If you’re a fan of The End of the F***ing World, you may think you know Jessica Barden. After all, you already know her as Alyssa: brash, overconfident and vulgar, her reckless behavior acting as a sort of armor against a world that bores and neglects her. Her role in the new movie Jungleland—which follows an amateur boxer (Jack O’Connell) and his manager brother (Charlie Hunnam) as they travel across the country to compete in a boxing match that offers them a shot at a new life—is similar. Like Alyssa, Barden’s Jungleland character Sky is crafty and stubborn, used to looking out for herself in a hostile world.
So it’s a little jarring, at first, to hear Barden describe herself as a “delicate person.”“If I don't drink enough water, like, I'm down the next day,” she jokes. But the more she talks, the clearer it becomes that by “delicate” she mostly means “in tune with her own needs.” In many ways, figuring out how to take better care of herself has been the theme of Barden’s 2020—from figuring out what she wants her life to look like to taking up boxing to, yes, drinking enough water. And if that’s what it means to be delicate, well, perhaps we should all aspire to be as delicate as her. Read on for Barden’s thoughts on growing older, celebrating male sensitivity, and throwing the mantra “beauty is pain” in the trash where it belongs.
Where are you right now?
I'm in Los Angeles. I'm in Hollywood; I've been here the whole time.
I'm in L.A. as well. My girlfriend's parents live nearby, and they're older, so we were quarantining with them at first.
At the beginning, we didn't go near my boyfriend's parents, because obviously we were just so afraid. And then once we got to a point where it was like, “Okay, we maybe can start seeing them,” they were the first people that we started to see. It's so different for them, also, because they had never really felt old before. I mean, they live in Los Angeles, they work in the industry, there's no reason for them ever to have thought, “Oh there's something that I can't do.” So as well as the whole thing of being in quarantine, It was stressful to be dealing with a point in their life where they’re like, “Shit, we’re old.”
Other than being boring and stressful, how has your life changed?
I really feel like I've actually grown up a lot. I mean, I turned 28 in the summer, and for whatever reason, I didn't really think it was going to be a thing. Just because I look so much younger than I am, people don't have never really treated me my age, you know. But that really was like, “Oh my god, I am now an adult, there’s no excuse for anything.” That really had quite a big impact on me. Up until that point in this year, I was kind of okay, except that I haven't seen my family for a year, and the majority of my family members are key workers. My mom is a postwoman, and my brother works in the supermarket, so it was pretty much like, “They're probably going to get it.” It was a really good reminder that, like, I'm in L.A., I'm in a place where the weather is really good, we can go outside and don't have to go to work. For the last two years, I had worked really constantly, so there were a lot of things that I was just neglecting. I didn’t know how to cook food. I was seeing a therapist, but I'd go and do an hour with my therapist and then go to a dialect lesson or an audition or go to a photo shoot, and I wasn’t really applying myself to it. So I was just really plodding along, very aware of my privilege in this situation, and then when I turned 28 I had like a full existential crisis, and I was like, Oh my god, what have I been doing this year? It was the first time in my life where I really had thought about what I had done with my time on this planet, and what I want the rest of my life to actually look like, and what type of person I actually want to be.
Are you an astrology person or not so much?
Yeah, I’ll go through phases with it. I'm also super superstitious about stuff to the point where, like, I have to be careful what I take as the truth, because I'll just live on it. I'm like, “No, I can't do this today, because this is what that thing said!”
The reason that I asked this because in astrology there’s the concept of your Saturn return, which happens around 28, and it’s sort of a period where you start to reevaluate your life and think about what you want your life to look like. And then to be going through that in the middle of a pandemic, that makes the feeling even more heightened.
Right, because at the moment you feel like you can't do anything with what you've learned. Also, I had this theory my entire life that 27 was going to be the year that everything just completely made sense to me, and it was majorly shit on from a great height. So like, my whole entire life I was like, “27 is going to be the year,” and this year I was like, “Wait, what?” Just slowly watching it disappear. I was like, “It happened. I have it. I really love the relationship that I'm in, I love my work, I love where I live.” And then the universe was just like, “Actually, there's a few more things that needs to happen first.”
What’s interesting about your work is that Jungleland and The End of the F***ing World and Holler are all projects that have a sort of post-apocalyptic feel to them, even though they’re not literally post-apocalyptic. Is that something that you're drawn to, or is it just something that's happened?
I think I like things where the stakes are really high because it gives you a way more layered character, and I like playing people where they have five or six different layers to them. I can’t play somebody that just has one or two layers to them. I like exploring people that are trapped in a situation, which is probably that post-apocalyptic feel comes from, where it is the end of the world for that person. With Jungleland, the big draw for that was I wanted to make a story about the two brothers and their relationship. It is a really emotional vulnerable story about two guys, and I did that job at the height of #MeToo stuff, and I was like, “I’m going to do a project that’s about guys really struggling.” That really means a lot to me because I feel like you have to educate guys, you know? You can’t just put it all onto the female voices and female stories, you also have to do something for guys to watch and learn something from.
