We met Jenna Rosenow at an art fair in Los Angeles. With her recent appearance in the Netflix show “Firefly Lane” (2021) along Katherine Heigl, her production company Midnight Madhouse, and her classy style, the Australian actress who is coming from an artistic family, has been busy lately. We are excited to learn from Jenna about the art of acting, its creative freedom, storytelling, and overcoming obstacles in the creative process. The actress also shares some notes on equal opportunities within the industry, her wish on taking on more versatile, strong female roles and her commitment in bringing an important female-led historical Australian founding story to the screen in the future.
Photo: Paul Smith
Jenna, as a well-known Australian actress, what has been the greatest story you’ve ever told in a role during your career? In your opinion, what is special about acting as an artistic discipline?
I feel very grateful to have taken on some great roles in my career in front of the camera so far, and I believe that all of them have had aspects that I’ve felt are important to tell or portray. As far as the greatest? I believe that story is still yet to come! But behind the camera, my production partner and
Midnight Madhouse co-founder, Ella Cannon, and I came across a little-known true story of the female convicts who were taken from the UK and transported to Australia to serve as breeding stock in the 1800’s. At that time in the Crown’s new colony, men outnumbered women nine to one, so they set up a police taskforce to arrest women en masse to solve that problem. It’s an incredible story of the resilience and resolve of the women who were discarded by their homelands and then forgotten by history. We’ve recently developed the concept for a multi-series run, and I know without a doubt it will be one of, if not the most important story I will have the honor to help tell in my career.
What’s special to me about acting as an artistic discipline, is its ability to reach people. Film and TV is ubiquitous. It’s one of the most widely consumed artistic disciplines there is. The number of times I, or other friends in the industry, have been approached and thanked for portraying a certain character or storyline and been told how it helped someone through a specific time or problem in their own lives… That just makes me so happy. It’s something I’ll never get tired of.
Photo: Storm Santos
We are curious about your background. Did you grow up in a household that encouraged artistic expression? Have you received a formal acting education?
Oh, absolutely! I feel incredibly fortunate and lucky to have grown up in a household that encouraged and respected the arts. There aren’t enough words to describe the gratitude I have for my parents and the way they have consistently supported me and nurtured my passion and growth. My grandma was also involved in the arts, she was an opera singer! She had the chance to tour but gave that up to marry and raise children, but her passion continued through amateur performances and teaching. She was awarded an Order of Australia medal for her many years supporting and mentoring people, some of whom have gone on to successful musical careers. So, I definitely grew up with a strong connection to performing arts. My older sister has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, and my parents put her into acting lessons to help her socially and at six years old I wanted to do everything that she did, so they put me into lessons, too, and I fell in love with it. I knew since then; it was what I wanted to do. I continued with a variety of ongoing classes, workshops, and everything in between ever since.
What is the process of creation like for you? Do you need to know the whole story behind a role to fully embody a personality on the screen?
Knowing everything about a role to embody it is a non-negotiable for me. Depending on what the role is though, you may not just be handed that information. In the audition process, you may be given scenes with no context or explanation of what’s happening, but that’s half of the fun of it! That’s where you get to come in and create something unique. That’s where my process begins. I have certain questions I like to answer about the character and things I like to think about to construct a backstory. What kind of life has the character had? What experiences have they lived? What’s their point of view? What values do they hold? Because as with real life, our own experiences inform who we are as individuals. So, having conceptualized that into as many specific details as you can is what helps make a nuanced, interesting performance.
As an actress in front of the camera, what is the biggest challenge in incorporating roles that are based on real-life stories? How do you overcome obstacles in the creative process?
So far in my career the only role that I’ve taken on that was based on a real person, was playing Jane Austen in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. But due to the time-traveling/Sci-Fi/general fantasy genre and the fact that I battled a werewolf in the show, I don’t think that actually counts…When taking on stories based on real events and real people, even if there are some creative liberties taking place, at the end of the day you’re re-telling an event from someone else’s perspective and giving voice to how they felt about it. So, overall, I think there’s a higher level of respect and consideration involved.
