Riding out much of 2020 in the “Matrix” world isn’t the worst coping mechanism.
“Oh, it’s definitely surreal,” says English actress Jessica Henwick, on the phone from Berlin, where the upcoming “Matrix” movie is shooting.
The 28-year-old arrived in Germany earlier in 2020 and got about one week into shooting “The Matrix 4” with Keanu Reeves, Priyanka Chopra, Yahya Abdul-Mateen 2nd, Jada Pickett Smith and many more before they were shut down for three months due to the pandemic. Henwick went home to the U.K. to be with family before returning to Berlin, where she’s been ever since.
“I think when it’s still happening it’s hard to discuss,” she says of “The Matrix” experience. “But it’s been pretty insane. It’s a whirlwind, but I’m very grateful to be working in these circumstances and so grateful that we were able to come back to the film, because it was a big fear that when the lockdown happened that we might just stop altogether. So, yeah, I feel very lucky right now.”
Henwick has kept busy this fall, releasing two movies — the apocalyptic adventure movie “Love and Monsters” and Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks” — as well as working on the script for “Nancy Wu Does It,” a young adult series acquired by Amazon she is cowriting and executive producing.
“It’s been quite a strange press tour. Obviously I love these shows so much, I want as many people to watch them as possible. I want them to enjoy them. But it’s also kind of a weird time: We feel guilty about doing press when it’s in the middle of a global crisis,” she says. “But I think that artists are creating such amazing escapism, letting me be able to embrace myself in these other worlds. And I hope that my lessons are doing the same thing.”
Henwick says she lives out of a suitcase these days, and has no idea where she’ll be next once “The Matrix” wraps and she awaits her next project. She sees herself as an actor and writer, and hopes that “Nancy Wu” will introduce Hollywood to her talents behind the scenes.
“It is a dramedy about an alcoholic mess of a woman, a middle-aged adviser who falls into the world that she has created,” Henwick says. “Honestly, it was just a funny conversation between myself and my cowriter that went too far. We were joking about how much we love Nancy Drew and I said, ‘One day I’d like to adapt it, but she must be Asian and it would be Nancy Wu.’ And it just kind of snowballed from that.”
When Henwick was growing up, her dad would read to her every night before bed and it sparked an interest in storytelling.
“I think the actual writing, dancing, singing, it’s all just telling a story and entertains you,” she says now.
She started to like performing, staging shows for her parents — once re-creating an entire “Harry Potter” movie for her parents using only her feet.
“They weren’t shocked [when I became an actor],” she says. “My dad wanted me to be a lawyer, but my mom was super supportive from a very early age.”
Henwick initially was more interested in writing, but eventually “gave into acting” and things seemed to take off naturally.
“It’s been nice to rediscover writing in my 20s and be like, ‘Oh yeah, that was my first love,’” she says.
Looking forward, Henwick says the experience of living through 2020 has shifted the way she approaches her career.
“I feel like my opinion on it changed this year with all of this stuff happening. I just wanted to tell stories that make people feel — heartfelt projects,” she says. “I think everyone has really gained perspective about what’s important to us and what we want to put out in the world. I’m definitely finding these new horizons right now.”
What that is exactly, though, remains to be seen — which she seems very OK with.
“I finish the ‘Matrix’ in two weeks. I deliver my new script in, I think, a week,” Henwick says. “So after that, I’m kind of free as a bird.”