To say Jamie Neumann is an actor wouldn’t be enough—an artist of her craft, film and video, would be more accurate. The New Orleans native currently stars in HBO’s The Deuce alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco, but her work goes so much more beyond just that. Between her work on the drama, writing and starring in her own short films and participating in a brass band, the actor discusses her role on The Deuce, where she finds her inspiration, and what’s next on her journey.
The Deuce is your first television role. What has it been like filming the show and how did you prepare for it?
Oh my word, it’s been an absolute dream. I couldn’t have created a character closer to my heart. Besides obsessively imagining every aspect of the life, I found certain books really helpful. For season one, these picture and interview books by Susan Hall and Bob Adelman called Gentleman of Leisure: A Year in the Life of a Pimp and Ladies of the Night were really insightful on the pimp/prostitute relationship. For season two, a lot of ‘70s feminist writings, and in particular Andrea Dworkin’s work, really ignited me.
Knowing that Ashley makes the decision to leave at the end of Season 1 and then makes a return for Season 2, how has your character changed from the first season to the second?
Well, Ashley, or as people in her recent work know her, Dorothy, has done a huge turnaround. In the five years since we last saw her she’s been to the West Coast, became radicalized and started being involved in activism for sex workers out there. We see her return to New York City to try to do the same work here and I think coming face to face with her past was a lot harder than she imagined it would be.
What’s your favorite or most challenging part of playing Ashley?
I thought I loved her simultaneous strength and sensitivity, and I do…but what constantly surprises me is how much of a motivating factor C.C. is for her. Ashley has worked really hard to separate herself from the life she knew in New York and the moment she hears C.C.‘s voice it’s like a shot gun time warp. That moment really caught me off guard as the actor while we were filming. It was like I was in denial about how much Ashley was still consumed by her conflicted feelings for C.C.; then I heard his voice from my and the character’s ears at the same moment. I had seen Gary Carr on set before we started rolling but his natural voice is in his British dialect so I didn’t really hear C.C. until Ashley really heard C.C. and It. Messed. Me. Up. It’s incredibly complex to feel love for the ones who hurt you the most.
You also write and star in a number of short films. How did you get started making those, and how does that differ from your work on The Deuce?
I just always saw little films in my head, so one day I decided to make them. I can’t paint, I can’t draw, but I see the pictures. So my medium is film and video. It helps to have dear friends who happen to be ridiculously talented filmmakers. The independent film scene in New Orleans, my hometown, is small and mighty. I love making movies with my friends more than I love most things.
You’re a trained dancer. How do you think that contributes to your skills as an actor and being on screen?
Discipline. Expression through movement. I mean, one tiny decision you make about the way a character stands or walks, the way they hold a glass or a chronic pain they might have... all these tiny physical cues can be an instant entry into the life of this person.
Working as an actor often requires long hours. How do you typically decompress after a long day?
Music, wine, and sleep. Sleep is really the most regenerative thing I can think of, that’s where the dreams happen.
When you aren’t on set, where are your favorite places to be?
Any place where the sun shines. Any place where music is playing and people are dancing and sharing the joys of life with each other, whatever those joys may be.
You’re part of a band called High & Mighty Brass Band. Tell us about that. How did you get involved, how long have you been playing with them, and what’s it like being part of a band like this one?
Well, I worked at this New Orleans restaurant on the Upper West Side called Jacques Imos that became a home base and meeting place for a lot of Hurricane Katrina transplants. My dear friend, Evan Howard, was putting together a new brass band with some beautiful New Orleans musicians and asked, “Could I possibly pay you to come dance in the audience at our first gig? It’s just a better vibe when you’re dancing.” My response was something like, “Uh.. man, you don’t have to pay me. I’ll just come to your gig.” By, I think, the second song I had been invited up on stage (cause you “gotta get the girls on stage!”), had a tambourine in my hand and was dancing my face off and that was the start of a beautiful friendship. The High and Mighty is filled with such badass jazz cats who play so hard and they can definitely do it without me, but I do feel lucky to be the hype girl and sing some tunes and just be involved in the music that was born where I was born.
Where do you like to draw inspiration from for your work?
Oh god. Everywhere, everyone. What do they say about acting? Imagination, experience and...I always forget the third one...Oh, observation. Real life is so much stranger than fiction. There is inspiration all around.
Finally, what are you planning to work on next?
I’ve started working on Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix, as well as AMC’s new series NOS4A2. Both projects are really exciting to me because of who I get to act with. I also have some New Orleans independent film projects (and always will). That’s where my heart lives. In the art and soul of New Orleans.