopefully get people interested in different kinds of music and different genres and different styles.” I am currently working on new Jade’s Jukebox episodes; they will be coming out soon!
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming film “Girl Flu”?
Sure! The film follows the story of a girl named Bird, which is the character I play, and she basically goes through a situation that every girl goes through: transitioning from being a girl to being a woman. It’s a coming-of-age story that shows her growing up amidst a situation where her mom is not very motherly or very responsible, so Bird is kind of a mom in her own way. In the meantime, she’s learning as she grows to become a woman.
What was your experience like working on that film set?
It was a great experience. I loved working on the set of “Girl Flu.” It was a major learning experience for me. I learned so many things about the craft of acting and I worked with such amazing people. I learned so much from that set and it was probably one of my favorite sets that I’ve ever worked on, to be honest.
What are you most excited about in regard to its premiere today?
I’m so excited about so many things; I’ve been waiting forever for it to come out. I think the message is super important; it’s something that every girl goes through at some point in her life. And I think that there haven’t been a lot of films about it so it’s really important that the story gets told.
Besides acting and music, what are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about a lot of things. I love writing; that’s something that I’m really into. I’m also really passionate about hanging out with friends and people in general.
The indie film Girl Flu premieres today at the Los Angeles Film Festival and School of Rock airs on Saturday nights at 8:30 pm ET/PT on Nickelodeon.
Follow Jade on social media:
Official Website: JadePettyjohn.com
YouTube Channel: Jade’s Jukebox