Brand new comic web series, Jess Goes West, launched on Youtube this past February. Céline Tshika (showrunner) describes it as ‘The adventures of a Congolese/South-African graduate, as she moves to America to discover herself.’ But America is not at all what she expected, which leads to many funny and awkward young adult firsts.
With the series only having just recently been launched, it has proven to continually accumulate more success with its audience having widely expanded since. The series will soon appear on Trindie TV, which aims to showcase characters of color and the world through their perspective. A perfect platform for Jess Goes West. Being a foreigner herself, Van Yck couldn’t be more excited about this project. Just like Jess, she came to America to start a new life. Today we’re getting to know more about her and her role in this new project.
Laura, how was your first encounter with America? Can you relate to Jess?
When I think back about my first arrival in the USA, I do in fact relate to Jess! I had been told so many times how Hollywood is full of glitz and glamour, and that’s what we get to see on TV as well. My first encounter with Hollywood was everything but that though. As most people, I arrived in LAX Airport and the first thing that happened was that I missed my bus to Hollywood. I had to wait another hour (note that it was late at night and my phone was dying). When I finally did arrive in Hollywood, at around 11.30pm, everything was dark and there were barely any people walking around. I still remember how I was wondering around with all my luggage in those dark empty streets, just looking for a taxi. I now find it really funny!
What exactly was it that drew you to this show when you read the script?
The variation and the comedy in it! Céline is an excellent writer, and very talented. I have known her for quite some time, and was so happy when she approached me. I felt very honored that she cast me and I couldn’t wait to start when I found out who my character was. The character is quite short-tempered and even quarrelsome. It’s a role where you can go all the way – I love that! It was definitely new for me though, since I hadn’t really explored the comedic genre yet. For the most part, I’m cast in horror or thriller projects, so this was a chance for me to go the other direction.
Can you tell us anything about your character?
“Lara” is the crazy jealous girlfriend next door. We meet her for the first time in Episode 2, when Jess overhears an argument between Lara and her boyfriend next door. Fights that go out of hand, are definitely a daily thing in this relationship. The scene is approached in a very comedic way though, but what I think really makes it funny is the relatability of this couple. Initially you would think Lara is extremely jealous and just likes to argue, but I think it’s a lot more about her own insecurity. Her boyfriend is a playboy type and she knows this very well, but still doesn’t break up with him. She does love him. People will relate to this, as they might have been in such a situation or maybe know a couple like this. And also, who hasn’t had an encounter with an annoying neighbor?
How was filming this project? Any fun behind the scenes moment you would like to share?
It was so much fun! Everything went smooth and the atmosphere on set was great, thanks to our amazing producer Julia van Geldern and of course, very talented Céline Tshika! I had a great chemistry with my scene partner, Andre. When all these things add up, it really makes my job a lot easier.
I remember we had quite long improv sequence at some point. And then, of course, sometimes the craziest and funniest things are said. Funny thing is, they were actually added to the final cut! I had a line where I said “I’m not a stripper, I’m a professional pole dancer,” which I actually am!
Have you ever had people asking you if you were a stripper as well?
I in fact had people asking me that question when I told them I pole dance. People often immediately think of the erotic aspect of pole dancing. Some people will even look down on you. They should get rid of this misconception that pole dancing is always sexual and only something that strippers do. It’s in fact an entire workout for your body and requires a lot of strength. I think it’s a sport like any other. It can absolutely become erotic or sensual, but that’s totally up to the person and there would still be nothing wrong with that. Pole dancing is fun and it gives you confidence as well!
Do you have any storylines in mind that you would still like to see in future episodes?
I would love to see Jess and Lara have a confrontation! I’m curious to see what that will bring. I won’t reveal yet how Jess tried to solve the noisy neighbor problem, but I can tell you that, if Jess runs into Lara, it will be quite awkward.
I would also love to see what happens if Jess were to meet the love of her life! I’m curious about who that might be.
How do you think people received this show?
I think it’s going great. The series has already been screened at Unentitled screening alliance and the reactions were amazing. All of us are fighting for more female representation in the film industry. The show being about a strong woman, and then actually created by a strong woman, definitely supports that notion. It’s exactly what we need right now! I think Jess Goes West is inspirational as well, not only for young people who start a new life abroad, but also for everyone who wants to be successful in the entertainment industry. Lead actress, Céline Tshika, created the show herself at the end of the day. She’s a wonderful showrunner. I truly believe she will inspire other actors and filmmakers to make their own content.
And on top of that, the show is funny and very relatable. A lot of American and African stereotypes are coming up in a playful way and we laugh with these situation because we all heard of them or have experienced them.
How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t watched it yet?
I would tell them that it’s entertaining, because of its original writing and its funny, interesting characters. I would say the show is somewhat experimental, because Jess often breaks the fourth wall and looks directly at the camera. It adds an extra funny aspect to the show.
Have you done any other projects recently that you would love to share?
Yes, I recently finished filming for Bloody Kiss, an indie film produced by Mazum Films. I just knew I would be cast as a vampire at some point, and it finally happened. The movie will come out in a few months, and I’m excited to see the result. I’m also part of a theater company, Zombie Joes Underground Theater Group, and finished 3 productions with them up until now. They are known for their horror themed and controversial shows. The last one I did, Dark Dark Ride Ride, had 15 performances a night, each one for 2 people only. They usually have immersive shows, but this one especially became very personal and intimate.
My own website: www.lauravanyck.com
About the series and the writer/producer/actress Céline Tshika: www.jessgoeswest.com