10 months ago
It turns out Iron Fist actress Jessica Henwick, who plays a martial arts-teacher on the new Netfllix superhero series, has always been fighting for her roles.
And not just in the sense of the Krav Maga training she’s used in her stunt scenes as Colleen Wing on Marvel’s latest show. Or the resulting bruises and muscle tears that she has shared on her Instagram.
The 25-year-old Brit’s first memory of being interested in acting comes from a live stage show during a family trip to England’s LegoLand amusement park at the age of six.
“They asked for a volunteer in the audience to be a princess,” recalls Henwick. “Everyone’s hands shot up, and they picked another girl. But by the time my mother looked at the stage, I had pushed the other girl aside and ran up and was like, ‘I am here, I am the princess.’ (My mom) turned to my dad and said, ‘Well I think we have an actress here.
“It’s always been the case, but I haven’t always pushed other girls out of the way.”
That fighting spirit brought Henwick to the ultimate status symbol in geek culture—the answer to a trivia question.
She remains the only actor to have landed parts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (she reprises Colleen Wing in the upcoming, The Defenders), the HBO hit fantasy series Game of Thrones (as the whip-wielding Nymeria Sand) and in the “Star Wars” franchise (as an X-Wing pilot who survives the climactic space battle in “The Force Awakens”).
“The best part (of a ComicCon) is when someone comes up to you wearing your costume,” she says. “The fans are so passionate.”
That Game of Thrones connection, in particular, served her well: Even though she never shared a scene on-screen with fellow Westeros denizen Finn Jones (Ser Loras), the pair of Brits struck up a friendship during a press tour. When her buddy landed the lead role in Iron Fist, she was quick to text her congratulations—unaware that she would soon be able to deliver the message in person.
Jones recalls: “She texted me and went, ‘Hey Finn, you’ll never guess what! I have this audition to play a part in Iron Fist….Then a week later she texted me to say, ‘You’ll never guess what! I’m flying over to New York tomorrow and I’m reading with you a kind of chemistry read for the role of Colleen, your girlfriend.’ I said, ‘What? You’re kidding me!
“The night before we met up in my apartment, we read up on the character, we discussed the scene, we did a bit of a rehearsal. So the following day when he had the audition, we kind of gave ourselves the best chance to nail the audition.”
Their chemistry was obvious to show-runner Scott Buck. “When we saw her, there was no one else,” he says.
Considering how much flak the series has gotten on social media over the casting of Jones—who like the Iron Fist of the comic books is a white blonde raised in a mythical city in the Himalayans—instead of an Asian actor, Hewnick’s presence has become even more important to the series. As the child of a Chinese mother, the starlet knows the importance of being a visible role model to a younger generation with a character that’s no one’s damsel in distress.
“I remember this moment when I was watching Joy Luck Club with my mom, and it’s not a perfect film, but it does one thing well, which is showing the relationship between a Chinese mom and her daughter,” says Henwick. “And I looked at my mom and I was in tears and she was crying, and I said, ‘That scene sums up everything I feel about you.’
“So about a year ago I was thinking about this really pivotal moment and how I want to provide that moment for someone else,” she adds. “I want a young East Asian girl to be sitting down with her mom or her dad and go, ‘That’s how I feel, I’ve never seen that on screen before.”
Henwick gets particularly geeky gushing about a fight sequence she has in Episode 8 pitting her character’s skills with a Japanese katana against a stuntwoman renowned in the biz for her proficiency with the Chinese short sword.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw a good female fight sequence on screen that didn’t involve two women wrestling in the mud,” she said.
It beats being the princess.
—Ethan Sacks for RealClearLife