The former presenter turned The Good Place star on why she refuses to stay silent about the aftermath of #MeToo, unhealthy body ideals and the tabloid media
When British celebrities make it big in the US, they go through a by now familiar process of becoming Hollywoodified: they get thinner, more groomed, less fun, all the while insisting that their occasional deployment of a quaint British swearword proves they havent changed a bit. This is not Jameela Jamil.
We cannot talk in here, its too fucking crowded, Jamil, the former T4 presenter turned US sitcom star, declares, looking around the private members club. Id suggested it because its near what is now her home in West Hollywood, which she shares with her boyfriend of three years, the musician James Blake. But as we walk through the club she decrees it a bit you know, whatever, you know what I mean? All around us, people are wearing the regulation outfits of LA beautiful people: long dresses with sandals, or designer jeans with vintage T-shirts and expensive trainers. Jamil, by contrast, is wearing an absurdly short and tight dress with chunky heels. Her hair and makeup look endearingly unpolished.
I like to do it myself, because I dont like being contoured, she says, referring to the makeup trick that creates the illusion of a thinner face and higher cheekbones, popularised by Kim Kardashian, who well get to in a minute. Also, I invariably get made up to look a different ethnicity whiter. If the former breakfast TV presenter Cat Deeley looked born and bred in Santa Monica five minutes after landing here to present So You Think You Can Dance, Jamil still looks like a London girl on her way to Camden Market.
Most British people still know Jamil best from her time as a presenter on Radio 1, and her three-year stint on pop culture show T4, from 2009, where she was a fun and lively interviewer who, for example, informed Russell Brand live on air that interviewing him was a nightmare. But in the US she has become a bona fide star, thanks to her role in NBCs The Good Place, made by the people behind Parks And Recreation. Set in the afterlife and co-starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, The Good Place is one of those rare shows that manages to be very smart and extremely silly, in which extended discussions about Kierkegaard and Plato (as the characters try to figure out if theyre good or bad) rub up against jokes about Blue Ivy and James Franco. Jamil is very funny as Tahani, a Little Miss Perfect socialite who namedrops for Britain: I havent been this upset since my good friend Taylor was rudely upstaged by my other good friend Kanye, who was defending my best friend, Beyonc. The show has just finished shooting its third season.
After a breast cancer scare at the age of 28, Jamil decided she would no longer wait to do the things she wanted to do. So she moved to LA in 2015, originally hoping to find work as a screenwriter. To her surprise, her manager convinced her to audition for The Good Place instead and, even though she had never acted before, she got the part. Initially, she begged the shows creator, Michael Schur, to rethink his decision, because I didnt want to make an absolute tit of myself in front of the entire world.