Veteran actress Jamie Bernadette is one of the most intriguing, versatile and dedicated actors working in the entertainment industry today. Over the past decade, she’s been quietly taking on a plethora of diverse projects, expanding her skillset and building a dedicated following. As an actress, her haunting performances left an undeniable mark on genre film. With each new endeavor, she continues to push herself to her creative limit both on screen and behind the scenes. Her latest project, “The 6th Friend,” is the next exciting chapter in her already captivating story. Co-written by Jamie Bernadette and director Letia Clouston, “The 6th Friend” is best described as a slasher film with a supernatural twist. It tells the tale of six college best friends that throw their own private graduation only to see it go terribly wrong when an uninvited guest arrives. Five years later, the girls gather once again and endure a night of more horror and bloodshed. The high-intensity film stars Bernadette, Chantelle Albers, Dominique Swain, Jessica Morris, Tania Nolan and Monique Rosario. The film debuts theatrically on January 11, 2019 via The Asylum.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jamie Bernadette to get an inside look at her journey as an artist. In the interview, we discuss her early years in the entertainment industry, the lessons learned along the way, her process for bringing raw emotion to the screen and what lies in store for her in the years to come.
You’ve become a familiar face over the past several years. You’ve taken on great roles and continue to grow as an actress. Let’s start at the beginning. How did your journey as an artist begin?
I have always wanted to act, ever since I was a child. I would watch films and act them out. I was also involved in theater. I made the big decision to come out to Los Angeles with only $600 in my pocket. I drove across the country and the rest is history! [laughs] I did almost get off my path at one point with almost getting married back in Illinois, but I put a stop to that! [laughs] That’s when I came out to LA to do this instead!
That’s a big step! What was it about acting that made this the clear path?
It was always in my heart. When it’s in you, you can’t always explain it but if you try to go do something else, it’s always there and on your mind. I was talking to another actor friend of mine yesterday. There have been times when I’ve been like, “Man, I wish I wanted to do something different!” [laughs] There can be so many ups and downs, highs and lows and so much rejection. There are times I’ve been like, “Please, let me want to do something else!” [laughs] I think everyone has a purpose in life and it’s about knowing that. Sometimes, it’s unconscious and you have to bring it to light, be honest with yourself and not listen to other people. I think we all have a purpose, and this is my purpose and there’s no explaining why that is.
What went into finding your creative voice as an actor?
Wow! These are some question! [laughs] These are good! I feel like the roles and different types of characters found me, if that makes sense. For example, I play the tough girl a lot; the strong girl. That was not planned but I keep getting those strong girl or final girl roles in horror films and things like that. I play a martial artist and do fight choreography, if I would have known that I would have taken martial arts classes, but I didn’t know! [laughs] As far as my creative voice, I’m an actor who likes to do a variety of roles. I know some actors prefer the same types of roles over and over but I’m someone who likes to branch out and challenge myself. I really love very challenging, dark roles — that’s something I truly enjoy!
Was there anyone behind the scenes, perhaps a mentor, giving you a push or advice when you needed it?
Honestly, not really. Not during the tough times.
Wow! So, you really are that tough, strong girl we see on screen!
[laughs] Yeah, I guess so! I’ve never had any financial support. A lot of actors get support because how do you hold down a job when you have to audition all the time and then what if you don’t book? Who’s paying your rent? I’ve never had a boyfriend or anyone in my family supporting me. I’ve almost lived in my car three times. Somehow, I just always made it happen. There were some really rough times when I ate beans and hot dogs all the time! I’m from a family of nine and my mother raised us alone. My father passed away four months after I was born. She raised all of us and we were very, very poor. I’m not from a wealthy family and there was no one to turn to for me financially. I know actors who have their parents pay their $1,500 rent in Los Angeles or New York, paying for their head shots or acting classes. I’ve never ever had any of that!
What lessons did you learn early on that impacted you and the course of your career?
I learned not to listen to people! [laughs] There are a lot of negative people out there who will try to bring you down. Gosh, I’ve heard it all! People like to be right! For instance, I had an actor say to me, “If you haven’t made it by the time your 30, you’re not going to make it.” To me, that’s his justification for not making it himself. People love to be right and they do not want to be wrong, so if he is over 30 and he hasn’t made it, it’s not his fault. That’s just the way it is! So, he’s right in that way, in his mind. I’ve learned the psychology of all of this and I’m not going to listen to it! People pick up what other people say that is negative and they take it as true but really there are no rules to this game! Look at Lin Shaye, I love her! She was well into her 30a before she started working. Steve Carrell is another great example. There is also the diversity thing. If you’re not the race that’s hot right now, someone will say, “Oh, you’re not going to make it now. No one wants you!” All of that is garbage! Anything is possible in this world! I believe it’s how you think, what you put out there and how hard you work. You persist! I just don’t believe any of that negativity and I don’t listen to it. I learned that along the way, and it’s been really helpful!
