Following the premiere of his directorial debut Black Dog at the tail end of last year, 2024 is looking brighter than ever for George Jaques.
2023 marked a shift for George Jaques. Since starting his career as a teen, he has done more in his 23 years than many aim to do in their lifetime. He’s written and staged plays like Breathe and Dilate, the latter of which orbited around the teenage drug culture he observed in South West London. Like much of Jaques’ work, it resonated deeply with audiences — so much so that all nights were a sell-out. It seems like all of his work was leading him to something and, finally, at the end of 2023, that something came to fruition.
Jaques meets me at a bustling restaurant-café in South West London on what is a very stereotypical British day (think: cold, damp, rainy). Instead, it feels like the opposite. Jaques is equal parts warm and passionate — something that is embedded itself as part of his DNA as a writer, director, producer, and beyond. After months of chatting — twice officially to discuss his work — I’ve felt lucky to be a tiny sliver in the celebration of his work, bearing witness to what his team and close supporters have known for so long already: Jaques is destined for big things.
It’s almost a year since Jaques first told me about Black Dog, his directorial debut that premiered at the London Film Festival last fall, and to say it was a labour of love — and a lot of determination — would be a bit of an understatement. The film, which was co-written at age 18 with actor and star Jamie Flatters, captures the essence of youth and serves as an ode to the tumultuous journey of coming-of-age, navigating the freedom and anxiety that accompany adulthood. It’s the exact type of project that Jaques’ company, Athenaeum Productions, is quickly becoming known for — films and work that push the boundaries of what it means to be a human today.
As he looks ahead to the Glasgow Film Festival, George Jaques chats with 1883 Magazine over some hot drinks about the release of Black Dog, the childhood moments and memories that shaped his adulthood, and more.
George, now that the film has been received by audiences, where is your mind at currently?
I wrote it when I was at a show when I was 22 and I’m 23 now and it has its own life to live now. People are taking different things from the film. We were so lucky with the reviews — many four stars across the board, a couple of fives, a couple of threes.
Which is amazing for your first big directorial debut!
It’s harsh out there as well! People get booed! [The reception] has felt amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. It was a sold-out audience in Leicester Square and we got two standard ovations. It was amazing. I think everyone was telling me that I was going to have a bit of a comedown, almost like a crash. I was very aware that when you go through that much of a high, the low is going to be hard. I’ve done so much work before on other things that everything started to slow down a little bit. I’m not filming at the moment, I’m trying to take it a little bit slower and not do as many meetings. But actually, all the projects I want are starting to happen. I feel very lucky.
Yeah, I just read an interview with Maya Hawke and Tom Blythe and they discuss what it’s like to be on the precipice of a big project like Stranger Things and The Hunger Games and everyone told them that it was going to be crazy. Tom mentioned that he just would remind himself that regardless of whatever happened, he would still be the same person who would be making himself coffee in the morning.
Exactly. What’s weird about being part of a film festival is that you’re at everything. I had the choice to keep going to loads of events but I thought what I needed was to just take a step back and know that what I’ve achieved is amazing and sit with that before I start the next one. Otherwise, you just end up tired. Afterwards, I went to Scotland for the new film and it was just a moment where I could say, “What we achieved was amazing.” My team and I had some dinner and drinks and discussed that we managed to pull off what people dream of doing.
You mentioned being teary at the premiere, too, so it was clear just how much this was a labour of love. You messaged me last February to talk about the film so I know how important it was for you. Those emotions were like a dam breaking as this piece of art made its way into the hearts of others and you were able to let go of it.
Definitely. You work on something for so long. I remember so clearly that we had done loads of press at BFI Southbank. We were running around and the screening was at 6:10. We got there at 5:15 and no one was there.
I bet you were like, “what the hell is going on?”
I was! And then people started coming in and it didn’t stop for about 45 minutes because we have all this amazing talent.
Yeah, you had so many 1883 alumni there! Louis Partridge, Kit Connor, and so many others.
Yeah, I’ve known them for so long. So many people from my team and so many others came to support me and the film. I was introduced and then I walked out and my job was to read the order of the cast that was coming out. I’d written this one-minute speech thanking a lot of people and I got halfway through it and said we made this film truly independently and I looked up and everyone who helped me with the film was there. It was a moment that I’ll never forget, remembering that we managed to do it because no one can make a movie for half a million pounds anymore.
