- 04 Mar 21
Triple-threat actor, singer and director Jillian Shea Spaeder is about to blow up in a big way. Here, she discusses new music, movies, and coming of age in the era of Donald Trump and COVID.
It’s taken a while to pin Jillian Shea Spaeder down for an interview. Not because she’s hard to reach, but because the young star is so busy. She’s promoting her new Disney+ film, Godmothered, which also stars Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher, and there’s a recently released single and a self-directed short film to discuss too.
Despite her crazy schedule, Jillian is fresh-faced, bright-eyed and surprisingly chilled out when we meet on Zoom. Having just received the first dose of her Covid vaccination, she’s filling her spare time with whatever creative endeavours she possibly can.
“I’m not working much, because of Covid,” she says, relaxing into her desk chair, “so I’m doing work from home and creating whenever I can.”
The 18-year-old actor and musician has just graduated high school, a quieter affair than the cap-throwing scenario you might see in films, because Jillian is homeschooled.
“I started doing cyber school halfway through sixth grade, so I was in public school up until that point. I think homeschooling had its benefits,” she reflects. “I could not do school for a couple weeks if I was super busy with acting and music, and then I could do a ton of school for a couple weeks to catch up. So I could essentially create my own schedule. But I definitely miss the social aspect of going into an actual school and seeing my friends.”
Homeschooling also enabled Jillian to live between Los Angeles and Philadelphia, which was invaluable for someone who has wanted to pursue a career in acting for most of her life.
“My love for music brought me to musical theatre, and then I went into acting because that’s what you did,” she says. “It morphed into acting being a big part of my life, but I think it started because of music.”
The theatre work in Philadelphia helped score her auditions and television parts when she first moved to L.A., which essentially kickstarted her acting career. She’s one of the luckier Angelinos, an actor who has been working relatively steadily since the age of twelve.
In her new film, Godmothered, she plays the daughter of Isla Fisher, a 40-year-old single mum who is sent a fairy godmother in training (Jillian Bell) to help put some magic back into her life.
“It was so cool to learn from them,” Jillian says of her two comedic co-stars. “The whole cast was really female-centred and empowered. It was great, not only because they were so experienced, but also because they were really kind people.”
But if she could work with any actor on the planet, who would it be?
“Jennifer Lawrence,” she gushes. “She is the coolest person on the face of this earth. I would love to meet her at some point, she’s so talented.”
Safe to say Jillian was a Hunger Games fan...
“I also have a stack of Harry Potter books behind me,” she laughs. “If I had to rank my favourite book series, I’d probably say Harry Potter and then The Hunger Games, but it’s close!”
Like many teens, Jillian found solace in the well-crafted worlds of the two series, which both serve as strong political allegories to modern-day America. She was a first-time voter in the last presidential election, which saw Donald Trump thankfully ousted from the White House.
“Voting was so rewarding,” she says. “I didn’t ask for the last four years, and no one around me did either. It was nice, all the young voices being able to speak and have their input, and show love and compassion is the reason that we’re going to be in a better country now. And I’m happy to be involved in that in a small or large way.”
Jillian may be involved in a larger way than most, though. She and a group of friends were granted funding to make a short film, which she directed before the election to encourage young people to use their votes.
Called It Counts, it likens Biden vs. Trump to a high school Student Body President election.
“We were thinking, ‘why not bring it down to something kids our age will understand?’ Which is where the idea for a school election came in. It’s the same thing. We figured it would make it more intense, to have the one young person not vote at all, and then realise the world around her is terrible and that she could have changed that.
“It put it into perspective, and it was the same thing with the presidential election. Even though millions of people are voting, if everybody does it together, we can make a change. There’s a huge misconception that votes are getting thrown away, that yours won’t matter because there are so many, but every vote really does matter. That’s important for people to understand.”
The exceptionally self-aware short film, directed by Jillian, was shot during the pandemic.
“Covid almost made it easier to shoot, in a way,” she says. “I was doing all of the producing work, and I was in charge of the Covid regulations. I had to hire a Covid officer, everyone needed to get tested, and I was trying to coordinate all of that. Eventually I was like, ‘you know what? We’re going to find a school that’s outside and everyone is going to wear masks. If we’re trying to get people to vote this year, it needs to relate to people at this time.’ And it made it a safer set, it turned out fine. There were a couple lines we had to ADR afterward on a microphone, but I think in the end it made sense.”
Jillian loved the directing experience.
“It’s not that I like being in charge,” she laughs again, “but I like coming up with ideas, strategies and ways to work around things. It feels like a puzzle you’re trying to put together, and I love that process. It’s also really fun to run happy sets like that one was. Everyone had a great time because it was very low-stress, and I like being able to keep it that way.”
Jillian also directed the music video for one of her recent singles, ‘Something Better’.
“I think doing videos to your own music is really special,” she says, “because you already feel very close to the song. It makes a great video when you can tell it’s authentic and real.”
Her latest single, ‘you + me’, was also written with storytelling in mind.
“I was trying to learn how to be a better storyteller,” she explains. “My goal was to get across a character who was begging for somebody else’s attention, and then realises that they don’t need that attention. You feel a girl, over the course of the song, realise that she doesn’t need anyone and doesn’t need to be begging for other people’s approval.”
It’s obvious that the pop ballad in question comes from the soul. At 18, I didn’t have the presence of mind to know what I wanted for breakfast, let alone that I didn’t need external approval to succeed. Perhaps social media has something to do with this?
“Social media definitely has a positive and a negative side,” Jillian says. “I feel like girl power has risen from the dead, because people are just being nice to each other and compassionate. But on the other hand, there’s a side that includes constant comparison.”
Her self-confidence also comes from her parents, both creatives themselves, who are consistently supportive of their children’s endeavours.
“That absolutely helped me. My parents were always like, ‘go for it, let’s go to L.A. and go to auditions’.”
In fact, they even moved to Los Angeles part-time once Jillian started getting work there, in an effort to keep her grounded and ‘at-home’ in some way while she worked.
But ‘home’ is a relative term for the teenager.
“My stuff is in L.A., but my childhood home is in Philadelphia,” she concludes. “Between going back and forth since the age of 12 and filming in different cities, I’ve learned that my home is where my body is.”
• Godmothered is available on Disney+. ‘you + me’ is out now.