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Young and Restless
Today, Joshua Jackson is one of the hottest stars in television and film. Of course, life wasn't always so sunny. Like his TV alter ego, Pacey, Joshua's childhood could be characterized as a series of disappointments with a few laughs in between. Just as Pacey laughs in the hope that the world will laugh with him, so does Josh. An optimist to the end, the young boy always knew that everything would work out for the best, provided he just put on a happy face.
As luck would have it, Josh was right on target. His enthusiasm and sympathy for everyone around him helped him weather the challenges of his early years, which included his parents' divorce and recurring difficulties at school. Proving that adversity can be a positive influence, Josh used these negative events to forge a new path of his own choosing. And no matter how tough life seemed to get, Josh always knew that it was only a matter of time until he got it right.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, on June 11, 1978, Josh was the kind of rambunctious youngster that people would notice on the street, in a restaurant, or in a shop. Even as a baby, Josh Jackson was a real cutup who loved being in the spotlight. And if he had to coo, giggle, and spit up all over himself to get the attention, that was just fine by him.
Of course, being the handful that he was, Joshua was both the source of tremendous pleasure and great difficulty for his parents. No matter how much they tried to keep an eye on him, he would inevitably get into trouble. Whether it was throwing his toys around the house or spilling his food, little Joshua was never so content as when he was getting himself into a fine mess.
No amount of trouble, however, could keep him from falling back into his parents' good graces. He had a natural charm that could disarm even the strictest of disciplinarians. Even then, Josh was a regular Houdini when it came to getting himself out of the everyday scrapes that seemed to follow him wherever he went.
The Jackson family enjoyed all the comforts of a middle-class lifestyle. For a while, Josh didn't have a care in the world. Even the news that his family would be moving to California didn't faze him in the least. As long as he was with his parents, he felt safe, comfortable, and secure.
Growing up in Northern California, Josh had a million interests to occupy his time. In 1983, he suddenly found himself busier than ever, taking care of his new baby sister, Aisleigh. From day one, Josh felt like hehad to protect his little sister. Seeing her come home from the hospital so small and frail, Josh's sensitive side kicked into gear. Instead of resenting his sister's presence in the house, as most older siblings are apt to do, Josh embraced the little girl and vowed to take care of her. His mother had never been so proud as the day when she brought Aisleigh from the hospital, and saw Josh kissing his baby sister on the cheek.
Once the family had gotten used to the new member of the household and their new location, it was business as usual for Josh. What with the family trips to the beach, and playing in the park with his many friends, Josh was rarely at a loss for activity. Adjusting to his new surroundings took almost no time, as Joshua was a born crowd-pleaser. By the time he celebrated his seventh birthday, he had already earned a reputation for his outrageous sense of humor and had become one of the most popular kids on the block.
To lend structure to Josh's day, and keep him out of trouble, his parents wanted him to get involved in an organized activity that would give him a greater purpose and a sense of self. But there was a glitch. Josh would have nothing to do with groups like the Boy Scouts or any other of the "goody-two-shoes" clubs that his parents had in mind. His well-meaning family was at wits' end as to what to do with their energetic youngster, until, that is, Josh's mom heard him singing in the shower. She obviously liked what she hard, because the next day she called to find out about auditions for the San Francisco Boys' Chorus.
The chorus was a training and performance institute for boys ranging in ages from six to thirteen.With three auditions scheduled every year, the competition to get in was steep. Josh was certain that he wouldn't make the cut, and went along with his mother just to make her happy. In his opinion, there was nothing to worry about—no way would he get picked for the prestigious training program.
When he arrived at the auditorium, Josh became even more convinced that his free time would not be spent warming up his voice. Much to his relief, hundreds of young boys had showed up to compete for the limited spots. When it came time for Josh to impress the judges, he delivered a solo with all of the gusto and energy his young voice could muster. Finally, all of the boys had finished singing, and the judges had picked the new members of the chorus. While the names of the finalists were being rattled off, Josh was already thinking about all fun he could have with his time off from school.
Imagine his dismay when he heard his name called.
While he was flattered to be one of the few boys chosen for the program, Josh was perplexed by the thought that he would have to give up his leisure time for singing. He groaned inwardly as he envisioned the hours of practice he would have to endure. Like all new students, Josh would begin his illustrious career as a vocalist in the Apprentice Chorus. Once he learned the basics, he would then move on to the Intermediate Chorus. Finally, if he passed muster, he could progress to the final stage of the training program, the Concert Chorus, where he would get to perform in front of a live audience.
