Joshua Jackson’s Mightiest Role
From Dawson’s Creek to Mighty Ducks, Jackson has played the underdog with a heart. Now, he's bringing that feeling to fatherhood.
There’s a viral image of Joshua Jackson from 2021 in which he's pushing a stroller down the sidewalk, a hand on his mother-in-law’s shoulder. He's wearing loose gray sweats and a smile (these were masked days, but the smile is unmistakable). The actor was not recognizable compared to the man — the boy — so many of us grew up with. He looked like a regular guy — or, more specifically, like a sleep-deprived new dad. He was not Pacey, the sarcastic teen whose evolution propelled so much of the plot in Dawson’s Creek (and propelled Jackson to fame). He was not the moderately skilled but heroically hearted Charlie, who led the Mighty Ducks to become the stuff of legend. Jackson can portray hardship, defiance, and integrity with a stony look and furrowed eyebrows that would stop your heart. But, behind the stroller on this happy day, he could only elicit a genial smile.
Today, as in that photo, the 44-year-old Jackson is all heart. That’s because he’s talking with me about being a dad to his 3-year-old daughter. It’s a role he loves so much that he almost wishes it had come along sooner. “Obviously, I wouldn't have had a kid with anybody else, since I didn't until Jodie,” says Jackson, referring to his wife, Queen & Slim star Jodie Turner-Smith. “But I'm enjoying fatherhood way more than I thought I would.” Jackson and Turner-Smith met in 2018 and married the following year. In April of 2020, they welcomed their first child at their home in Topanga Canyon. “My daughter was born into this palm,” he says, gesturing to his left hand. “A little face looking right up at me. It was a magical experience.”
This month, Jackson will have to find a new level of intensity as a character who is a good deal less lovable: He stars in the Paramount+ series Fatal Attraction as the famously unfaithful spouse Dan Gallagher, stepping into the role originated by Michael Douglas in the 1987 erotic thriller. He was drawn to the reboot for the challenge, no doubt, but also because it promised to hold a husband more accountable for his infidelity than the movie did. “Dan ruptures the trust at the central relationship of his life, which has a ripple effect for his kid,” says Jackson. “That’s a terrible thing.” Jackson, still wrapped in a paternal blue cardigan from the photo shoot, sat down to discuss his relationship with his wife, the challenges of toddler-dom, and whether his little one will ever be allowed to watch any of his television shows.
You don't actually understand your capacity for love until you go into this.
What was the hardest thing about becoming a new dad and what surprised you?
Well, the pandemic obviously threw a curve ball into our birth plan. I was way over the top, because that's how I was managing my anxiety, so we had, like, every single possible set of helping hands that you could have: an O.B., a midwife, a doula. We were able to transition to a home birth, and I'm so happy that we did. I would say the most surprising thing is the love. All of those clichés are true. You don't actually understand your capacity for love until you go into this. And each time I've fallen in love with my daughter, I'm, like, oh, this is what everybody's talking about. And then two days later I'm like, oh, no, this is it. And I'm just overwhelmed by the intensity of that feeling. Intellectually, I expected it, but emotionally, it's much broader and deeper than I would've ever conceived of.
The no sleep is hard. The challenging part is remembering to make sure to make time and space to be a husband, not just a father. There is no set-it-and-forget-it. The baby changes, which changes our dynamic. There's really three relationships: who I am, our relationship as man and woman, and then our child. And all of them need to be looked after.
There's a great series of photos of you walking with your mother-in-law. I believe she lives with you. And you seem to be getting on splendidly. How important is that relationship to you and how do you keep it going?
She does live with us and has since the baby was born. I've said this to her personally, so she knows that I feel this way, but there isn't actually a way to repay the debt for what she has been for our family for these first three years. One, to have a woman who's been a mother before in the home who can help to teach us is incredible. Two, to have someone who can be there to support my wife, who knows her even better than I do, and particularly help her with those early-mom transitions. And, three, to be a sweet but stern educator, playmate, grandma, everything to my daughter. There’s not enough thank you’s. That's the basis of my relationship with her — just awe at the gift that she's given us. She's about to move out, so we're gonna go through a pretty mega transition. [Laughs.] That's okay. We can take the training wheels off. We'll be fine.
