Nathan Stewart-Jarrett dares to be different. Every role he decides to explore is a step into the unknown – and he loves the challenge. It’s a push, a gamble, to test his limits and discover new ways of acting, digging deep, and delving into the depths of the characters he inhabits. His craft, as of late, has been leading him into uncharted waters. Stewart-Jarrett’s role as Jules in Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s Femme is proof that his growth is paying off. Femme is a deeply provocative film that pushes boundaries and leaves the viewer on the edge from start to finish. Watching and waiting for the sword to drop, we accompany Jules through a savage homophobic attack. What follows is a dangerous game of revenge as he comes face to face with his attacker, Preston, played by the brutish George MacKay.
Nathan plays Jules with such conviction you can’t help but be captivated. Watching as he grapples with a whole plethora of emotions ranging from jubilation when he’s in his Aphrodite persona on stage, to struggling with his complicated feelings for Preston. We watch Jules and Preston circle each other, simultaneously attracted and disgusted by who the other is. It’s an exploration and commentary of toxic masculinity pushed too far. And while we have little to no sympathy for Preston, we feel for Jules as he spirals into the dark to take a shred of his power back.
Earning himself Best Joint Lead Performance at the British Independent Film Awards, Stewart-Jarrett is one to keep your eye on in the future. In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett discusses where his love of classic film comes from, how he got into the mindset for Jules in Femme, his thoughts on toxic masculinity in today’s society, and more.
I had the pleasure of watching Femme last night, and I was immediately wrapped up in Jules and Preston’s story. Why is it important for you as an actor and creative to help tell this story?
I think whatever you lend your voice to, you should believe in that story. A slight segue, I remember when I was younger, I had a part-time job and one of my cousins said, “Do it to the best of your ability.” Anything you do, do it to the best of your ability. So, as an actor, I put my best foot forward. I was invested in this story. I think the story is important, but it is, first and foremost, a story. The collision of these two characters. Literally. Then, beyond that it speaks to something else I think is important. I lent myself to it because I loved the story, and I loved the character. He was incredibly complex.
When we meet Jules, he’s in his Aphrodite persona, and then very quickly (and literally) we see that confidence stripped away from them. Walk me through preparing for that transition.
I suppose the thing is, I was thinking about Jules a lot prior to that altercation. The foundation of who he is, is a really, really important thing because I needed to know what that thing is. So, it really was trying to figure out who he was prior to the movie even starting. I needed to know what the character had before they lost it all. You know, it’s the culmination of huge joy before having it ripped away from them. I guess preparing for that moment, you anchor it to things that have happened to you, or you imagine. Oftentimes, we talk about people relating to things that have happened in their life. We very rarely talk about how much actors imagine; like, “Let’s make this up. Imagine this scenario.” So, I think a little bit of layering of imagining on top of my own experiences helped a lot.
You did an excellent job because I was heartbroken within the first 10 minutes of the film, so thank you for that [Nathan laughs]. One of my favourite scenes in Femme is when Jules sits with Preston’s friends and completely annihilates them at Street Fighter. That’s when we start to kind of see the power dynamic shift. How would you describe Jules’ thought process in that moment?
That was one of my favourite scenes to shoot because it was very close to how I was. I did a lot of shit-talking. So, I enjoyed that. For me, it was like this persona always existed in Jules. What’s lovely is that we see Jules enjoying themselves in that moment. He’s not acting, it isn’t forced, he isn’t manipulating a situation. It was just an honest moment. A rare moment of real joy. I know the editor said she loved that scene because she felt a sigh of relief for Jules.
More of a selfish question: are you really that good at Street Fighter?
Wouldn’t you like to know.
[Laughter] That’s fair enough. When you read through the script for the first time, what were you initial thoughts?
It was a Saturday morning and I steamed through the script. I was completely obsessed. I didn’t know how I could be involved but I knew I had to be. I didn’t know how to construct this character or throw myself in. Jules was great, there was just so much going on under the surface. It’s very difficult to emote. Also, there was something very classical in these two meetings (Jules and Preston), you know perhaps if they’d met in a different way, they wouldn’t have been so at odds. That’s the tragedy of it.
When you look back throughout your career, both on-screen and onstage. How do you think you’ve evolved?
