Welsh actress Jessica Sula is on a mission to shine a light on teenage addiction. In the new drama Recovery Road (Mondays, ABC Spark), the 21-year-old actress steps into the shoes of Maddie, a teen alcoholic who struggles to acknowledge she has a problem. It’s her reluctance to accept her addiction that Jessica hopes will resonate with young viewers. “I hope people get the message and see that addiction is a disease and that they become open and honest about it and not want to hide it away and not talk about it.”
Shifting the focus away from the fun and carefree drug- and alcohol-fuelled storylines common in many teen dramas, Recovery Road examines what life is like when the party is over and fractured lives and relationships remain. “I hope people become more empathetic toward it," she tells Hello! adding that she hopes her performance inspires action. “If people are sitting down thinking they could be dependent on a substance, maybe after watching the show they will go and seek out the help that they need.”
Here, the star dishes on her character, reveals how she mastered an American accent and shares her affinity for world cinema.
What attracted you to the role of Maddie? I saw it was a story about sobriety and the fine line between abuse and addiction. I thought that it wasn’t something you see on television, particularly a group of people in a rehabilitation facility.
How did you prepare for the role? I read books and watched documentaries and television shows. But then it struck me that Maddie doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t even think she has a problem, so she would be learning, too. So I was glad I read the stuff that I did and I still listen to podcasts about teen addiction, but after a while it’s really about your character learning it one day at a time.
Do you see any similarities between yourself and your character? She’s quite unbendable in certain opinions and I can certainly be stubborn the way she is. I like her edge and her sarcastic humour and she’s quite witty and clever at putting things together. I’m not like that. [Laughs] But it’s fun to play!
Your American accent is spot on! Was it easy to pick up? My parents and I lived in New York when I was very little. I went to school there for a brief period of time and we travelled a lot. But then I did go back to Wales for my high school life. Then I had a good period of time before I got the part where I was just crashing with friends and living in different random places and working in restaurants where you hear the accent every day. The best way to pick it up is to just be around it. The first couple of episodes it was very strange. It’s hard to get your mouth around certain words.
What inspired you to become an actress? In my family we watched a lot of films. We always watched movies from everywhere and I just fell in love with world cinema. I love bizarre French movies. There’s one called Cousin Cousine that I really like and Manon of the Spring; and German films because my dad is half German. So I fell in love with all aspects of film.
Do you speak German? No ... I don't speak it but I'm in a German household. I should know it. Basically, I'm really bad. [Laughs]