Although the faculty made the program sound rewarding and enriching during the orientation, Josh couldn't get over the fact that he would have to comein for practice twice a week for two hours straight. But no matter how much he wanted to complain, seeing the excited look on his mother's face kept him from voicing his doubts.
His mother was indeed thrilled with Josh's performance that day. Whatever his voice may have lacked in substance, Josh definitely made up for in style. Even at that young age, Josh had a natural charisma and presence that would not be denied. His proud mother couldn't help beaming as she watched her adorable young boy sing his heart out for the judges. Josh simply didn't have the heart to disappoint his mom.
The next thing he knew, Josh was wearing a choral robe and up to his neck in rehearsals.
Fortunately, what had begun as a burden to be borne soon turned into an enjoyable experience. At first, Josh had a hard time adhering to the rules and policies of the chorus, but eventually he started to enjoy the vocal training. It didn't hurt that he was one of the best-loved guys in the group. And the fact that he was surrounded by so many good friends must have changed his outlook on the program considerably. Pretty soon, Joshua was being commended for the rapid progress he was making in the rehearsal sessions. His hard work and dedication helped him pass into the next stage of the program, and closer to his goal of going public.
Just as Joshua had finally realized the joys of belting out a tune and performing, his parents told him that they would once again have to relocate. Apparently, Josh's mother had found work as a casting directoron TV's action-adventure series MacGyver. In an odd twist of fate, the dramatic series was set to shoot in Vancouver, and the whole family would have to move back as soon as possible.
At nine years old, Joshua had long since grown accustomed to the California way of life. Nearly the whole of his formative years had been spent in the state. He had formed many good friendships. He was even slated to sing at local events with the boys' chorus. Now was not the best time for a relocation.
Seeing how badly their son was taking the planned move, the Jacksons decided not to sell their residence in California. That way, Josh could be shuttled back and forth, in order to complete his engagement with the San Francisco Chorus. The idea of joining the jet-set at the ripe old age of nine instantly appealed to the young boy. Joshua jumped at the chance to split his time between Vancouver and California. In fact, he could hardly wait to brag to his friends.
At first, the experience was just as exciting as he'd imagined. Josh had the best of both worlds, or so he thought. After dividing his time between Vancouver and the chorus, Josh decided that he'd had it with the music industry. The only reason he started singing was to appease his mother, and while he'd come to like it, the hobby was now swallowing his schedule up whole. After giving the matter some thought, he decided to quit. To this day, Josh talks of singing as a fun pastime that went the way of the pogo stick. "I used to be in the choir when I was younger," he told TV Hits, "but I've given up all that now."
Although the decision to quit the chorus proved an easy one, Josh had not anticipated how much he would miss having a creative outlet. As soon as hesettled down in Vancouver, he found himself bored and depressed. Josh needed an activity, one that would fill up his time and give him something to do with all of that incredible energy.
At long last, Josh realized that the solution to his woes had been right beneath his nose all along. Nearly ten years old, he was finally mature enough to comprehend what his mother, Fiona, did for a living. Having been to her place of business on a few occasions, Josh became captivated with all things show business. He loved the cutthroat competition and all the behind-the-scenes activity. Watching as one hopeful actor after another came through his mother's office doors, the things that stood out in his mind was how excited all the actors were to read for the parts, and how selective his mother was when it came down to choosing the right person for the job. So much to do couldn't have been about nothing, and Josh decided to ask his mother if he could go on a few auditions himself.
As a woman who'd been around the showbiz block, Fiona knew how difficult an actor's life could be. She had seen the frustrations and disappointments firsthand, and didn't want her son to end up as an industry casualty, no matter how much he begged or pleaded.
One of Joshua's best qualities is hanging tough when all seems lost. And his mother's refusal to let him audition gave him plenty of chances to display this tenacity. Once he made up his mind about something, nothing short of a global catastrophe could sway him from his plotted course.
Josh never doubted that he could become a great actor. Thanks to the fact that he'd had to feign innocenceevery time his hand was caught in life's cookie jar, his imagination and creativity were at a peak. The truth was, Josh had been putting his acting skills to use long before he actually began acting professionally. "I just always thought acting looked liked a lot of fun," he explained. "And as a little kid, I wanted to do it. I don't even know why. I just wanted to see my face on the screen."
The idea that he could actually get paid to play make-believe was a major draw for young Jackson. He would not give in until his mother allowed him to go put his skills to the test.