We shot it in four weeks, we had everything against us. I think that’s why I cried. You rarely imagine a day and night that I’d always dreamed of and it comes true. I mean, I was nominated for Best Director! It was just stupid [laughs]. Then when it happens in front of you… It’s a bit mad. Then everyone watched the film and I went to the pub.
[Laughs] Yeah, I couldn’t be in the audience if people were watching my work too.
It was just a bit too much at once. I didn’t need to see people going for a piss if they had to, like “How dare you leave now!” [Laughs]
It’s been so close to you for so long, you just needed to let it be.
Yeah, everyone said I should be in there watching the audience laugh and cry. I’ve done that — I’ve seen an audience watch it. It can’t change anything. It’s not mine anymore. The moment you premiere it, you’re just giving it to the world. I made this thing at a certain time in my life and I’ll make a lot more things, and that’s a really exciting thing. Then, when I walked back in at the end of the film to see everyone standing… That just meant a lot.
As a director, writer, and more, you did so much promo for the film. Was that a lot to take on at first?
I think a lot of people back the film because there is a real belief in me. I’m fully aware not many directors get as much press as I’ve got and I think it’s because I’ve been doing this since I was 16. I think what was special about Black Dog is people love the film, but people love the story behind the film as much as they like it. There are moments when I did have Keenan or Jamie or Ruby or Nicholas with me as a cast and you feel safe because you have your gang. Press can be daunting, photoshoots are universally terrifying, you know?
Even when I’m interviewing people, I try to make it as chill as possible because I would hate to be on the other side of it and stressing out.
Exactly. And I have to think about what the sales agents would want me to say, what the distributors would want me to say.
It’s a lot to put on you!
Yeah, and I think because the film is so personal, too… People take different things from it. I’m very cautious because I don’t want to push people a certain way.
I remember there was a talk and they asked about queer undertones in the film and you said if you want it to be a queer film, then it is. If it means something else to you, then that’s okay, too.
Yeah, there is a moment when they wake up in bed next to each other and people have different interpretations of it. I love giving the audience that room to take what they want from it. I have my idea of what happened. That’s a daunting thing as a filmmaker because I think when you’re doing your debut feature or early films, you try to avoid failure as much as possible. I think because I started in theatre, I realized this a bit earlier. In theatre, you can’t control an audience and it’s the same realization directors have with film. You can push them with music, but you can’t decide how they should feel. You know the dog scene? Some people watch that and laugh!
Which is crazy to me!
Yeah, I’m like, “Wow, fairy enough.” I mean, it’s not funny but maybe for some people it is. I think knowing that you can’t control an audience is such an important skill for a director because it then gives you the confidence to leave space.
Touching on writing, do you write with a purpose — as in, “I’m going to sit down and write a script” or do you free write?
I do [write with a purpose]. I think that’s always worked for me. It’s a marathon to write a feature film or a play or anything. The way I write is I come up with a timeline idea. It might be anything from sitting under a Christmas tree, and as the Christmas tree goes up, it becomes a huge plot point. I have moments where I buy a notebook for that project and write a list of things — like George wore these shoes, he tripped up on his laces, or they threw hot chocolate on him, or the marshmallows were too chunky. It’s little details, like songs that are playing, and I put them in order from moment to moment. When I’m writing the first draft, I try to do it as quickly as possible because I’m in it, and I know I want to exist in that universe, in that space. Rhythm is massively impacted by music and what’s going on in my life. Then I write it and it’s terrible. It’s embarrassingly bad. Then, I start to make it good and get loads of people to read it early. I’m not precious because it has helped me. It takes the daunting aspect out of it. I don’t sit down thinking, “I have to write 30 pages today.” It’s more like, as you live, the first draft comes out. I’ve got to make it better, and that’s it.
You wrote a script and let who I believe to be a teacher’s friend read it. Were you planning on being an actor at that point?
Yeah, I wanted to be an actor. I was like, I was a late bloomer. I got cast as the paperboy in Bugsy Malone, the famous role that no one’s heard. It was one line. I wasn’t able to sing or dance, and I kind of fell in love. I didn’t quite know my tribe of people. I fell in love with the idea of being part of something bigger. I knew I wanted to be an actor. I was like, “Right, how do I be an actor?” I decided to write a play. My friend overdosed and it was a bit part of my life. I read a really interesting bit in Rob Delaney’s book about his son who passed away from cancer and there’s a bit in it when he talks about therapy and how plays work.
The way Rob writes about his son is so moving.
