Jonathan Jackson is in the midst of some transitions–from television to feature films and from adolescent star to adult actor. For six years from 1993 to 1999 he was a teen heartthrob as Lucky Spencer on the ABC soap opera “General Hospital,” but in 2002 alone he’s played on the big screen opposite a bevy of Oscar winners–Al Pacino and Robin Williams (in “Insomnia”) and now William Hurt, Sissy Spacek and Ben Kingsley in “Tuck Everlasting,” Jay Russell’s screen adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s popular novel about a mysterious spring that stops the aging process and the family who drink from it. One could say that in the picture Jackson runs the age gamut, playing a character from 17 to well over 150, but arriving for a Dallas interview a recently-married man, he still looked barely his twenty years. “I still have that youthful thing going so far,” he quipped. “I guess the water’s still working.”
What attracted Jackson to the script of “Tuck” was something added to the book–a romance between Jesse Tuck, the unchanging family’s younger son, and Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel), the local lass who’s only ten in the novel but in the film a winsome girl on the brink of maturity. “For me it was the love story in it,” he said when asked why he pursued the role. “I read a lot of scripts, and most of them are really bad in terms of my age group. A lot of the love stories…are very unappealing to me, so it was exciting to read a script that told a story like that, that young kids would love but also had a depth that adults would really enjoy, too.” Jackson was actually the last major cast member hired. “They had trouble finding Jesse,” he said. “I think I auditioned three times for it–by then I understood what they were looking for, and felt confident about it.”
As for whether it’s intimidating working with legends like Pacino, Williams, Hurt, Spacek and Kingsley, Jackson said, “It is and it isn’t. It’s more exciting for me, I think, than intimidating. As a young actor that’s the coolest thing you could hope for, to work with actors that are as good as them. And I think when you’re doing a scene, it’s almost like you don’t have time to be intimidated, because you’ve got to rehearse it and feel it out and see how it goes. And they’re all really humble, nice people, so that makes it more comfortable.”
“Tuck” was shot almost entirely on location in Maryland–only the interior of the family home was a set on a soundstage–and much of the scenery is magnificent. “I didn’t know they had these beautiful places in Maryland,” Jackson said, “but they do. They’re out there somewhere. They built the Tuck house out in the woods, and had to hike the camera equipment out to those places. It was kind of exhausting for the crew, but it was beautiful.” The filmmakers also transformed an existing town into a 1914 version of itself for the shoot. “It was a normal, modern little town” before the transformation, Jackson remarked. “If you dug something like three inches down [in the dirt street], there’s cement.”
Jackson enjoyed the location work, though he recalled with a shiver how cold the water he had to dive into in a bucolic scene with Bledel was. He also remembered that whenever there was a lull in the shooting, Russell would instruct the cameramen to film Jackson just running through the forest–in very uncomfortable period boots. He opined that the DVD might offer a full half hour of him just hoofing it about the woods.
And would Jackson like to imbibe from the sort of spring depicted in “Tuck Everlasting”? “I don’t think I’d want to stay the same forever,” he said. “Especially down here stuck on this earth. You watch the news, and I think it will make you not want to live forever. There’s so much crazy stuff going on in this world that eventually I’d want to leave and go on to a better place.” For now, though, the changes Jackson is most fixed on include not only moving to ever more challenging roles, but also working with the production company and rock band that he and his older brother Rick collaborate in. Jonathan Jackson looks forward to acting, writing scripts, directing, singing, playing guitar, writing songs and enjoying his role as a married man–all in his twenties, and without any need for Jesse Tuck’s supernatural spring.