Your body of work is impressive. When did you come into your own as an actor?
I had a movie come out in 2010 called “MILF.” It was an “American Pie” kind of film. It was kind of a dirty comedy but funny, very funny! I had a supporting role in the film. The Asylum, who picked up “The Sixth Friend” for distribution, made that film. That’s when I met them, and I’ve known them for over eight years now. That film helped a lot but there were other little pieces along the way and each little bit helped. It didn’t happen overnight. It was an accumulation. I think “All Girls Weekend” did really well. I did that in 2015 and I feel like I developed a lot of my fanbase from that. When I did “NCIS: New Orleans,” which I guest starred on, that really helped. It’s been an accumulation. Of course, when I booked “I Spit On Your Grave: Déjà vu,” the sequel to the 1978 original, I noticed a lot of people reaching out to me and offering me parts with the anticipation of that film coming out. That helped as well!
What does it take to have a career, like the one you are building, in this day and age?
I think it’s staying away from drugs and alcohol. That’s the demise of so many people who do this. I mean, I drink occasionally but some people get crazy with it. Cocaine is really big in the entertainment industry. Getting into drugs is something you definitely don’t want to do because I’ve seen so many people ruin their careers with that. It also comes down to, like I said before, persistence. I think it’s also important to have other activities to enjoy and not to become so obsessed with acting. I like to travel, do photography, photo editing and I write. If I feel like I’m getting too sucked in and drowning, I will jump in my car and go to the mountains to get away. It’s extremely therapeutic for me to remember that there are other parts to life!
What are the biggest challenge you faced and overcome over the course of your career?
Early on in my career, there was a huge financial challenge, which I’ve already touched on. Trying to audition and support myself was certainly a challenge. I think loneliness has also been a thing, which is something a lot of actors talk about. With acting, when you’re really going at it, we work all the time. If we aren’t putting an audition tape together, we’re going to an audition, meeting with an agent or doing something with marketing or social media. You can get to the point where you don’t have a social life, which is something I’m trying to do better at because I can be quite a hermit and workaholic! [laughs] I’m in a few different cities and I jump around, of course, because there is acting work everywhere. However, in Los Angeles for example, it’s not a small town where you get together for football on Sundays. People just don’t do that here in LA. In the entertainment industry, everyone’s in their own little world. I have the best of friends, but I might not see them for eight months and that’s totally normal here! The isolation is very extreme. My friend, Maria Olsen, is big in the horror scene and we are really close. We were talking about this at length. We were discussing the isolation and loneliness and how depression can result from that! That’s definitely a challenge!
Your latest project is called “The Sixth Friend.” It’s interesting because this film seems to be ushering in the next exciting chapter in your career. How did the ball get rolling on this one?
I watched “The Descent” many years ago and I wanted to write a film with strong female characters like that film. The characters were smart and making intelligent decisions. They weren’t stereotypes but real women! I wrote the original screenplay for “The Sixth Friend” and, when we hired the director, Letia Clouston came on. She had some great ideas on how to change things up and make it different and wrote the second draft. We bounced it back and forth from there. That’s how “The Sixth Friend” came about. I ended up producing it with Chantelle Albers. I met her on an independent film we were doing together. We both act in the film and produced it. I don’t know, somehow the thing got done! [laughs]
You sound surprised! [laughs]
Yeah, it was an endeavor, man! You can describe producing a film from the ground up with the analogy of planning 20 different, huge weddings at the same time! It’s at that level! There’s so much that goes into it and people just don’t realize how crazy it is!
What was the biggest challenge from an acting standpoint?
Well, it’s a very emotional role. That’s always a challenge and I have to get mentally prepared before I do scenes like that and take the time to mentally prepare. I think so much of the preparation comes before you step on camera. You have to be in the right mindset before you do a scene like that. You can’t just force the emotion and not be there mentally. Being able to block everyone out on set is something I’ve gotten pretty good at! I’ve been on some pretty noisy sets and the people who’ve worked with me know that I can go into a corner and I’m off in my own world! [laughs] I did a movie in South Africa with director Darrell Roodt. He was convinced that I’m deaf! [laughs] I’m like, “I’m not deaf! I can hear you!” It’s funny, he teases me because I’m a very intense actor. I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis intense but I’m intense! I believe you have to give yourself the proper time and you can’t be joking around with people on set. Well, at least I can’t be joking around and then have them call, “Action” and be emotional. I don’t do that and it’s something I’ve learned doesn’t work for me. I’ve been doing for this for 12 years now and I’ve learned that I need time to prepare because the camera doesn’t lie! You can fake tears or emotion, but you can’t fake what’s in your eyes! That camera is really close! It’s right there and it’s mindreading in a way.
