From Scottish rave scene film Beats to hosting a comedy night in Glasgow and a show at this year’s Fringe, the Edinburgh comic and actor is one to watch
Comedian and actor Rachel Jackson barely pauses for breath. Fresh from Beats, Brian Welsh’s Scottish rave scene comedy-drama coming of ager, which closed the Glasgow Film Festival to top reviews, the 31-year-old comedian and actor from Edinburgh is on a roll.
She’s also just wrapped filming horror flick I Saw Black Clouds by Ghost Dog Films, is in BBC Scotland’s newly commissioned comedy sketch show The State of It and is about to unleash her Fringe-bound solo show Slutty Little Goldfish at the Glasgow Comedy Festival. When I catch up with her at The Tron in Glasgow she’s launching her brand new monthly comedy show, Rachel Jackson and Friends.
“I talk a lot and really fast, sorry,” she says, immediately confirming her livewire reputation and the firecracker descriptions. “I’m a bit hyper.”
Ambitious and energetic, Jackson has been busy. As well as her film work, which saw her in Karen Gillan’s directorial debut The Party’s Just Beginning last year, she cut her teeth on TV in Two Doors Down, Still Game, Scot Squad, Outlander and most recently the aforementioned The State of It, hosted by Robert Florence. Nominated for a Spotlight Prize, Best New Comedian at The Scottish Variety Awards and The Scottish Comedy Awards, you might also recognise her as the face of Irn-Bru from a nationwide advertising campaign. She also took her show Bunny Boiler to the Fringe in 2015 and 2017.
Tonight is the first of her Tron comedy nights but before that we talk about Beats, from Ken Loach’s Sixteen films, produced by Hollywood legend Steven Soderbergh. It follows the story of two small-town boys who go on one last night out together before life takes them in different directions, in the summer of 1994. They head to an illegal rave and have a night they’ll never forget.
“It has a This Is England bittersweet, naturalistic vibe about it,” says Jackson who plays Wendy, a cousin of one of the boys. “We’re the family everyone talks about as being scum and I’m the cool older cousin who gets them along to the rave, the fixer.
“They said we’d like to you read for Wendy, who was written as very overweight and I thought ‘thanks a lot’, but it was a compliment because they really wanted me to play the role no matter what I looked like. The costume was a baggy tracksuit, and there are two scenes where I get called ‘fat’. I wanted to feel hurt when I was called that, so I thought why not just go for it and because film catering is SO amazing I put on a stone and a half. I went Christian Bale.”
Jackson has a special admiration for the shape-shifting Bale, with his willingness to go the extra mile, or stone, to inhabit a part.
“How many chances do you get as an actress not to have to wear tight fitting clothes, midriff out?” she says.
Not only did she look the part after the weight gain, but she found it helped nail the body language too.
“Wendy’s grounded, earthy and cool, not hyper like me, so that worked. But then you take off the costume and go, oh f***, what have I done to myself?”
Cue Jackson hitting the gym and eating healthily since Beats, but she’d happily repeat the experience of transforming herself for a role, because alongside Bale, she’s inspired by Charlize Theron, who recently gained 50lbs to play a mother of three in Tully.
“Charlize Theron did it in Monster, won an Oscar, and then in Tully. I want to be someone who does go the full way too, authentic. I have an ego of course, but you’re not playing yourself so why should you look like yourself? I think I’ve got a bit of that madness in me, of wanting to be as real as possible. So bring on the cake if it’s going to get me an Oscar!” She laughs.
Playing Donna in Gillan’s The Party’s Just Beginning was another leap into character, this time a nail technician with an interior design fixation, “a fag and a chavvy bun”. “My nails were different every day, so that was fun, but it wasn’t glamorous. Very grey make-up, bags under the eyes, because they’re all depressed.
