Nelson Lee as Dr. Ito/Dragon King and Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent in DC'S STARGIRL - Season 1 - "Wildcat"| © 2020 The CW Network/Jace Downs

Nelson Lee as Dr. Ito/Dragon King and Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent in DC’S STARGIRL – Season 1 – “Wildcat”| © 2020 The CW Network/Jace Downs

STARGIRL is the latest entry in The CW’s Greg Berlanti DC-verse. Adapted for television by Geoff Johns and Berlanti, STARGIRL is in its first season, premiering episodes on the CW online platform, and then broadcasting them on The CW Tuesday nights.

STARGIRL focuses on fifteen-year-old Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), who moves with her mom (Amy Smart), new stepfather Pat (Luke Wilson), and younger stepbrother Mike (Trae Romano) to the small Midwestern town of Blue Valley. Courtney discovers to her astonishment (and Pat’s dismay) that she is the inheritor of the powers of the fallen Starman, courtesy of his magical staff.

As Stargirl – and Pat, who has his own secret identity and a giant robot – set about rebuilding the Justice Society, they are opposed by the Injustice Society. The leader of this group is Jordan Mahkent, played by Neil Jackson. Jordan, in his guise as Icicle, has freezing powers that he does not hesitate to use. He even kills a teenager. Having made a deathbed promise to his wife, Jordan feels he is right in his cause.

Jackson is also one of the leads in the thriller series ABSENTIA, which has its third-season premiere on Amazon on July 17 (the first two seasons are already available). Originally from Luton, outside London in England, Jackson has appeared in feature films including ALEXANDER, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, and WELCOME TO MARWEN, and had regular/recurring roles on series including DREAM TEAM, SUGAR RUSH, MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, BLADE: THE SERIES, the remake of UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and LIGHTFIELD. Jackson will next be seen in the upcoming feature THE KING’S MAN.

Speaking by phone from Vancouver, Jackson talks about STARGIRL, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and more.

ASSIGNMENT X: Before STARGIRL, were you familiar with either the comics and/or The CW DC superhero franchise?

NEIL JACKSON: I was aware of The CW superhero franchise. There was a point I was going to be cast in ARROW, so I was very aware of ARROW. And I knew of the comic books. I’ve been friends with Geoff Johns, who created it, for sixteen years, ever since we did BLADE: THE SERIES together. So I knew of them, but I hadn’t read them. So when Geoff called me up and offered me a role in January of last year, I started looking at who this Icicle character was. And I realized pretty quickly that what Geoff had created with his scripts for this TV series was very different than any iteration of Jordan in the comic books. I think Icicle had also appeared in THE FLASH, and had a couple of TV appearances. But this was a very different character, so we decided to not ignore, but just not consciously reference the previous iterations, and create something brand-new. The thing that we talked about is, this character is harboring so much pain, and so much sadness as the result of the death of his wife, and that is the wash that carries the character through to his motivation.

AX: Does Icicle view what he’s doing as keeping a promise to his dying wife? He seemed to be on that path already, even before she was on her deathbed.

JACKSON: I think it’s a combination of those things. The accident set him on his path, firstly because his wife was murdered by the negligence of a company that left toxic waste in a building that she was in, and she ended up getting sick. And so the first part of it is vitriolic, that he wants to make the people who were directly responsible for his wife’s death pay for what happened to her. But the other side of it is, he wants to make sure that nobody ever suffers the same injustice again. He genuinely wants to make society and the world a better place that’s rid of the kind of people that would do this kind of thing indiscriminately to somebody else. So he very much sees himself as the hero, as this soldier who is making the hard decisions so that everybody else can get a chance to rise.

Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent in DC'S STARGIRL - Season 1| © 2020 The CW Network/Smalls & Raskind

Neil Jackson as Jordan Mahkent in DC’S STARGIRL – Season 1| © 2020 The CW Network/Smalls & Raskind

AX: How does Jordan view his son, Cameron, played by Hunter Sansone?

JACKSON: It’s a very complex relationship. I would say, on the one hand, Jordan has not been the best father to Cameron, because he’s an absentee dad. He’s been away a lot, enacting his plan and finding the people responsible. And so his son has been raised by the grandparents. But on the other hand, he believes he’s being the best father he can be, because he’s trying to make the world a better place. There’s a lot of love there. There’s also a deep sadness, because every time he looks at his son, he’s reminded and is brought back to the loss of his wife. And I don’t think that’s something he can ever get past.

AX: Where are the grandparents, Jordan’s parents, from originally?

JACKSON: They’re from Norway. They moved to the States, so Jordan was born in America.

AX: Do they know that Jordan has superpowers?

JACKSON: They are very much aware he has superpowers. They’re completely on board with what he’s doing. They’re about as understanding as parents can be – they clean up [when Jordan leaves] corpses.

AX: Is Jordan always intentional about using his powers, or does he reflexively start breathing mist when he’s unhappy?

JACKSON: It’s intertwined. It’s emotional and intentional. I think if he loses control of his emotions, then the powers will come out, but he’s also a person who doesn’t lose control. It was one of the things that we talked about early on, that we would lean into the metaphor of the character, who was cold, detached. He doesn’t have full access to his emotions, so everything is calculated with him. He has a plan, he has a goal in life, and he is moving himself steadily towards the attainment of that goal. So chooses when he becomes Icicle, he chooses when he uses his powers, and when he doesn’t.

AX: Did you discuss what exactly you’re physically doing when Icicle is exercising his powers?

JACKSON: Yeah, we talked about it. One of the big things I knew from the get-go is that he was a CG character [when Icicle is in full supervillain mode], so they put dots on my face to overlay the computer-generated image of ice to go onto it. I got to see from the moment we started working what the early concept art was for Icicle. And when I saw this early concept art, I knew that my job as an actor was to stay out of the way of that image. It was such a powerful and imposing image, seeing him fully iced up, that if I was too big with my movements, or too rapid, or too frenetic, it would undermine the power of the appearance.