If you could give one piece of advice to your former child-free self, what would it be?
I guess, like, meet your wife earlier and get started earlier because it's way more fun than you think it is.
But is there also something to be said for enjoying fatherhood more because you waited?
Yeah, exactly. So that wouldn't be good advice. The only actual piece of advice is don't be prideful about asking for help. Like, really, there isn't a way to do parenthood by yourself.
What’s the best piece of kid gear you’ve invested in?
I mean, over the first three years it changes so much because the stuff metastasizes. I've given up on this now, but I kept on thinking that, like, oh, I get it. Infant stuff. You gotta have a ton of stuff, and then it'll diminish as we go forward and then she'll have an adult amount of stuff. But that's just not the case. It is just a new pile of stuff.
Here’s my take so far on the terrible twos: It’s not so much that she’s terrible, it’s that she’s everything ... It’s like a little storm of human being.
Now, because we travel so much, honestly probably the most functional thing that we have is a mom and a dad and a baby duffle bag. These are giant duffle bags. And for anything that is longer than a couple weeks, but less than a year, it can only be one duffle bag each. We haven't quite achieved it yet.
Do you have a policy on sharing photos, sharing photos of your child? And how do you expect that to change?
We don't put our daughter out in the world. Part of the reason is because we both agree it should be her choice. And this is gonna be a tough one, but even at the point at which she's able to articulate that it's a choice that she would make, we still won't allow her to present herself outside of the family group. When she gets to be a preteen, tween, early teen, there will still be limitations on the amount that she can interact with the whole world. I just don't think that's an appropriate amount of attention for a child.
So, when can your daughter watch Fatal Attraction?
Let's see. If it's true, and she will go through a phase of hating me when she's a teenager, I think that would be a perfect time.
But what about The Mighty Ducks?
Jodie and I have talked about this. I'm not sure. I've heard from other friends of mine who are actors that their kids are often totally uninterested in watching them on camera. I'll be curious to see whether it's like, “Oh look, Dad,” or just, like, “That's weird. I'm not interested.” And, also, I'm her dad. Like, I'm not cool. And I doubt I will be cool. I could be cool to other people. You know what I mean? But I don't really want to be cool. Our dynamic is not going to be that. I love my daughter, but I do not want to be her best friend.
Now that your daughter is a toddler, what have you found to be the biggest challenge?
We got blessed with a well-tempered daughter, but here’s my take so far on the terrible twos, and maybe this is just me seeing everything through the lens of an actor: It’s not so much that she’s terrible, it’s that she’s everything. I see this little personality who is, for the first time, trying to create autonomy inside of a world that controls everything around her. In 15 minutes she can go from giddy, happy, and blissful to screaming and thundering to contemplative, cute, and standoffish. It’s like a little storm of human being. She’s trying on the different versions of herself and seeing which ones she likes.
I would pretend like we don’t talk about our daughter, but it’s not true. We’re obsessed.
Have you been able to keep up with your friends as much as you would like, or have you found parenthood isolating that way?
Well, I think in the places where I’ve been a bad friend, that long pre-exists my daughter. Since I was 13, I’ve worked at least six months of every year, and usually away from the place that I call home. I’m often out of the lives of the people I would consider closest to me for long stretches, and so the experience of parenting, it’s a different flavor of it, but it hasn’t changed it. When I go to work, I’m going into a submarine, and being a parent is going into a different kind of submarine. I hope I’m a good friend when I’m around. But I’m gone a lot.
Do you and Jodie specifically set aside time for date nights?
We’re just starting now, in the last six months, to create more mom and dad time. Not mom and dad time — man and woman time. It’s a bit hit-and-miss. Our lives are so all over the place. It’s so easy to let a week and then two weeks and then three weeks slip away. That’s something we need to be focused on. The perfect night is take her out for dinner and find a place where she can go dance. I love watching my wife dance. I would pretend like we don’t talk about our daughter, but it’s not true. We’re obsessed. So she’s still the major topic of conversation when we’re away from her.
Top Image Credits: Greg Lauren cardigan, John Varvatos T-shirt
Photographs by Ramona Rosales
Styling by Adam Ballheim
Grooming: Diana Schmidtke
Talent Bookings: Special Projects
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert
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