Last week, while at the CMTC Convention near the airport, I met a talented individual, who lives in Port Perry. I asked her for an interview, and was pleasantly surprised at her charm, receptiveness and willingness to meet me in town and do the interview.
Jessica Lord, although not yet 20, has accomplished much more than most people twice her age. She has recently completed season five on the award winning and extremely popular tween show Next Step, and has recently returned from Paris, where she filmed 26 episodes for an upcoming Disney series, called Find Me in Paris. I was surprised to learn she is heading back to the French capital for the filming of season two, another 26 episodes.
So how does one leap from the small town of Port Perry into the lead role in an international television series? I was very interested, because I’m sure there is a hit series out there searching for me to star in.
Jessica was born just outside of Manchester, England. She moved with her parents and brother to Canada and settled in Port Perry. Her Yorkshire accent is very distinct and puts an interesting and entertaining twist on the way she talks.
She attended Port Perry High School, and worked at Pita Pit and Hank’s Pastries, where many of you would have seen her.
“Dance has always been part of my life,” Jessica explained. “I started ballroom dancing when I was four.” Her smile indicated there was more to that comment, and it turned out, her mom enjoyed ballroom dancing in the UK and took Jessica along to her weekly sessions.
“I danced by myself at first and really enjoyed Line Dancing and Jive,” she explained, and it must have seeped into her bones, because she never looked back. Dance studios gave her the basics, but Jessica was looking to develop her own style and practiced routines, which she choreographed herself.
Her mentor, Jennifer Barton, gave her the drive and ambition, so Jessica decided to switch high schools and attend O'Neill Collegiate in Oshawa, putting more emphases on her art form. Jennifer told Jessica about the fantastic arts program at Centennial College, offering a great dance program, which ranged from hip hop to ballet.
It was during her stint at Centennial that Jessica decided to attend the Canadian Model and Talent Convention in Toronto.
She caught the eye of a talent manager from Los Angeles, who jumpstarted her career. He arranged for a Toronto based agent, who organized an audition for the Next Step show, and she was cast in a minor speaking role in 2015. Two years later, Jessica landed a major role in the show and starred in 18 episodes.
For those of you who don’t have teen daughters or granddaughters, Next Step is a fake reality show, which follows a group of teens who attend a dance academy. It showcases their lives, at and away from the dance school, and is one of the biggest hits on television today.
Jessica was signed up for the next season of Next Step, however, as part of her school curriculum, she participated in a co-op program and had to ‘shadow’ Amy Wright, a choreographing and casting agent, well known around the world in her industry.
Jessica’s job was to read off-screen for actors trying out for various roles. The project was a Disney series set in Paris. The writers were from Toronto, so the casting was done here.
After a few days of quietly doing her job, one of the writers suggested Jessica audition for, not only a role in the series, but for the lead.
Totally flattered and shocked, she did the audition, and to the surprise of the writers, her singing and dancing talents were a welcome addition to her acting ability.
The tape was sent to France, where the producers and directors reside, and a few weeks later she learned that the part was hers.
Disney knows how to spin a good story, and this one is no exception. A ballerina in 1905 Russia, who is performing in Paris, falls in love with a peasant boy, of whom her family disapproves… naturally. Her parents threaten to send her back to Russia and she runs away with Henri (her love interest). Henri, unaware that his family comes from a long line of time travellers, gives Lena, the ballerina, a family heirloom necklace. Naive of its enchanted powers, she is whisked through a time portal to 2018 Paris. Trying to cope with a new and very different world… I will stop there to avoid spoiling any details for you.
Filming for six months in Paris was gruelling, and not near as glamourous as you may expect. Jessica is back in Port Perry for a few weeks before heading out for another six months of hard work.
“I love acting,” she explains. “I hope in the future I will be able to direct as well, as it offers an all-encompassing aspect of what I do.”
I’m sure many opportunities will continue to come her way, each with great success.
“I try and get back to Port Perry whenever I can,” Jessica said.
I’m sure you will see her on the big screen, or strolling along the streets and shops of our great little town.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.