Seeing that her son would not give up the dream of acting, Fiona had to face facts. It was either keep Josh away from the industry and put up with his resentful pouting, or give him a chance to prove himself and hope for the best. Finally, she decided to opt for the latter alternative. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Josh could bomb at the auditions, and get discouraged enough not to try again.
So with his mother's blessing and audition information, Josh prepared to vie for a spot in the dog-eat-dog entertainment industry. His first audition was for a commercial promoting tourism in British Columbia. Scheduled to air in the United States, the series of commercials offered a great opportunity for any up-and-coming actor. Over fifty child actors were invited to sing the praises of their motherland. Josh couldn't believe he would have to compete against so many talented young hopefuls. Making matters worse was the fact that most of his competition had had some formal theatrical training in their past.
Of course, Josh was no stranger to outshining and outmaneuvering his rivals. During the audition for the San Francisco Boys' Chorus, Josh was as calm as can be. But, come to think of it, singing hadn't meant as much to him as acting. You will recall that Josh had been none too thrilled by the prospect of joining a choir. The acting bug, however, had bit Josh hard, and it was this desire to join the ranks of young Macaulay Culkin and Drew Barrymore that made him a nervous wreck this time around.
At this juncture in his career, Josh had to rely on his signature sense of humor to stay cool and collected. Instead of worrying about the results of his audition, he decided to concentrate on all the funny things going around him. While watching the other kids rehearse their lines with their parents as coaches, Josh couldn't help cracking up. The intensity on everyone's faces gave Josh the ammo he needed to fuel his sharp sense of humor.
By the time Josh was called into the audition room, he was all confidence and bravado. With his mother there to wish him luck, Josh had no doubt that he would make a strong impression just by being himself.
True to his word, Josh blew the competition out of the water. All it took was a few minutes, and the casting directors decided that Josh was perfect for the part. When Fiona heard that Josh had snagged the coveted spot, she was both surprised and a little scared. While she was the first to admit that Josh had natural talent and grace, she worried about his future in the business. Was this beginner's luck, could he handle the rejections that were every actor's birthright? She wasn't sure, but seeing the excited look onJosh's face convinced her that she was doing the right thing.
Although he was certain that he'd performed up to his full potential, Josh was still thrown for quite a loop upon learning that he'd landed the role during his first audition. "They liked me, they really liked me," he thought over and over. Wishing for things was one thing, but actually getting them was entirely different. No matter how confident he had pretended to be, Josh knew that inside he was a wreck. And yet, he had pulled it off. At last, he was ready to take the world of TV commercials by storm.
When Josh arrived on location, he was flabbergasted with how much actually went into the making of a thirty-second promo. Prior to making his acting debut, Josh thought that actors had only to show up, read their lines, and go home. Boy, had he been way off!
Dozens of people swarmed around, making sure the lighting was okay, fixing the actors' makeup, and calling directions to the crew members. Being at the center of all this action might have been daunting for any first-time actor, but the more chaotic the scene became, the more elated Josh felt. The hustle and bustle of the production was like music to his ears. He felt so comfortable on the set that his tired mother practically had to drag him away.
Josh had officially caught showbiz fever.
It was then that Fiona realized that arguing with Josh was useless. She threw up her hands in resignation, rolled up her sleeves and set to work. If she couldn't beat his resolve to act, she was going to doeverything within her power to help him on the road to success.
Now that he had his first acting credit, other jobs were quick to follow. His next role was for a commercial for Keebler's potato chips. Beating out another bevy of talented actors, Josh was handpicked for the plum role. Fiona was pleased that her son would be getting paid handsomely for his work, but Josh didn't care a whit about the money. All he wanted was to see himself on the television screen.
At the rate he was going, Josh would become a movie star in no time, at least that's what everyone who saw him said. He had that special something that set him above and beyond his peers. Talent coupled with confidence was a formula custom-made for Hollywood greatness.
This was a heady and exciting time for the burgeoning thespian. At nine years old, Josh was already experiencing the highs that went along with acting. While other kids were busy playing with friends and negotiating new curfews with their parents, Josh was meeting people in high places. When he wasn't working on commercials, Josh was filling in as an extra on the drama MacGyver. He was always looking for more work, something his mother was shocked and pleasantly surprised to discover.
Never before had Fiona seen Josh so determined and focused. It used to be that Josh would get obsessed with some new activity, only to drop it in a matter of months, even weeks. But when it came to acting, Josh was all business. He had an innate understanding of how the industry worked, and how to get where and what he wanted.
