At just 18 years old, Jade Pettyjohn is making waves in the entertainment industry. Previously known for her role as Summer on Nickelodeon’s School of Rock, Pettyjohn is now taking on the big screen with her role as Shelby in The Destroyer. Pettyjohn stars alongside Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, and Bradley Whitford in this dark feature set to be released on Christmas. We got the chance to talk with the powerful young actress about her new movie, life as an actress, and how she keeps herself grounded in Hollywood.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, Jade.
Well, I’ve been acting for a little over a decade now which is crazy to think about. I’ve just been really lucky to have been able to work on and tell stories recently that are very different. I’ve been working with really incredible artists and that’s just something that is very important to me—to work with amazing artists and to tell stories that haven’t really been told before. I’ve just been working as hard as I can.
I have The Destroyer coming out December 25th. It comes out Christmas Day and is a project that I’m so excited for people to see. I actually just actually saw the finished piece; Nicole Kidman is just incredible and unrecognizable, and Karyn Kusama, the director, did an amazing job as well. I’m so excited for people to see this piece. There’s so much amazing work that went into it from everyone involved, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.
What was it like to have such an intense role and to work with someone like Nicole Kidman?
I mean working with her was just incredible. I think she’s really the epitome of an artist. She is so kind, generous, loving, and intelligent, and being able to see her just breathe her character, Erin, [was incredible]. Her character is very complicated and broken and is nothing like her. To see Nicole embody that was just so inspiring as another artist.
Karyn, the director, she created this atmosphere that gave us such a safe place to dive into these dark, intense pieces and stories. I had so much fun figuring out Shelby, my character, and seeing what that relationship would be like. It’s a mother-daughter relationship, which is complicated on its own, but this particular relationship is even more complicated, and there’s so much underneath everything. Playing a role that intense and discovering these little truths and little layers were so much fun as an actor. I was geeking out the whole time.
Tell me a little bit more about your character and Shelby’s story.
So I play Shelby. She’s Nicole’s character, Erin Belle’s, daughter and she is this very rebellious kind-of-broken teenage girl. She is basically screaming out for help in the form of rebellion. She’s going to bars and she’s 16, and she’s dating someone who’s way older than she is. All of it is really just to get her mom to notice and to pay attention. So she’s in this really sad kind of part of her life where she’s trying to create this relationship with her mom even though she’s very angry with her for not being around. But at the same time, she definitely idolizes her mom for her stripes, so it’s a constant struggle and push and pull within herself. She kind of has a constant war going on inside of herself that she’s trying to cope with, and I think that’s something that everyone goes through to a greater or lesser degree.
That’s amazing. What was that process like? What was it like to get yourself into that mindset.
My whole [challenge] was trying to bridge Shelby’s reality with my own world and what I felt. I think that as human beings, we have pretty much all felt [similar emotions] to a greater or lesser degree. It’s just trying to find the reality I know and bridging that world with Shelby’s and trying to represent her as truthfully as possible.
I watched a lot of documentaries, actually, on kids that were runaways, and kids who had drug addictions and things like that just to see what they’ve gone through. I also had long, beautiful, extensive conversations with Karyn because she had such beautiful ideas on what Shelby’s going through; we definitely talked a lot. And there were a lot of discussions with Nicole on set as well. Each process is important. Even with wardrobe fittings and trying on her clothes for the first time, testing out what her makeup is, I got to discover a new aspect of her which was very exciting. Every day I was learning something new or getting more into Shelby than I was the day before, which was very cool.
That sounds very cool and like a lot of fun. Do you think that this experience has kind of opened up like more acting opportunities for you?
Yeah, I would definitely say so. I mean, as an actor, my favorite thing is to be able to play different kinds of people and different kinds of roles and represent a variety of emotions and a variety of people in life. With The Destroyer, I was able to discover and represent a life that was a lot darker and grittier. I don’t think many people have seen me in a role like that, so I definitely think it kind of opens up that world for me a little bit, which is exciting. That’s a world that I really enjoy and that I really love, so we’ll see. I’m just going to continue to work and try to find more stories and people that are different and diverse.
What was the beginning of your career like? What made you want to act?
I started when I was seven, and as I grew up, I found more and more things to love about it. When I was younger, it was like playing make-believe, which it still is to this day, and that’s really exciting and fun. Then the more I grew up, there were more elements to this art that I really fell in love with. It’s just something that is so incredibly important to me. It gives me empathy for other people, and I think that that’s kind of amazing. You figure out what it means to live like another person, and that’s something that I’ve always been in love with. I’ve found new elements every time I work on any project, and I fall just a little bit more in love with it.
You started very young and you’ve grown up kind of in the spotlight – has that influenced the way that you live your life?
It’s a huge part of my life so it definitely has influenced the way that I live and the way that I operate, but it’s kind of all I’ve ever known. I never really felt like I had to give up on some kind of aspect of childhood or anything like that because I still had that. My parents, they really kind of instilled the concept of balance in me and how important it is to do what you love in your work but also be happy in the other aspects of your life—to go to school, educate yourself, have friends, and live just like a regular kid. So, I feel like I lived a very balanced life so far. I actually went to a real high school, and I would go camping with my friends. I would have these little moments, but I would also be able to do what I love.
I’ve noticed, especially on your socials, that you’re a big advocate for authenticity and being yourself. How do you stay on top of that for yourself and share that with your fans?
Because I did School of Rock, I did build up a bit of a social media presence. I think it’s crazy to think about the number of people that are looking up to or listening [to me], and I really try to respect that as much as possible. I try to post things that are authentic or important. I really want to use my voice because I have a platform. I think young people in general really need to hear that it’s important to be authentic and it’s okay to be exactly who you are. That’s something that’s said constantly, but I think it’s something that always needs to be reiterated. So I try to post things that are authentic and real and let people know that our lives aren’t meant to be perfect.
That’s really amazing and some great advice! I also noticed from your social media and also School of Rock that it’s obvious that you also really like to sing and work on music. Do you have and music related goals for yourself?
Yeah, I do! I’ve been writing quite a bit recently and I love music. Music is kind of the perfect counterbalance to acting because with acting, you’re playing other people, but music is just raw self-expression. It’s entirely my own and I really love that. Music has helped me in my life and has made me feel less alone and more connected. I’m definitely working on some exciting things and music is definitely something that I will be pursuing. Music is such a huge part of me, and I realize that I haven’t really shared a lot of that with the world, so that concept is starting to kind of simmer in my head a little bit. I think I’m getting ready to start releasing some of these songs that I’ve been writing and recording, so that’s really exciting for me.
Catch Jade Pettyjohn latest role in The Destroyer on December 25th and be sure to keep an eye out for this powerhouse young actress in future!
STORY GINA DECICCO
PHOTOS ANGELICA NATALIE