“The film’s about suicide and the aftermath and it’s quite dark and grim. It’s a serious topic, everyone’s been touched by suicide, so it’s relatable. But you need a little comic relief and that’s Donna. Not in a ‘here comes the clown’ way, but she was fun to play. I’m really hoping to show all the different sides of what I can play, to keep doing interesting parts where people don’t know who I am, and think ‘is that the same girl?’ I’m an actor and I’m a comedian, why can’t I play both? Look at Steve Coogan, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy and Olivia Colman, they do it, and that’s what I’d like to do.”
Ringing the changes once more saw Jackson playing a mousy, passive character in I Saw Black Clouds, a horror film she finished filming in January.
“I’m playing the very posh, RP-speaking Charlotte, who is again, totally different. I just want to keep surprising people.
“I’m a big horror fan and this was a great script, and a co-lead – I’ve never had that big a part. It’s a psychological horror, not just tits and blood and it’s a bit like Bandersnatch where you can choose options, which is revolutionary for horror: do you want them to die this way or that?”
Jackson laughs, she’s relaxed and full of tonight’s show, Rachel Jackson and Friends, her new monthly comedy night at The Tron, where she will host a changing line up of established and rising stars of the comedy scene.
“It’s me and my friends, because I’ve got a lot of comedy pals, and then there are the ones that aren’t. It’s a split. It’s nice to be surrounded by positive people and good vibes.”
Jackson has experienced the flip side of the circuit, something she puts down to having worked not solely as a comedian and having started out in straight acting. Now she’s determined to merge the two worlds.
“Acting’s my first love but I’ve always been a bit of a clown, and when I realised I could make money from it I thought oh wow, I could turn this side of me on more. And I love making people happy.
“Sometimes I go to auditions and mention I’m a comedian and they say but you’re an actress, why? But I’m both. Why can’t you show you’re talented in different ways?”
Jackson is also committed to putting more women on stage at The Tron, having so often been the sole female in the line up.
“I don’t want to get into trouble saying this, but it does almost feel like you are the token girl. I feel very welcome at a lot of the clubs, but you wonder why aren’t there two girls, not just one, or 50/50, but that’s only once in a blue moon.”
To the suggestion that there possibly aren’t as many female comics about, Jackson is sceptical.
“No, look at all the people who do Fringe shows, there are hundreds of female comics. There will come a time when it’s more equal and it’s going in the right direction.”
It’s a blue moon the night I’m in Glasgow as Jackson is joined by Susan Riddell, with Chrissy Ross and Paul McDaniel making up the other 50 per cent. However, the show should be called Rachel Jackson, Friends and Family because her mum Helen and dad Donald are there too, bravely sitting up front in the firing line. They take it in their stride, and her dad tells me she’s always been “like this”, announcing to her granny that she wanted to be an actor when she was five.
“Yeah,” confirms Jackson, “I don’t know where I got it from but it stuck. I did ballet when I was little and I was terrible, did it for five years and didn’t get any better, they would always put me at the back. But I just loved being on the stage, I knew it was the right place for me – just not the right art.”
Not being from a performance background, Jackson was an anomaly – her mum works in Mothercare and her dad in a mail room – but back in primary seven when asked to write her ambitions, it was to be in blockbuster movies and go to the Oscars.
“I was always interested in Hollywood and was obsessed with the Oscars, with glitz and glamour, seeing people achieve their dreams. It’s magic.”
After school Jackson went to Glasgow College of Nautical Studies to do acting performance – “I always say you thought you were going to be De Niro then you were surrounded by sailors” – and then she headed for London.
“I just wanted out of suburbia, much as I love my family, so it was the bright lights of London when I was 20, and it was a different planet for me.”
It wasn’t all bright lights, however, as Jackson recounts sharing her bedsit with cockroaches and “having sex with people who didn’t even like me, not being able to afford food. I got really skinny, not the nice skinny but dishevelled junky skinny, wandering the streets trying to get an audition. But I was very stubborn and never ever thought about quitting and going home. I think, and I don’t mean to sound cheesy, but if you’ve got that belief… there was something inside me that wasn’t going to rest. And every once in a while someone really successful would whisper in your ear, ‘you’re brilliant’, little nuggets that kept you going. And Karen Gillan has been a big advocate of me, never talked down to me, people like that give you nuggets of hope.”
