Jackie van Beek grew up in Wellington's northern suburbs. She studied contemporary dance at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre, then completed a linguistics degree at Victoria University.
In the late 90s, van Beek became a part of the burgeoning Wellington theatre scene, which was centred around the university and Bats Theatre. She wrote, produced and performed in a run of productions, alongside Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, and her old Onslow College classmates Loren Taylor and Taika Waititi. "I'd make a show every three months, put it on, and learn that way," says van Beek.
She was commissioned to write play The Swimming Lessons for Auckland's Silo Theatre, and her play Space Migrant was performed at Ohio Northern University while she was there as a writer in residence.
In 2005 van Beek teamed up with comedian Jonathan Brugh to create black comedy My Brother and I are Porn Stars. The show toured New Zealand’s main centres before playing at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and selling out two seasons at London's Soho Theatre. Van Beek and Brugh also took the starring roles, as two abandoned siblings, left to run their parents’ porn business.
The show received glowing reviews in some cities, and appalling reviews in others. Van Beek claimed she was happy with the response: "If we were receiving three star reviews in each city, that would depress me".
In 2006 she moved from Auckland to Melbourne. Over the next decade spent between Aotearoa, London and Australia, she directed seven short films, which screened at international festivals (including Berlin, BFI London, Melbourne and Palm Springs).
Her first short, One Shoe Short, was about two kids searching for a shoe in Alice Springs (van Beek had met the film's stars, while running a clowning workshop in the town). It won 'Best Indigenous Achievement' at the St Kilda Film Festival and was voted 'Best Film made by Adults for Children', at a Sydney film festival devoted to young people.
Just Like The Others, was made with a group of kids she met on a council estate in London. It won 'Kodak Best Film' in Aotearoa's Show Me Shorts Festival. Her work with students at Sunshine Special Development School in Melbourne inspired two films — one of them, Little Red Riding Hood, starred 40+ students with autism and special needs. An autistic character also featured in 2011's Go the Dogs, which was invited to screen at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival.
Van Beek told The Listener's Russell Baillie in 2017: "I do love combining spontaneous elements, and that for me is what young people represent — spontaneity, unpredictability. Adults often will think about it, analyse it, overanalyse it, fall in love with an idea, fall out of love with an idea. But a kid is just like, 'What are we doing today?' I love that."
In Safe Hands retold a real life New Zealand hospital scandal through a young woman’s eyes. The film won 'Best Independent Short Film' at the 2012 NZ Film Awards. She went on to direct and star in Uphill (2013), playing a tramper who finds her solitude interrupted in a Southern Alps hut. The Lawnmower Bandit (2015) marked a rare venture into documentary. In 2017, Show Me Shorts screened a special retrospective of Van Beek's short films.
Van Beek’s first feature, The Inland Road, was also set in the South Island high country (where van Beek holidayed while growing up). It followed a teen car crash victim who stays with an isolated farming couple. "I started with the idea that I wanted to throw a group of very different characters into the same room after a crisis and see how they related to each other," says van Beek. Selected for the Generation section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, the film won praise for the work of newcomer Gloria Popata, who played the teen. Praising the "unsentimental, affecting performances", The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney found it a "sensitively observed drama" that was "shot through with kindness, compassion and compelling stillness".
The same year Inland Road emerged, the ever versatile van Beek co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred with Madeleine Sami in relationship comedy The Breaker Upperers. Sami and van Beek’s characters play the service providers of the title, helping end relationships that have done their dash. The film debuted at American festival South By South West in March 2018, with New Zealand cinemas following in May. In 2019, Netflix announced that van Beek and Sami would direct comedy Hope for its global streaming service.
Van Beek is also an established performer, with an array of comic roles on both stage (Hudson & Halls Live, Flashdunce) and screen. She was the upfront Gloria in 800 Words, hapless producer Pauline in TV sketch comedy Funny Girls, and dominating fiancée Stacey in Coverband.
In hit mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (2014), she played the fawning wannabe to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s vampires. At the 2014 NZ Film Awards she scored a Best Supporting Actress gong for the role. She went on to direct for Shadows spinoff Wellington Paranormal — on the episodes involving werewolves and a very loud party.
When not writing, directing or performing, van Beek keeps busy mentoring emerging practitioners, and running workshops for organisations dedicated to improving life skills for young Kiwis. She lives in West Auckland with her partner, comedian Jesse Griffin, and her three children.
Profile updated on 29 August 2019
Jackie van Beek
Russell Baillie, 'Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland Road'(Interview) - The Listener, 24 July 2017
Diana Wichtel, 'Jackie van Beek: Funny for a living' (Interview) - The Listener, 15 October 2015
Author unknown, 'Doors into other worlds' (Interview), The Otago Daily Times, 7 November 2011
'Jackie Van Beek' Playmarket website. Accessed 29 August 2019
Unknown writer, 'JACKIE VAN BEEK and MADELEINE SAMI TO DIRECT AUBREY PLAZA IN FEATURE COMEDY "HOPE" FOR NETFLIX' Netflix Media Centre website. Loaded 19 August 2019. Accessed 29 August 2019