The Birmingham Post (England); 11/24/2000
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Messing about on the river; Joshua Jackson initiates Alison Jones into the secrets of The Skulls
America has prided itself on its classless society ever since they decided they could do without the head of George III on their coinage.
But though they may not have an aristocracy; elitism and the old boy network are just as much in evidence.
The college you attended and fraternity you were accepted into are just as important over there as gentlemen’s clubs once were over here.
Rising young star Joshua Jackson was unnerved by what he found as he researched not-so-secret college societies for his latest film The Skulls.
He plays a working class student who gains a place at an Ivy League University, then finds his life threatened by the club he has become a member of.
‘The Skulls in our film is based on The Skull & Bones at Yale. Everybody knows that they have a building, everybody knows that there are members, and everybody knows that when you see somebody walking across the campus in black tie, tuxedo and tails they’re usually on their way to one of these places.
‘However, nobody knows what goes on behind those doors. Nobody knows who the membership outside of school is. Nobody knows how the membership convenes once they graduate from school. So they’re visible and invisible.
‘Our set decorator and director of photography tried to go in and take pictures of the Tomb, which is what they call their base of operations, and were promptly escorted off the premises and had the film taken out of their camera.’
Actors can usually expect to access all areas to get the inside knowledge they need to flesh out a performance, right down to hovering over the shoulders of surgeons as they slice into a patient.
But these clubs proved to have more secrets and better security than the FBI.
‘Over the course of the 170 years that they’ve been in existence there have been a few things that have trickled out,’ said Joshua.
‘There are people who watch them, conspiracy theorists mostly, who know roughly the composition of the membership, though not in its entirety. There are bits and pieces that you can pick up, but it’s very tricky.
‘The best book on the subject is American Secret Societies, by a man called Anthony Sutton. It’s a collected volume which deals mostly with the Skull & Bones, and in his estimation they are more powerful than something like the Masons, because they are much less widely known and are a more exclusive group. They are extremely choosy about who they allow in.’
In the fictional version members recognize each other through the brands on their wrists, a rather more manly version of the funny handshake.
‘That was a compromise,’ said Josh.
‘They are supposedly branded under their tongues, but we couldn’t figure out a way to do that with make-up and still have actors who could talk.’
Surprisingly he felt that even a career as treacherous as acting seemed a more friendly prospect than trying to be accepted into one of these elite groups.
‘The rules of engagement for breaking into Hollywood, as slippery and amorphous as they are, are at least above board. But the rules of engagement and membership are unknown for The Skulls.’
Frustrated by the doors that were closed to him, Joshua threw himself into the other type of sculling that interests his character.
Though the young Canadian is more at home on frozen water, having being cast as an ice hockey player in one of his early films, he got on to the river and made like Steve Redgrave.
‘That was my own stupid fault. Originally in the script the sport was yachting, which I thought was very odd. Firstly I know that they have regattas, but I don’t know if they have competitive sailing at Yale. And secondly, I know there’s no possible way that this blue collar kid I was playing would have had access to a yacht.
‘So I said as it’s called Skulls, why not change the sport to sculling. Rowing is very competitive and it also smacks of Ivy League aristocracy, so it would make it more interesting for someone to break into that.
‘That was my dumb idea, and I paid for it dearly in blood, sweat and tears.’
Born in Vancouver in 1978, Joshua has been acting in adverts since he was nine and starred alongside Emilio Estevez in The Mighty Ducks at 14.
He has since become a household name, in America at least, as Pacey Witter, the cute, witty one from Dawson’s Creek.
‘I’ve been twice lucky. I guess I shouldn’t expect to win the lottery any time soon. Enjoying that success as a child actor kept me interested and kept me participating in acting.
‘After that finished I had a really fallow year and Dawson’s Creek fell into my lap.’
Now into his fourth season as a world weary teen with an unfortunate habit of falling for the wrong women (the first was his teacher, the second went mad and the third was his best friend’s girl), Joshua is doing all his growing up on the big screen.
His three recent movies, Urban Legend, Gossip and The Skulls have all seen him playing a college student.
It was his mature attitude that impressed the director and producer of The Skulls when they came down to North Carolina, where Dawson’s Creek is filmed, to talk to him about the part.
‘Rob Cohen and John Pogue flew down to Wilmington in the middle of a snowstorm. It’s in the Bible belt so they have all these old laws which means everything pretty much shuts down at 10 o’clock.
‘We went and grabbed a pizza and then walked across the street to my favorite bar. I ordered a Coke instead of a beer, because I don’t drink on work nights. Rob said right there and then that I had the job.’
Invariably cast as the school smart alec, Joshua himself was an academic drop out.
‘I was expelled from school twice. The first time because I didn’t have enough school spirit, the second time because I just never went. I’d stay up all night watching TV and then not show up for class.’ He still harbors a desire to go to university. however, and top of the list is Trinity College, Dublin, the city where his mother Fiona was born.
‘Sitting among a group of my peers and reaping the benefit of having 40 minds tackling a problem, I think it would be great.’
‘If Dawson’s Creek were to run for a couple more years, I would have a comfortable enough cushion that would allow me to go to college and afford it.’