'Odd things' | 

Kerry actress Jessie Buckley says she likes playing 'weirdo' roles

"I like the weirdos (laughs), characters who look at the world slightly differently and make you do the same. It’s always exciting to feel challenged in that way.”

Jessie Buckley on the red carpet at the Oscars this year

Esther McCarthy

As a young girl in her native Killarney, Jessie Buckley would marvel at how her mother — harpist and singer Marina Cassidy — could inspire an audience and capture the power of a song.

As a youngster, Jessie joined Killarney Musical Society and honed her own passion for music and drama, before showing her potential as a teenager on a reality TV contest.

Now, Kerry’s best-kept secret is being revealed around the world and what a year it’s been for Buckley. A run of fine movie performances culminated in an Oscar nomination this spring, sealing her reputation as one of most talented stars.

Jessie accepting her best actress in a musical Olivier award for Cabaret

Now she’s back on our screens in the eerie movie Men, which is causing a stir among cinemagoers. A new album with Bernard Butler, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart, is also released this month and picking up rave reviews.

With no fewer than five other movies either completed or about to shoot, right now it feels like everything the Killarney star touches turns to gold — and she’s loving the opportunities it brings.

“I love things that ask me questions,” she. “I love projects that make me learn new things and that also ask me to unlearn things. Generally, it’s a feeling. I quite like doing odd things. I like the weirdos (laughs), characters who look at the world slightly differently and make you do the same. It’s always exciting to feel challenged in that way.”

Jessie Buckley playing Harper Marlo in horror film Men

Buckley has long appreciated growing up in a house where music and storytelling was something to be treasured. As well as her harpist mum, she and her sisters were regaled by colourful poems and stories from her dad, Tim.

After joining her local musical society, she started to consider a possible career in musical theatre and applied for drama school in London, only to be turned down.

Disappointed, and with time on her hands in the UK capital, she decided to do an open audition, mainly as a rehearsal for another course she’d applied for. Little did she know how that decision was to change the course of her life.

Jessie Buckley pictured with her mam, Marina Cassidy

Musical theatre icon Andrew Lloyd Webber had launched I’d Do Anything, a reality TV show search for a new Nancy for his production of Oliver! The teenage Buckley’s dazzling performances won her fans and brought her all the way to the finals. While she didn’t win, the exposure and her sheer talent provided the stepping stones to a career on the London stage.

That would have been good enough for the young Buckley, but TV roles in BBC series like Taboo followed, and when she landed her first movie role in the dark indie drama Beast in 2017, casting agents started to sit up and take notice.

She shone as a straight-talking Glaswegian with dreams of being a country singer in Wild Rose, was excellent in Charlie Kaufman’s surreal I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and this year got an Oscar nomination for playing the young Leda in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s tale of motherhood struggles, The Lost Daughter.

Jessie has become one of our most in-demand screen stars, but she’s managed to combine that with ongoing stage work (she’s just completed a run of Cabaret on London’s West End) and her music pursuits.

Jessie in her very first stage role as Oliver in the Killarney Musical Society production in 1997.

“I’m delighted to make films because it’s something I thought I would never get the chance to do when I was starting out,” she says.

“I love the community of film and how you meet so many interesting artists and writers. I have made so many amazing friends from experiences like this. I feel like I have grown up, in a way, and I don’t know if I would be able to do that in any other kind of medium. Film is family for me and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Her latest, now in cinemas, is Men, a scary psychological thriller from Alex Garland (Ex-Machina). Buckley plays Harper, a woman who retreats to the countryside following a personal tragedy. But soon she starts to feel that somebody is stalking her.

The movie was given a 16s cert for its graphic and violent scenes, but the actress doesn’t feel it’s a straight-up horror.

“I’m aware some people are describing Men as horror but I don’t see it as that,” she says. “I’m actually terrified of horror films to the point that if this was pitched to me as horror, I probably wouldn’t have done it. This film is provocative, wild and punk – that’s how I describe it and that’s what first attracted me to the script. It’s definitely not some kind of clichéd horror film.”

The movie sees her character going through the emotional wringer as co-star Rory Kinnear plays multiple scary characters, but often, she says, she was actually trying to suppress her laughter on set.

“It was a pretty full-on and pretty heavy subject matter but I actually had a great time on set. For the first five weeks of shooting it was just Rory Kinnear and me. Rory is so funny and a lot of the time I actually had to turn away from camera because he was making me laugh so much because of his fake teeth or something.

“It was fun and it felt very exciting being on set where it felt like anything could happen. Alex definitely creates an environment on set where you can offer up ideas and be part of that side of the creative process. I loved it.

“I have amazing men in my life. What I think this film does is provoke the archetypes of toxic masculinity within men throughout time and poses questions about things that have perhaps returned. We’re not talking about all men but it’s an aspect that can appear within men at certain times and from not dealing with a past ordeal.”

The movie may deal with some dark subject matters, but Jessie says she doesn’t struggle with decompressing from a role, even though she was playing a traumatised woman.

“I’ve never been one of those people who take a character home with me or who have trouble switching off at the end of the day. I maybe screamed a couple of times when my boyfriend came into the room because I was in such a heightened state of alert but, other than that, I was fine,” she laughs.

The younger Buckley felt that at some point she would have to choose between music and film, but the success of Wild Rose put an end to that, as she toured live performances of songs from the film.

Now she’s teamed up with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who in recent years has formed musical collaborations with the likes of Aimee Mann and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Their album, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart, has been released to rave reviews.

For Jessie, it’s another opportunity to express her creative side.

“I like being (involved in) whatever feels nourishing and that I can get my teeth into,” she says. “I don’t have a medium I prefer. I also want to have a good time and to be with people I love working with. It’s all of those things.”

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