The actress reflects on the “very unusual experience” of living life in the public eye
After playing everyone from Queen Victoria to a real-life serial killer’s accomplice, Jenna Coleman is no stranger to embarking on a big acting challenge – but she may have just taken on her most highly anticipated role yet. The actress stars as Johanna Constantine in Netflix’s The Sandman, a 10-part show based on Neil Gaiman’s wildly popular comic book series. But, while there are clearly huge expectations of the project, Coleman is not feeling the pressure.
“They have been trying to make The Sandman for about 30 years,” she says, speaking to me over Zoom from Canada, where she is now working on her next production. “Really, ever since Neil first wrote it, they have been trying to figure out the best way to translate it from the comic book to the screen – and I think there is a reason it’s taken so long to find the right way and the right moment to do it.”
“Because of that, yes, there is certainly pressure on us, there is huge anticipation – but I don’t really feel that. I was just so excited to enter that world of dark, epic fantasy. As an actor, it doesn’t get much more limitless – you’re sort of entering this other dimension in a way.”
“There aren’t many female roles like that – she is really complex and layered; she uses humour as a defence mechanism, but she is obviously a really tortured soul,” Coleman says, adding with a laugh: “I mean she is an exorcist”.
A unique character in the comic book space it may be, but this role is also strikingly different to anything Coleman has done before. Of course, this was all part of the appeal. “Look I am not the first person you would think of for this role, but I love that Neil tried to invert the expectations of the character by coming to me. It was a very, very different role from what I have played before.”
And, although some hardcore fans of The Sandman may of course have their opinions about any diversions from the original story, Coleman says that this is not the role she has felt the most pressure with. “It is far more daunting to play real-life people,” she says of some of the former parts she’s taken on. “There is a certain kind of responsibility when it is a life and an experience that someone has actually had.”
Your instincts are telling you things for a reason – you should listen to them, be guided by them
On dealing with working under this type of scrutiny, Coleman says she has learnt a lot during her time in the spotlight, and if she could give any advice to her younger self? “Drown out the noise.”
“Being in the public eye is such an unusual experience,” she says. “I know it sounds simple, but it is incredibly important to trust your own instincts. I have definitely spent way too much time over the years second-guessing myself or not trusting my gut. Your instincts are telling you things for a reason, and you should actually listen to them, be guided by them.”
“In this industry, there is a lot of noise and so many voices coming at you. It’s good to keep coming back to yourself – don’t be swayed by outside opinions.”
This is true for so many elements of the job, she says, some of which are more stressful than others.
Fashion can change the way that you feel; it can change how you put yourself out in the world
“With the red carpet, that can give me a lot of anxiety,” she says. “It is such a circus – it is such an unnatural thing for a human being to be doing – to have loads of people shouting your name and pointing cameras at you. I often think about how strange that is, but actually what I do really enjoy is the creativity that goes into those moments – dressing up, the hair, the make-up, putting things together creatively.”
Coleman says that she fully feels the power of fashion, partly because of her work, where the costumes “just change everything about the way you feel and the way you move”.
“It is so important to me – it completely transforms the way you hold your body. As an actor, that is so key – but there are microcosms of that in everyday life, too. Of course it’s different for everyone, but perhaps you know that putting on some red lipstick will make you feel put together, or wearing colour will put you in a better mood.
“Fashion can change the way that you feel; it can change how you put yourself out in the world – that can be really important. And also, it can just be really fun.”
Jenna wears black wool tweed and silk jacket with embellished denim trousers, both by Chanel; and Coco Crush gold and diamond earrings, and Coco Crush yellow gold ring, both by Chanel Fine Jewellery.
Styling by Rebecca Corbin Murray, photography by Olivia Lifungula, hair by Dan Martin and make-up by Lucy Bert.
Jenna stars in ‘The Sandman’, which is available to watch on Netflix now.