By the time she was in her early twenties, Jess Bush was fairly certain she wanted to pursue a career in the arts — but something called “tall poppy syndrome” stopped her.
“It’s a form of being humble,” she explains of the Australian term. “If anyone gets too big for their boots or too confident, then people around you will think you need to pipe down. That kind of thing.”
Chatting over Zoom from her temporary home of Toronto, the Brisbane native seems plenty humble. Luckily she reasoned with her own fear of tall poppy syndrome and embraced the arts, in both acting and visual arts. Bush is now making her big acting break in “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” the new Paramount+ series, as well as with “Bee Totem,” her immersive art installation.
“In my early twenties, my community started to be filled with more actors, and I just decided to give it a go finally. I was just like, ‘f–k it, I can feel that this is in me and I can feel that my gut is telling me to go there,’” she recalls. “And the rest is history. I was pretty laser focused after that.”
Bush was first approached about the Star Trek project in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when she was dedicated entirely to visual art.
“My visual art is still alive alongside my acting career; they fit really well together and at the time I was working on a major art project that got funded by the Australian government, and I was right in the middle of installing this big installation piece. And I had just had a conversation with my managers in Australia where I was like, ‘I just need to give my focus to this other thing for a while, and I need to rest,’” she says. “I had been quite run down by a long string of rejections as well. My mental health was really taking a hit, and I said, ‘I only want to go for projects that are really talking to us, and are really like, we love.’ And he was like, ‘Great. Totally understand. Take whatever time you need. I’ll be in touch with anything that is special.’”
Next thing she knew he was back with an audition notice for a mystery character with a fake name in a fake scene for a “Star Trek” project.
“I raced home after a 14-hour day of installing, with my hair standing on end and not at all prepared, and threw something down,” she says. “And that obviously resonated.”
Playing Nurse Christine Chapel required her to enter the “Star Trek” universe, which she was “aware of” prior to but “had no idea really how immense the cultural impact is of this franchise. As soon as I booked it, all these Trekkies started to come out of the woodwork,” she says. “All these people that I know revealed themselves as massive Trekkies.”
“Bee Totem,” meanwhile, is something she’s been working on for three or so years now. Bush collects dead honeybees from beekeepers and preserves them in spheres of resin, “so they look like little glass orbs, and then I suspend them from the ceiling in different formations,” she explains. “And I get a sound artist to build music around it as well.” The build took her four months alone.
Her visual work has long been inspired by the environment, and she discovered the beauty of a dead bee while on a walk through the park one day.
“I just think they’re the most beautiful insects. I feel like when you actually take the time to be engaged with them, it almost feels like they’re of another place,” she says. “They have such a special energy about them. And obviously I think that has something to do with the fact that they hold our entire global ecosystem together. And obviously we would understand that on an animal level. So yeah. There’s just something about them that I’m obsessed with. And I could happily work with them forever. And obviously the issues that they’re facing and the problems that they…I feel like they kind of have become a poster child for where we are in our relationship with the natural world. And the problems that they face kind of mirror a lot of other problems that we face.”
As she looks ahead, Bush is relying once again on her approach to wait for something that really excites her.
“I think it’s important to be somewhat selective about what happens next, in the way of what role comes next. I think it’s important to be mindful about that,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m just much more excited. I think that while that request back in 2020 resulted in something wonderful, it also came from a place of feeling tired and maybe less hopeful. And my life is completely different now. And so, I’m really excited about what comes next.”