Jasmine Jobson was 14-years-old when she put herself into foster care, the young Londoner already dubbed by Westminster social services “the worst behaved child in the borough”.
While she’s not denying that might have been the case, Jobson also had the self-awareness to realise that running around with the wrong crowd was hindering her life progress. So, she took the preemptive decision to remove herself from a situation that wasn’t benefiting her, or her family.
Fast forward 11 years. The newcomer has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the TV BAFTAs for her role as Jaq in what was inarguably the most highly-anticipated drama series of 2019: Top Boy.
“I was bouncing off the walls for about 48 hours when I found out,” says Jobson, whose beaming excitement is palpable even via Zoom. “It took me about two days to let it sink in.”
The original Top Boy was abruptly axed after two series aired on Channel 4 between 2011 and 2013, much to the dismay and confusion of fans and cast alike. Show creator Ronan Bennett said the cancellation “felt like a slap in the face to the community it was representing”. None other than Drake – who had avidly been watching on YouTube – shared Bennett’s disappointment.
But then, in what felt like a natural progression of his attachment to the show as well as a love affair with British culture and grime specifically, Top Boy was revived with the help of the Canadian superstar (who signed on as executive producer) and Netflix after a six-year hiatus. The Face exclusively featured some of the season’s fresh faces last September, and it was clear that viewers were in for quite a ride based on the strength and energy of the new cast alone.
The first two seasons of Top Boy left a significant legacy: top-tier acting, storylines as brutal as they were gripping and, most importantly, incisive commentary on what can happen to communities, families and individuals who are failed by the British government and its institutions.
Season three offered all of the above and then some. It brought some of 2019’s most exciting acting talent to the fore – see: Jobson, shooting star newcomer Micheal Ward, and musicians Dave and Little Simz, to name but four – all the while further cementing itself as a cornerstone of modern, vital, boundary-breaking British TV.
But it’s Jobson whose story resonates most, both on and off-screen. She plays the unwaveringly loyal Jaq, a lesbian woman who stands firm among her male counterparts and rises through the ranks of a criminal empire. She’s the UK’s answer to the legendary Snoop from The Wire but with a (carefully concealed) vulnerability obscured beneath layers of hardness and resilience.
“That was very easy for me to check into – the attitude, the feistiness,” admits Jobson, who is decidedly softer-spoken than Jaq. “I used to be a feisty person. There’s a lot of myself in Jaq, and I put a lot of myself in her.”
Jobson has dabbled in singing, street dancing and drama since she was a child, excelling at the latter throughout secondary school. But it wasn’t until 2013 that she started on the road to carving out a serious acting career for herself. Her start was made possible by The Big House, a charitable organisation that uses theatre as a means to facilitate the personal growth of care-leavers and ex-prisoners. She was one of the first people to walk through their doors, aged 18.
“Maggie Norris, the co-founder, used to work with some of the UK’s most dangerous prisoners to get them to collaborate on theatre pieces,” explains Jobson. “After finding out that the majority of these people came from the care system, she decided to start her own company to help stop these people from going back to prison, and to keep them from going there in the first place.”
Jobson enrolled on a 12-week course which included script work and acting sessions. But The Big House also specialises in teaching young care-leavers independent living skills.
“Some of them don’t know how to cook, how to clean, they don’t know how to buy what they need instead of what they want. Even just understanding the benefits system and paying your taxes – these are things social services don’t teach you, or that your parents might not be around to help you understand.”
The main skill that Jobson took away from her time at The Big House (“an absolute lifesaver”) was discipline. Combine this with firsthand understanding of how rebellious the care system can make you (“been there, done that”), and you pretty much have all the ingredients to play a character like Jaq.
Still, while it was easy for Jobson to check into Jaq-mode, checking out was much more challenging.
“That was a whole other transition,” she acknowledges of her time spent decompressing after each day of shooting a necessarily intense drama, “and I had to take my time with it. I had to do it bit by bit. I’d go back to my trailer and every piece of clothing I took off was a little piece of Jaq that I was putting back. Every piece of my own clothing I would put on was like taking a little piece of myself back. By the time I come out, I’m Jasmine again – [otherwise] it’s very difficult when you do end up bringing your character home with you.”
This commitment to Jaq is what set Jobson apart in the audition process for Top Boy, during which she demonstrated her understanding of the role by throwing a chair against a wall. “I was that far away from the window. I could have got landed with a hefty bill!” she says with a laugh.
Parallels may exist between Jobson and Jaq, but being prone to violent outbursts isn’t a trait they share. There’s a scene that she describes as being particularly emotional, where Jaq threatens Ats and Stefan (played by Keiyon Cook and Araloyin Oshunremi) with a kitchen knife.
“As much as you’re in character, I absolutely adore those boys. They’re like my little brothers, and although it wasn’t a real knife it did hit a nerve for me. I just wanted to give them a big cuddle.”
That connection continues almost a year after filming was completed. “We talk pretty much all the time, we have group chats, we FaceTime each other. Proper family,” grins Jobson.
Indeed, there’s an undeniable sense of friendship, chemistry and mutual appreciation between each member of the Top Boy cast. “People can see the realness in what we’re talking about and they respect it. Not only that but they also respect me, my come-up and my background. It’s lovely to see.”
Jobson prides herself on her versatility. She played the lead role in Good Thanks, You? a short indie film directed by Molly Manning Walker which also stars her Top Boy co-star Ward, and has an unrelenting faith in her own ability to succeed. Why wouldn’t she, having defied the odds of growing up in care before developing her craft to become a BAFTA-nominated actress?
“I’m just so grateful to be in this position, and I hope that anybody who looks up to me, or is even just intrigued by how I’ve grown through my life, keeps on pushing. You always get told when you’re younger to just reach for the stars. The stars aren’t even the limit for me anymore – I believe I can go beyond that.”
Although we know for sure that a fourth season of Top Boy is happening, production has yet to start for obvious reasons. As for other projects that Jobson has in the works, she remains tight-lipped: “I’m just gonna say, keep your eyes and ears open. There have been a few things that have been put on hold – for example, my holiday!” Jobson shrugs playfully.
“But would I rather be on holiday right now or dealing with this BAFTA stuff? I’d rather be enjoying the fact that I’m a BAFTA nominee, to be honest. I’m living proof that dreams come true.”
The 2020 British Academy Television Awards take place on Friday 31st July. Go Jasmine!