Actress Amy Jackson was met with a chance series of events that led to something completely unexpected. Although in her early teens she became a model, after being scouted by an agency at Manchester Piccadilly station whilst on a shopping trip with her mum and sister, Alicia, she was otherwise a regular teenager.
Then, during the summer holidays following her GCSE exams, Amy saw a poster advertising Miss Teen World 2009. “I thought, ‘I’d like to do that’,” she tells us, when we speak on Zoom, “Funds raised through the event went towards the winner’s charity, so that was a big incentive, as my mum worked for Riding for the Disabled Association,” she says, with a soft, but distinctive Liverpudlian chime.
Duly, Amy was crowned winner, which not only created exposure for her mum’s charity, but as part of the competition package she travelled to America for modelling assignments. “So many different things came from that one opportunity,” she smiles.But perhaps the most fortuitous development came when Bollywood director, AL Vijay, was in the UK casting the roles of a British family for Tamil language 40s period drama, Madrasapattinam. He saw a picture of Amy in a newspaper covering Miss Teen World, and contacted her agency requesting she audition for the part of Amy Wilkinson, a governor’s daughter who falls in love with an Indian villager.
“He knew exactly what he wanted,” she says. “It was the summer holidays and I’d dyed my hair with streaks of red, you know when you go through those crazy teenage stages?” she laughs.“The film’s plot had a bit of a Titanic twist to it, they say it was the Indian version of the film. So I think he had Kate Winslet in his mind when he saw this red-headed girl with auburn streaks gone wrong, but it worked in my favour,” she says, continuing to laugh.
Her parents were supportive of the venture, assuring her that if it didn’t work out, it wasn’t a problem, she should just try it. And, in her head, she would be going back to school to study for A-levels when filming finished. “I genuinely went in with the mindset that it was a one-off, and something to show the grandkids. As an old lady, I’d say, ‘Look at this film’ when the family were around. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself. I enjoyed it and went for it – if you do that, your inhibitions are gone.”
She was 16 at the time and celebrated her 17th birthday on-set in India. Her debut acting performance was a critically- acclaimed success; and she received a nomination for the Vijay Award for Best Debut Actress for her role in the film. She subsequently went on to star in 15 Bollywood, Kollywood and Tollywood productions, playing roles including the daughter of a Russian mafiosa, an American journalist, a model and she performed her own horse riding stunts and martial art moves in comedy Singh Is Bliing.
For a decade she lived between Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. She speaks Hindi fluidly and also Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. She tells us that Hindi came quite naturally, because she learned Spanish in school. “I didn’t think I’d ever use my Spanish GCSE in any way shape or form, but the formation of the sentences in Hindi are very similar to Spanish.” We comment how impressive that is, which she brushes off, saying, “I was there for ten years, so to get through it and to make the job easier, learning the languages was a necessity”.
One of the biggest productions Amy starred in was science-fiction film 2.0, which had a budget of £60 million, the largest in Bollywood history, and had ground-breaking visual effects. “You could feel it to the next level,” she enthuses. “It was such a huge commercial film with some of the biggest stars in Indian cinema, including Rajinikanth, who is an absolute superstar. “People go to temples to worship his films before they come out. So you felt it because of that star quality; there would be hundreds of people waiting for him to turn up on-set, there was a lot of energy.”
She assures us that Rajinikanth, who has starred in around 150 films, was “The ultimate gentleman”, adding, “It is quite rare in that sort of position, when the ego usually gets in the way, but he is so humble and courteous”. Not only were the cast notable, but also the crew. “It was produced by Lycamobile, who have done some really big-budget films internationally. So the team were from different parts of the world: stunt choreographers from LA; costume designers from China and then India was represented through dancers and stunt people.”
Of course, a big part of Indian cinema is dancing. So as well as learning four new languages, Amy also took dancing lessons. “Dancing was never my strong suit. And I think that was probably the aspect of the industry that I found the most difficult. “I had to put serious effort into it. I’d rehearse for two or three weeks prior to each song, because I wanted to make sure it was perfect and I had to find that muscle memory because, as well as the dialogues, they change choreography left, right and centre. “They’ll say, ‘You know what, we’ll do it this way instead’, and I’d be like, ‘Ohhh’, so it was difficult. When I was living in Mumbai, I’d be doing my dialogue classes in the morning and all afternoon I’d spend learning the different dance forms, it took a lot of effort for sure.”
In 2015, from Bollywood came Hollywood, when Amy was cast to play Saturn Girl in the Warner Bros production of DC Comics’ series Supergirl. “It was brilliant to add that to my CV and it is very female-dominated, we have a strong female cast, which is beautiful and definitely different to what I’ve done before.”
She also found the speed of filming dissimilar to what she had previously experienced. “Because it’s a Netflix series, the way they work on-set is to bash out six or seven scenes a day; whereas over in India, we’d take two weeks to complete a scene. So it was very quick and snappy, compared to the scale of Bollywood films.” By strange coincidence, the costume designer on Supergirl was the one she’d worked with on 2.0. “They already had my measurements, so even though the productions were a world away from one another, the paths still crossed through the costumes.”