So my job was just to stay out of the way of it, and be very minimalistic. He doesn’t do these big, powerful moves, because he doesn’t need to. He’s somebody who is completely in control of who he is, which is a great antithesis to Stargirl, who is a ball of light and heat, and he is the opposite of that, which is cold. But she is also somebody who isn’t in control of her powers. She hasn’t figured out who she is yet, and she is learning as we go through Season 1, so we wanted to create this perfect foil for her in Icicle.

AX: Did you watch FROZEN at all for any ice-power tips?

JACKSON: [laughs] While we shooting in Atlanta, I actually shared an apartment with Chris Baker, who played Brainwave. So we had two villains living in one house. We used to call the apartment The Lair. I was shooting THE KING’S MAN, back in the U.K. at the same time that we were setting the apartment up. And I came back from the U.K. to the apartment, and he said, “Check your bathroom.” And I went into the bathroom, and he’d bought me a shower curtain, which was a tableau from FROZEN. And I went into his bathroom, and his shower curtain was THE LOST BRAIN [laughs].

AX: Before STARGIRL, had you wanted to play a superhero/supervillain?

JACKSON: The Richard Donner SUPERMAN in the late ‘70s was everything to me when I was growing up. Superman was a character I really identified with as a kid. As an adult, I don’t identify with it as much. I guess I’m more in the Batman camp now, as an adult. But I’ve always loved superhero films, for multiple reasons. One, they’re fun escapism, but two, the mythology of superheroes is, in my opinion, so translatable to everyday life. On one level, we’ve all wished that we had an ability to fly away or disappear or have super-strength. But it’s also a metaphor for change and everything else we go through. I think that’s why they’ve endured. So yeah, I’ve always wanted to be a part of that world.

I dipped my toe into it with BLADE, and a little with SLEEPY HOLLOW, which was really the first chance I got to be a fully-fleshed part of that world. So it’s fun. It’s going to be interesting when Comic-Con is actually back up again. I’m looking forward to seeing cosplay versions for all the characters, and having interactions with the fans.

Neil Jackson as Icicle in DC'S STARGIRL - Season 1 | © 2020 The CW Network/Smalls & Raskind

Neil Jackson as Icicle in DC’S STARGIRL – Season 1 | © 2020 The CW Network/Smalls & Raskind

AX: So you’ve been a guest at conventions?

JACKSON: Yes. I went to several conventions with SLEEPY HOLLOW, and met fans and did all that kind of stuff. It’s such a wonderful and sometimes surreal kind of side of the job. I’ve had the most beautiful interactions with fans. When I was a kid, there were several shows and movies that were just touchstones to me that helped me through difficult times, or helped me understand my place in the world, or whatever it was, or just escapism. And I’ve had several people come up and say that projects that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of have done that for them. MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, that seemed to have had a real effect on a lot of people. SLEEPY HOLLOW was another one. So getting to talk to fans and find out how much these shows have meant to them is really humbling and incredible, for this little boy from Luton to be a part of that world.

AX: You played Abraham Van Brunt, aka the Headless Horseman, in SLEEPY HOLLOW. Obviously, you’d done ALEXANDER, so you’d done work in some period costumes before, but was that your first experience working with big special effects?

JACKSON: No, I’d done a lot of special effects work before, but it was definitely my first experience being in those old Colonial soldier outfits. We were shooting in Atlanta in the height of summer. It was a hundred and ten degrees, a hundred percent humidity. I didn’t even realize a hundred percent humidity was a thing. I thought a hundred percent humidity was rain. And we’re shooting outside, and I’m in those thick woolen coats, and to add insult to injury, I had a thick woolen wig on top of my head. I thought I knew hot and dehydrated before I shot that show, but that took it to a new level. But I loved it.

What I loved about it was, we had lots of chats about that character. It was originally just one episode establishing Abraham in Season 1, and at the end of it, he gets turned into the Headless Horseman. And then they figured out a brilliant way in Season 2 of bringing Abraham back through the use of magic. I loved the fact that he was a completely justifiable villain. Because he never chose to be killed by these mercenaries and turned into the Headless Horseman, he never chose to have this thing thrust upon him and walk the Earth as the Horseman of Death. It was something that came as a direct result of Ichabod Crane [played by Tom Mison] essentially sleeping with his fiancée [played by Katia Winter] and wronging him. His entire mission was to right that wrong and kill Ichabod.

And once we had that motivation for him, it created a beautiful conflict in audiences. People would contact me and say, “I’m kind of rooting for the Headless Horseman to win, which is surreal.” So I really enjoyed what they did with the character. And it’s held me in good stead, because it’s not too dissimilar from what they’re doing with STARGIRL now, the back story of Jordan Mahkent, aka Icicle, is so understandable and relatable for why he is doing what he’s doing that, when anybody hears his back story, and hears his motivation, it’s hard not to go, “Yeah, I kind of get it.”

Neil Jackson in ABSENTIA - Season 2 | ©2020 Amazon

Neil Jackson in ABSENTIA – Season 2 | ©2020 Amazon

AX: Did having done SLEEPY HOLLOW help you with the Atlanta heat while you were shooting STARGIRL?

JACKSON: Yeah, that kind of prepared me for it, although, again, standing out on a bridge in the middle of Atlanta heat with a cap on, and they gave Icicle, the character who is freezing cold, a cashmere sweater and a long trench coat to wear as his uniform. So that added complications. We were wringing out my sweater at the end of each day.

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Article: Exclusive Interview: Actor Neil Jackson on STARGIRL and SLEEPY HOLLOW – Part 1


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