She stayed in London for seven years, attending Rose Bruford College, Gary Oldman’s alma mater, and studying drama before returning to Scotland for a BBC acting job.
“I intended to go back but I fell in love with a guy here,” she says. “And I noticed that the scene is more loyal here, and thought I can make a name for myself a damn sight quicker than in London. And the quality of life is a million times better.”
Jackson’s comedy focuses on everyday experiences, but heightened. As she puts it, “People are laughing, thinking she’s crazy but then ‘I’ve done that too’. The experiences I talk about are real. Often people will ask if they really happened, and the answer is unfortunately yes.”
A case in point being the time she woke up and a man was being over familiar with her armpit.
“I left thinking ‘is it rape? But it’s a bit high up and who would take me seriously, who would you tell?’ So I play on it being a mental, whacky experience. It’s situations everyone’s been in, well maybe not that exact situation, but strange things, and my main objective is to be funny. I don’t mind gasps of shock too.
“In my shows Bunny Boiler and Slutty Little Goldfish, it’s a heightened version of me. Bunny Boiler was about my relationships and all the things that have gone wrong. It was an hour, but I could have done ten! Because when we’re in love, we’re more intense, the worst version of ourselves, so it was playing on the psycho, but a FUN psycho, not like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. More trying to make people LOVE the Bunny Boiler, get behind her.”
First staged on the Fringe in 2015 when it was called Memoirs of a Bunny Boiler it was a mix of stand-up and theatre. On its return to the Fringe in 2017 it became more stand-up when Jackson began chatting with the audience.
“It was inspired by the end of a relationship, and I’d been called a bunny boiler by a couple of boyfriends. I thought ‘are you for real, you’re actually comparing me to a character that boiled a rabbit to death just because I’ve called you three times because you’ve mistreated me and neglected me and I’m pissed off?’ It’s such an EASY thing to call women mad, oh are you on your period, oh my god! I was so wronged by it I thought I’ve got to write about this. My shows are lighthearted, more laughing at myself. The joke’s on me.
“I heard Glenn Close saying recently that she’d love Fatal Attraction to be made from the female perspective, and I thought yeah, this guy who’s saying I love you, I’m going to leave my wife, then go away, I want my wife, what would that do to someone? So maybe it’s time for the female side to be told. I want to do it!”
So what can we expect to see in Slutty Little Goldfish at the Glasgow Comedy Festival, then later at The Fringe?
“It’s half an hour of jokes about Harvey Weinstein then I look at other angles. It grew out of a joke about #Me Too and Time’s Up where I ended up comparing Hollywood to a fish tank and saying even goldfish would be victim blamed. Male goldfish rape the females, chase them round the tank, and they’re very violent, so that really bothered me. Why is that not reported on the Discovery Channel? Anyway, the female goldfish would probably be judged, ‘well you were acting like a slutty little goldfish, had your orange frilly bits on show so what did you expect, circling around the tank like that?’ I’m trying to make people laugh, find the humour in a grim situation.”
With her hard work paying off in terms of roles, Jackson is keen to capitalise on her efforts.
“Obviously it’s touch wood because it’s such a fickle industry and I’m still hustling every day just to get seen for things. What I want to do now is keep going into totally different roles, showing what I’m capable of, doing stand-up because I really enjoy it and it pays my rent, but also sinking into acting roles and surprising people.
“When I think back I was in a cockroach-ridden bedsit for three years and it was very bleak, and I feel like that girl wasn’t meant to get this far. But I have, so why not go the whole way, why not keep going further and further? Why not go all the way baby!”
Rachel Jackson and Friends, last Wednesday of every month, The Tron Theatre, 63 Trongate, Glasgow, G1 5HB www.tron.co.uk
Beats is on general release in cinemas across the UK on 17 May.
Rachel Jackson, Slutty Little Goldfish will be at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival