Jessica De Gouw is one of a number of astounding Australian actresses who began their careers on the small Australian screen and have since gone on to conquer American television. Phoebe Tonkin, Claire Holt, Adelaide Kane and Courtney Eaton are handful of other examples, who themselves also made their names within genre content, but few have done so as uniquely as Jessica.
Where Jessica stands apart is in her diverse choice of genre roles (‘genre’ in this instance meaning all of the genres that The Nerd Recites covers). From bringing a much loved DC comic book heroine to life for the first time, to reimagining a classic character from 19th century horror, Jessica regularly dips her toe into genre content, often with outstanding results.
Below, I take a look at all of Jessica’s genre roles to date, in chronological order, as well as highlighting Jessica’s forthcoming genre projects.
Please note that there are some spoilers below, for the films and shows that are discussed.
Mother in Bedtime Stories (short film) (2009)
After hunting around, I finally managed to locate this little Australian short from director Mangus Roervik. It’s a film that holds strong parallels to Pan’s Labyrinth, in both its structure and its bleakness.
The narrative centres around a young girl called Lucy, who creates an idealised fantasy world to get away from the harsh realities of her everyday life. In Lucy’s fantasy world, her mother (Jessica) always plays a central fantastical character, such as a luxurious Queen or a beautiful mermaid. In reality, however, Lucy’s father is physically abusive to her mother, who decides to attempt suicide via a drug overdose. Afraid that she might lose her mother forever, Lucy takes the remaining “happy pills” herself and lays down by her mother’s side, before they both later die in hospital.
It’s a very sad and heart-wrenching story, especially given the brevity of the film. It also works as somewhat of a cautionary tale for how you present drugs to your children. The film closes with a flashback of the mother talking about the pills as so: “Mummy’s got to take her happy pills, so she can have sweet dreams,” which surely plays a role in Lucy’s ultimate decision to take the pills too.
Jessica gets to play both ends of the emotional spectrum in this film; depressed and abused, when playing the mother, and brimming with glee and merriment, when playing the Queen and the mermaid. If you’re a fan of Pan’s Labyrinth or are just interested in viewing more of Jessica’s career, I suggest checking this short film out.
The Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) in Arrow (2012-2014)
Genre: Comic book
When The Huntress first appeared on American screens, very few people knew who Jessica was. Here Arrow went out of its way to cast fan favourite comic book heroine (and sometimes villainess) Helena Bertinelli (AKA The Huntress). This was a character who was to act as both a love interest and as an antagonist for Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen and in both respects, Jessica blew me away, marking her out as a talent to watch.
Whether in or out of costume, Jessica proved alluring, dangerous and always deeply mysterious. Her run on the show only lasted for four episodes (with one episode being a year later than the others), but to her credit, it felt like a great deal longer. While Arrow itself might have grown stale as a show since, performances like Jessica’s still stand firm in the minds of comic book fans.
Although it’s unlikely, given Jessica’s busy schedule, it’s also always possible that the creators of Arrow might decide to bring Jessica and The Huntress back to the show. If DC ever attempt to recast and reimagine The Huntress (which I am sure they probably will do, most likely in the upcoming film Gotham City Sirens), I’ll be game to see how they handle it, but Jessica will always remain the true embodiment of Helena for me.
Zoe in These Final Hours (2013)
Genre: Science Fiction/Post-apocalyptic
This is a bold and beautiful film, and a true unseen gem. I watched this for Jessica and came away with this standing as one of my all time favourite films. It now sits proudly within my collection and I have watched it numerous times. This also proves once again that Jessica has a penchant for selecting bleak narratives.
The concept is simple: meteors crashed into the Atlantic ocean, ending the world, but due to the geographical location of Australia in relation to the point of impact, people living in and around Australia have 12 hours to live, before the destruction reaches them. This affords people the opportunity to spend those final 12 hours however they wish; to party, to kill themselves (and often their whole families), or to simply choose a place to wait for the unavoidable end.
James (Nathan Phillips) chooses to leave his pregnant partner Zoe (Jessica) and venture out to join his actual girlfriend at a drug-fuelled party, so that he doesn’t feel the pain of the end when it arrives. Along the way James chooses to save a young girl called Rose from being raped and he then (reluctantly at first) spends the rest of the film as her guardian, seeking to return her to her father.
Jessica, therefore, only bookends the film. She has a few scenes at the start and a few scenes at the film’s close. Despite James and Rose being the core duo of the film, Jessica is the very thing that James strives so hard to get back to, once he realises where he belongs, and is therefore the pivot upon which the narrative rests.