Josh's professional triumphs gave him a whole new lease on life. He was more cheerful than ever, and even stopped getting into so much trouble. But just as he began seeing the world from a much rosier perspective, something happened that would forever darken his outlook on the future.
His parents announced that they would be getting divorced.
Josh knew that his mom and dad quarreled from time to time, but so did most parents. He never expected that they would decide to split up forever. The news was extremely shocking to the young boy, who was just beginning to come into his own. The actual divorce proceedings were no less difficult to bear. Josh would be unable to grasp the full impact of what had happened for several months. To him, it had seemed that his parents would always be together, one big happy family. "My mother and father breaking up was tough," said Josh. "It was really painful because everything you trusted and felt secure about fell apart. After their divorce, anything could happen."
When his parents separated, Josh didn't know what his new role in the family would be. Would he have to become the man of the house? How would he, his sister, and his mom survive? These were just some of the unanswered questions looming in his mind. The one thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to live with his mother rather than his dad. From the day his parents told him the news, he felt an extreme sense of loyalty to his mom. He promised that he would never leave her, and would always be there to help her take care of him and his sister.
As a ten-year-old struggling with such weighty issues, Josh had to grow up much sooner than he had ever expected. No matter how much Fiona tried to convince him that everything would turn out for the best, he could not stop feeling that he was somehow responsible for the welfare and safekeeping of his mother and little sister.
Although gregarious and outgoing by nature, Josh grew increasingly withdrawn and guarded. He found that trusting people was a lot harder. But there was a bright side to the otherwise sad situation. Slowly but surely, Josh became more independent and self-assured. Surviving the divorce of his parents showed him that there was nothing he couldn't handle if he really set his mind to it. It is this knowledge that gives him the strength to fight for his beliefs and pursue his goals to this very day.
As a result of the divorce, Josh also became very attached to his mother and sister. They were everything to him, and he respected his mother for keeping him and his sister shielded from some of life's harsher realities. No matter how much the divorce may have upset Fiona, she never allowed her personal struggles to interfere with her role as a nurturing and supportive parent. Josh and Aisleigh were the most important things in her life, and she worked hard to create a happy and safe atmosphere in her household.
Seeing his mother work so hard on their behalf made Josh love her all the more. "My parents getting divorced was obviously a very traumatic experience," he admitted to the Seattle Times. "And then after, it was just me, my sister, and my mother, and we went at it alone. I went from being a very well-off little kid to having a couple rough years, to rebuilding—mymother did that. She and I are very close."
The bond Josh and his mother shared remains one of the most precious aspects of his life. And even if it took his parents' separation to give him a better appreciation for his mom and sister, Josh was still better off for having lived through the ordeal.
With no male role model in the house, Josh found himself surrounded by women. The family would go out to dinner together, rent movies, and play board games. His mother was right after all, nothing had changed after the divorce. Josh was loved just as much as ever. Although he sometimes wished he had a brother as well, Josh is grateful for the knowledge that his mother and sister imparted to him. Sharing the same house with them helped him gain a greater respect for and understanding of women. Besides, where would he have been if his mother and sister hadn't helped him with matters of sartorial style? "Most people call my style of dress slovenly—I call it extreme casual," he told Seventeen magazine. "If I didn't have a mother and a sister for the times I do have to get dressed up, I'd be absolutely lost."
Besides having Fiona and Aisleigh to support him, Josh had the backing of a very tight-knit community. Kitsilano, Vancouver, was a place where everyone, from the local grocer to the town mayor, called each other by name. As he explained, "I grew up in a community where I knew everyone in the neighborhood, went to school with all the same kids, and spent a decade of my life with the same people."
Because he had felt a loss of stability when his parent's divorced, Josh craved the kind of solidarity that came with living in a small town. Despite Kitsilano's tiny dimensions and population figures, itcould hardly be confused with Norman Rockwell's conservative depiction of small town life. "It's an ex-hippie place," Josh clarified to the Seattle Times. "It's very liberal."
No matter how much turmoil he experienced during his parents' divorce, Josh's flair for high drama was nurtured by everyone around him. Instead of diminishing his resolve to act, his family's trials and tribulations actually served to fan the flames of his ambition. Not only would acting give him an outlet for his frustrations, it would also bring more money into the household—and when it came to his family, Josh was willing to do just about anything.
Copyright © 1999 by Elina Furman. Cover photograph © CORBIS Outline / Adam Olszewsky.
Posted January 22, 2002
Posted July 18, 2000