What is your typical process to build out a character and has that process evolved?
Yeah, it has evolved. Whew, that gets very personal! [laughs] That’s OK though! That’s why interviews are fun. A lot of people who don’t do film don’t know this but 99% of films jump around the script when filming. They will do the scene on page 80, back to page 20 and forward to page 99. As an actor, you’ve had to have done your homework so that you know where your character is emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically. I had a role in “The Furnace” where my character was handicapped. I have to know where I’m at during each scene. My notes will cover the script with ink! I do so much homework before I step on set, so that I don’t have to worry about that. When it’s time to do the emotional scene, I can just get into my head. A lot of times, that is about me regressing back to my past. I pull a lot from my past. I’ve had directors or producers wanting to know what I’m working with! Especially on “The Furnace,” they were like, “What are you doing? What are you using? What has your life been like?” [laughs] I’m a very private person. Very, very few people in my life actually know my real life, so I pull a lot from the past before I start the scene. When I’m in the scene, I am that character. I have done my work before the scene and got what I need to get emotionally, which is whatever is triggering me that day and it can change. I will scan through different things and find what is triggering something. Occasionally, I will use music, which I did a couple times on “The Furnace.” Every day on the set of “The Furnace,” I was an emotional basket case! There was always something going on with that film. So, I use music sometimes, it just depends. It’s definitely about being in a very dark place and staying there. I’ve learned along the way that when you do an emotional scene, don’t come out of that place right away because they may ask you to do another take even after they said they were done with it. If they change their mind, then you’re no longer that emotional. I will stay in it in between takes and in between scenes. That’s when I get very dark on set and people learn very quickly not to talk to me. Not in a mean way but people learn how I work very quickly.
I imagine it takes quite a while to decompress from digging so deep.
Yeah, I can get very depressed for a little while but it’s worth it to me because that’s my art. I’ve heard some people say, “I’d advise against that. You don’t want to be depressed.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? This is art! This is worth it!” So, if I’m depressed for a couple of days afterwards, please, it was worth it!
What do you look for in the material you are taking on these days?
When I get an offer, I first look at the director’s past work. That’s the first thing that I do. When I started my career, I was doing more quantity. However, for me personally as an actress, I wanted to move toward quality and make that the priority, as opposed to doing everything. So, I the first thing I do is look at the director’s work to see how it is. If I like it, I look at the script. If I like that and the character, then it’s a go!
You delved deeply into many dark roles. Was there ever a worry you might become typecast?
No, I always wanted to do horror, ever since I was a little girl. It’s a total dream of mine and I love it! Ya know, I think we are passed the time of, “Once you’re a scream queen, you’re always a scream queen.” I think we are done with those days, to be honest. I did a guest star on “NCIS: New Orleans” and one on “Midnight, Texas,” where I played a vampire. Then I did “The Furnace,” which is a faith-based drama. I have crossed so many genres, so I don’t think we are putting people in boxes like we used to.
That’s cool to hear. It’s equally cool we’re living in a time where we can go back and see your early work at the press of a button. What were the most challenging roles you took on and what should we check out?
I think “4:20 Massacre” turned out really well. It’s playing on Showtime still! I think it’s been on there for like four months. I enjoyed that one a lot. “All Girls Weekend” was an earlier one for me that I also enjoyed. That was a tough shoot. I think that was the coldest I have ever been in my life on any movie! One reviewer was like, “Oh, how dramatic! At the end of the movie, bring on the snow.” I’m like, “Uh, no. That was real snow, man! That was ice! That was real!” It was a fun film and a neat story. Those are just a few!
What are some of the things you are anxious to tackle as your career moves forward?
I would love to book a TV series regular, honestly. That’s been a lot of my focus lately. Then, I’m also writing “The Sixth Friend 2.” I’ve always intended on doing a sequel and I’m halfway done with that. I’m also talking with someone about producing something and it actually might happen! I thought I was done with producing for a while but when a good opportunity seems to present itself to me, yeah, I might consider it! We might film in South Africa, so there is talk of that. I also write poetry, which I’ve done since I was little. I really need to get my book together this year. That’s one of my 2019 goals. I always wanted to build up my name big enough to where I felt a publisher would take it on. I don’t want to self-publish.
