Jess Alexander on The Little Mermaid and her most sentimental jewellery

We meet rising actor Jess Alexander as her career soars to new heights as the villainous Vanessa, the human alter ego of Ursula, the sea witch, in Disney’s upcoming live-action reimagining of The Little Mermaid

23 May 2023

Story by Joshua Hendren, Photography by Frances Davison, Styling (fashion) by Alicia Ellis, Styling (jewellery) by Felix Bischof

It’s a busy time to be Jessica Alexander. After rising to fame with roles in Netflix’s teen drama Get Even and Ruth Paxton’s film A Banquet, the 23-year-old actor is set to hit new heights as the villainous Vanessa, the human alter ego of Ursula, the sea witch, in Disney’s upcoming live-action reimagining of The Little Mermaid. Starring alongside Halle Bailey and Hollywood royalty Melissa McCarthy, the breakout role has the young talent tipped for big things. With just a month left until the film’s release, we spoke to Alexander about life on set, the genesis of her acting journey and the sentimental jewellery she could never be without.

Jess Alexander
Jess Alexander wears Tasaki white gold Danger Diamonds earrings, set with diamonds; Gucci white gold Interlocking G necklace, set with topaz and white gold Link To Love ring, set with diamonds; Talia Byre top and cardigan

Congratulations on your role in The Little Mermaid! How did you first become involved in the project?

I did an audition tape in my friend’s flat in North London. I remember feeling that it was quite a good take, but obviously, most roles you go for, you often don’t get. And, I was pretty small- time, I didn’t really have much going on, so I thought it was quite a long shot. But, I sent it off anyway, and they contacted me a few weeks later and said they loved my tape and would I do it again, but I needed to sing this time. After that, I heard nothing for a few weeks. I remember I was in my local greasy spoon cafe having breakfast, and my agent called me and said that the team was coming to London, to Pinewood Studios, where they were going to film the movie and they wanted to meet me. And that was it. I can’t remember any of it honestly because I was so nervous, but it must have gone well because here I am.

What did you enjoy most about playing Vanessa?

She’s an iconic character. She’s a villain but a little bit of a sexy villain. I got to step into some beauty and glam for the role. I vividly remember her from the original cartoon. All the characters in this film are iconic in their own right, but Vanessa… I just loved her: her outfits, her hair, and the iconic shell necklace, of course, which is a big part of her character and something I got to keep from set actually.

Jess Alexander
Jess Alexander wears Ananya white gold Mogra Coronation choker, set with tanzanites, diamonds and abalone; Di Petsa top; Stella McCartney bodysuit; Opérasport skirt

What was it like working on a film of that scale

The film was way bigger than me. I just felt so in awe. I couldn’t stop thinking how lucky I was to be there. The costumes were so beautiful. I was walking on to set like, “Wow, this is intimidating.” I’ve never felt so small on set before, but in a good way. It made me feel like a tiny cog of this amazing machine.

Tell me about your journey into acting. Have you always been involved in the arts?

I never went to drama school. I really wanted to, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Now, I’m quite grateful that they said no. I don’t think it would have really worked for me. I was always acting as a kid, making plays and forcing my cousins to take part in front of my family – that kind of thing. When I was younger, I got scouted from school by these casting directors and ended up going to a couple auditions. I think the film I was auditioning for fell through, but they hooked me up with an agent at United who has been by my side ever since. I learnt through auditioning, more than anything, that acting was something I wanted to pursue.

Jess Alexander wears Boucheron white gold Quatre Radiant Edition necklace, set with diamonds and white gold Quatre Radiant Edition pendant earrings, set with diamonds; Gucci white gold Link To Love ring, set with diamonds; Talia Byre dress

You’ve been on quite the number of auditions then.

So many auditions, and I’ve been rejected most of the time. That’s just how it works, unfortunately. But it’s very character-building. It keeps you humble, you know. It’s like that cliché thing of what isn’t meant for you, won’t miss you. There’ve been so many roles that I desperately wanted, and it felt like life or death. And then, when I’ve not got that role, something different comes along instead. You’ve just got to keep moving forward to the next. That’s what all actors do.

What are some of your favourite films to nerd out on?

I nerd out on really good old-school sci-fi. I love The Fifth Element, that’s one of my favourite films of all time. I grew up watching a lot of Star Wars with my Dad. I was obsessed with Natalie Portman as Princess Leia. I remember going to school on World Book Day, and no one knew who Princess Leia was. I felt deeply insulted.

Jess Alexander wears Cartier white gold Diamond Collection earrings, set with diamonds, white gold Maillon Panthère necklace, set with diamonds and white gold Reflection de Cartier ring, set with diamonds; See by Chloé top; Cou Cou shorts

Let’s talk about your relationship with jewellery. What was the first piece of jewellery that you remember?

My granny has all sorts of lovely jewellery that her mum left for her. I remember she would wear these specific earrings just for Christmas. It was in this forbidden drawer that I wasn’t allowed to touch because I was so young. That’s really when I started to appreciate the grandeur of jewellery and how sentimental it can be to people. A lot of jewellery isn’t just a fun thing to throw on, it can really have meaning, especially when it’s passed down through the family. My granny actually made my sister and me these beautiful rings. They were made using gold melted down from wedding rings in our family and pearl earrings her dad had given her. She used each of the pearls and put them in the rings. I wear that basically everywhere I go.

What are some of your day-to-day pieces?

I love statement earrings, especially if you’re wearing no makeup. I feel like it elevates your whole look. I like to have at least one big ring on. It makes me feel tough – a little knuckleduster, you know.

Jess Alexander De Beers white gold Swan Lake necklace, set with diamonds and white gold Portraits of Nature butterfly ring, set with diamonds; Dior Joaillerie white gold Mimirose bracelet, set with diamonds; Fernando Jorge white gold High Brilliant Circle earrings, set with diamonds; Cou Cou top and cardigan; Ottolinger jeans

And finally, tell me about your go-to place to shop for jewellery?

You can find really good jewellery anywhere. One of my favourite places is Portobello Market. They’ve got all sorts of things down there. You never know what you’re going to find. I tend to wear pieces that have been gifted to me. My friend Ella-Rae [Smith] gave me this beautiful bracelet with two gold hands holding each other. I wear that quite a lot because she’s one of my best friends, and I very rarely see her anymore, so that makes me happy.

The Little Mermaid is released on May 26, 2023

Make up by Brooke Turnbull, Hair by Nao Kawakami, Jewellery assistant Joshua Hendren, Photography assistant Joshua Hammaren

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