The year 2020 will go down in history for a number of reasons — the coronavirus pandemic, protests against racial injustices, and a groundbreaking presidential election merely top the list of everything that happened. But in addition to all that, Big Sky star Jade Pettyjohn will also remember this year as one packed with career milestones. Luckily, she keeps her life well-documented on Instagram so she (and her fans) can remember it all.
Pettyjohn got her start in kids movies and series like An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars and Nickelodeon's School of Rock. But 2020 saw Pettyjohn take on a whole new set of roles. She kicked the year off with Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere, in which she played Lexie Richardson, the daughter of Reese Witherspoon's character. It was a role that not only had her working closely with superstar actors, but also one that introduced the world to a more grown-up version of Pettyjohn.
Now on ABC's twisty drama Big Sky, Pettyjohn plays Grace Sullivan, a young woman who is kidnapped alongside her sister and fights for her freedom. The dark subject matter this show tackles (think murder and violent cults), arguably makes this Pettyjohn's most mature project yet.
Pettyjohn is proud of how her work as an actor has grown with her. "I’m 20 now and I’m evolving as a human being," she tells Elite Daily. "The stories I want to tell change. What I love is the people who follow me through my career are also growing up with me, and so they’re also going through this change with me."
As Pettyjohn reflects on how she and her career have grown, she shares some photos — and their backstories — from all the ups and downs of this year.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Elite Daily: Where and when was this photo was taken?
Jade Pettyjohn: This was my first time stepping into a record shop since the pandemic hit. This was in East Vancouver and I was over the moon. I collect records, and I’m a huge fan of supporting record shops and small local businesses. You can tell from the photo, I’m cheesing and very, very happy. I’m such a nerd when it comes to records!
ED: In this picture, you’re holding a Bob Dylan album. Is that one special to you?
JP: "The Times They Are A Changing" is a really good song to navigate 2020 and this year. Bob Dylan is such a poet and I feel like his words, although these were written a while ago, they’re still really relevant today.
ED: What kind of music do you like to listen to in general?
JP: I listen to everything. I will one day listen to Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac, and then the next day I’ll listen to N.W.A. and Dead Prez, and then the next day I’ll listen to punk or maybe Miley Cyrus. It changes with every day, and I think that’s sort of the beauty of music. You don’t really have to be defined by a genre. There are just too many good musicians and too many genres that are incredible to stick yourself into one little niche.
ED: Who is your all-time favorite artist?
JP: Oh my gosh, I have so many favorite artists. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Moses Sumney. He’s a very good, feel-good artist right now. I love Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Billie Eilish’s new track was incredible.
ED: This is one of the many photos on your Instagram feed that shows you wearing a mask. Why do you think it’s important to post masked-up photos on social media for fans to see?
JP: I think it’s so important for people to start normalizing wearing masks, especially on social media. It really shouldn’t be a big thing in my opinion, or a politicized thing. I think it’s just showing that you care about the safety and well-being of others. A simple thing like wearing a mask can really save a life. When you wear a mask, you know you’re protecting people.
Little Fires Everywhere Party With Reese Witherspoon
ED: Where and when was this photo taken?
JP: This was taken in [fall] 2019 and this was our wrap party, so it was definitely a bittersweet night. On one hand, we have to say goodbye to the cast and crew, and then on the other hand, we’re celebrating being together and celebrating the show we made. It’s probably one of my favorite groups of people to work with, and in this particular photo we were able to get almost all of the Richardson clan, besides Josh [Jackson].
ED: What it was like to work with Reese Witherspoon?
JP: She is a total icon, and working with her was really nothing short of extraordinary. I always felt that she would be a warm and incredible human being — and obviously really talented — but working with her, I didn’t realize the magnitude of her kindness and generosity as an artist. To be able to work with someone who was a really big factor in the reason I wanted to be an actress was really cool to me. To see her take on a role as complex as Elena Richardson was a really beautiful thing to witness.
ED: Did Reese give you any advice during your time together?
JP: She’s probably one of the most generous scene partners I’ve ever worked with. She definitely helped me navigate all of the emotions that come with being raised in the Richardson family. We had a lot of fun creating that together, having family dinners before we started filming.
ED: The premiere of Little Fires Everywhere coincided with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. How did it feel to be experiencing this career high during such a scary time?
JP: I think it’s really important to be aware of everything that’s happening in the world right now. I am definitely counting my blessings twice and I’m incredibly grateful. This show meant a lot to me and to see that people have been seeking comfort in it during quarantine made me really really happy. And it was a good initiative for people to stay home.
Protesting For Black Lives Matter
ED: Where and when was this photo taken?
JP: This was a few months ago, in L.A. at a protest. My friend and I, we would go to a lot of protests around this time. This one was centered around Breonna Taylor and screaming for justice around her case. These protests are really, really beautiful in my opinion because you have people from all different walks of life, from different backgrounds, from different worlds, coming together to stand for basic and fundamental human rights, and standing up for Black Lives Matter. I think that was just a really beautiful, unifying thing to see.
ED: What was going through your mind while taking this photo?
JP: I just wanted this message to scream loud and clear. We have a really powerful right to use our voice and to use it correctly. So when this whole thing was happening, I was really just trying to make it very clear that we need to stand up for others.
ED: Is there a memory from this day that stands out to you the most?
JP: In the middle of us walking through the streets and protesting, we merged with another Black Lives Matter protest. It was really, really cool to see a whole different group of hundreds and hundreds of people walking toward us. We all started clapping and celebrating. I thought that our protest was huge, but then it just turned it into an even bigger one. That was a really powerful moment. There are a lot of people who care and that’s important to remember.
ED: Why was it important for you to show up in person for this protest?
JP: We need people to show up. You know, this is during a pandemic, so there are many ways for people to stand up. You can donate, you can organize, you can sign petitions, you can protest. For me, one of the ways I wanted to show up was protesting and being there in person. And I’m really happy I did; I learned a lot that day.
ED: You have 1.6 million followers on Instagram alone. How are you using your platform to advocate for causes that are important to you?
JP: I love highlighting voices of others that are invoking a lot of change, like activists and artists. If there’s a petition that needs to be signed, you know, I’ll be reposting it and giving people data and information. I think that’s just a really great way to use the platform. I’m very lucky to have a platform and I think people who have bigger platforms have a real opportunity for more than just selfies, to really say something. I think it’s important for all of us to educate ourselves, and if I can help spread that information, it’d make me really happy.
Feature images: Jade Pettyjohn
In Elite Daily’s I Can Explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really went down behind the scenes. Read more here.