“Like a tumbleweeding flowerpot” is the comparison that Jessie Buckley uses to describe tripping up the stairs at the world premiere of her new film, Wild Rose, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Kerry-born actress received a standing ovation for her performance in Tom Harper’s Glaswegian drama, a reaction that moved Buckley and her director to tears. And for her to lose her footing…
A star very much on the rise, Buckley, 29, first piqued interest in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV talent show, I’d Do Anything, losing out in the final round for the role of Nancy in a forthcoming Oliver! revival. Since then, the highly likeable actress only seems to be winning, scoring small but memorable parts in TV dramas like War & Peace, and Tom Hardy’s passion project, Taboo, before her breakout film role in Beast, which earned her acclaim and a BIFA award and a BAFTA Rising Star nomination. For Wild Rose, Buckley glosses over her Irish accent with a flawless Scottish one, pulling on a pair of white cowboy boots to play Rose-Lynn, a country singer and young mum adjusting to life after a stint in prison.
You recently won the award for Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards. How did you celebrate?
I try not to let things like that overwhelm me. You get up there and you say any words that will get out of your mouth. It was a really wonderful night, and lovely to be there with loads of friends of mine. I had a little boogie, and then I had filming the next day, so I took myself home.
How did it feel receiving that standing ovation at the world premiere?
It’s kind of like being pregnant for nine months and then thinking, “Oh my God, I hope my baby’s not ugly to everyone.” You just have no expectation; you hope that it will agree with an audience but you just don’t know. And then when it does go down well, it feels like flying. And I really did nearly fly; I tripped up on the stage, which went fantastically. You never want to get anything manicured. I’m like a tumbleweeding flowerpot or something. I tried to ride it out and then got a real shock when I saw that everyone was standing up.
Mary Steenburgen co-wrote the original song for the film, Glasgow, and you were photographed that night chatting with her and husband, Ted Danson. What was that like?
I think my dad and them ended up having a big old Irish sing-off in the corner at some point. He’s probably invited them to our caravan by the sea. They were no doubt getting into the nook of the Buckley family.
Wild Rose sees you reunited with Tom Harper, with whom you worked on War & Peace. Did he prepare you for what was in store?
He could have told me we’d be doing a remake of Baa Baa Black Sheep and I’d be like, ‘Great, when are we doing it?’ What I love about Tom is he would push us both beyond our limits. There’s a real trust and friendship there. He’s one in a million.
You’re musically trained, but was there any additional preparation that came with performing country music?
I’d never done any country before and I didn’t really understand the music, so leading up to the film I was spending every second weekend rehearsing with the band, learning the songs, and figuring out what we were saying within those songs that was going to help the narrative of the story. It’s not a musical as such; the songs are, I suppose, how our character escapes her reality. And that’s part of Rose-Lynn’s journey – the only way for her to escape is to run away with the music.
Rose-Lynn’s character has this great physicality to her. Did you envisage the role being like that?
She’s like a firecracker; she kind of took me over. She’s got a lot of feelings inside her that she doesn’t know how to harness, and so it all comes out. When we were filming, it gave me licence to be as wild and ballsy, irreverent, raw, bold, and gritty as I possibly could. I feel like that with all my parts – it’s a waste if you don’t. You have an opportunity there to explore how somebody else lives their life, and you learn something from them yourself.
What was your favourite song to perform?
Oh God, that’s really hard. I genuinely love them all. There are particular moments, like when you’re standing on the Ryman Auditorium (in Nashville) and singing. It’s got an echo, and you feel the ghosts of the people who have stood on that same stage, like Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris – all these people who have performed in this church of music, and you’re getting the opportunity to go there and sing. That was an incredible moment. But then I also had such a laugh singing Outlaw State Of Mind. The crowd in Glasgow gave 110%, even after we’d been shooting consistently for about 10 hours. At one point I nearly popped my shoulder blade out. Everybody was part of it; everyone was feeding into this energy and this experience that was just so alive.
I’ve seen the tenacity and the courage it takes to break down the limitations that are set around you, and go after something, regardless of what people tell you
You have a complex onscreen relationship with Julie Walters. How did the two of you build that together?
Julie is such a real woman. I mean she lives on a pig farm! I’m so lucky at this point in my career to work with someone like that. From day one she was so generous and honest. There’s no riff raff with her. It’s best when it’s simple, y’know? When it’s just the two of you and you’re figuring things out there and then, in the moment. Motherhood is complex. It’s threatening, it’s worrying, and it’s loving, hugely loving. More than anything, this person is a slice of your identity, and you have to hope that they turn out better than you do. I’m so lucky at this point in my career to work with someone like that. She’s the real thing.
Rose-Lynn has the phrase “Three chords and the truth” tattooed on her arm. What does that mean to you?
It’s what I learned from country. It’s very painful stories about very human characters doing very normal things. The lyrics in country music are so direct, the tune is very simple and the lyrics are just like arrows that drive into your heart. You’re listening in a pool of tears as you think about your life, and it’s all underscored by these three chords. I think for Rose-Lynn, in her own messy life, it was the only thing that could really give her clarity on what she could feel in that moment, because everything else seems very, not scary, but tempestuous.
What would you say is the biggest lesson that you take away from working on a film like this?
Through Rose-Lynn I’ve seen the tenacity and courage it takes to break down the limitations that are set around you, and go after something, regardless of what people tell you you’re allowed to dream. We all limit ourselves and say, “Well I wouldn’t do that,” or, “People won’t ever see me as that type of person.” And that’s not true. You can be someone that you didn’t know you could be.
What’s next on your agenda?
At the moment I’m filming Misbehaviour, a film about Miss World in 1970, and the women’s liberation movement that wreaked havoc on it. It’s anarchy against the patriarchy, which is excellent fun. I don’t know, I don’t do planning. I’m an awful planner. I just go where the fun is.
Wild Rose is released on 12 April