Best of 2023: Jason Isaacs on Everything Now

The award-winning actor, currently playing Cary Grant in the BritBox series Archie, on Ripley Parker’s acclaimed new Netflix teen series.

I watched the recent series Everything Now on Netflix, which is about a young girl coming out of rehab for an eating disorder and re-entering her life. It’s not about my generation or a world I’m familiar with. It’s written by Ripley Parker, a young woman I know, and I was concerned – because she’s the youngest showrunner in TV history – that critics wouldn’t be gentle with her. I don’t know why I worried: the show’s superb and she’s so incredibly accomplished that the critics were rightly bowled over. Everything Now grabbed and terrified me as a parent and reminded me of the awful, awkward, magnificent moments when my children would allow me to pick them up from a party and they’d be in the back of the car with their slightly drunk – or legless – friends and their guard would be down, so I’d be privy to their conversations. It felt like the entire series was me hiding in a room where adults aren’t normally allowed and gave me a painful glimpse of the world my children inhabit. It was beautifully cast, directed and acted and I particularly liked that it was queer television without a capital Q. Nobody’s sexuality was an issue worthy even to be mentioned, let alone focused on – so different both to my life and the TV I saw growing up. The writing understood teenagers’ abilities to be completely brutal and indifferent with each other, but also to be incredibly sensitive, to read and understand each other’s needs. To love in their own way.

It was bracing to watch the characters inhabit an entirely separate world from their parents because my wife and I were incredibly close to our kids and shared – wanted to share – every feeling with them, every important moment. But then there came a point when suddenly a portcullis came down, a barrier, like during a bank robbery. After that, everything happened behind bulletproof glass and we had no idea what was going on; the series really brought home that all you can hope is that the peer group your kids are hanging out with are grounded and loving and caring. They say that each person is the aggregate of the five people they spend most time with, and as a parent you pray that those five people will help your kids be in, of and useful to the world.

I’m involved in development, producing and occasionally even directing projects, so some- times I watch television or films and can see all the joins or know exactly what’s coming next. But sometimes, when it’s well done and a story from beyond my universe, told by the kinds of people outside of my experience, I can just sit back, my critical eye silenced, and be taken on a ride through new territory. It’s so important that young new voices come in and speak to their own generation. Whenever I’m invited to talk to students at a film school or drama school, I always tell them that if they’ve got a phone, then they’ve got an entire film studio in their hands. Not to waste time or box themselves in. Even if they’re just starting out, not to limit themselves, to do everything. Be a writer, director, editor – they can do it all on their phone: they can shoot, cut, do green screen in iMovie, score in GarageBand, they can broadcast, find a community, they can even monetize – though they shouldn’t count on it or care about it. Because it shouldn’t be all middle-aged men with expensive too- tight suits and hair transplants living in Malibu who are telling their stories. Everything Now is an example of just that: A young woman talking about her world, her generation, her fears, hopes, loves and difficult life. I haven’t seen that for a long time, maybe not since Girls came along, though Girls wasn’t as universal an experience.

I like to seek out work that isn’t aimed at me, both to watch and participate in. New writers, new directors, new voices. New blood in the storytelling game keeping us relevant. It’s important – in life, as in art – not to get fossilized. Another recent example I was stunned by is the magnificent How to Have Sex (out in the U.S. in February next year) … I thought it was a brilliantly made film – a first film, though you could never tell – where the writer-director, Molly Manning Walker, had the confidence to let the actors tell the story, and ask the questions with their faces. She does not give the audience all the answers or any easy solutions, but just takes us through an incredibly nuanced journey that doesn’t need words. It was a thoroughly modern yet thoroughly timeless story about consent, sexual assault and the discomfort of early experiences. Just like Ripley’s story in Everything Now, it’s a young person talking to other young people about their lives. Let’s hope they cast some old men occasionally!

Jason Isaacs, who is currently playing Cary Grant in the BritBox series Archie, has won or been nominated for many awards including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, International Emmy, Critics’ Circle, Satellite, SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards amongst others. His extensive film credits include the Harry Potter film series, playing Lucius Malfoy; Armando lanucci’s The Death Of Stalin, The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Fury, Green Zone, Event Horizon, Armageddon, The End of the Affair and Friends with Money. He also starred in Fran Kranz’s Mass opposite Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton and Reed Birney, with the film and Jason receiving multiple awards and nominations, including winning the Robert Altman Award at the 2022 Spirit Awards. On television, Jason was most recently seen in The Crowded Room for Apple TV+, in the cult hits The OA and Sex Education for Netflix, and as Captain Lorca in Star Trek: Discovery. Previously he has starred in Case Histories, The State Within, The Curse of Steptoe, Civvies, Brotherhood, Awake and Dig, and has made guest appearances in The West Wing and Entourage, amongst others. (Photo by David Reiss.)