Jacqueline Fernandez has been a Bollywood actor for a decade and yet, nothing scares her more than acting classes. Last year, she overcame this fear by training with none other than legendary acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck in L.A. She says she now realizes now that that's where an actor's confidence comes from; from knowing and understanding their craft and skill. Reinvigorated with newfound passion and respect for acting as an art form, Jacqueline dives into her next project, Mrs. Serial Killer, a Netflix Original. Set to release in December this year, it centers around a woman's journey that leads her to a very strange situation.
Anupama Chopra (AC): First of all, I want to hear all about the acting class. You told me you've been to L.A. and you've done acting classes. For me, that's amazing. I want to know what you learnt, what prompted it.
Jacqueline Fernandez (JF): So last year I surprisingly had some time off and it just happened to me suddenly. Some of my films were pushed. I didn't expect it! I shocked. I have like two months off? What am I going to do? So, something that's always intimidated me was acting classes. I've been in front of the camera now, it's been ten years. I've been in almost 20 films. But it was almost like a huge fear. And I told myself last year, 'You know what? I really need to get to an acting class. I need to overcome this fear of what it's going to be like, the whole challenge of it'. So when I figured out I had these two months, I was like, 'Okay, what can I do? I really want to do an acting class and I really want to get over this fear. So I'm going to go for this class'. Where? So L.A. seems to be the place where brilliant actors are born, trained. So I did a little research over there and found this amazing teacher called Ivanna Chubbuck. She's pretty much given us a lot of our Oscar winners.
I was in this environment that was full of young, energetic, eager actors and it humbled me because I got to see how hard these kids were working, the passion that they had for cinema and film and acting
AC: Oh, really?
JF: Yeah. She's trained lot of them. And I said, 'Okay let's do this' and I emailed her. I said, 'I really want to study with you, I'm an actress from Bollywood.' She was like, 'Okay, well, you have to do my course first if you want to do one-on-ones with me.' I was like, 'Wait a minute, I'm not used to this kind of treatment!' I was extremely eager and excited about it. She didn't put me in Beginners. She actually put me in Advanced and that scared me even more. I'm like, 'Wait a minute. I'm going to her advanced class?' It was just like, I haven't really done an acting course before, what was it going to be like? I did a whole month of that course and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I ever had. It was unbelievable. First of all, I was in this environment that was full of young, energetic, eager actors and it humbled me because I got to see how hard these kids were working, the passion that they had for cinema and film and acting. It was so beautiful to see that unraveling. Every single week we had to perform a scene that they would give to us and they would partner us up with people. So you kind of got to know who your classmates were and then you got to know what it was actually like to perform, you got critiqued. It was such an eye-opener for me. I don't know why I was so afraid of it all these years. Finally, in the last week, Ivanna said, 'Okay, you've been here for like a month now. I'll do a one-on-one with you.' And then I spent a week with her, she just brushed me up on a bunch of things. It's a lot of introspection. I call her my therapist. It's like going for therapy, you know? There's so much that she dives into. So, yeah, I did that with her last year and when Mrs. Serial Killer came about, I said, "Listen, Ivanna…" I've been in touch with her ever since and she's become a good friend. "…I really need help with this script. I really want to dig deep and I really want to do this character justice". So I went down there just now and for a good 10 days, we just workshopped on Mrs. Serial Killer and yeah…it was brilliant. It was brilliant to kind of just be able to approach a script this way, something I'd never actually done before.
AC: But tell me, when you, after ten years of making movies and being a big Bollywood star, go into an acting workshop, did you have to in a sense, have to unlearn what you know?
JF: Completely. See the thing was, I never really learnt anything.
AC: You came in with no training.
JF: I came in with absolutely no training, no family background, not even knowing what the difference between a director and producer was. I had no idea who was who, I had no idea about lights and this and that. It wasn't relearning, it was like entering a completely new world that I had no idea about. I was part of this world, part of the film industry and film and acting but I was just taking it day-by-day just kind of winging it, to be honest. I came to the conclusion last year that this is not what I want be doing anymore. I just walk into a set and most of the time have my lines given to me that day and I don't want to approach my scripts like this anymore. I want to have more fun with it. Because after a point it was becoming a little bit monotonous as well, it was becoming purposeless. I was just doing the same thing. This all of a sudden gave it a completely new meaning to what I was doing in my life.
I was getting work and I wasn't a trained actor. I thought I could get away with this without being a trained actor, that's amazing! But then what does that say about me?
AC: Do you feel more confident as an actor now? That you can do a deeper dive?
JF: Definitely. I think that's where confidence comes from, when you know your craft, when you understand it. I've never been confident as an actor, I've never been confident in front of the camera. I just know my lines. Even now, I'm looking at the camera and going, 'Uhhhhh! Let me know my lines, let me know what the director has to say, what the actor is saying to me' and that was it. But I was like, 'Do I really know my skill?' It would scare me every single day when I had to show up on set. Because first of all, the language is alien to me so I still have to work on that. Secondly, it's a double whammy, because this is not a craft I've studied. So I realized last year and while workshopping Mrs. Serial Killer, that the more and more you realize your craft, the more and more you want to be able to jump into this performance and-
AC: -bite into it.
JF: Yeah. Because it actually is a high. This is something I never realized. I felt this type of high when I would dance in front of the camera but never when I was acting. When I was acting, it was mainly excitement and anxiety and all of that stuff when you've been put in front of the camera and there's lights around you and you have to say your lines. Those are mainly the emotions I was feeding off for my performance. But now Ivanna has really helped me empower my characters.
I just walk into a set and most of the time have my lines given to me that day and I don't want to approach my scripts like this anymore. I want to have more fun with it
AC: What you said about people telling you to not post about your acting class on social media, I find that intriguing. Because actors will post about their gym workouts, their parties, but nobody says they're in an acting workshop. Why?
JF: I actually find this really shocking. It made sense to me before I went and all these people were telling me these things. I was like, 'They're right. I shouldn't be telling people that I'm in acting workshop. I'm just going to give amazing performances and be amazing.' It's so funny, I find that a lot of us, I was also probably one of them, just post the finished product.
I had this newfound respect for what I was doing, for actors in general and for this beautiful industry, this thing that we do, this entertainment industry, acting as an art form
AC: You can't show the work in progress.
JF: Yeah, let's not show that. We are how we are and we are how we are because we're talented. But honestly, I didn't want to show people how much I worked and how much I struggled and that I went to an acting course. It wasn't that. I wanted people to understand that if you want to be an actor, this is the most amazing thing. When I first came to the industry, I was getting work and I wasn't a trained actor. I thought I could get away with this without being a trained actor, that's amazing! But then what does that say about me? That's not right on my part.
What people need to know, what aspiring actors need to know is that this is the best part of it. This is actually the most beautiful part of the journey – that you could actually go through this. Please go through it because you learn so much and you meet so many new people. I'm still in touch with all of the kids that I trained with and when I went back this time to Ivanna's, she was doing a masterclass three times a week. As her student, you can audit her masterclass and you can watch and these are really advanced students, they've been her students for ages. Some of them get booked for shows and work and TV. Oh my god, when you see their performances, it just inspires you as an actor. I just felt like that was something I was missing – being able to see such new actors giving it their all in these scenes in front of an audience of 15 people All of a sudden, I had this newfound respect for what I was doing, for actors in general and for this beautiful industry, this thing that we do, this entertainment industry, acting as an art form. All of a sudden, it just hit me and I don't know why it didn't hit me earlier but I'm glad that at least it hit me at some point.