Arts

Jessie Buckley: 'It's really scary to want something for yourself'

Irish actress Jessie Buckley plays a young Glasgow mother desperate to make it as a country singer in new film Wild Rose. The one-time TV talent show contestant tells Laura Harding why fighting for what you want can be scary and about whisky's role in perfecting her Scottish accent

Irish actress Jessie Buckley as Rose-Lynn Harlan in Wild Rose

THERE is something terrifying about chasing a dream. Nobody knows that better than Jessie Buckley, the Co Kerry singer and actress who has been chasing her dream since she was a teenager, when she first came to public attention on the BBC talent show I'd Do Anything.

Now 29, she has roles in television series including Taboo, The Last Post and the BBC's big-budget miniseries War And Peace, as well as the award-winning film Beast, under her belt – but she still remembers that fear.

"It's really scary to want something for yourself," she says thoughtfully, as she sits back in an armchair in a London hotel. "When you have a passion and a dream or a sense of wanting to reach for something, it's like falling in love.

"You risk a bit of yourself – and you have to risk that, otherwise you are just going to coast in life and not really exist."

This is certainly how her latest character feels in the movie Wild Rose. Buckley – named by Forbes Magazine as one of its 'Thirty Under 30' to watch for 2019 – plays Rose-Lynn, a young mother in Glasgow newly released from prison for a minor offence and desperate to chase her dream of making it as a country singer in Nashville, Tennessee.

"When I first read it, it was like I had been plugged in by an electric current," Killarney native Buckley says. "It felt like it was a female prison-break film with all these outlaws and this character in the middle of it who is just this tenacious firecracker, who is very human in all of that, and complex.

"She is of the people, there is no sheen. It felt like I know those people and I just felt so excited about her, and her bravery and courage just blew me away.

"Usually, as a woman, you get offered parts where there's a sheen over who you are as a woman and you're not allowed to be imperfect. But Rose-Lynn was human and wasn't perfect and I totally related to that. At its heart, the film is about ordinary people doing something extraordinary, against the odds.

"It's about people that have been marginalised by society, and told they can only exist in that corner – which, for Rose-Lynn, is on an estate, which is being in and out of prison, which is having kids when she was very young, working in the baker's.

"They may dream of going somewhere else, but they never have the opportunities or the courage to go grab their dreams."

Indeed, Rose-Lynn's mother Marion, played by Dame Julie Walters, would much rather see her daughter get a stable job to support her children than jet off to Nashville.

Rose-Lynn gets a job as a cleaning lady to fund the trip, where she meets the wealthy and bored Susannah (played by Sophie Okonedo) who hears her singing and wants to help.

"What was brilliant was it crossed all social boundaries," Buckley says. "For Susannah, I felt the film was like a prison break for her too, to break out of her domestic sphere. Susannah's got a hunger to live a life that is human and connected and that's what Rose-Lynn and Susannah give each other."

In 2008 Buckley came second in BBC talent show I'd Do Anything, a TV search for a new, unknown lead to play Nancy in a West End production of the musical Oliver! She went on to perform in musical theatre productions in London before graduating from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2013 and performing in Sheakspeare's Globe and the West End.

Wild Rose gave Buckley the chance to cement two new great loves – Dame Julie and Okonedo, who she describes as "amazing, like massive babes", and also country music, which was a new discovery in her musical repertoire.

The soundtrack is crammed full of original songs, including one penned by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, and others by Buckley and writer Nicole Taylor.

"The lyrics of country are extraordinary," Buckley says. "The good songs in country are 'three chords and the truth' and they really have a way of getting right into your soul and pulling it out.

"Rose-Lynn is such a fireball of emotion and one of the songs, Outlaw State Of Mind, has got such attitude and is like a Janis Joplin rock out.

"That is the art of Rose-Lynn's character, and it is such fun to play. But then at the other end of the spectrum, you have the song Peace In This House where the lyrics are a lullaby to her children.

"As much as Rose-Lynn is scared that she is a mother and that she has kids and she has love for them, her way of expressing that is through song. That enables her, in that one moment, to dive into that scary pool.

"Then the song Glasgow is the first time her mum ever hears her sing really, and she has written this song to her mum, for her mum, saying 'Sorry', saying 'Thank you, I love you, I am you, and we are a family unit'."

Indeed, Glasgow's role in the film is much more than just a song title. The film was largely shot in the city and Buckley relocated to Scotland before production started to perfect her Scottish accent.

"I worked with a dialect coach for a few months and then I just bottled myself into Glasgow like a month before we started shooting and relentlessly, and probably unashamedly, went around speaking in a Glasgow accent hoping that I would get away with it.

"I was also drinking a lot of whisky in The Ben Nevis [a pub with an impressive selection of bottles]. That is really what I did."

How did the locals respond to her accent?

"They were fine, they didn't really bat an eyelid. I was like, 'I'm getting away with it!'"

:: Wild Rose is in cinemas now.

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