Before Jaylen Barron was starring on STARZ’s TV adaptation of Blindspotting with Jasmine Cephas-Jones and Candace Nicholas-Lippman, she was well into the acting scene and making her mark. The 23-year-old was known for her roles as Dominique Winslow in Showtime’s critically-acclaimed Shameless and Zoe Phillips in the Netflix drama series Free Rein. Now, Barron, who made her acting debut in 2012 on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up and FOX’s Bones, has proven herself to be a star in her own right and is laser-focused on leaving her legacy in the entertainment industry.
“I feel like we are setting the tone to be more open and accepting of what people used to consider taboo. We’re showing what real life looks like – imperfections and all,” Barron told ESSENCE as she explained how Generation Z is shifting the tone of what can and cannot be talked about and presented onscreen. According to the young actress, Gen Z’s involvement in the film and television industry is important because of where we currently are in time. “We are at a place in history we have never been before. It’s time that people are allowed to see themselves represented on television that we’ve never been able to witness. It’s beautiful and progressive.”
Barron’s character in STARZ’s Blindspotting is a perfect embodiment of challenging the rules of society as a woman of color. Trish, Miles’ half-sister, is a headstrong young woman who is on a mission to create a more livable, diverse, and safe experience for sex workers. “I feel as though Blindspotting has captured the diversity and the progressiveness of the world we are living in now,” she said passionately, as she acknowledged the change happening on television and in film. Barron praises Trish for her outspoken nature and inability to register the term “no” when she receives it. “Trish stands up for what she believes in and I feel like we are really the first generation, especially of women, to live that way,” she continued.
ESSENCE caught up with Barron about playing Blindspotting‘s Trish, the importance of uplifting sex workers, and how Generation Z is challenging the status quo of television as we know it.
ESSENCE: Who is Jaylen Barron?
Jaylen Barron: That’s a big question. Jaylen Barron – I am a powerful woman with powerful intuition, manifestation, and divine feminine energy. The manifestation is a real thing and it makes me feel extremely powerful, and because we all are. We all have that in us, but unfortunately, some people haven’t tapped into that side of themselves yet, when, in reality, you can create anything that you want – within reason of course. It’s amazing, and especially being a feminine woman, and I love that feminine energy.
I love self-care. It’s so beautiful. It’s so calming that it just has a million different definitions under it. It’s strong, independent, valuable, calming, peaceful. I don’t know, that’s who I would just say I am in a short sentence. I’m a lot of different things. I’m crazy, that’s for sure but, that’s a good time. You can put that in there, too. I’m a little crazy. I admit it, you can see it in my eyes probably. I’m a Virgo – I’m diabolically cranky in secret. That’s who I would say I am.
ESSENCE: How did the opportunity to play Trish in Blindspotting come about?
Barron: It was during pilot season, so your girl was just trying to book another job and I was just sending in my audition tapes like normal. I came across Blindspotting and I had told somebody very close to me, “Imagine if I play a stripper,” and I scoffed at it. I got a callback, and when I did the callback, Rafael [Casal] was like, “I think we found Trish.” I said, “That’s cap, you’re lying,” but he wasn’t. He was telling the truth because you never know. These directors and producers sometimes can sell you some dreams, right? But he wasn’t. He was being real. It felt right, and it felt like it was something I was supposed to be doing. I booked it two weeks after my callback, and that was it.
ESSENCE: How did you know Blindspotting was the right project for you to pursue?
Barron: Honestly just from watching the movie before the callback, and the message that it conveyed. They addressed the justice system, police brutality, and Black Lives Matter, and they were giving opinions in this movie that we say at home to our families. It just felt real and it felt grounded. I was like, “I need to be a part of this project.” When they showed me Trish and her personality, and I was like, “Oh, she’s the fun one. She’s the fun best friend. She’s just turnt up all the time,” and I have homegirls who are like that. I am not like that, but they are. I just embraced that side of me, I magnified it, and then bam, there it is. It felt natural and real.
ESSENCE: How do you compare and contrast to Trish?
Barron: Trish just does and doesn’t think, so I would say that she and I are very different in that way. She might not think things through fully and think of the consequences. Me on the other hand, I think of, “Okay, what’s going to happen five years down the line.” That just comes with Trish’s growth as a person and as a woman as she gets older. The way we’re the same is the level of our temper. You really have to try and bring it out of me [and] it’s very difficult to. Our temper is the same, and it takes me a while to get there, but once I’m there, it is Trish to the fullest. Not right now because we’re working and we’re queens and pretty girls don’t fight, but if we need to get down that way, we can.
