Photo copyright: Stephanie Yt
Perhaps best-known for winning hearts playing Lord Alfred Paget in the hugely popular TV series Victoria and for his role as Churchill’s son Randolph in The Darkest Hour alongside Gary Oldman, Jordan Waller talks to essence about his life experiences and how they have influenced his career. Being born of lesbian parents by sperm donation is something that has inspired his writing and actor and writer Jordan took a trip down memory lane to create his most recent comedic piece Son of Dyke.
Photo copyright: Bartek Szmigulski
Q Jordan, you grew up in Bristol, do you have fond memories of the city?
A I once heard Bristol described as the ‘graveyard of ambition’ because everyone is so happy with their lives there. It’s a sentiment I would second, albeit less pejoratively. I’ve always described it as England’s first lesbian riviera.
Q I understand you were spotted at Oxford University by an agent and the rest, as they say, is history. When you were young did you have any desire to become an actor?
A When I was eleven, I was given the lead in a school musical called Cinderella Jones, where I played Matt Vinyl, an unctuous prince charming who was the dramatic foil to the nerd who eventually won the girl’s heart – all because he was the most boring on stage. For the role, I wore a gold lycra suit, greased back my hair and thrust my hips at middle-class mothers on the front row to rapturous applause. Those were the days before we knew the truth about Jimmy Savile. My crotch was a tremendous success with the audience and I enjoyed the attention. But acting’s never really been as gratifying since then.
Q You were raised by three lesbian parents, how do you think this shaped your career?
A All I am is my lesbian parents. In this age where trauma and difference are such valuable currencies, I’ve not hesitated to spend every penny of my own. Someone said write what you know and I took it too literally. Though I’ve also written a film about cannibals in the outback of Australia – I’ve never even been to Australia.
Q Who were your icons growing up?
A Captain Hook, Kate Bush and Peter Mandelson.
Q How do you think your role as the gay Lord Alfred Paget in Victoria has changed the perceptions of the LGBT community?
A There were a few Daily Mail mumblings about the historical accuracy of the love story, which were brilliant since they allowed me to pontificate about how homosexuality has existed since time immemorial, yet the narrative of history doesn’t properly document it (except through bad things like anti-sodomy laws etc). So the show showed how drama allows you to bend the facts in order to find the truth of humanity.
Quick fiveFavourite musical? Les Misérables
Dog or cat? Dog
Telling the time – watch or phone? Watch
Main inspiration? Food!
Can’t leave home without? Earphones
Q Victoria is based on true life, how did you prepare for a role like this?
A I’m cursed with a posh voice and excellent posture – so I did very little.
Q Do you think that the differences in society are celebrated or just accepted?
A I think difference has become intrinsic to our conception of identity in an ever-growing individualistic society. It’s a good thing because now anyone can be anything; but it’s a bad thing because it makes people believe they’re special, which is isolating. We need to square the fact that we’re all different, with the fact that we’re all the same in order to reconnect with our fellow humans. And not argue all the time about Brexit, gender and veganism.
Q How different is it performing on television to film?
A Television used to be a crock of old crap. It’s not anymore. The only difference between the quality of performances is the time you’re allowed to prepare and on set – and that’s only ever a question of budget. And, of course, inveterate talent.
Q Why did you decide to write Son of Dyke (formerly The D Word)?
A Because I thought it was about time I had my own show on television and apparently I have to do it in Edinburgh first before anyone will give me the keys to the BBC.
Photo copyright: Stephanie Yt
Quick fiveFavourite musical? I’ll write one in the future
Dog or cat? Dog
What do you use for telling the time? I don’t
Main inspiration? Lesbians
Can’t leave home without? Anxiety
Q Did you find it difficult to write about something so personal?
A I worked with an amazing director – Anna Fox – who helped me find the critical distance from the character in order to shape his arc and to explicate his emotional journey. Without her, it would have been very easy to wallow in my own personal pain, to navel gaze and ultimately to vomit nonsense on the page. You must love your characters but be removed enough from them to kill them at any given moment. Like God.
Q Do you think it resonates more with an audience that it is so personal and not third party?
A Audiences (or the producers that profess to understand them) are obsessed with ‘true stories’, and I’ve never quite understood why. The fact is that the truth doesn’t make good drama – reality is messy and the task of a writer is to shape events into a narrative using tools outlined by Aristotle. This creates a story, which is an emotional journey for people to consume. It’s like organising the notes of a piece of music from the vast cacophony of sound. It’s total artifice, but incredibly moving. The fact that the story is based on real events simply plays on verisimilitude, making it easier for an audience to suspend disbelief with the tantalising framework that a fictional world might have actually existed.
Q What do you want the audience to feel after they have seen the play?
A I’d hope the audience leave with a sense that we’re all cast from the same mould. I always want my work to be life-affirming, in spite of my moribund proclivities.
Q What’s the question you never get asked, but would like to be?
A And will you be collecting your BAFTA this year in person?
Q And what will 2020 bring for you?
A I’ve got lots of writing projects in the pipeline. I hope to get them into production next year so I can put some food on the table. And I’ve got two films being released in the UK (Off The Rails and Two Heads Creek).
Two Heads Creek, written by and starring Jordan Waller, UK release will be early 2020. The film is in cinemas in Australia now.