22 June 1991, Dagenham, Essex
You won’t recognise the star of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, but you won’t soon forget her. Cast with no acting experience after being spotted arguing with her boyfriend at Tilbury station, Jarvis gives a performance of subtlety and strength as Mia, a teenager who uses hip hop dancing to escape her lonely council estate existence.
On preparing for the film
‘I didn’t realise it was going to be this big, so I don’t think I really prepared myself. I did dancing for five weeks, but that was really the only preparing we did. I was given the script either the week before, the day before or on the day, so I didn’t actually know what was coming. I couldn’t prepare myself even if I wanted to! I just took as it came, and got on with whatever Andrea wanted me to do.’
On her character in Fish Tank
‘I’m definitely not like Mia, but in some ways I felt like I could relate to her. It’s sad that there are quite a lot of girls like her, because at the same time as being quite a horrible person, she’s got quite a bad background, which is blatantly obvious when you watch the film. The film proves to you that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, because obviously Mia can be horrible, but she can also be nice. And when you’ve watched the whole film you can understand why she does what she does.’
On British films
‘I like a lot of British films, because I think they seem more real. Sometimes films from different countries are more like dreams or something. In terms of acting, I would obviously like to go round the world and do loads of different characters, but with Andrea’s film, it looks so real life – there are a lot of teenagers out there that are like Mia, and like the girls that Mia knows. So I think that sort of thing is what I’d like to carry on with.’
Jarvis was cast on her 17th birthday, and the film premiered in Edinburgh on her 18th.
Fish Tank is on selected release from Fri 11 Sep. This article originally appeared in The List magazine.