Jayna Sweet – “Turnt” Up

Words + Interview: Lucky Smith

Meet Jayna Sweet, an actress known for her role as Natalie in Facebook Watch’s “Turnt” series.  She also sings and tells us about becoming vegan, her love for coffee, and the importance of having empathy.  

Tell us about Facebook Watch’s “Turnt” and your character Natalie.
Turnt is all about a big group of classmates coming-of-age and trying to discover themselves and find where they fit in.  My character Natalie feels the most like the outcast, at least at the beginning of our season.  She desperately wants to belong and goes to some extreme lengths in order to do so.  She’s incredibly cunning and quick-witted but doesn’t always use her strengths for good.

Do you share any similarities with her in real life?
I’ve certainly felt the need to change everything about myself in order to find validation just like Natalie does and a lot of us have done. I would honestly say I’ve gone to some extreme measures (in different ways than Natalie) to fit my idea of “perfection”.  Beyond that, my brother and I have always been close so I relate to Natalie in that way.  She’s always hanging out with her brother Ben and when I was in high school I mainly just hung out with my brother and his friends.

For roles with characters unlike yourself, what methods do you use to become them?
I love using the tools of the Enneagram to understand people and characters who are different from myself.  The Enneagram is a personality typing system that I’ve just become the biggest nerd/fan of.  It’s an amazing way to tap into the motivations of people who see the world through another lens. 

People are getting content from everywhere. Is there a difference between having a show on Facebook vs. traditional television and film?
There’s a big difference, for sure! Through Facebook, I think we’re able to reach a more niche audience and experience more direct engagement. It’s cool to be able to see what the fans are thinking right away.

What has been your favorite role to date and why?
Honestly, I loved playing Natalie. She’s so different from any character I’ve ever played and it was so thrilling to tap into a darker, more obsessive side.  Another role I loved getting to play was Marty in the pilot, No Place To Fall. She’s the character most similar to me that I’ve ever gotten to portray. I felt an instant connection the second I read the script. 

What do you think about when you have to cry on camera?
Whatever the character is thinking. I mainly act from a thought-based technique and do my best to really put myself in the situation as if it’s really happening to me. My process is very character driven so I do a lot of work to get into the headspace and perspective of my character. If the tears dry up (and sometimes they do), I can think back to a particular time I hurt my mom’s feelings as a teenager and will instantly be welling up. I’m an extremely emotional person in my real life and I have learned after many years how to tap into that on camera.

Have you been singing as long as you’ve been acting? How did that come about?
I’ve been singing as long as I’ve been acting but I never really found my voice until I was about 12 or 13.  I grew up doing musical theatre but was always trying to force myself into a box.  One day, I was singing in the car with my dad and tapped into something I never had before.  He told me, “That’s your voice”. I had been writing songs ever since I can remember but for my birthday that year I got a guitar and after a year of fighting the practice, I eventually fell in love with it and have been always writing songs.

Who do you have on your bucket list that you’d like to work with in the entertainment business?
I hope I get to play Reese Witherspoon’s daughter one day. I’d probably die if I got to work with Donald Glover! As far as directors go, I would love to be in a John Carney movie and work with Reed Morano or Rebecca Thomas.

Have you ever been star struck? If so, by who?
Yes! I worked at a coffee shop for a little while and Brent Sexton (who’s been in just about everything, but I mainly knew him from The Killing) walked in.  For whatever reason, I freaked out.  While I was taking his order, I started shaking and knocked over the store’s phone.  When I told him I was a fan, I started crying and basically just acted like a crazy person. After he left I ran into the back room and called everyone I knew to tell them!

What do you like to do when you’re not entertaining?
I love hanging out with dogs.  They’re the best therapy and the best friends.  I have a westiepoo named Dub Dub and I can’t ever get enough of him! I also love doing yoga, swimming, reading, writing and cooking.

How has becoming a vegan been beneficial to your life?
I always say that becoming vegan saved my life.  I struggled for many, many years with disordered eating and had a long cycle of recovery to relapse.  Going vegan changed all that.  I have never been healthier or happier or had a better relationship with food.  The more superficial benefit is that my skin cleared up and is way glowier than it used to be!

When I was a kid, young people didn’t drink coffee. What do love about it and how early did you start?
Oh man, coffee is my biggest comfort and vice. My mom is a big coffee drinker and I think a huge reason I love it is how much it reminds me of home.  I think I had a sip of coffee when I was somewhat young, but I didn’t start actually drinking caffeinated coffee until I was in high school.

True or False: Starbucks’ “Strawberries & Cream Frappuccino” is better than an “Iced Hazelnut Soy Latte”.

Being that you aren’t a big fruit eater, which one would you pick if that was all you could have?
Avocado!  I also really like persimmons and sweet raspberries.

What is your favorite:
A. Book
13 Reasons Why changed my life when I read it in middle school, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.  I’m a huge Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fan as well.  I’m a big reader, though so it’s hard to choose a favorite.

B. Film
I can’t choose between Thelma & Louise and She’s the Man.

C. Musician
Foster the People is my favorite band of all time.

D. Cartoon
Adventure Time! It’s so, so amazing.  I also really love Bojack Horseman.

E. Place to Visit
Ojai, CA is my favorite place to retreat.

What was your experience like visiting Kenya?
Absolutely amazing! I’m so grateful I got to experience another culture at such a young age.  I made some amazing, life-long friends and learned so much.

What are some issues that your peers feel strongly about and why?
I think equality and social justice for all are incredibly important to my peers and myself.  We’re tired of witnessing the oppression of minority groups and ready to stand up and do something about it.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I will stop whatever I’m doing when I see a dandelion (which I call Magic Flowers) and make a wish.

Midterm elections just happened. Describe the perfect world 10 years from now?
I mean, in my ideal world everyone has empathy.  In my opinion, we’re sorely lacking in that right now.  I think leaders need to stop playing into and feeding off people’s fears and I think we need to learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  If we can learn to do that, things will change.

What do you have coming up next?
I’m writing a few books that I’m really excited about and I’m looking forward to my next great role. 

How can you be reached on social media?
I can be found on social media @jayna_sweet!

Any last words?
I would say: Don’t be afraid of vulnerability. Vulnerability is strength.  It breeds empathy and it’s what connects us to each other.  We can bridge really wide gaps with it because it allows us to show and see the humanity in each other.  Just love each other.  We’re all human.  We’re all the same.

Photo By Jenna Logan

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