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‘Los Angeles is fundamentally creative.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

South African–born actor Jodi Balfour is making a big impact internationally. Recently, she has landed roles in critically acclaimed series such as Ted Lasso, For All Mankind and Rellik.

She has also found time to start her own coffee shop and bakery with friends in Vancouver, before relocating to Los Angeles and the next phase of her creative journey. We spoke to Jodi about creative life in LA, the entertainment community, connecting with local culture and her favorite American phrase.


On where you're from

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa.

On where you're living

I'm now based in Los Angeles, California and I live on the east side... right now in Highland Park.

On why you moved abroad

My parents immigrated to the west coast of Canada and that shifted things for our entire family. I was half way through a conservatory theatre programme at the University of Cape Town and didn't want to move with them, but when I graduated and started working in TV and film in Cape Town, I became very enthusiastic about the possible opportunities in North America. I moved to Vancouver the year after graduating, got an agent, and began working in the Vancouver industry. About a year or so later I booked my first big job, "Bomb Girls” and moved to Toronto to film for a couple of years. And after that, it felt like a natural next step to move to LA.

Jodi plays Jackie Kennedy in Netflix original series 'The Crown'

On current projects

I’ve just finished working on two really exciting jobs. I play Jackie Kennedy on the upcoming season of Netflix’s The Crown, and a BBC One X HBO co-production called Rellik just aired in the UK and will air in North America in April next year.

On a favorite role performed recently

Working on The Crown was a dream come true, literally. It’s my favorite show on television. I couldn’t believe I was going to get to work on it.

‘This city, while it’s also a showbusiness city, is fundamentally creative. You can almost feel it, certainly in specific neighborhoods.’

On what you’re up to today

Today, I’m having a bit of a classic Monday. I had a really busy weekend of auditions (sometimes it happens that way), and last week was nutty too, so I’m sort of debriefing and catching up on things that fell by the wayside. Coffee, emails, phone calls, yoga, and dinner with friends later.

On the best thing about living abroad

The sometimes scary, sometimes life-affirming feeling of really going after what you want.

On how LA inspires you

Los Angeles, while it’s also a showbusiness city, is fundamentally creative.  You can almost feel it, certainly in specific neighborhoods. There are wildly talented, creative people thinking and hustling and working everywhere. It’s inspiring. It makes me feel a part of something. It also makes me want to work hard. 

LA also has so many great events, films, Q&As, art exhibitions, panel discussions etc. that, on a practical level, serve as fuel for thought and inspiration. 

Jodi stars as DI Elaine Shepard in BBC One X HBO series 'Rellik' (airing in North America April 2018)

On the acting community in LA and South Africa

It has similarities and differences. I’m sure every acting community in the world is slightly different. Here, of course, it’s just massive. It’s fiercely competitive. It’s sprawling. To me, it feels like there are rungs of a ladder to climb, and people exist and create and compete at different levels. That, or that there’s a series of rooms you earn your way into, one after the next. So it doesn’t feel like one big community. It feels disparate, sometimes frustratingly so.

In South Africa, it was much more intimate and familiar. A loving community of people who had mostly all come up through theatre or film programmes at schools throughout the country. There was a getting-to-know-each-other process that I’m not sure exists here. Maybe more in New York.

On how living abroad is inspiring for actors

Oh gosh, it’s so personal. It can be incredibly inspiring and exciting and satisfying. And it can be tremendously difficult — desperate, even. I have experienced both.

I would recommend living abroad if you understand that there will be challenges beyond your anticipation; that for some people dreams will thrive, and for others dreams may crumble, slowly and painfully. But I suppose that’s also just life. God, I sound so bleak! I really do believe it’s something worth doing, but with clear eyes.

On where you go for inspiration

I go to the movies, at the cinema. Especially alone, I get a different kind of creative inspiration. I go and watch live music. I go for a long walk in the mountains, or along the beach.

On whether it’s good having an accent

Haha… no? I disguise my accent as much as possible when I audition. Even in conversations with the director or casting director, unless I’m feeling resentful, and then I just talk like me and let go of the fear that they will then be listening for faults in my American or British accent. I think it’s worked equally in my favor as it has against me. Some people like that I’m from this relatively obscure foreign place — they find it dynamic and interesting. Others just think, “Why not hire an American?”, I’m sure. I think it’s probably different for Brits and Australians. They’re practically gold dust over here.

‘It can be incredibly inspiring and exciting and satisfying. And it can be tremendously difficult — desperate, even. I have experienced both.’

On the best new phrase you’ve heard in LA

I really like, “See ya!”. I feel like I’m inside one of the ’90s teen films I grew up on in South Africa.

On something to do when you arrive in LA

Make a real effort to befriend some people. LA can be a lonely place — people are so isolated and far apart. Date friends, be bold and ask people for their numbers when you feel a real connection, and then have lunch or a drink or exercise with them! People love a good hike-date here. Real friends will save your life in LA.

Jodi Balfour, Los Angeles

On a must-know tip

If you work for yourself (an actor), give your days some structure. It can feel contrived, but while waiting for the phone to ring it will keep you sane if you create a life for yourself that isn’t reliant on other people giving you permission. Find a place to do yoga, or whatever you dig; enroll in a class of some kind (pottery, painting, guitar… there is EVERYTHING here). Give your days a shape you can count on.

On finding a place to live

PadMapper and Westside Rentals and Craigslist...I used them all. Also a lot of the great spots to rent in LA never even get listed. So get out there, talk to people, make friends, and ask around.

Also, unless you’re really into the ‘Hollywood Scene’ as you’ve heard of it, DO NOT MOVE TO WEST HOLLYWOOD OR BEVERLY HILLS. That’s just my (judgmental) two cents.

On something to be prepared for

It’s really, really different. More than you think. You will feel very, very foreign.

On a must-have item

A notebook and a nice pen.

‘I really like, “See ya!”. I feel like I'm inside one of the ’90s teen films I grew up on in South Africa.’

On something you wish you’d been told about moving to LA

It will take time. Give it time. Unless it’s making you miserable… if you’re unhappy, be honest with yourself about that.  Don’t get bitter. Work hard.

On visas

I started with an O1, and now I have a Green Card.  My work in Canada helped me get an O1 and then when I got my first big American job, Quarry, that helped me get my Green Card. Don’t come without a visa and the ability to work. The days of producers and directors falling in love with you and getting you papers are almost gone; it’s so rare that they do that now. Get your visa, then come.   

On starting your coffee shop and bakery

I was feeling really frustrated by the industry and I felt depressed about not having worked in seven months (I laugh at this now). Friends of mine and I started dreaming about this coffee shop and bakery idea — we are all expat South Africans, homesick and over-confident — and it all started falling into place. We just kept following our noses, learned so much as we went, and opened Nelson the Seagull in Gastown, Vancouver, about three months after conceiving the idea. It was mad. And everything we all needed.

On LA favorites

Bar Bandini (bar); Sqirl and  Alimento (restaurants); Tappan Collective (gallery); and Mohawk General Store (store).

On a favorite place to be

Temescal Canyon.

On where to get a good coffee

At home, with a cup of LA-roasted Canyon Coffee. 

On something from South Africa you’d like to find in LA

A chocolate Steri-Stumpie, from any convenience store. South African design, clothing and jewellery… there are the most beautiful stores all over Cape Town… or just go to Neighbourgoods Market.


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