Weirdly, you become more cautious. I’ve definitely become more confident in terms of knowing what I can do [laughs]. In the last few years, I’ve tried to challenge myself. I don’t want to skate through it. I want to analyze my craft, interrogate myself, and be happy with my work. I think, right now, I want to be confronted and confronting.
So, following that train of thought: what are you looking for in a project? Or is it one of those things where you read the script and you’re like, “Okay, this is what I’m looking for?”
I really am seeking out different things. There is kind of a moment when you get a script, and it speaks to you. I want to explore range, right now, and push my boundaries. Like, “I can do this, but I can’t do that, so I feel like I must do it anyway.” I think that’s definite range. I loved working on Femme, I loved playing Jules, it was a hard story, a real joy, but I don’t want to play a version of Jules again.
That’s totally valid!
I really am looking for a range. Specifically, I want to be in a horror movie. Or, a Christmas horror movie would be fantastic.
I would watch that.
I would love to do that. But also, stage and things that I find tough. Edward the II, Richard the II whatever it would be. That’s what I’m looking for.
So then, another self-indulgent question: do you have a favourite horror movie?
I have a mixed relationship with horror movies. I have a good friend who showed me these movies and she’ll watch me watch them and I’m sweating. But I think, one of the scariest ones I’ve watched recently is Rosemary’s Baby.
Oh yeah, that one is terrifying.
And When a Stranger Calls Back with Carol Kane?
I haven’t heard of that one!
I won’t give it away but give it a watch.
Circling back, Femme doesn’t sugarcoat its message about toxic masculinity. What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
I always, always hope that they’re entertained. I hope they watch it and enjoy it. I hope they enjoy it as a film, and I hope it starts conversations. Conversations about people being assaulted, giving marginalized people voices. I think it should spark conversations about revenge or avenging something.
How would you say the roles you’ve played have changed your worldview?
I wouldn’t say it’s changed my worldview perse. [Nathan pauses] Or maybe I’m wrong there. I think you learn from the roles you’re given from the research you do. Obviously, you absorb a degree of knowledge which can alter the way you think. Ultimately, I like to discover new things.
Growing up, what films and plays influenced you? Is there a particular performance that stood out to you?
I was exposed really early to classic films through my mum and aunt! Like, watching Clark Gable and Cary Grant when I was young. I knew who those people were when I was under ten! You know, I was watching movies from the 30s and 40s. I can name so many films, What’s Up Doc? Sleeping With the Enemy, Ghost, Clear and Present Danger – my aunt loves thrillers. So, between her, my aunt and my grandfather love the “Carry On” movies, too. There’s so much.
Honestly, I can relate! I watched films like, The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, when I was super young.
We haven’t even started on Hitchcock yet.
You said in an interview with The Guardian, “That we are obsessed with masculinity as a culture.” How do you think we can combat that as a society?
We as actors go through huge transformations. Some roles call for us to look muscular and I’m guilty of trying to fit whatever standard placed on us. I’m throwing glass stones in a glass house I live in; I know [laughter]. If you look at movies from back in the 60s and 70s, men looked like men with all body types. There was no shame in that. There’s still no shame in that. I don’t know how we counteract toxic masculinity. But I hope the film sparks that conversation. As an aside, I was going to grab a coffee at a local café and I saw a girl wearing a hat that said, ‘Destroy Boys.’ I was like, “Well, I’m a boy.” It’s not ‘destroy boys’ there’s nothing wrong with masculinity. It’s the extreme of it, just like anything else, that’s toxic. There’s a range of masculinity. So many things can be masculine. There’s no set definition. But I’m no expert, you know?
Lastly, as we say Goodbye to 2023 what has been the highlight of your year both professionally and personally?
Personally? Sharing a bed with my friend while were on holiday and she was snoring! [Laughter] And my highlight was pushing her onto her back and her not snoring.
Not the answer I was expecting, but I’ll take it! You’re really just out here putting your friend on blast!
It’s all love! Professionally? I don’t know! I think Femme being watched and being appreciated is a nice moment. Personally, I love pushing my friends and professionally? Adulation.
Femme is in UK cinemas now.
Interview Dana Reboe
Photography THE OTHER RICHARD