Have you ever met somebody that leaves you feeling like ‘Life is awesome and a gift to be cherished with tomorrow bringing unicorns and rainbows’ – I just did. Ignoring the Goosebumps and instead embracing that genuine/honest/inspirational playground of positivity and bubbles, I forged ahead to what would be one of my best interviews of 2020. Malaika Jackson (actress) is the complete package and she left me wanting more time to know this amazing actress beyond the camera – but unfortunately, my task is to provide only a window into the life of an incredibly talented entertainer. We all have a cross to bear and I appreciated every minute of speaking with this beautiful phenomenon. She was candid, she was personal and she was absolutely inspirational!
Malaika Jackson is the lucky charm that we all need more of. An actress that refused to have her future dictated by haters and nay-sayers. Instead… Malaika recognized an opportunity to expand her horizons and soon realized that there is no ceiling if you refuse to be trapped inside a box… that society has designated for you. Malaika Jackson is a shooting star that circles our planet in search of the right landing strip that looks interesting. She chooses her roles carefully and knocks it out of the park like a professional slugger competing in the World Series. Her tenacity and humble personality is both warming with a Velcro element attached. With a plethora of productions on her resume/imdb page, I knew that I would appreciate our chat.
Other past television series and feature films that Malaika has been involved with include her role on Arrow as Sandra Hawke, Michael Jai White’s stoic and fierce wife on The CW’s Arrow, iZombie, Untold Stories of the ER in addition to a long run as an entertainment TV Host.
In addition, Malaika has begun the process of auditions again and has recently been inside a casting room, handed a mask and asked to read her lines. To put it mildly, she is looking forward to getting back to normalcy. She has been thinking outside the box in terms of finding new roles by converting a home office into her own personal auditioning space. With a ring light and grey paint, Presto! Since sending self-taped auditions off she’s received 3 callbacks – genius!
“When you first began your early career into entertainment, your confidence level was extremely low – but then you were approached by a talent scout that convinced you to compete for Miss Caribbean Canada… and you won! It seems like you turned into a butterfly and left the cocoon after that. Did it impact your confidence level?”
“I really think it saved my life – it was fate that day. I was going through a bad time, my parents were divorcing, my grades were sliding, I was depressed and my teachers were even worried… high school was the worst time of my life. I was the ugly duckling with braces, people used to make fun of me, I was extremely skinny, so none of the boys wanted to date me… that day I met the talent scout, I was at a McDonald’s standing in line. A lady standing in front of me turned around and stared at me. I thought it was a little odd but I shrugged it off. She did it again, so I asked if I knew her and she proceeded to ask if we could talk. I just wanted to get my ‘nuggets’, I was so hungry (laughing) so I said ok. She asked if I’d ever thought of being in a beauty pageant. I told her ‘noway!’ I didn’t even wear pink, I was a Tomboy and did martial arts. I used to have other scouts approach me for high jump, soccer or basketball, so I went home and told my mom in a trivial way, that this crazy thing happened. She lost her mind and pleaded with me to do it, explaining that it’s every mom’s dream to have her daughter do a pageant. So I entered it for her.”
Malaika adds, “The talent scout followed up with me and asked if I had any talents – I told her I played the saxophone, so she told me ‘I had to play it’. Once I entered the pageant, flyers started appearing everywhere to promote it and a lot of girls from my school had seen it and started mocking me in the hallways. They’d tell me that I had no chance of winning – it started getting to me. When I made the first cut, people were scratching out my name because they didn’t like me. I wasn’t going to try out anymore but then a girl that I knew asked me why I’d let somebody dictate my future? I took what she said and I started practicing everyday. My mom and I would imagine questions and every day I’d come home and answer every question as if I was onstage. As it so happens, when I had reached the final 5, I was asked one of the questions my mom and I had practiced. I remember looking over at my mom in the front row and smiling because I knew the question. I remember going back to the school and being in the cafeteria. The girls that didn’t like me were cursing and still angry. I looked at them and told them that they didn’t break me.”
High school always comes with an onslaught of challenges but Malaika overcame it and kept moving forward… which is the only direction to a better chapter.
“You’ve had some pretty incredible success in your life. First becoming Miss. Caribbean Canada and then finding a position as MTV host and producer in Toronto before landing an acting career in film and television. I think that any one of those accomplishments would satisfy most, but you kept striving and pursuing other conquests. Where does that drive come from?”
“I think it’s about not imposing limitations on yourself. Those girls back in high school tried to do that. Once I broke through those limitations I realized the sky was a lot bigger for me and I didn’t want to go back in that box.”
“Your mom was a foster mother and her compassion has inspired you to help other foster children. Can you tell me about your involvement?”
“When I was 8 my mom was a social worker and really enjoyed helping kids but she never got to spend enough time with her own kids because she was a single mom. She still wanted to work with kids and continue practicing her social work, so she began taking in kids. My mom helped over 100 kids as a foster parent. I was living with kids with all types of backgrounds from babies to 10 yrs. old. They’d stay from a day to 8 years. Some of them progressed and were successful but some ended up in jail – or worse, dead. We lost touch with many of them but we always tried our best to rehabilitate them. My mom is still fostering and she’s 70 years old. She actually had 9 siblings at one time – from an infant all the way up to the 10 yr. old, I helped her take care of them.”
“Given your own experience growing up with foster kids and knowing their struggles, do you think it taught you empathy?”
“Yes I think so… almost too much (laughing) and what I mean by that is, I always find myself trying to… over-help people or being friends with some of the wrong people because I’m always trying to see the best in them. I finally came to realize that I can give people advice but I can’t help everyone. It definitely gave me a lot of empathy for others.”
