Amy Jackson hates to stay still for a minute. Just as well, then, that she lives in Mumbai, where it is hard to stay still even if you stand in a bucket of cement. Her hometown Liverpool is no small potato as UK cities go, but with a population of under half a million, it could not fill a suburb in Mumbai. The contrast – “the excitement, craziness, the business here” – is all to Amy’s taste.
She knows how to do quiet, though. At the Marie Claire photo shoot, the girl billed as the next big thing in Bollywood – her first Hindi film, Ek Deewana Tha, with Prateik Babbar, was out just after Valentine’s Day – moves around the studio between shots with so little fuss that you might wonder where the day’s main event has disappeared. Except that Amy would be noticed anywhere. Her looks are striking, to say the least, far more exotic than anything one expects to come out of north England. The mystery is explained as some gypsy blood on her grandmother’s side.
Not cast in the Miss Universe mould (big smile, big teeth, big hair, big curves, big talk), Amy is more like a sleek bird with glossy but not flashy plumage. Her singsong accent makes even banalities sound less banal. So when she says, asked to sum up her current life, “I’d describe Amy Jackson as a normal 20-year-old living a very, very big dream”, we believe that is exactly how it is – it is a fantasy, she is in it, and she knows the deal. The lights could go out on the marquee, of course, but not until she has given it her best shot. “I’m loving it, and I wouldn’t let it not work,” she says with that wellknown Liverpudlian spirit of enterprise.
She has come to the Indian film industry with some experience of the spotlight. A trained horse rider, she competed in international equestrian events as a teenager. It was on an early morning ride that a scout discovered her at 15. Juggling studies and modelling, she soon won the crown of Miss Teen World, in 2008. A few rungs up the beauty pageant ladder – she was a favourite to become Miss England – Amy charmed Tamil filmmaker Vijay, who saw in her just the girl to play a British official’s daughter in his period drama, Madrasipattinam, released in 2010. Acting had not been much on her mind before that, let alone acting in India, but once she dipped her toes into the water, she found that she was a born swimmer.
“The Chennai heat was incredible, and my first day in front of the camera was intimidating – 50 people were watching me. After that first shot, I was fine.” Though it was a dive at the deep end, she was not without her life belt. Vijay has been a true mentor; her mother has stayed with her in Chennai and Mumbai; and her sister and uncle are just a phone call away, should she need the comfort of a familiar voice.
Her foreign origin means every culture in India is equally new to Amy, so it is not hard to move between Bollywood, Mollywood, Sandalwood or any other wood – as long as a path presents itself, she will go ahead. Acting, she says, gives her “something to aim for”.
If there was a problem on the set, it was the opposite of what your average Indian heroine faces; her curvy yet slender body needed to be plumped up. “I did have to wear fat pads, bum pads for the movies,” she says with very slight exasperation, “but I have everything at the right place, so I feel womanly.” She would not mind losing that perfect figure if the right role came up, something like The Dirty Picture. “She played the ultimate woman in that movie,” Amy says of Vidya Balan. “Vidya did something most girls couldn’t do. This shows acting is becoming more open. I’d do what’s needed for a movie – put on weight, cut my hair. If you are playing a character, you have to let go.”
Clearly unmoved by the concept of size zero, Amy lists among her favourite models the voluptuous Brazilian Adriana Lima and the equally well-endowed Irina Shayk, a.k.a. the girlfriend of footballer Christiano Ronaldo. And what about her famously cool, skinny countrywoman Kate Moss? “Oh, she’s great.” Full stop.
Her first film did not take her very far from her roots; the second one had her playing an Indian girl. Demure in some scenes, clad in a salwar-kameez and sari, this is a very different Amy from the overtly sexy, smouldering creature that Google Images throws up. In truth, Jessie of Ek Deewana Tha is not so unlike what Amy is in person. She admits freely that co-star Prateik Babbar is “a very special person” in her life, someone with whom she hangs out all the time. No airs either about how hard it is to live in the public eye. She only says, quite reasonably, “I know that when you make the choice to be a part of Bollywood, you almost give up the right to keep your personal life personal, because you’re sort of a public figure... but I think everyone deserves the right to put [up] a barrier at some point.” When she can, Amy goes for a walk on the Bandra promenade close to her seafacing apartment on Mount Mary Road. And when she needs a security blanket amid this almost illusory life, she goes to a little altar to Mary and Jesus at the bottom of her driveway.
Another method of self-preservation is to spend time with the friends she has made in this manic city and to never forget the real world. “I try not to think about [the hype] too much because when I do, I start to panic and start thinking overtime!” says Amy. “The best way to deal with it is to take each day as it comes, and when different articles pop up in the newspapers etc, I just take it very lightheartedly, which is sometimes easier said than done. I’m completely new to this film industry, so when I get this attention, it still feels a little strange and I wonder why they want to give me attention... I still feel like the girl next door!”