Interviewed & Edited by: Jaimee Jakobczak, IG @ThisIsJaimee
Scottish actress Joanna Vanderham began acting at age seven after joining a local youth group. Her passion for the artform stuck and she continued to study drama in school and eventually made the leap to attend the The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Since then Joanna has been seen in a variety of roles and series, from The Runway to Banished to One of Us, and most recently, in Sathnam Sangera’s The Boy with the Top Knot. VULKAN caught up with Joanna to discuss the social and cultural questions The Boy with the Top Knot is raising while she films the upcoming Bruce Lee series Warrior in South Africa. Joanna can be seen in The Boy With The Top Knot on BBC iPlayer.
What is the most surprising thing you learned about journalist Sathnam Sangera?
That his mum packed tubs of butter to take on holiday to India!
What do you think is a good tactic to use, or something that you should remember when you’re trying to handle societal or cultural pressures?
There is a lot of pressure on women to ‘have it all’ or ‘do it all’ and to have your sh*t together. Sometimes I like to remind myself that everyone is just pretending they know what they’re doing and life’s a big game of bluff (except pilots… one hopes they actually know what they’re doing!)
Who do you lean on for support in those kind of situations?
I am really lucky I have a strong support network to talk it all out with; my smart, badass, world-putting-to-rights favourite humans.
What intrigued you about the role of Laura and what can you tell us about her?
I was drawn to the story as a whole and just wanted to be part of it. Laura is Sathnam’s intellectual equal and that connection is what makes their relationship so special, I wanted to bring that element of the story to life.
You of course portray different people and characters all the time, but how do you think you’d feel baring your life in a biopic about your own life?
Wow! I don’t know if I would… How much [would] people would get from my biopic (so far?)… I dunno. I’m still figuring it out, so, I think to write it out would probably be more of a cathartic thing for me, and I’d then have to question what I’d get from sharing it…
How do you think your family would react to being exposed like that? Would they be supportive or apprehensive?
I’m not convinced I know the answer to that. A couple of years ago I would have given you a definite “they’d hate it” or “this sibling would feel this way and the other(s) like this” but I’m learning not to make assumptions on how other people think and I actually haven’t asked them how they’d feel about being in the limelight. It’s something I’m still getting used to myself, and I know I need to embrace it to progress in my career, but for them, I’m not sure what the benefits would be. Saying that, we find ourselves hilarious so maybe a we could make a series – ‘At Home with the Vanderhams’…! Yeah, maybe not.
What do you hope people learn from The Boy With the Top Knot?
I don’t know if it’s as immediate as that; some of the best films are the ones that stay with you in an unconscious ways, that come back to you at unexpected times. I hope Top Knot does that, because that means it’s relatable, but also the story has been told in a unique way that your brain likes to mull over.
Why do you think these kind of stories are important to share with the world?
Storytelling is a vital part of what it means to be human. This story in particular is important right now because it feels like there’s a lot of discrimination and selfishness shown all over the media all the time. The Boy with the Top Knot touches on those things and at the heart of it is a love story about reconnecting with what matters most in life. We need some of that right now.
What is one quote or your mantra that keeps your focused, level headed and moving forward in your goals?
Right now it’s ‘be present.’ I’m not sure when I started saying that to myself, ironically, but I’ve started to notice I’m thinking it a lot. I suppose it helps me appreciate the good times but also not wish away any days when life isn’t exactly how I thought it’d be, because you’ll run out of days before you know it (or so I’m told!)
You’ll also be appearing as Penelope Blake in Warrior. What is one skill you’ve had to learn or will be learning for this role?
I am loving filming Warrior and part of the reason why is because I get to take advantage of the stunt team who are working with the guys who have fight scenes, so even though Penny doesn’t have any combat (yet!) I have been boxing and training with them.
Are you a big Bruce Lee fan and if so, what’s your favourite Bruce Lee film?
I was always aware of Bruce Lee’s work, but Warrior is important because it shines a light on the fact that Bruce Lee himself didn’t get to play his dream role of Ah Sahm. The film/tv industry thought the world wasn’t ready for a non-white actor to be at the heart of the story. I am just excited that finally we’re changing that narrative.
Why should fans of Bruce flock to the theatres for this particular series?
It’s got all the elements of a zeitgeist show, there is nothing like it on TV right now. Chinatown, San Francisco, 1878: drugs, prostitution, power… its sexy and gritty and it’s got awesome fights in it! What more could you want?
You’ll be filming in Cape Town, South Africa. What’s the most challenging part about filming abroad?
Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of how jammy that sounds so I’m only thinking of the negatives because you’ve asked: you do miss your friends and loved ones. That’s the hardest part. Not being able to hug the people who are closest to you in your life. But, you start to make a sort of filming-family and actors are a hilarious, open bunch so you just gotta embrace that instead.
What’s your preferred way to unwind after a long day of filming?
Then I’ll call a friend or my mum or dad to debrief on the day. Then a bath. Sometimes after a night shoot if I just want to get to bed I’ll combine these by eating bran flakes in the bath…
Anything else you have upcoming that you’d like to share with us?
Warrior films until May next year so that’s my main focus for now, but I’m excited about people getting to see The Boy with the Top Knot! And then, who knows, maybe I’ll get back on stage before the end of next year – that’d be the dream.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Joseph Sinclair
ASSISTANT: Tom May
STYLIST: Krishan Parmar
MAKEUP ARTIST: Rebecca Richards
HAIR STYLIST: Narad Kutowaroo using Unite Hair
Shot on location at The Escapologist, London