“Currently, you play the role of Mrs. Papadakis in the new Netflix series, The Baby-Sitters Club. Can you tell me about your character and how you prepared for the role?”
“I think my husband is Greek but I haven’t met him yet (laughing). I was working with Alicia Silverstone and she was so cool. She had her son on set and we talked a lot – she told me about a book she wrote, it was a lot of fun. I can’t say too much about it but I get to play a pretty sassy character, which was a lot of fun. I play one of the parents in the neighborhood and I was sitting beside Alicia Silverstone as I was being very sassy about an issue that I was voicing to her daughter, the president of the group.”
“The series tackles many social issues such as divorce, racism and belonging. How important is it to be a voice behind some of these issues?”
“I think the topics they’re talking about are great and very current, especially the episode dealing with racism, with everything going on with Black Lives Matter. I think it’s great that a show can talk about these types of issues. Typically little girl shows are trivial but their dabbling into topics that people need to talk about and kids need to be aware of. In these times with more awareness and consciousness on injustices, it’s very relevant and timeless.”
“How did you prepare for the role of Mrs. Papadakis?”
“I’m trying to remember the audition – I tried to delve into who I thought Mrs. Papadakis was… to be honest, I didn’t think I booked it. I remember leaving the audition thinking ‘that didn’t go well’ (laughing) as actors do.”
“When you go into an audition, do you believe it’s more important to show them your personality/who you are, or is it more important to nail every word?”
“I actually remember that audition and I was ‘battling’ with the decision of ‘line perfect/word perfect’ or, hey – why don’t I delve into who I feel Mrs. Papadakis is. I did a couple things differently on this audition and thought that it could be good or bad. I remember losing myself and letting the character take over. When you’re an actor, you might feel something inside that tells you if it’s good or bad but you don’t know how you appear. As far as being word perfect, they’ve seen 10 actors doing that already. For Mrs. Papadakis, I dropped into the character and lost myself – and I got the call, so it was awesome.”
“You mentioned that you had to memorize a large body of dialogue. Do you have a method for memorizing large bodies of dialogue?”
“I do – I learned a trick where you say your lines as you run on the treadmill. I learned it from one of my acting teachers and it works. It’s similar to people that walk around while talking on the phone, it seems if your body is moving you’re more comfortable. With running, it comes easier for memory and the lines seem to stick better; I can learn my lines so fast now, maybe 10 -15 minutes running on a treadmill. Another trick that works for me, is throwing a ball from side to side as I’m walking, one hand juggling. I find that physical movement in general really helps to internalize the dialogue and it’s really helped me.”
“What kind of advice would you offer to other young actresses?”
“I would tell them to go for it because society will try to place you in a box. If you never try you’ll never know. Go after what you want and break through your box of limitations because once you break through that one, you need to break through another one. Try to live your life without any regrets, it’s the ‘what if’s’ that is my biggest fear. I’d rather try and fail to have not tried at all.”
“You are in the new film, ‘Little Fish’, can you tell me about your character in the film?”
“I play a clinician in a care center and it’s about a virus that’s wiping out the human race by wiping out everyone’s memory. I’m trying to help people that are battling to stay alive. We had filmed it a year before the virus came out and I thought, ‘what a coincidence’, it’s such a pandemic film. It was filmed in downtown Vancouver – and according to my agent… that’s all I can say (laughter). It was suppose to be out for the Tribeca Film Festival but because of Covid-19, it’s going to be delayed until later this year.”
“I also wanted to ask you about your involvement in the new Disney film, Flora and Ulysses. Is that an animation?”
“It is – the squirrel is animated and a little girl plays the main character. I don’t even know what he looks like until the film comes out (laughing), they were using a little plastic squirrel, so I’m yet to find out what he looks like.”
“It seems like you’ve played quite a variety of roles, do you have a favorite genre to play?”
“You know what – I’d describe myself as a super friendly person but I love to play villains (laughing). The craziest character I’ve played was a carnivore killer, based on a true story – this Egyptian model chopped off her husbands head and bbq’d his ribs; she’s in jail. I played her and it was a lot of fun, I suppose because I’ve lived with so many foster kids and I know their stories of pain – so I enjoy playing compromised people that examines the difference between extreme characters and ‘regular’ people.”
“If you had a super power, what would it be?”
“Oh my god, such a good question – I would have to say that I’d love to fly! I’ve always wanted to feel how the wind feels underneath my feet and my entire body. I would aways go on rides that would mimic the feeling of weightlessness. Definitely flying!”
“You have a background in martial arts, is there anyone you’d like to go a round with in the ring?”
“I didn’t want to say something political – but Donald Trump! Actually, I want to change my answer to Hitler. I’d like to step in the ring with him (laughter).”
“What does a perfect day look like to you?”
“I think I’d want to be on a beach with turquoise coloured water, palm trees and drinking some good rum, that’s it. No matter how successful I get – that’s all I want, to be on a beach with my friends and some strong rum, cause we like strong rum (laughing).”
Apart from being a beautiful and talented actress, Malaika Jackson confesses to being a really good pool player. She’s not afraid of much, she’s also been bungee jumping. To stay in shape and for enjoyment, Malaika does mix martial arts: Taekwondo, Kick-Boxing, and Jujitsu. Malaika was born and raised in Toronto but now resides in Vancouver spending time with her architect husband and two children.
Such a joy to talk to and one interview I won’t soon forget… Malaika Jackson is on my radar and I know she is having a tough time restraining her acting chops until that green light says ‘Go!’
Matthew Haylett – www.matthewhaylett.com – @