As far as overcoming obstacles in the creative process, I find the best thing to do is to take a step back and gain some perspective over the bigger picture, sometimes it’s as simple as looking at it from a different angle. I also love talking it out to someone if I’m feeling stuck. Hearing yourself present a problem out loud can sometimes lead you to new thoughts on it, and discussion in general is a big part of my creative process. I’m always open to constructive input and different views on things.
Photo: Paul Smith
Who or what is the greatest source of inspiration for you?
Other people’s success. I’m always so moved and motivated when I hear stories about what others have gone through to achieve great things. For me, it’s equally a moment of applause and admiration, but also a moment of, well if they can do it, so can I. It really drives me.
Is there a specific role you would like to take on in your career, but have been scared to approach yet?
There are several specific roles I’d love to take on in my career! I just haven’t been offered the opportunity…yet! I’d love to play a Bond villain. There have been villainous female roles over the years however, bar one, the main villain has always been a man. I’d love to take on a villain role to rival the likes of Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva and Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld. And secondly, I’m a big Tom Cruise fan, so Mission Impossible is up there. I don’t care if it’s playing a good guy, or a bad guy, just sign me up!
Photo: Paul Smith
Besides your work in front of the screen, you have also recently started a production company. What changes once you step outside a role and instead provide creative guidance from behind the screen?
Stepping onto the other side of the camera was something I always knew I would do; I just wasn’t sure when that would be or how it would look. When Ella and I came across ‘The Tin Ticket’, the story of the female convicts I spoke of earlier, that was a lightning bolt moment. This remarkable story about the founding mothers of Australia lit a fire within us and we knew we had to be a part of telling it. So, Midnight Madhouse Productions was born. With an emphasis on history, humanity and women, our focus is bringing noteworthy content into the spotlight. It’s been a really interesting and fulfilling process so far. I think anything in the creative space of film and TV, whether that’s acting, producing, writing, or directing, really informs the others. We already had a sense of how things worked behind the scenes having both worked as actors in the industry for a long time but now we’ve had a much more in-depth experience. We already respected the hell out of what writers and producers did but now that we know just how much work goes into it, I have to say, that respect has increased tenfold. I think it’s a unique perspective to have multifaceted experiences in this industry.
What has been the most unique experience you’ve had during your acting career? Please go into detail why this experience has been meaningful to you.
Probably playing a mermaid in a show I did in Australia [Mako Mermaids, 2013-2016]. Between swimming with a tail on, learning to swim underwater with my eyes open and making it seem like I can see totally fine, filming in the ocean in the middle of winter, pretending like I wasn’t freezing, and swimming in a shark and stingray enclosure at SeaWorld… It was definitely unique! It was a lot of fun though, and I wouldn’t trade the experience. It was one of my first professional acting gigs, so it holds a very special place in my heart!
Do you feel that female actors are being given equal opportunities to tell their stories as male actors? If not, what needs to change?
No. But I think we’re headed in the right direction! This is a big reason Ella and I started Midnight Madhouse. As actors, more often than not, the auditions we’ve received over the years have been for the dumb blonde, or the bitchy character, or the wife or girlfriend or simply a female role that’s there to serve in a story that largely features male characters - we have absolutely seen it changing over the years, but we wanted to be a part of that ongoing change. We want to see more female showrunners. More women writing, directing, and producing, so in turn, there are more complex, dynamic roles for women that aren’t reduced to the way they look or their function to the men around them. All too commonly women and their achievements have been lost in the footnotes of history and it’s long past time that that changed.
Photo: Storm Santos
We are excited about future projects. Can you please tell us about your upcoming plans for 2023 and 2024? Where will we be able to see you next off/on-screen?
Thank you! I’m also excited for what the future holds for me. Right now, we’re in the middle of an ongoing strike, so it’s been a quiet 2023. With no clear end in sight right now, it’s hard to predict what the rest of this year will hold, so we will just have to wait and see! I think there are some big changes on the horizon for the industry as a whole and I’m hopeful that will result in a fair outcome for everyone involved.
In the meantime, I have been directing all of my energy into the development of several projects for Midnight Madhouse, which will hopefully be on your screens in the not-too-distant future!
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