Earlier this year, Amy finished filming Guy Ritchie’s new movie Five Eyes, alongside Jason Statham (“that was super cool”), Cary Elwes and Hugh Grant. She was originally cast to play an Essex girl and had practiced her strongest Essex accent. “When I turned up on-set, Guy said, ‘Wow, you’re Scouse. We have got to rework these lines and do you in Scouse’. So that was quite nice to pay tribute to Liverpool; and it was a really stereotypical part I played, which was cool.”
Amy is now based in the UK, living in London with poodle Herbert and two-year-old son Andreas, whose father is businessman George Panayiotou. They are now separated, but she tells us their son is the most important thing in both of their worlds. “My priorities have completely changed since becoming a mother, it’s made me a lot more self-aware. I don’t think I had boundaries before. I’d return to the UK after filming, having planned some family time and get a phone call saying, ‘You’ve got a job, you need to get on the plane tomorrow and fly to Nepal’, or wherever. And I’m like, ‘Right, OK, then’ and would leave the next morning.
“But now I actually say, ‘No, I can’t do that, I’ve got a son’. And I think the respect in the industry becomes more and I now pick and choose things that are actually really right for me and the things I genuinely want to do.” With these commitments in London, she would definitely like to do more films in the UK. “It was like a dream come true to work with Guy Ritchie. And, after doing that type of film, I realised it felt very fluid, it came naturally to me, in the sense of the accents and the mentality. I’d like to work in the British industry more.”
When we speak, her mum has just left to return to Liverpool after spending a few months with Amy in London. She’s from a close-knit family and now she has a child of her own, would like to travel to Liverpool more frequently. “I’ve been spending much more time up there, I want Andreas to see it, because it’s a different way of life. Everybody’s chatty, welcoming and very warm. If you stop to ask someone for directions, you'll be talking for half an hour." she cackles.
"Ive got a lot of family there it's very family-orientated, so he definitely has to spend more time visiting them." She describes hers as "a normal upbringing with a typical souse mum and dad." After school, she would head to the countryside where her mum worked with horses. Her dad was a radio producer for BBC Radio Merseyside. At the weekends he would take her to the Sundar afternoon show. "I had my little taste of show business then, I suppose." But it was her mum's love of animals that really formed the person she is today. "Mv mum is animal obsessed. We had a pony we rescued from a sanctuary, we'd also rescued dogs, cats... and we had guinea pigs in the garden." Amy is a vegan and animal rights advocate. She's involved with the UK-based Elephant Family charity which she tells us works well because of the Asia connection, as well as her speaking Hindi being useful.
Another charity she supports is Sneha Sagar Society girIs' orphanage in Mumbal, which she has worked with for eight years. "That came about when I was living and working in Mumbai." she tells us. "I was there one Christmas and was moaning about working on Christmas day as my family were in the UK. so I was missing them massively. "When I was driving through one of the city's slums I saw these little kids on the streets, none of them had parents with them. It was then that their struggle hit home. l asked around and found out it's actually a really small charity and they were struggling at the time - so it started from there." In 2018, when visiting the orphanage, she noticed one of the girls had a fever and was unresponsive. When staff told her she had been infected following a bite from a diseased sewer rat. Amy organised a hospital transfer and medical treatment which saved the child's life.
As well as supporting charities, Amy tries to shop consciously, with fashion being one of her biggest passions. "There's nothing quite like going into a to see the clothes and feeling them, but the new way of shopping for me is online for pre-loved pieces, I've become a little bit obsessed with it."
"You don t know what you re going to find, but generally they are off-season limited pieces. I don't feel guiltv shopping that way. I also like clearing out my wardrobe to have a revamp and a refresh, to keep it organised- so its nice to throw in some second-hand pieces." For the shoot Amy's wearing De beers jewellery. "What girl doesn't love jewellery and diamonds," she beams. "I've not worn De Beers before but saw pieces before the shoot, which made me excited," she says adding that the brand's sustainable diamond initiative, Building Forever, is massively important to her.
Amy wears an ACT N°1 jacket dress and De Beers jewellery on the cover of Hello! Fashion.
At the age of 28, Amy has already travelled the world through work and has managed to amass over ten million followers on Instagram, a platform she agrees has been a useful tool. "If you use it in the best way possible and I've tried to keep it that way." she says. "Especially with me travelling a lot with my job, I'm based between the UK, Mumbai and in Canada for Supergirl. So it's great to be able to connect with audiences around the world and to have that engagement with the people that support me and watch my films and series."
"But I am mindful of what I post, in the sense that there are a lot of people that can be influenced, so it's important for me to do the correct things and lead by example."
Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared in the Hello! Fashion’s December/January 2022 issue.
Words Becky Donaldson
Photography Arved Colvin-Smith
Styling Laura Weatherburn
Hair Luke Benson
Makeup Adam De Cruz
Nails Lucy Tucker