While the opening scenes of the film are strong, it is the ending that allows Jessica to shine, with her final line “it’s beautiful” giving the film a truly poetic and shiver-inducing conclusion. At one point Rose mentions that James’ actual girlfriend Vicky (Kathryn Beck) isn’t quite as pretty as she expected a girlfriend of James’ to be, which is a clear nod to James’ more beautiful partner Zoe (Jessica) being more worthy of him.
I highly suggest that you go out of the way to see this film, particularly if you enjoyed Logan or are a fan of The Walking Dead. These Final Hours has similar themes to both and you’re likely to come away adoring it as much as I do.
Mina Murray/Ilona in Dracula (2013-2014)
This short-lived show did get a lot of things right about the Dracula mythos, one of which was the casting of Jessica as Mina Murray. Jessica proved a perfect fit for the classic 19th century literary character, bringing a real sophisticated beauty and poise to the role. It was also a big break for Jessica, with the marketing campaign for this show reaching far and wide, and getting her face and name out there beyond being known to just comic book fans.
Jessica also played Dracula’s long-dead love in the show, Ilona, who held the same visage as Mina. This allowed Jessica to get her teeth into two superb roles; one a studious woman of refinery and elegance, and the other a shining archaic vision of love and loss. Jessica truly excelled in both and contributed a great deal towards the quality of this show.
The role of Mina also brought with it some unrequited love from her best friend Lucy Westerna (Katy McGrath). This brought a complex, one-sided lesbian relationship to the show, which fans welcomed and which remains a memorable part of NBC’s adaptation to this day. While many modern shows (like Supergirl) present gay relationships in which both sides are interested in one another (which is fine and excellent too), this show explored the very realistic scenario that one side might potentially not being interested (and furthermore, might have no idea of the affection at all). Jessica did a great job of presenting this delicate scenario in a respectful manner.
It was real shame is that the show was never granted more than one single season (due to cancellation), which prevented Jessica from ever having the opportunity to delve deeper into both Mina and Ilona.
Melanie in The Rezort (2015)
This little zombie film (which can currently be viewed on Netflix) is by no means a bad film. It also holds Jessica in the leading role, which is a rarity for her career (she is usually in the leading female role, but not the central protagonist role). From this perspective then, it is something quite special, even if it falls short in quality when compared to many of the other entries on this list.
The narrative explores the idea of a zombie theme park (think Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park or Westworld), in which those who can afford it can come to massacre real zombies for fun, within a controlled and safe setting. When the zombies are accidentally released from their restraints, due to a characters’ attempt to extract secret data from the park, our group are left to survive using only the arms that they carry and the aid of one another.
Beginning as merely the partner of an unimpressive male character, as the members of the group begin to die Jessica’s Melanie begins to assume more and more of a central role. Ultimately, Jessica outlasts everyone in the film, including the government’s attempt to wipe the slate clean on the island, making her the true ‘final girl’ of this horror. Jessica does a terrific job of carrying the film, particularly in the later stages of the narrative, much of which involves running away from (fast) zombies and being distraught at the loss of others.
Jessica’s next upcoming project also happens to be genre content. This is the Science Fiction film OtherLife, which has already completed shooting and now resides in the post-production stage. Directed by Ben C. Lucas, OtherLife will centre around a revolutionary new drug (called OtherLife), created by Jessica’s character Ren Amari, which expands the brain’s sense of time and creates virtual reality directly in the user’s mind.
As Ren and her colleagues race to launch OtherLife, the government intends to use the drugs as a radical solution to prison overcrowding, with criminals serving long sentences in just minutes of real time. When Ren resists, she finds herself an unwilling guinea pig trapped in a prison cell within her mind. Ren must avoid descending into madness and then regain control of OtherLife before others suffer the same fate.
There is currently no release date for this film, but the film’s concept sounds interesting and it’s another great example of Jessica securing a full leading role. Unlike The Rezort, which begins as an ensemble piece then turns into Jessica taking the lead, OtherLife appears to fully be centred around Ren (Jessica) from the start, marking it out as Jessica’s weightiest role yet. I’m certain that Jessica will do a great job of it and hopefully this will be yet another example of Jessica choosing a bleak project of exceptional quality to work on.
Image credits: NBC, WBMC, Cherry Road Films, LWH Entertainment, Umedia, Kraken Films, The CW, DC, 8th In Line, XYZ Films