Yeah, he’s an amazing talent, and his son Henry sounds amazing. It was, like he said, therapeutic to write, and he’s said he thinks art is an incredible, wonderful, healthy place to process feelings of all kinds. I also tend to think that I go to therapy for therapy. When my mum was diagnosed [with breast cancer] when I was 15, and I was writing about it at the same time and setting up the company, I think it was that I went to therapy for therapy. The writing was an amazing place for me to go and explore feelings maybe unintentionally. I like to think I did my work in therapy for me, and then I did the work for the story. For me, it was more about exploring bigger ideas and themes.
I didn’t know anyone in this industry and a teacher told me there was something there, but he told me to rewrite the whole fucking thing, which is brutal. But also, he’s still a friend and he reads loads of my scripts.
It’s nice that he’s been able to see you grow as a writer.
He’s amazing and he supported me and taught me. I’m always terrified of being caught out, you know? I think there’s an element of impostor syndrome.
I wanted to ask you about impostor syndrome because as someone who didn’t go to acting school, is it something that you struggled with?
Big time. By the time I finished A-levels, I’d had my plays performed at the National Theatre. I got a scholarship to uni for business and didn’t go. I reached out to Nicholas Hytner who used to run the National Theatre and he let me be in his rehearsal rooms to shadow him. I remember getting there and thinking, “I’m about to work with possibly the biggest theatre directors in the world, what the fuck am I doing?” Then you do your first day and you feel a bit better. He was amazing because he let me take up space and ask for my thoughts on things. It made me feel safer. Then, I’m doing my first short film, and I’ve never been on a film set so impostor syndrome comes in. It’s that thing that sneaks into my life that I get used to, it goes, and then appears again with the next big thing. I think it’s helped me in some ways; I think it keeps you grounded, it keeps me driven, it keeps me working with the best people I can.
Whenever people talk about me ‘killing it’ I mention that I’m just making it up as I go. It does keep you grounded.
Yeah, that’s the thing I talk about with my producing partner. I’m scared of making a decision and sometimes it’s okay to fuck up. I’m the first to put my hands up on set and say when something is a terrible idea. It’s just about growing and learning because you don’t have to have all the answers.
Now, a big question: can you tell me a bit about you as a kid? You always seem very energetic.
[Laughs] We need to talk about this because everyone says I’m like Benjamin Button in reverse. I’m very close to my parents who divorced when I was four. My mom came out when I was seven. Me and my sister were incredibly close, too. It wasn’t your normal childhood, but I think I was a confident child. I was confident, wasn’t that sporty but I enjoyed getting involved. I was always happy to get involved and give things a shot. I think my teenage years were when things weren’t going as well, that was the most tumultuous time for me. My teenage years were a lot darker in lots of ways and a lot of changes.
We talked about my personal favourite Peter Pan earlier, so I want to ask what was the first fairytale or children’s story that resonated with you?
That one came through between my childhood and my teen years. I remember loving the Gruffalo and stuff like that, as most kids do, I don’t necessarily think that was one thing I watched over and over. When I started writing, I became fascinated with plays and stories and stuff but until that point, I just liked to check out what my sister, who is a massive bookworm, was doing. She was reading Harry Potter when she was seven.
I wasn’t a big reader as a kid. I kind of fell in love with reading when I started writing. I loved reading other people’s plays and would try to absorb stuff every time. I found reading books quite a lot but plays I could read into this day, you know, and that excited me.
I know we just called you an old soul, but has there ever been a point where you’ve felt like you’re playing catchup? I ask because I didn’t grow up being told to listen or read or watch the classic stuff and it seems like in our industry, if you don’t know that stuff you’re kind of laughed at.
Yeah, I do. Everyone has this thing where they’ll name some random movie and they’ll say, “You’re a director, how do you not know it?” And I reply, “I’m also 23 and you’re 50!” [Laughs] I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Sometimes it can make you feel quite shit but there’s a part of me that’s wanting to make work like I always have, almost like how it was when I was still learning to write and finding my voice. I don’t want to copy other people. I remember reading A Streetcar Named Desire when I was younger and wanting to just copy that, but you can’t. I started my company wanting to tell socially conscious subjects and I did that and I’m proud of it because it gave me a clear direction. Now I want to do that stuff still but also make work that makes you laugh and cry. That can be anything from an action film, a fantasy or a drama or a comedy.
