Discovery: Hannah John-Kamen

By
Photography Iain Anderson

Published January 20, 2017

HANNAH JOHN-KAMEN IN LONDON, JANUARY 2017. PHOTOS: IAIN ANDERSON. STYLING: KELLY-ANN HUGHES. MAKEUP: ROBERTA KEARSEY USING NARS. HAIR: SKY CRIPPS-JACKSON FOR EVO HAIR CARE. STYLING ASSISTANT: MILLIE CULLUM. 

Many of the actors we’ve profiled have appeared in Charlie Brooker’s eerily prescient sci-fi show Black Mirror: Daniel Kaluuya, Domhnall Gleeson, Chloe Pirrie, Malachi Kirby, James Norton, Alex Lawther, Michaela Coel, Wyatt Russell, Michael Kelly, Lydia Wilson, Rafe Spall, Phoebe Fox, Sope Dirisu. Unlike Hannah John-Kamen, however, none of them have returned for a second episode. It makes sense; Black Mirror is an anthology series, with each episode telling a stand-alone story with a different director and different cast. In the second episode of the first series, “Fifteen Million Merits,” John-Kamen plays popstar Selma Telse; in the second episode of the third series, which was commissioned by Netflix, she is Sonja, a well-meaning tech writer who befriends an American traveler. Both episodes are deeply unsettling in different ways. “It was incredible to come back and do another one—that Charlie would let me,” John-Kamen says over the phone from London. “Obviously each story is it’s own beast; it’s a completely different process,” she continues. “I think they really thought I was very, very suited for the role of Sonja. I think they were just as happy as I was to bring me back.” As for whether she’ll return again in the future: “I think that will be my Black Mirror journey,” she tells us. “I’d love to do another one though.”

Somewhat by chance, sci-fi and fantasy are becoming the genres John-Kamen is known for. Raised in the U.K., the youngest child of a Nigerian forensic psychologist and Norwegian former model, John-Kamen trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She’s been working consistently since graduating, but her more high-profile roles have involved space, videogames, or dragons: 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, her Syfy series KilljoysGame of Thrones, and Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming film Ready Player One. “Star Wars was my first-ever spaceship, and then I went on to Killjoys and I had my very own,” she says with a laugh. “I love fantasy, I love imagination—that’s the inner child in me,” she says. “And the characters that I’ve played, especially in Killjoys and Ready Player One, are very tough, strong females, and I absolutely love that. I think it’s something that should be done more.”

HOME BASE: London, England.

CURRENT LOCATION: I’ll be in Toronto for five months for Killjoys. It’s such a luxury; everyone who’s in it is like my family and I love Toronto. I just feel so safe and secure and I have so much fun. Me and the cast—Luke Macfarlane and Aaron Ashmore—we’re like three siblings. We can’t stop laughing all the time. I don’t laugh as much as when I’m on set with my friends in Toronto.

GROWING UP: I knew exactly what I wanted to do since I could remember. As a kid, if my friends came round after school for dinner, I’d put on shows, I’d write plays and charge the parents £1.50 for a ticket for sweetie money. All my Barbies, I would make up crazy, amazing stories with them in what, in my mind as a child, was an American accent. I’d watch all the Disney movies. I just performed all the time.

FAMILY LIFE: My parents are so supportive of whatever we want to do and completely nurtured that, and they’re so proud of that as well. My sister’s a doctor and I have an older brother as well. He went into the music industry; he’s very musically talented.

My dad left his psychology hat at the door and put his dad hat on when he came into the house. It’s amazing having my dad have that awesome job. My mother was a model back in the day. I’ve seen the pictures. My mother’s beautiful. It was more before I was born, because there’s a big age gap between my brother and I, my brother being the eldest, my sister being in the middle, and me being the youngest. It was more my brother’s childhood before I came along that that was what she was doing, but looking back at old pictures, it was very, very glamorous.

ENTERING THE INDUSTRY: I did Whitechapel, a TV role, when I was in my third year of drama school, just before my [final] showcase. It was really, really cool. I was a rabbit in headlights. I’d never been on a set before. We did three shows in our third year, and after the first and second show, my agent signed me and I went straight to work. I could still manage to do my last show, and it was really nice to be able to do that. When you’re in drama school, it’s like a family; you don’t want to just abruptly go, “Bye!” I would go off to shoot during the day, and a couple of times I went straight from set back to the drama school to do the show, so it definitely worked out very well. And everyone was so excited for me to be on a really cool, well-established TV show as my first professional job.

DREAM CASTS: [When I was younger,] I certainly looked to actors and I’d be so inspired and admire them. One of them was actually Ben Wishaw. I absolutely love him, and I had the privilege of working with him on The Hour. That’s when it starts to hit you: when you’re a kid and you go, “That person’s amazing. That person’s incredible” and then suddenly you’re on set, acting opposite them … holy moly!

THE WAITING GAME: There was a time, a couple of months—and I know it sounds dramatic, but they were probably the longest couple of months of my life—where I thought, “Oh my gosh, where’s the next job?” Nobody panicked; my agents didn’t panic: “The next one will be around the corner and it’s all about timing.” Obviously the hard thing sometimes in this career is you are signed up to do a job, but it doesn’t start for a month, and it’s difficult to fill that time with another role that requires just that little window or that bracket.

AUDITIONING PHILOSOPHY: I think when you go into any audition room, it’s [about] having an air of confidence of your interpretation of the character and the script. My dad has always said to me, “Keep your feet on the ground,” and that gives me some confidence to go in. If I’m right for the role, I’m right, and if I’m not, I’m not. But there’s nothing worse than going in for a role desperate and ready to fight; I think that can be off-putting. Every situation is hard, it’s tough, but you’ve got to be tough with yourself sometimes.

SEASONS ONE THROUGH THREE OF BLACK MIRROR ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX. SEASON THREE OF KILLJOYS WILL RETURN TO SYFY LATER THIS YEAR. READY PLAYER ONE IS DUE OUT IN 2018.