Interview: Child Star Jillian Estell from Kevin Costner’s “Black or White”
If there’s one thing I learned in my recent interview with the talented young actor Jillian Estell, it’s that family is a very big theme in her life: her family at home, her family at church, and, as of recently, her “Black or White” family — the cast and crew of the new film starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer that opens this weekend (movie’s official site is here — #BlackorWhite.)
“We all just became like a family,” said Jillian about the actors and crew who witnessed her impressive feature film debut as Eloise Anderson, the granddaughter of Costner’s character Elliot Anderson.
In this case life imitates art (to an extent) because the theme of the movie is all about family: “A grieving widower is drawn into a custody battle over his granddaughter, whom he helped raise her entire life,” as IMDB describes it.
And Jillian’s character is right in the middle of it all as her two grandparents from two very different worlds fight for custody over her. Somehow the families have to find middle ground, and somehow love has to break through all of the barriers keeping them apart.
It’s safe to say that Jillian (#estell_jillian) stole the show in her scenes with her sensitive, instantly endearing, and very believable performance; she was the beating heart of the movie, both in the script and in her performance on-screen.
This also speaks volumes about the power of the movie itself: excellent writing, acting, directing, editing, and every other “-ing” executed the beats and emotional journey of the story without fail. The first ten minutes alone knocked me over emotionally. (You can read my full review of the film here.)
Jillian certainly has a bright future ahead of her, and it was a joy to speak with her over the phone about her experiences in “Black or White”:
First of all, I just want to say that I was very moved by your performance in the movie. You did such a wonderful job. Especially in the scene in front of the school where Kevin Costner’s character tells your character that your grandmother has died, and your reaction just brought me to tears, honestly. Was that a challenging scene to film?
Yes, it was, because I had to get into the moment. And it was hot that day. It was like…[groans in mock pain].
[Laughs] So was that distracting to be in that hot weather that kind of pulls you away from the moment?
A little bit because it was so hot we kept sweating and make-up people had to keep coming in to make sure we weren’t that shiny.
The film has such an all-star cast. What was it like working with Kevin Costner and the other stars?
They were all great. We all just became like a family, and it was amazing. Everybody was so kind and so was the cast and crew — everybody! We all got along very well.
That’s awesome, you know, I could really feel that chemistry on the screen. It really felt like a family, especially with you and Kevin Costner, it felt like you all were family, it was very believable. Awhile ago, our site [writer Josh Belcher] had a chance to interview Kevin [about his band Modern West], and he was a really nice guy. Did you find him to be a nice guy?
Yes, he was awesome! Octavia was amazing too.
I was going to ask about her too, so you read my mind! How did you get into acting?
I just started modeling, and it just went into acting. And I love doing it now, so — don’t wanna stop!
So this is going to be a long-term thing for you then?
I thought the theme of “Black or White” is something America really needs right now. Do you think the movie can show families how to get along better?
Yes! The theme of the movie is love has no color.
That’s a beautiful theme. Did you have any funny moments on the set or any behind-the-scenes stories from your experience making the movie?
Most of the time we were joking around [laughs] when we were not practicing or having to work on anything, so that was fun. There were times when we went to lunch, and I’m gluten-free, so sometimes they’d make the desserts gluten-free and they wouldn’t tell anybody [laughs], and then they’d [the other cast members] would ask me at the end, they’d be like, “Was this gluten-free?” And then I’d say yes and they’d say, “Oh, THAT’S why it tasted different!” And they’d always be kidding because I’m gluten-free.
[laughs] Sounds like it was a pretty fun, lighthearted set. Did they go out of the way to make it fun for you?
Yes, it was awesome! Everybody made it so it was very real.
Did you have to balance school with the film shoot?
I do home school, so, no I didn’t. I mean it was nice even, just skipping some, but I still had to do school on-set, so at the time I wasn’t doing home school.
Your bio says you’re very active in church. How has your faith helped you in your acting career?
They’ve always just been there for me. They’re like my second family because they pray over me and encourage me through everything, and they’re always there for me, and if I need anything, if anything’s going on in my family or if anything’s going on they pray for us, and it’s great.
That’s awesome, it really is like a second family, I feel that way about my church too. Do you have any favorite Bible verses or books in the Bible? Not that you have to recite any [laughs].
Yes, I do, like the one that says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and we add something in our church: “Lord, I thank You that I’m sharp that I’m smart that I’m quick that I’m healed that I’m wise that I’m good looking and a major blessing to someone today”…[phone signal cut out for last part]…that’s just something we add in our church.
That’s a cool way to elaborate on that verse! And it’s such a powerful verse, definitely one of my favorites. As a younger actor, do you have any advice for young actors who want to pursue a career in Hollywood?
Yes, stay positive and never look down on yourself. Always believe that God is holding your hand through all of it. And when it’s your turn it’s your turn.
I love that. That is fantastic advice. Who are some of your favorite actors?
Kevin Hart, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, and a lot more, but those are the ones off the top of my head right now.
Well, you’ve already gotten to act with two out of three of those so you’re on a good pace there.
What kind of training did you have to go through to become an actor? Was that really hard?
No, just a few classes that I did. A few workshops and a few classes, and then we did commercials and I did auditions and I had a lot of practice and stuff, so I just do the scripts and try out for it, and if I get I get it, if I don’t I don’t.
That’s a great attitude, definitely a healthy attitude. Do you have a special way of memorizing your lines? Is that hard to do?
No, my mom, she says I’m the memorizing queen because what we do is we do the first page — say there’s three lines on the first page — I have to memorize those three lines first, and then we go on to the next page. And then we go on to the next and the next, however many more there are. But usually there’s, like, four, three, two.
That’s a really good method, wow! Your bio says you love singing. Do you have any favorite artists or music or styles of music?
Yes, Taylor Swift, I love Taylor Swift.
I assume that you like her new album then.
Yes, I got it for Christmas. [laughs]
[laughs] Definitely a good time of the year to get the best albums coming out! Do you ever see yourself kind of pursuing a music career or is that something you kind of just do in church or…
Maybe if I work hard enough for it. I do piano too, but I have to work really hard.
Do you take classical piano?
No, just regular piano. I’m working on an Adele song.
Besides acting, what’s your greatest passion in life?
I love doing competitive cheer. It’s one of the things I’ve done since I was, like, three?
And I just love doing it, it’s so fun.
Does it take a lot of exercise? Is it an intense sport?
Yes, you have to have [strong] abs. I mean you don’t have to, but it’s a lot easier when you’re really strong and very thick.
I’ve seen some of them do that and some of the stuff they do just blows my mind — looks pretty dangerous! [laughs] But I bet it’s fun.
Yeah, I was the one that they were throwing up in the air, I used to be, and now I’m the one that’s at the bottom getting hit all the time. [laughs]
[laughs] So do you have any upcoming movie projects that you’re excited about or is too early to say?
Not that we know of right now. I have done a few auditions. But not that we know of right now. But it could change in a few seconds!