I remember you saying that when you started your production company, you wanted to give a voice to young people and their struggles. Is that still your goal?
My USP is that I’m 23 and I can write about what it’s like to grow up now. I’m very lucky because a lot of people my age can’t get things greenlit because they don’t have the experience. Some people try to drop cool words and things they think young people say, and it’s so out of touch. I think, at the moment, I want to still focus on young characters and trying to capture that, but I want to do intergenerational stuff. I want to work across generations and I hope the company grows with me. I hope when I’m 50 I’m writing stories and bringing young creatives into it. One of my dreams is to give five grand to a few people a year to help them get their first project set up. You meet so many people that want to direct and want to write but they don’t have the means to do it. This industry is scary and can feel overwhelming so I would love to help one day. You can come up with an idea and see it come together in your head but never get to pursue it.
Have you ever had to leave things behind?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been very lucky that a lot of my stuff has been made. There was one play and one full feature that was never made, but how much I learned doing those two things was invaluable. You change and things that are important in May of 2021 are no longer important by June of 2022. My dad who works in property used to say, “Never close the door, always try to keep doors open.” That’s why he wanted me to go to uni because he was really scared that loads of doors were going to be shut, but that’s not the case anymore.
Before I hit record, we were talking about you getting into directing a music video. Not on the table yet, but what it is it about directing a music video that intrigues you?
I think it’s just the freedom. I love telling stories in a short amount of time, to music, I think. There’s more room to make mistakes which sounds stupid but you can make mistakes within full features and they can be missed. Music videos are short so there is more room for error. There’s something that feels more fun [with shooting a music video]. There’s something that’s really freeing creatively because it doesn’t have to make sense, it can just be a really cool shot. I’m working on things for a long time — most of which I can’t talk about — and I have a few TV shows that are in development, so I’m on them for a long time. I wrote Black Dog I was a different person to who I was at 22. I wrote my new film when I was in the edit of Black Dog and I’m a different person now. So [working on a music video] is a fun little departure for me.
Do you see these projects as chapters of your life?
I guess in a way, yeah. It’s almost like chapters that I have to go back to and revisit. It’s weird to read a script you wrote to then direct it. I try and distance myself from it a little bit and approach it as if it’s not really mine. As a director, I get my actors to read the script because they have a massive part in this. There’s a moment where my actors know their characters better than I do — they’ll know their favourite colour or what shoes they put on in the morning. I give them that level of ownership because there’s a moment when I’ll be on set and I’ll ask them what they think a character did last night as a way to get creative. That’s what I love about the creative process, I love the collaboration.
How do you unwind after a really rigorous shoot? I know you were really on the go while filming Black Dog.
Truthfully, I wasn’t kind to myself — I didn’t have much of an unwinding. In A Town Called Malice, I would listen to specific music and cologne as a way to trick my brain into stepping in and out of that character. You really have to train yourself to think, “I’m leaving that [character] there, that shit was heavy, and now I’m going home.” As a director, it’s very all-consuming, if I’m honest. When it’s wrapped at the end of the day, as an actor, you go home, you learn your lines, and go to bed. Directors are thinking about how you’re going to direct the next day, and you’re trying to work through that. It feels very, all-encompassing, but I’m trying to get better at it. I’m trying to do more nice things for me. Black Dog was Monday to Saturday and now I’m just trying to commit five days a week to shooting to have a weekend. We’ve got a therapist coming to set one day a week on my team because I want to try and give people the space that they need. I’m trying to do more and try to be a better producer, boss, director, or whatever you want to call it. I couldn’t do 100 [similar features to] Black Dog because I’d die [laughs].
What was the last really good film that you watched?
All Of Us Strangers which I want to talk to you about because I saw you just watched it.
God, it was so good and so heart-wrenching. I wasn’t anticipating the plot whatsoever.
Just mind-blowing. I loved it. I thought it was amazing. The four of them together was just a masterpiece. Andrew Haigh is one of the smartest directors and someone who I massively admire. I went on sort of a deep dive and, classic me, I DM’d him. I said I’m a massive fan of your work and I’d love to pick your brains. I can learn so much from him and that’s so important. I mean, he probably wouldn’t ever see it, but maybe one day.
You never know! I believe people come into your life at the right time for the right reasons.
