Esther McCarthy

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Jordanne Jones is a star on the rise

Former amateur boxing champ Jordanne Jones knows how to pack an emotional punch on screen. And with a string of new releases, she’s set for cinematic gold, writes Esther McCarthy

Jordanne Jones is a star on the rise

She’s just 19 but has already become a familiar face on the big and small screen. Now Jordanne Jones is proving to be one of Ireland’s most in-demand young stars, with four films and a music video — for Irish band Jape — debuting at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival. The short films mark an impressive use of free time for the teenager, a full-time film and English student.

The Screen Ireland shorts include Young Mother, Moth, Hasta La Vista and Sister This, with three of them nominated for the festival’s Aer Lingus Discovery Awards.

Hasta La Vista, Laragh McCann’s film, involved a summer of dancing and going to clubs. “That was so much fun. It’s weird people are praising me for having these shorts at a film festival when I’m like, sure I just had the craic in the summer with my friends and it just happened to be recorded!” she laughs.

“It’s so exciting to see like a young, up and coming director with all these ideas that she’s passionate and excited about.” Another, Young Mother, deals with darker material — a young girl efforts to support her mother’s needs as an alcoholic.

That was a heavy role, really emotional. They seem to be the ones I’m more drawn towards, because acting’s really therapeutic for me.

“To have a space where I can cry, or react to a storyline that’s tragic or whatever and to be accepted and encouraged. It’s a nice atmosphere. I struggle a lot with my own mental health, so to have a space where people are like: ‘We accept and encourage your emotional response here’, in a safe way is good.”

Jones has always been very open about her own mental-health challenges for a number of reasons — partly because of the stigma around people being mentally unwell, partly because she believes change can be more effective if people are open.

“I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s and BPD (bi-polar disorder). So just simple things like the outside world can be extremely overwhelming for me,” she says. “I spend a lot of my life pushing through all my sensory issues and just trying to take on every day and function. And I do look after myself and give myself time to breathe, and give myself time to cry.

“But when there’s a space where I am not alone, and I’m surrounded by people who are like minded, and into the arts, and they say: ‘Oh, you have something to cry about? Use it’. And they open up a space for me to use it, I can always manage to get in touch with that place.

“I always seem to be able to get in touch with that side of me because I am a very sensitive and emotional person. And I really put myself into the shoes of the character that I’m trying to portray.” As well as her natural talent, it could be a reason she comes across on screen as a very empathetic actor, shining as a goth outsider in last year’s charming Irish comedy, Metal Heart, or as the working-class trader Minnie in RTÉ’s Rebellion.

Rebellion's Jordanne Jones as Minnie Mahon with baby Mahon
Rebellion's Jordanne Jones as Minnie Mahon with baby Mahon

A former Dublin and Leinster boxing champion and All-Ireland finalist, Jones always had a love of movies. Her mother, Senator Lynn Ruane, wanted to nurture her young daughter’s interest in acting — and when she heard of open auditions for a film in her local community hall in Killinarden, Tallaght, she encouraged her to give it a go. She ended up getting a lead role and an IFTA nomination, aged 14, in Frank Berry’s excellent drama, I Used to Live Here.

She and her mum, who had her when she was just 15, have always been very close, and her pride is evident as she talks about what her mother has achieved. “It made us closer because I watched her grow up. She had me at 15 and then just continued to grow and progress as a person and make it into Trinity College and then become a senator, write her own book.

“Like, everyone is proud of their mam. But I just feel like mine might be a little bit different. I watched her grow, and I went on her journey with her and so it definitely has made us have this special bond between us. We do have something really unique.” A former student and student union president, Ruane was delighted when her daughter also went to Trinity, where we meet between her film and English classes.

Jordanne's Mother Lynn Ruane
Jordanne's Mother Lynn Ruane

“She always encouraged me to go on to third level education, always thought it was important. She would always say to me that she can’t wait for me to go on to college because she has two kids at home that she needs to come home and look after. And so she didn’t really get the full experience of university, joining societies and whatnot and staying back with friends. She was always hopeful that I would have that.

“I have, thankfully managed to juggle acting with my studies because I also love college and I’ve always wanted to have the university experience. I feel like my course, Film and English, benefits my acting too. So shorts have just been ideal for me to do. And I just think there’s something so great about saying something in such a short amount of time.”

When Ruane was student union president, she and her family lived in accommodation in the college’s front square, and it was during this time that Jordanne “fell in love” with the place — sneaking into a public interview with top filmmaker Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge), and getting to meet him afterwards, she remembers as a particular highlight.

In 2017, she starred in Heartbreak, a spoken-word piece by Emmet Kirwan adapted from his play Riot and directed by Dave Tynan. A moving account of an Irish teenage mother, it became an online sensation, notching up huge viewer figures here and internationally. Less than a year before Ireland went to the polls to vote on the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment and legalise abortion services, it served as a timely story during a huge time of change in Ireland.

She says she had very personal reasons for featuring in the short at the age of 16. “Heartbreak is different to any other short I’ve done because of the fact that I’d done it because I was scared,” she says.

“As someone that suffers with their mental health, the idea of not having bodily autonomy, or a choice, really impacted me and struck fear in me for my future. I was only 16. I actually couldn’t vote in the referendum. So it was my desperate attempt to plead to those that could vote to vote for me, and all the other women that couldn’t vote.

“I saw Emmet Kirwan perform it before anyone was really invested in the Eighth Amendment, as much as they were in 2017 and 2018. And as a working class woman who has a mother that was pregnant as a teen with me, it resonated with me. I wanted to be part of that. I thought it was incredible.” The quality of her work is not only garnering interest in the Irish film and TV industry. Last summer, she was named one of the Screen Stars of Tomorrow by top film/TV industry bible Screen International. The top plaudit sees a dozen or so emerging talents picked from across the UK and Ireland, and are very prolific — previous awardees include Emily Blunt and Benedict Cumberbatch. She travelled to London for the award.

“It was such a great event, it was nice and everyone was so welcoming. I didn’t know how much of a big deal it was until I got over there. I was the only Irish person that was over there as well, which I thought was insane. But yeah, it was incredible.” She feels she made valuable contacts and plans to build on attention it’s given her.

“I made a lot of connections over there just chatting and talking to people, actors and casting directors. I’m definitely looking into more roles that are based in both England and Ireland.”

We will next see her in Dead Still, a major new period mystery commissioned for RTÉ and UK streamer Acorn. She has wondered in the past if she would continue acting but now believes it will always be a part of her life. “It’s never something that I can just say: ‘I’ll get back to that’. I just couldn’t imagine life without acting. It’s something that keeps me going. That makes me happy.”

Young Mother, Moth, Hasta La Vista and Sister This will be shown as part of Screen Ireland’s shorts programme at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, which continues until March 8.

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