I like playing people where they have five or six different layers to them. I can’t play somebody that just has one or two layers.
Totally. I think being able to talk candidly about masculinity is like such a key part of this moment that we're in.
Yeah. Like, Jungleland is literally about the relationship between two brothers, which is so complicated because they don't have anybody else in the world. They only have each other. So it’s about the exploitation that happens from that when there's one brother that is smarter than the other one, but the other one has the talent, and just the way that guys don't talk to each other, and it's really hard for guys to cry to each other or say that they're afraid of something or they're afraid of how their life is going to turn out. If they can’t have those conversations with each other, how can they turn up for a woman in their life?
I like that you put it that way. What about how you’re turning up for yourself right now?
I started doing boxing, actually! I did a session by accident with my boyfriend’s sister, just outside in the garden with masks on, and I really enjoyed it. I felt like also I needed to do something for my anxiety, to connect my breathing with my strength—that sounds so kind of hippie-ish, but I really struggle with remembering to breathe from my anxiety, and the first when you do with boxing is mind-muscle stuff where you're like, “I'm going to like think about using my stomach strength right now.” And it just turned into something that really helped me feel more confident in myself. It reminded me to get out of my head, because I had to concentrate on which part of my body I was using, and you have to remember to breathe when you're doing it, because so much of it is strength from your stomach. And, I mean, just like learning a new skill during this time kind of makes you feel like you've achieved something with your life for that day. It’s also the first time in my life where I am doing something not just because it's for a role.
You’re just doing it for you.
Did you initially like get interested in boxing while you were making Jungleland?
Look, Jack O'Connell is incredible at boxing. Like, that guy could be a professional boxer. In truth, he made it look so easy that everybody would be like, “Oh my god, he’s amazing!” and I was like, “Whatever, it's not really that hard,” but I probably was also jealous, because he got to do boxing. My role in that movie, Sky, she's not there for the boxing; she has a way different agenda. And I don't like fighting, so when we were filming, they used to watch the fights and I was just like, “This is horrible, why would you watch people beating each other up, it’s so disturbing.” And then I started doing it and I was like, Oh, well, this is way deeper than I thought.
That's been my experience getting into sports lately, too. There’s a lot of storytelling, like, “Oh, this team like hasn't been to the World Series in ten years, and the last time they were in the playoffs, they were playing against the same team.”
It’s the only place that miracles happen. I feel like that's why I've really gotten into watching sports. I mean, also, I think, subconsciously, it's the only thing that seems normal right now, because sports came back and it feels like there's something there now that was there before. But, yeah, it’s the only place where miracles happen, like a team can be losing and then score and just win in the last 10 minutes—that doesn't happen anywhere else, you know?
Pivoting back to self-care, how do beauty and skincare factor into self-care for you right now?
Oh my god, I mean, I am kind of obsessed with skincare because I had acne so bad when I was younger, and it was hereditary, but I also really connect all of my bad times in my acne to when I was so stressed out or was just really feeling like not myself, like, doing a job that I wasn't really enjoying or living in a place I wasn't really enjoying. So I use my skin as a really big signal of what is going on inside. So I really try and take care of my skin, but I do it with everything: like, I really enjoy taking care of myself because I see it on my skin. Also, I get migraines quite bad, so self-care is like my entire life. When quarantine started, I just made sure that I went for a walk outside every day for an hour, I drank water, I really spent time making proper meals and not relying on takeout stuff. And in terms of like skincare, like, where do I even begin?
Can you like walk me through your routine on an average day?
So I'm a really big believer in the idea that you can't do the same thing every single day, because your skin gets used to it. Generally, though I use Doctor Lancer Cleanser, and I exfoliate with the Doctor Lancer Polish two to three times a week. I also love the Tata Harper face oils. In the evening, I'll use one of the oils as a face wash. In the morning I use an SPF moisturizer-like foundation thing by Saie Beauty, and that's why I cleanse with an oil in the evening, because I think that's the only thing that can get all of the SPF off. And then I'm obsessed with iS Clinical moisturizers. I think they're the best—I haven't found another moisturizer that also isn't greasy afterwards. I mix the Reparative Moisture Emulsion with the Hydra-Cool Serum, and I do that three times a week, and oh my God, it just makes your face like so hydrated. I'm obsessed with things that are going to hydrate you, because I just think that's the only point. And then I do this Glow Recipe Watermelon Sleep Mask twice a week. I thought was going to be such a gimmick, but it's actually so nice. But that's all I do. I don't use any acids, I don't use a retinol, I really just use everything that is going to put hydration back into my skin.
So basically just being gentle with your skin and finding balance.
Also, I don't do anything that hurts my face. I feel like there's that whole thing of “beauty is pain,” and I’m like, “Oh my god, no! If something hurts, don't do it!” I do like to sweat every single day, because I othink that it just gets everything out. I also don't do anything to my skin for at least one day a week, where I don't wash it with anything except water. As much as I love products, I also really love not doing anything and just letting my body figure it out by itself.