Wow! That’s amazing. What can you tell us about your work as a poet?
I would relate my work closely to Sylvia Plath. It’s kind of dark, free verse.
Is stepping behind the camera as a director something you might take on in the future as well?
I’m definitely interested in directing and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The director of “The Furnace,” Darrell Roodt, has been directing since the ‘80s. He was nominated for an Oscar and he’s a phenomenal talent. I’ve been meaning to ask him if I can come along sometime. I’d love for him to teach me some things. I’d love to be his shadow on a movie! I’ve been interested in directing for quite a long time but it’s something that just hasn’t happened yet but it’s definitely in my list at some point!
What projects are on the way in 2019?
“I Spit On Your Grave: Déjà vu” is coming out in 2019. I don’t know exactly when. That’s all that they’ve told me. I also did a really fun horror movie, with Sean Cain directing, called “Cerberus.” I play one of the villains and it’s a really neat role, which has me really excited. I have another one called “Nicole, Her Ex & The Killer,” which is more of a horror-comedy. I loved my role in that. I play the stuck-up sister of the lead actress, which is a different kind of role for me. I’ve never really played anything like that before. Let’s see, what else am I forgetting? “State of Desolation,” which is the second film I produced, is a post-apocalyptic drama. I lead the film with Craig Stark, who’s currently on his third Quentin Tarantino movie right now! He’s doing really well! There are some really great scenes in that film. I’m really excited about that and we are wrapping up the post-production on it and I hope we get it out this year.
As you said earlier, you exploded onto the radar of many horror fans when you were cast in “I Spit On Your Grave: Déjà vu.” What was it about the franchise and film that made you want to take it on?
I had seen the original ’78 film before I ever saw the audition notice and I thought it was real and powerful with the way it makes the audience feel. It’s so hard to watch, which is very effective filmmaking! I love that original film and I saw the casting notice and thought, “Oh my goodness! Are you kidding me right now?!” I thought literally, “I won’t get this.” I had been thinking negatively even though I try not to do that! [laughs] I figured I wouldn’t get it, but I’d click submit anyway. Then they were like, “Send in a tape.” I sent in the tape and then they were like, “OK, we want you to come to an in-person callback.” I thought, “Well, if I meet director Meir Zarchi, who is the writer and director of the original, I’m good! I don’t care if I don’t get the role but if I meet him, my day is made!” I walked in, met him and had a long audition. It was like 40 minutes and I thought it really went well. I really cried in the audition, I was emotional, and I took my time with the scenes as Meir directed me. After that, it was a lot of back and forth with producer Terry Zarchi, who is Meir’s son. There was a lot of back and forth and lots of questions. I also had another movie that was maybe going to conflict, “Fight Valley,” which did very well but I ended up pulling out because of that potential conflict. There were a couple of months before I got called to a third callback that was five hours long! [laughs] I read with all of these different actors and I gave my input. I read with Maria Olsen, actually, who I knew from before. We weren’t good friends yet, but I knew her. I really pushed for her to get the part, not because I knew her but because she was simply the best. They wanted my input on everyone, but they hadn’t told me I had the role yet. It was really interesting. Next thing you know, a few more months passed and there were more phone calls with Terry! [laughs] He would ask me questions. I was on set, in Florida, filming “Smother By Mothers,” when I got the call from Terry saying I got the part. I literally hung up the phone and cried on my bed for 20 minutes because I had wanted it so badly and I couldn’t believe I got the role.
You immersed yourself in the role and have seen the completed film at this point. What did you bring to the role that might not have been in the original script?
I think I brought a sameness and depth that wasn’t on the original written page. She’s a model, she’s tired of her career and she doesn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight for that role and I looked pretty sickly. You know how models can be. I didn’t even want to eat a salad. I think there is a real sadness there. Modeling is a really lonely life. Then, there really was an eating disorder. That all wasn’t on the page, that was my character development. I could have gone an entirely different way with it and been happy and chipper, but I didn’t go that direction. I went serious.
I’m sure we will cross paths a little later in the year to discuss that film in depth, so I don’t want to dig too deep yet. I know we’re short on time, so I have one more question for you. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I guess it all comes down to persistence. I’m big about that. I believe that if you persist at something long enough, eventually, something’s got to break! Eventually something’s got to happen! [laughs]
True and things are definitely happening for you, thank you so much for the hard work you put in. It really shows on screen.
Thank you so much, Jason! I look forward to talking to you again soon. I appreciate your time!
‘The 6th Friend’ opens theatrically on January 11, 2019 via The Asylum. Check out the official trailer for the film below. Follow the continuing adventures of Jamie Bernadette on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.