by Pamela Rogow
Robin Jarrett, 53, won “Best Supporting Actress” honors at the St. Tropez International Film Festival this past May for her role as Debbie, a gay alcoholic cop, in the feature film, “It Had to be You.” The actress and dancer, raised in several communities in or near Northwest Philly and now living in Germantown, bested nine other contenders. The film debuted in Philadelphia on Saturday night, July 20, at the Ritz East. It was initially scheduled for the Ritz on the Bourse but ticket sales were brisk, and festival producers shifted the film to the larger venue, where it sold out hours before opening during QFest 2013.
At the show, Hunting Park-born director Lary Campbell took a moment to tell me, “Robin Jarrett may have been surprised, but those of us who have seen her work in the film were not. Robin is a hard-working, precise actress who is always eager to learn more about a character.” He described his first feature film as an exploration of three couples, two male and one female, as they negotiate life, death, love and their reasons for living.
Chatting with me last weekend in her Victorian home, filled with sculpture and artworks, many of the human body, and her own jewelry design projects, Jarrett recounted her surprise and excitement at receiving the award. She had not prepared a speech, although her mother, Norma Jarrett, an artist and clairvoyant, had said she was certain Robin would win.
“It seemed presumptuous to write a speech, but I spoke for a minute and a half, and my off-the-cuff comments drew some laughs, so I was happy.”
Robin felt at home in St. Tropez, having made five visits to France in her 20s. In fact, she’s roamed through much of the world. She studied the Lee Strasberg acting technique in London, Broadway dance and in “so many different schools” in New York and L.A.
Movement is second nature to Robin on many levels. Growing up, her family lived at various times in Mt. Airy, Jenkintown, Abington and South Philly.
“And I’ve studied, performed and taught dance, voice and acting over the years in so many places,” she said. Jarrett currently teaches several students privately and leads a class at MaMa (Moving Arts of Mt. Airy) on Tuesday evenings in Hedy Tower technique, named after her mentor, a Jenkintown-based dance teacher. The class combines modern dance, yoga, Pilates and Improv. Robin also teaches acting in Wallingford for children.
“Hedy was a huge influence on me,” Robin said. “I’d started dance lessons early, but when I was 15, I told Hedy that we could not afford lessons any more. She said that it was my destiny to dance then, and she let me demonstrate in classes to pay my way.
“At that point, I was attending Abington High School. It was a very big school. Monitors followed girls into the bathroom. One day a monitor peered down at me in a bathroom stall to see if I was smoking. The school wasn’t a good fit. Segregation existed there and blatant racism . . . if you were Jewish, black . . . it was disconcerting, to say the least. Hedy saved me. She had such artistic integrity. She was a deeply honest person.”
In 11th grade, Robin switched to “Alternative East,” then on the Wyndmoor/Wyncote border. “It was a school without walls, with independent research. I loved it; it was great for me. There were only 25 kids in the graduating class.”
Along the way, she did work-study at Green Tree School in Mt. Airy, a private school for children with special needs, aided an autistic child and volunteered at Wordsworth Academy. Robin went on to study psychology at Penn State and Temple. Soon after, Robin found work as a physical trainer for the clients of several entertainment lawyers, which is how she came to Atlantic City. Robin was training R+B singer Phyllis Hyman, who was to open for Bill Cosby.
One day, Cosby challenged Robin to a foot race; they tied and then began trading jokes and comparing interests. Cosby gave her tips for Hyman’s training, which Robin said wasn’t right for Hyman’s body, and suggested a book on Method acting which Robin thought was a great idea. “It will be your bible,” Cosby predicted.
“Stanislavsky’s ‘The Actor Prepares’ moved me into professional acting. Bill Cosby went on to mentor me in a complicated but productive way for several months.” Then there was the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in London, the Wilma and Walnut Street Theaters in Philadelphia, Broadway dance in New York . . . “and many other schools and training experiences.”
Pantomime followed, as well as voice-over work and modeling here and in Europe. “This is work that does not go at a steady pace. It ebbs and flows. I often danced eight or 10 hours a day. Dancing is acting, absent the words,” said Robin. And yet, we’re glad to know Robin wasn’t speechless when she received “Best Supporting Actress” in St. Tropez.
For more information on the film, contact JPCProductionsLLC@hotmail.com.