Once you meet Jessica Plummer, it’s not surprising to learn that the actress-singer’s career began with getting scouted shopping at a street market in London. It’s more than her disarming beauty—she also possesses the unfettered confidence and charisma of those who rise to the top.
That chance encounter, at age 19, led Plummer to become a member of the now bygone girl band Neon Jungle, best known for performing their hit single “Trouble” alongside Taylor Swift at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show in 2013. After that, Hollywood called.
Brought up in South London by a Jamaican father and an English mother, Plummer, now 29, had done the odd acting job and completed a part-time drama course in her teens. But it was a small part in the 2017 film How to Talk to Girls at Parties, an offbeat romance based on a Neil Gaiman short story, starring Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman, that put her in a new league.
Then Plummer took some time off, to travel and, later, to give birth to a daughter. She returned to London ready to act, but she felt like the industry had shifted while she was away. It was quicker and more transactional. Suddenly she was making self-tapes from her dimly lit apartment for auditions that would have previously occurred face-to-face. And she wasn’t booking parts. “It was really unsettling,” Plummer says. “The industry is tough. Sometimes rejection isn’t nice. And I remember thinking, Maybe I just haven’t got it anymore.”
Plummer finally landed a big audition for a recurring role on the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. She got the part, and for the next year and a bit, Plummer played Chantelle Atkins, a young wife and mother who is ultimately murdered at the hands of her abusive husband.
And then came The Girl Before, and a leading role that was both complex and nuanced, opposite Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo. Comprising alternating timelines exploring themes of control, abuse, and manipulation, the limited series is an adaptation of J. P. Delaney’s best-selling thriller of the same name.
Looking forward, Plummer is focused on finding projects that compel and challenge her, building on what this most recent role has taught her. That, or being a female James Bond, as she mentioned in a recent interview. “It really wasn’t a serious thing,” she says of the comment. “But now that it’s out there … ”
The Girl Before is streaming on the BBC in the U.K. and on HBO Max in the U.S.
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail