Jenny Jules is what many would call an actor’s actor. She gets the kind of roles and acclaim that other performers whisper for at night in their prayer closets. We were lucky enough to chat with the London-born thespian as she was preparing for her Broadway Debut as “Tituba” in Arthur Miller’s revival of The Crucible opening March 31st.
You started your acting career in a youth program at Tricycle Theatre. How did this early start shape the direction of your career?
I got very lucky. I worked with some very talented and generous theatre practitioners as a member of the Tricycle Youth Theatre. I got my first break as a young professional there. Dr Paulette Randall cast me in a play by Chicago playwright Steve Carter called Pecong. It’s the Medea story, transposed to the Caribbean. (It’s) an amazing, vibrant, scandalous play for which I won my first major theatre award.
What would you consider the most significant milestone in your career to date?
Oh wow! Now that’s difficult to pin to one play. There have been several significant milestones in my career. Pecong, Ruined, Julius Caesar all for very different brilliant reasons. However, I think playing “Ruth” in The Homecoming at the Almeida Theatre was a major coup: Harold Pinter had casting approval on all productions and I was fortunate enough to be chosen to play the first Black Ruth.
You have an extensive career in the U.K. We congratulate you on furthering your career and making your Broadway debut! Talk us through your journey to the Great White Way.
Thank you. I’m very excited about appearing on Broadway. It’s been a lifelong dream. Three years ago I was cast as “Cassius” in Phyllida Lloyd’s All-Female Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse in London’s West End. That show transferred to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. In 2014 I played Penny in Suzan-Lori Parks brilliant, multi-award winning play Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1,2 and 3 and last Fall I did another All-Female Shakespeare production Henry IV ,which too had transferred from the Donmar Warehouse to St Ann’s.
Speaking of Broadway, have you seen any great shows this season in New York or in The West End?
I saw A View From A Bridge a couple of weeks ago and it blew my mind. Everything was so brilliant and on point in it that I felt I was in super safe hands and I just sat back in my seat and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
How have you prepared for the role of Tituba? What has been most difficult? Most natural?
It’s always difficult playing someone who was a slave. Emotionally, I find it challenging to not stay in a place of anger about how my ancestors were brutalized. What has been incredible about The Crucible is there is so much research material available for this story and the period. Most of the people mentioned in the play really existed and there is a transcript of the actual trials online.
Although The Crucible was set in the 1690s during the Salem Witch Trials, the topics of morality, infidelity, and deceit are always relevant. What do you want audiences to get from this production of The Crucible?
I’m always terrified when we run with the pack, as it were. When everyone points their finger at a group of people and starts accusing them of taking their jobs and housing and the media jumps on the bandwagon. Or when people scapegoat the poor, minority groups or religious congregations. The Crucible for me is about revenge, scapegoating, the abuse of power and sexual repression. We haven’t evolved enough as a species to not repeat history’s old conceits. Look at the news on any given day. 1692 could be 2016 right? The Crucible is essentially about a witch hunt. Do we still do that today? Ask the Mexicans or the Muslims.
You’ve performed in productions by August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, and Lynn Nottage. Are there other works by great Black playwrights that you’d like to tackle?
There is work by great writers that I’d love to have the opportunity to do. I believe great writing transcends race and often time so as well as wanting to perform plays by Ntozake Shange and Pearl Cleage I’d like to do Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen and Caryl Churchill. I’d also love to work with younger playwrights and develop ideas with people like Marcus Gardley, Phillip Howze, Danai Gurira and Donnetta Grays.
What do you think will be the next great challenge in your career? If you were making your next set of goals, what would they encompass?
More classical roles. More male roles. More comedy and to keep working with brilliant directors.
What words of advice or encouragement would you give to young Black actresses?
Don’t limit yourselves. Let others build their boxes around you. Don’t be afraid. This is what they do to us all. Then one day kick your way through that box with your talent and tenacity. Don’t conform.