It’s a lot of fun playing her. We’re very different but I would have her as a friend, for sure. She would be somebody that I would go out with and get advice from. I mean, she has worldly experiences. She’s a sex worker, and I talk to my friends who are strippers and ask them, “Hey, how do you feel when you go on stage?” and, “What does the crowd look like? How do they react to you?” I try to take that into consideration and make that into my own. We are two different people and the contrasts are there for sure. She’s very loud; I’m not. I’m super quiet. I’m not the friend that you call for a party and I feel like Trish is. What we’re similar in is our loyalty to the people that we love.
ESSENCE: Why would you say is it important that Blindspotting, specifically Trish’s character, is shedding much-needed light on sex workers in the 21st century?
Barron: It’s important because it is still a line of work that deserves more respect than it receives. I think because it’s so taboo and people are not comfortable with their sexuality yet, and they’re not comfortable with talking about it openly. I think that Trish brings to the table this kind of “in your face” energy and “this is what girls have to go through.” They might not like it, they might not want to do it, but it’s still as respectable as your desk office job. We’re still getting paid and we’re still providing services that others are coming to pay for, and it’s probably somebody that you know. While you’re sticking your nose up at these girls, maybe take a look at your friends or the people on the side of you and they’ll come over here after work, right?
It’s important for the world to embrace these women who are not afraid to show their bodies and who are not afraid to say, “This is how I get my money,” because to me that’s a boss. No matter what you do, from a doctor, a lawyer, a janitor, or you work at Forever 21, you are still putting in work to get money, and strippers deserve that same respect. Girls who have OnlyFans accounts deserve that same respect. You may not want to do it or feel inspired to do it, but they do. It’s a job nonetheless. It’s no worse or better than yours. They’re the product and they’re selling it. They’re business owners, essentially.
ESSENCE: With Trish being so body positive and comfortable in her own skin, how did you mentally prepare for the role?
Barron: I had to get so comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t realize before this role how hesitant I was to show off who I am. Doing this role allowed me to look myself in the mirror and face things that I didn’t really like to see or think about. Trish is a very open person. She wears what she wants to wear. She does what she wants to do. I am not.
I used to be like, “I’m just going to wear an oversized T-shirt and some sweats. That’s a ‘fit, right? That looks cute.” I wouldn’t think about it like, “You look cute. You have a cute body. You can wear something tighter. Put it on, wear a bright color, and go out.” Before, I’d be like, “No, that’s just too much. I’m not going to do all that. That’s just extra.” Trish allowed me to realize, “Girl, you are hot. Embrace how hot you are.” She made me look at myself with more love and confidence and be more outspoken. She allowed me to embrace who I am physically, mentally, emotionally, and I feel like this is probably the best, the healthiest mental state I have been in in a long time.
ESSENCE: How has being part of the Blindspotting cast helped you grow as an actress?
Barron: Trish is pretty challenging because she has so many dimensions and layers to her. I really had to exercise tapping into my different emotional states and bringing out those acting chops from being sad in one scene and then extremely happy and turnt up the next. We don’t really go in order when filming, and it really allowed me to develop even better scene-reading skills. It allowed me to become a better listener. Onset, especially working with Helen Hunt, Rafael [Casal], and Jassy Jones, and Daveed [Diggs], they are amazing performers. While taking notes from them, watching everything they were doing, and asking them different questions, I applied it to my own craft and that’s what really helped me grow.
Asking questions allowed me to have those doors open of, “Okay, how can I be a better actress? I need to listen more to my scene partners. I need to read in between the lines during my scenes.” I work 10 times harder on this set than I ever have before because Trish is so dimensional, and I wanted her to come off as raw and real.
ESSENCE: As a Gen-Z woman of color, how do you bring your unique lived experiences to your characters and sets of the projects that you’ve worked on?
Barron: That’s difficult to answer. I have a “light-skin privilege,” so my experiences aren’t as difficult as others. I have learned that what people say is really a projection of their own quality of life, and I’ve taught myself to shake it off and keep moving because there is no way of stopping me. I try to bring this mindset to my characters.
ESSENCE: Where are your hopes for your career, and where do you see it going?
Barron: I really would love to see my career going everywhere. I’d love to be a writer, a producer, a director. I want as many hats as I can have, and I want to be a diverse actress. This character’s a lot different than any of the other roles that I’ve done, and I’ve done many different types of characters. I hope this really opens doors for an audience to see, “Oh, she can be anything and anybody.” I want to be completely brand-able if that makes sense. I want to be everywhere.
Missed the first season of Blindspotting? Stream it now on STARZ and check out the snippet below of Jaylen Barron as Trish.