Interview: Get to know Jessamine Kelley

jessamine 1 recently met New York-based model Jessamine Kelley at a party. While all around her were smashing the free booze and dancing badly to that omnipresent Daft Punk song, she was sipping water and talking to us about Shakespeare. We remember thinking to ourselves, ‘that’s our kinda lady’. So we caught up with her again this week to find out more. Here she is, in her own words:

I am greedy for experience. I’m in love with the world and its possibilities, and I want as much of it as I can get. I adore stories more than anything, which is why I’ve always been an obsessive reader, observer, and listener. I absolutely hate to miss anything. I love my job because I get the chance to see and do so much, go so many places, meet so many interesting people and play lots of different characters, while I also get to pursue my many other interests.

Modelling is thrilling, and a hell of a lot of work. Not in the way that other jobs are, obviously. You don’t have to stay chained to a desk til 10pm under fluorescent lights, making spreadsheets while sneaking sips from a stash of mini liquor bottles you stole from planes (this is how I naively imagine real jobs… kidding– I had one of those once). Modeling is psychologically difficult, and it takes up just as much space in your brain as any job, if not more. There’s not much separation between home and work and no regular schedule, so time management is key, and you have to constantly be your own toughest critic to avoid humiliation. Ask anyone who has ever dated a model, and they will tell you that we need to be coddled and worshipped far more than most. When people are constantly judging you solely on your appearance, there are days when you feel beautiful and on top of your game, and days when you feel ugly and there is no amount of reasoning that will make you feel otherwise. You’ve got to have incredibly thick skin to succeed, but you need to be supple too; willing to be open and let go. It’s all about balance. That said, it’s also like playing a big game of dress-up everyday!

jessamine 2Aside from modelling, I’m dedicated to literature, film and art of all kinds. I assist a designer friend of mine, Farrah Sit (, with ideas, PR and branding, and I also love to write, paint and dance. Most importantly, I’m finally making an attempt at acting. It’s really the one career I want and that I feel I’m meant to do. It encompasses everything. Until now, I strictly kept myself from pursuing acting as a career not just because of the cliche, or because I was terrified, but also because I wanted to gather real-life experience first. I recently decided that if I didn’t go for it now, I’d regret it for the rest of my life, so now I’m spending a lot of time reading plays, memorizing monologues, doing improv, and going to this awesome actors’ group downtown called Shakespeare Forum. I’m also writing some pieces from moments of struggle and transcendence in my life, and I think it’s a really good exercise for an actor.

Besides listening to electronic, jazz, and indie rock, I’m obsessed with Chess Records and Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974. My boyfriend and I like to consume illicit substances and dance around to these amazing old blues and soul classics. People just don’t sing like that anymore, and nothing has such a round, living sound. I’m really a throwback, I guess – all of my favorite movies are old, too. I’m currently re-watching The Pink Panther series for about the 10th time. Peter Sellers kills me.

I spend too much time cooking. I’m a self-proclaimed Supertaster, and I love to invent new dishes or recreate amazing meals I’ve had in restaurants. During the day I’m always running around New York (literally, I don’t have the patience for walking) and eating whatever crap is around, so I make sure I devote at least three evenings a week to making an awesome meal to share with my boyfriend or whoever is around. I spend hours cooking, but it doesn’t feel like work because it’s such a soothing, creative outlet for me. I cook the same way I paint, measuring everything by eye and tasting along the way, like I test a stroke of my brush on a canvas. Today I made a Moroccan warm lentil salad and strawberry-rhubarb pie with fruit from my parents’ farm. One day I’d like to write a cookbook or two. But that’s pretty wholesome, so I’ll admit that besides reading too many fantasy novels, I also spend too much time in Wikipedia tunnels. I go online and look something up, then click on something in the article, and off I go! I like to tell myself it’s productive because I’m learning a lot of useless facts for Trivia night.

I’m inspired by nature. Whether it’s human nature or animal nature or Nature nature, it all fascinates me, and I find nothing more beautiful. I get out of the city as often as I can, go camping and hiking, or I drive up to my parents’ farm in Vermont. I like to be alone; trees and grass and wind and water recharge me. I’m a passionate conservationist, I grew up in a solar home my parents’ built in the woods, and Nature is a huge part of my spirituality. It reminds me how small and inconsequential I am in the scheme of things, which can be a comforting thought. It inspires me and humbles me at the same time. Every once in a while I contemplate leaving everything behind and carving out a life in the wilderness, but then I think of Into the Wild and I sober up. Plus, I really do love people too much, and the wild world human-beings have created.

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It might surprise people to learn that I was extremely shy until I began acting in high school. I remember waiting to get picked up after school one day with this older boy I had an enormous crush on. He kept trying to be funny and get my attention, and I completely ignored him. Finally he asked me my name and I was so terrified I pretended I didn’t hear him! Needless to say, that romance never blossomed. When I began acting, it was like all of a sudden I had an excuse to use this power I had been suppressing, and by playing another character, I was free to be myself. After I starred in my first play, a Noel Coward comedy, my mom stared into my face afterwards and said, “Oh no… you’ve been bitten. Don’t run off to Hollywood.” So I chose to study Art History and Italian at Bryn Mawr College (incidentally my heroine, Katherine Hepburn’s alma mater). The all-female environment encouraged me to stop worrying about what impression I made on people (guys) and instead I did absurd amounts of reading and writing, which I really loved, and proved that I could survive on pure intellect and determination. I studied abroad in Italy, took acting classes and did plays on the side, wrote two theses, and graduated with high honors. It only made sense to move to New York, and ironically, soon after I got a job doing fact-checking and research for Departures Magazine, I was scouted to model.

In the future I’d like to use performance as a platform to promote positive cultural growth. After I retire, I’d like to be a country lady with a big garden and lots of books. I hope to have a loving family, animals, and somewhere to write, paint and sculpt. I want to settle down in a warm community and have a positive impact there, if not in the wider world. I plan on traveling as long as I’m physically able, and I’ll never give up on acting, as it’s a similar way to fill your life with experience.

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Jessamine is represented by APM models in the US.

bobby townsend


Interview by Bobby Townsend