Five Questions with Julene Robinson

Published:Jamaica Gleaner – Friday | December 24, 2021 | 12:10 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer

Season Two of the fantasy drama television series, The Witcher, has a new addition. Jamaican actress Julene Robinson, who plays a barmaid, stands out in the fictional storyline – which is filled with actors speaking in their European accents – when she opens her mouth and presents her own native accent. You immediately want to rewind to watch and listen to her again. 

Robinson wears her Jamaicanness with pride and wants to do everything in the right way, that will reflect her culture authentically. She was casted in Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical to play the role of the reggae icon’s mother, Cedella Booker, but has spent the past couple weeks in silence. The biopic of Marley’s life and music opened in London’s West End in November but because of the pandemic has been placed on pause.

“A daughter, a sister, a friend who is also an artist, an actor and a scientist,” is how the London-based actress describes herself, which may be puzzling to some persons who wonder how she mixes the arts with science. The quiet, unassuming actress genuinely “sees and thinks of the world with my science background”.

Robinson said, “I think of myself that way because my parents, my dad in particular, is a huge influence on my life and I am his child first. He would not allow me to jump ship on my education.” She studied environmental chemistry at The University of the West Indies, but often could not ignore the urge to skip classes to go to the Phillip Sherlock Centre, which she calls “the nurturing space for the creative leaders”. 

“It sustained us; people like Shantol Jackson, who is leading in a long-time running British TV show, and Kevoy Burton who is doing extraordinary things. So many of us were gathering in that space to create and make us better able to do our studies, stay driven in our different areas of study until we stuck to the arts,” Robinson explained. 

Her mentor, Michael Holgate, casted her in a musical and that, she said “was the beginning of the path I am on right now”. She has worked with several Jamaican stalwarts such as Basil Dawkins, Trevor Nairne, Patrick Brown and Dahlia Harris. Robinson tells us in 5 Questions with …where she sees the path taking her, how she used her scientist brain to prepare for The Bob Marley Musical and The Witcher, and reveals the song that makes her want to ‘bruk out’. 

1.Do you plan to go back to sciences? 

I never left the sciences. The Bob Marley Musical is currently closed because the Omicron variant is putting a damper on a lot of things here, and I spent the entire weekend doing research on it, just to make sure I have a strong understanding of what’s going on. Of course, I don’t intend to go back in a lab like I did when I was doing quality assurance at Red Stripe, but there are so many ideas that I have that I want to tap into. As an environmental chemist, I pay attention to the way things such as beauty care products are made and the impact on our environment. So maybe in the future I will be like Tracee Ellis Ross and have a whole natural haircare line. 

2. What kind of research did you have to do in preparation for your role in the musical and in The Witcher? 

For Bob Marley, I read Cedella Booker’s book. I read all of the accounts of Bob’s life from different perspectives. I play Bob’s mother in the show and, when you read her book, you feel her. The person who wrote it was incredible, they kept her voice so authentic and you get a deeper understanding and how she says the words. Also, the accounts of others, whose lives she would move through, like Rita Marley. I did research into St Ann, where he was raised, and I am incredibly privileged to have been able to do this. I looked into old footage. I even spoke to my own family. Then I trusted myself and the director to make sure I am communicating truth which was so, that if anyone from the Marley family, his children, even if Cedella Booker sat in the audience, she would see me and not be disappointed.

For The Witcher role, I had watched the entire first season. I did the audition and I wasn’t expecting to get it because it is a fantasy piece of work set in a land with magic and monsters so I didn’t see how the Jamaican accent would fit into it. But I said I am going to trust myself and do it, and just be authentic because it would be cool to see a Jamaican woman pass through this series that I watched. I was very nervous at the time, because I didn’t want it to feel like I didn’t belong. When I watched it, it didn’t feel displaced and I appreciate the way people have been supportive. Fingers crossed all the prayers of my grandmothers and those who love and support me will be answered, and there will be more.

3.You also write, who is your writing influence? 

I am influenced by so many people; I was inspired by Nadia Roxburgh, first seeing her at Phillip Sherlock Centre and she is now a filmmaker. I am heavily influenced by Michael Holgate and love him dearly, Patrick Brown and Trevor Nairne as well as the great Miss Lou. Her written work is written to be alive, we all should be inspired by her, if you are not, you need to check yourself! Also, Brian Johnson, who was my peer, he is an incredible writer, I was so impressed by his work and thought maybe I could be a writer too. 

4.When was the last time you spent Christmas in Jamaica, why was it special?

Last Christmas. Being in lockdown for nine months straight, I jumped on the the last flight to Jamaica and I’m happy I made that decision because my grandmother, Hyacinth Rowe, died the next day. I could be there for my grandfather too. My grandmother was a woman who was never afraid and I am actually working on a project titled The Night Woman, that is inspired by her. It is about a healer woman who travelled with us at the bottom of a ship; she is banished into the darkness hence my use of the work ‘night’. Healer women, often called obeah women, are criticised and some people have said something about my own grandmother but she remained strong and people call her everything under the sun but she never deviated from who she was. When the same persons who said things about her showed up at her doorstep, she was always there to help them. 

5.What genres of music are you currently listening to? 

It’s really hard to nail it down to one or a few genres. Any music that helps me get into a certain headspace will make the list and that’s not ever one genre. Right now, I mostly listen to my show playlist which is a wide range of music. It has some Bob Marley, Gihrl, Labyrinth, ASA, Dobet Gnahore and some other soft, soul and R&B music. 

BRAWTA: If you were in the middle of a dance in Jamaica, which reggae or dancehall song almost always will make you want to ‘bruk out’?

I am a big Spice fan so any song of hers, is definitely my time to shine. For sure you can picture me dancing to Guh Down Deh. Haha!

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