Seven years ago, on a frigid day in March, Jackson Palmer packed his SUV with all of his possessions and hit the road, deciding that the time to leave his native Somers and pursue an acting career in Los Angeles was “now or never.”
Then a blizzard hit in Idaho, and Palmer was forced to follow in the wake of a snowplow for 12 hours.
“That was when I started thinking to myself, ‘This is for real,’” Palmer says. “I literally couldn’t turn back — there was three feet of snow behind me.”
He arrived in Los Angeles 23 hours after leaving Montana and was greeted by foot-long rats that inhabited the apartment he’d managed to find for $400 a month.
“That was one of the hardest months of my life,” Palmer says. “And seven years later, I’m still figuring it all out.”
Palmer, 31, graduated from the University of Montana in 2008 with a bachelor of fine arts degree in drama and subsequently spent several years touring the country with the Montana Repertory Theater Company. He had always dreamed of moving to either New York or Los Angeles, where there would be more opportunities to pursue an acting career in earnest, as well as larger professional networks.
Although Palmer doesn’t doubt his choice to move to L.A., he also acknowledges that the transition hasn’t been an easy one.
“The environment here is ever-changing,” he says. “Content is produced at such a rapid rate that to even get noticed here, you have to already have a giant following online, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook.”
For Palmer, who also bartends to help make ends meet, one of the most challenging aspects of working in Hollywood is the necessity of self-promotion.
“I was raised by two Montanans, and the importance of being humble was ingrained in me,” he says. “A lot of success here is based on who can promote themselves the best, and that’s the hardest thing for me to do. It’s really hard to brag.”
Not that Palmer lacks bragging rights. Since moving to L.A., he’s acted in a number of movies, most notably the 2011 romantic comedy “The Love Patient,” the 2013 action-thriller film “The Daughter” and a 2014 web series called “Pretty, Dumb,” about a man from Montana who moves to L.A. to pursue an acting career. Palmer was an executive producer for the series and also wrote 10 episodes.
In addition to his acting, in April 2017, Palmer released his debut novel, “The Meek,” set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian Los Angeles. It is the first in a trilogy called The Unbound.
The book is haunting, unflinching in its exploration of the darkest recesses of the human psyche and its examination of what we become when everything else is stripped away.
“After my dad read the book, he just looked at me and said, ‘But you’re so happy!’” Palmer says, laughing.
Although the plot is bleak, and thus often difficult to read, this is integral to the message Palmer is trying to convey.
“I wanted to examine a world where everyone is stripped of their comfort, but also to suggest that people might find out that they’re happier when they’re trying to survive,” he says. “We’re so complacent nowadays that we’ve lost our sense of purpose.”
In many ways, Palmer sees his book as a challenge — one that asks its readers “to take a good long look at themselves in the mirror.”
It’s a challenge that readers have accepted. On its Amazon page, the novel has 44 customer reviews and an overall five-star rating. Almost every reviewer raves about Palmer’s ability to create realistic characters, a gripping storyline and thought-provoking moral questions that endure long beyond the book’s ending. Many of them are waiting on pins and needles for the next novel in the trilogy.
Palmer recently finished and is in the process of editing the first draft of the second book. He is thrilled with the reception of “The Meek,” which he self-edited and self-published.
“I have friends who have tried to publish novels through traditional publishing houses, and it causes so much strife,” Palmer says. “For marketing and sales purposes, the story will be changed so much that they don’t even recognize it.”
“I wanted total autonomy over this,” he adds. “This is the story, the bones and flesh of the story that I wanted to tell.”
When it comes to film, Palmer also tries to produce much of his own content and stay true to work that he thinks is meaningful. He is currently pitching a wide variety of screenplays to producers.
“My idea of success is the ability to have an emotional impact on people,” Palmer says. “Very quickly it got knocked out of me that being on TV means you’ve succeeded.”
“Which is reassuring,” he adds, “because if that’s your definition of success, then you’re just seeking fame. And that’s the worst reason to go into the arts.”
Whenever Palmer discusses humility, he ends up talking about Montana. For him, all roads lead back home.
“There’s a tendency to romanticize where you’re from, but I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that Montana is my home and that’s where I want to retire no matter what,” Palmer says.
He used to wonder if it was stubbornness or pride that was keeping him in Los Angeles, if he would be ashamed to return home without having “made it.” But this ongoing journey of ups and downs has given him perspective.
“I could leave tomorrow with my head held high. There’s no true measure of success,” he says. “I know that I want to raise kids in Montana, and that’s the pinnacle of every success that I would need.”
Palmer adds, laughing, “The only thing I can brag about is my Montananess.”
Visit Jackson Palmer’s IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4110907/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1. Read The Meek at https://www.amazon.com/Meek-Unbound-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B06Y2BWG9R.