From Jessica Henwick’s first uncredited appearance in a 2009 movie to her role as Jess Pava in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the actress has become an industry favorite. The 30-year-old gained stardom for her role in the television series “Game of Thrones,” and most recently starred in Netflix’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”
HENWICK & ADOLESENCE IN THE UK
Jessica Henwick was born in Surrey, United Kingdom to a Singaporean-Chinese mother and a Zhambian-English father. She was the middle child in her family and grew up with three brothers. She spent her childhood in Surrey, an experience that often felt lonely.
The area Henwick lived in didn’t have much diversity. Many multicultural children and adults can relate to this, as local populations can sometimes be similar.
In an interview (now removed) in Hapa Magazine, Henwick said:
I grew up in an area with no Asians. My brothers and I were the first non-white students at our school. It was rough, I won’t lie. I think anyone who has grown up between two cultures can understand this. I would completely code switch, depending on where I was and who I was with.
Additionally, when Henwick would stay in Malaysia or Singapore, friends struggled to understand her British accent.
JUGGLING BETWEEN TWO CULTURS IN ONE WORLD
Henwick’s memory describes the balancing act of multiculturalism. Basically, the culture of her home was different from her local community. In covert ways, difference can emerge. The culture at school would be exchanged for the one at home. Consequently, it was challenging, but she found belonging within acting.
I had two lives; the first where I went to a Roman Catholic school, ate mashed potatoes at lunch, and played Conkers with kids in the playground, and the second where I would spend months with my Ma running up jungle trails in Ipoh, staining my hands purple with nangosteen and bathing out of a rainwater bucket.
Henwick leaned into her interests but acting inspired something different. She felt as if it gave her a sense of self and dedicated time to it. In Byrdie Magazine, Henwick added that acting felt like a pipe dream. Her Drama teacher even tried to stop her from pursuing it: “She told me there’s just not going to be any work for me as an Asian woman. She said I should have a plan B, but I didn’t want to do that.”
CRITICISM THAT FUELED DETERMINATION
Henwick remained unphased, and leaned into her intuition. She kept practicing and landed her first job at 17 years of age.
For over a decade, Henwick has been dedicating herself to performing. In 2015, she earned the role of Jess Pava in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” Later that same year Henwick would play Nymeria Sand in “Game of Thrones.”
HENWICK SPEAKS OUT
The actress continues to be fueled by her identity to better the industry. Cross-cultural identities from behind the screen also are pushing for change. Hollywood writer Demi Adejuyigbe with producers Janet Mock and Phil Lord also push boundaries through identity. Henwick has been vocal about the way Asian people are pictured in media can be damaging.
To NME Magazine, she said: “I just really felt a pressure from myself to not create any more stereotypes than Asians already face.”
In her long journey through acting, Henwick has played roles that have put ethnicity at the forefront of a character (when it wasn’t necessary). As she began to grow in her career, she felt more comfortable speaking out. When she played Colleen Wing in Marvel’s “Iron Fist,” she made sure that martial arts wouldn’t make the character one-dimensional.
“I love martial arts, I think it’s beautiful,” she said in the interview. “But I just wanted to know that she was more than that.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Having entered another decade of acting experience, her advice to new actors is to be themselves.
I meet many actors who feel like they should dye their hair to fit into this bracket or dress a certain way. But being authentic will win people over. It’s important to think about what you’re bringing to the table that’s new and unique to you.
– Jessica Henwick in Byrdie magazine
Jessica Henwick continues to shine, talented in her ability to play a diversity of characters. As the first actress of East Asian descent to play a leading role on British television, her career is one to follow.