A decade ago, Jasmin Savoy Brown was an aspiring actress from Springfield, Oregon. Now, she’s one of the stars of the Emmy-nominated Showtime drama “Yellowjackets.” Here’s how it happened.
Brown fell in love with performing when she was 8 years old. She remembers accompanying her family to see a revival of Broadway’s “The Music Man” and seeing a young performer in the cast.
“I thought, ‘Woah, there’s someone my age on stage singing and getting to do this?’” she said. “I loved to sing and dance, and I thought, ‘Wow, you can get paid to do all of that every day? Cool.’”
Brown scored her first role with Upstart Crow Youth Theater in Eugene. The community theater was auditioning for “Cinderella: The Musical” in 2007.
“I don’t know how my mom heard about it, because it was all the way over in Eugene, which is so far from Springfield,” she said. “But it felt that way at the time.”
Brown nailed the audition — in fact, she got the lead. The seventh-grader soon started preparing for her performance as Cinderella.
“It was the first time I went ‘A, I’m good at this, but B, I’m a really hard worker,’” she said. “I think I was born a hard worker, but I didn’t know that until I met other kids who weren’t.”
For her role as Cinderella, Brown worked alongside director Euralee Smith and Smith’s daughter, choreographer Sarah Beth Byrum, who recalls Brown’s distinct ability to command attention, both on stage and off.
“I feel like she didn’t even realize the potential that she had and how people were instantly drawn to her,” Byrum said.
Byrum said Brown was always the first to rehearsal and the last to leave, and that her attitude was instrumental in making the performance come together.
“(She) definitely was always asking ‘What can I do to help?’” Byrum said. “She was there to do it.”
As a small fish in a small pond, Brown said the odds were stacked against her as a performer, and that meant working 10 times harder than everybody else. In high school, she worked at downtown Springfield’s Grocery Outlet to pay for acting, voice, dance and piano lessons. She auditioned for everything she could, both in and out of school, to give herself as many chances as possible to hone her craft.
“So by the time I got somewhere like Portland, (if) an opportunity presented itself, I was more than ready,” she said.
But it took some time for that opportunity to emerge. Between 2011 and 2012, Jasmin Savoy Brown auditioned for 13 theater schools. She was rejected by all but one.
Thinking the theater industry didn’t want her, Brown decided instead to pursue roles in film and television. For her, this meant leaving Springfield behind.
“You just want to go somewhere where you have more opportunities to exercise your craft, practice it, and get in front of agents,” she said.
She moved to Portland, where she saw a network of artists and filmmakers collaborating. And she began auditioning, hoping to earn union membership in the Screen Actors Guild.
At first, it was difficult to land parts. Brown said at some auditions, thousands of actors competed for a single role. Meanwhile, she was commuting back to the Eugene area and working odd jobs just to make ends meet.
“I rented an attic converted into a room that was full of spiders,” she said. “And I hate spiders.”
However, Brown believes her timing was lucky. She said the film industry was starting to consider diversity in casting decisions, and that benefited queer women of color like herself. Additionally, union rules require that directors audition local performers, which Brown credits for getting noticed as studios filmed in Portland.
Finally, she got the big break she was looking for when she received the call to appear in a network television show called “Grimm.” It felt like her hard work was finally paying off.
“It was everything,” she said. “It was exciting, it was validating, it was fun, they paid me. It was a great way to start off my career.”
Sarah Beth Byrum recalls when she found out what her former student had accomplished.
“My mom was the one who called me and she was like ‘Did you see this? Jasmin made it,’” she said. “It was a really exciting moment for both of us. And then every time that she got a bigger role, it was cause for celebration.”
Brown’s role in “Grimm” was small, but she says it was an important career step. In the following years, her on-screen appearances would grow from a single line in the indie film “Laggies” to a starring role in “Scream VI.”
According to Byrum, this success story proves that actors don’t have to come from Hollywood.
“It just reminds students that you should dream big, and that it doesn’t matter what your hometown is or where you come from, that there is an opportunity to be successful,” she said.
Brown said moving forward, she’d like to return to the theater stage. One day, she hopes to make it to Broadway.
In the meantime, you can see her on screen when the finale for the second season of “Yellowjackets” premieres Friday, May 26.