Yeah, if you don’t shoot your shot you’ll never know. I found the scene with Andrew Scott and his dad where he’s talking about hearing him cry and getting bullied and Andrew Scott’s character is asking him why he never stepped in and he replies “I didn’t because I knew I would have been one of those boys bullying you.” It was so emotional for me because I didn’t have a good time in school, a lot of it was homophobia [because of my mum], I was short, and it was just a tough time. I’m incredibly lucky that I found my tribe because I found film, TV, and theatre.
Is there a film, book, or album that you’d love to revisit for the first time with a fresh mind?
There’s a book called Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh about a young gay man who comes out as gay in his family and it is the most harrowing book I’ve ever read. I think it changed a lot of things in my life. It just was one of those books that you feel like you’re growing up as you read it and I was probably seven or eight at the time.
Some artists that I think of — Red Hot Chili Peppers because my dad grew up in Devon so we drive to Devon quite a bit listening to them. We also listened to Scouting For Girls, Amy Winehouse, and a few others. As a kid, I used to sing all the words to “By the Way” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
For film, that would be Fish Tank which is the one that introduced me to British Independent Film so that will always have a really special place in my heart. That really kickstarted a career in film to me. Brokeback Mountain I think was a really important film because of the themes and the performances, it taught me so much about directing in a really weird way. Good Will Hunting because Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams are incredible.
I watched the Heath Ledger documentary and that shook me up, I’ve been so young to achieve things I’ve achieved. I’m always like, mindful of that. I’m very lucky with the team I have around me and the support I get from them because it’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I’ve got to deliver scripts, I’ve got new feature films, I’ve got new TV shows, and I’ve got a lot of like things going. I just watched those documentaries and they changed me because I see it where it can go wrong so easily.
Well, it’s good you’re already trying to cut back on work by not filming six out of seven days.
Yeah, exactly. It’s heartbreaking because there are so many incredible people who have left us and it shakes me up because you could see it happening to anyone. It’s about supporting one another to make sure no one falls to the wayside. think we’re getting better as an industry about taking breaks. It was so full-on with Black Dog but I have to remember that the buzz doesn’t die just because I’m not talking about it.
You have one free day in London — where are you going and what are you doing? This is a hard question because I’m such an old man. In Wimbledon there’s a park and a common, in the middle there’s a crappy cafe and you order a sausage sandwich and they call out your number. I fucking love it there. I go, get that, and have a long walk through the park. I used to do that with my mum as a kid when she was unwell. That’s a massive thinking time for me. I take my dog, I take people, sometimes I’ll take my meetings there if it’s a creative one. It’s about leaning into the simple things — you don’t need to spend tons of money to do things and we take for granted the simple pleasures like that. I went to Rye and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I was talking to an actor named Daniel Sharman and I said, “Daniel, I’ve realized you just need to see the world. It’s amazing what you see when you leave London.” And he said, “I love that you had this massive realization by visiting Hastings that was an hour away.”
Lastly, you’ve been nominated for some crazy things already, so what would you say to little George if you could tell him what you’ve accomplished?
I think it’s important to sit with those things [accomplishments] because I tend not to sit with it for too long and I need to be better at it because I do need to pat myself on the back. I think I would say to teenage George that it’ll be shit for a bit but stick in there and keep going. Even when it feels like no one’s noticing you or no one’s noticing the work, what you’re doing right now is the whale fucking point because you’re writing these plays and that’s what matters. Just keep going. Keep going to therapy, turn up for your family, be there for your sister, and your friends. Little kid George I’d say… Fucking hell, it’s going to be mental [laughs].
I feel like you’ve really kept that playfulness from childhood, so I’m sure he’d appreciate that.
Yeah, I think so. I’m probably closer to little George now than I ever was. It’s like when you’re a kid and you have that playfulness and that you can do anything. Your teenage years slap you in the face and you realize that you’ll never be an astronaut. But there’s a part of me that now, at 23, I can’t believe I’m doing, like sitting here with you doing an interview talking about everything I’ve achieved. We can just keep chatting every few years and you can detail how many fine lines I’m getting on my forehead [laughs].
Yes, exactly. I find it interesting that you feel closer to little George now even when everyone calls you an old soul.
I think it’s cool. I think going to therapy was a big part of that, reconnecting with my childhood is a big thing. Just being able to dream and know that the sky is the limit. Things can go wrong, but just keep dreaming, pushing, and trying. go wrong, and things like that. But like, keep dreaming, keep pushing, keep trying.
George Jaques’ debut feature Black Dog will screen next at the Glasgow Film Festival on Feb 29th, 2024.