Jack Reynor goes to Hollywood... and conquers it all
He was plucked from obscurity to star in a multi-billion dollar franchise. He's got Spielberg on speed dial and the world at his feet, but right now Jack Reynor just wants to get a little sleep.
Jack Reynor is tired. There's no hiding it. Slumped on an armchair in Dublin's plush Merrion Hotel, it's clear the moment we're introduced that he's done this quite a few times in the past few hours, days and weeks while on the global publicity tour for Transformers: Age of Extinction. You've probably seen the posters. He estimates he's been in 15 cities in the past month and done somewhere in the region of three hundred interviews and the end is in sight. If we left him alone he'd be asleep in seconds, but at the same time Jack is game, because unlike the Berlin premiere and junkets in every city from here to Chicago, Dublin is home and Jack is back where it all began for him.
It's 18 months or so since director Michael Bay took us all by surprise with a blog post revealing he had cast unknown Irish actor Jack in the next installment of the sci-fi franchise. Jack was making waves with his startling and brave performance in Lenny Abrahamson's well-received drama What Richard Did, and Bay described him thus: ". . . an Irish kid that came to America with $30 in his pocket. Pretty ballsy. Who does that? Anyway, this kid is the real deal."
Romanticising your first steps in Hollywood is easy, but Reynor (22) recalls that as being completely true . . . except he had $40, not 30. "We were at a film festival in Canada with Richard," he recalls, "and when I arrived in the States I had no access to any other money. I was in a very compromised economic position, as was my entire family. It was miraculous in fact that Transformers happened when it did. It was all or nothing.
"The phone was not ringing. I had no money, my mother was very sick and everything was just grinding to a halt," he says. "I was at the very edge and then this happened. In a moment, everything turned around and since then I've been able to support my entire family, and I'm completely fulfilled and gratified."
To go from pretty much poverty to a leading role in a $150m Hollywood blockbuster and have people like Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg [the film's executive producer] even know your name, let alone praise you and hire you, is about as much of a turnaround as one can experience. But Jack says back then, he reacted very differently to how anyone would expect. "You expect you might climb the nearest hill and scream about it," he says, "but actually I went back to the apartment I was staying in, poured a large Jameson and fell asleep.
"When I woke up, it was the exact opposite of when you wake up from some amazing dream into a shite reality. I kind of dreamed I was back in Ireland in the same terrible situation, but then I woke up and remembered Steven Spielberg had cast me in a film. THEN I rang my ma and went fucking crazy."
Jack Reynor's career may be off to a blinding start, with praise for his performance in What Richard Did putting him on the fast track to the Hollywood A-list, but for him the ambition to get here actually took off a long, long time ago – when he was five-years-old in his primary school nativity play, in fact. "I originally got into this because of a five-year-old's begrudgery of his teacher," he says. "Mrs Lawlor cast me as a tree and I was disgusted. I was sure I had more to offer than that. It was like, OK, if you want me to be set dressing, fine, I'll take it on the chin but I'll show you, I'm going to be a big actor some day.
"That never went away," he says, "and I'm still sticking it to her today. She's a lovely woman though." Jack probably has Mrs Lawlor to thank in many ways – well done Mrs Lawlor, say we, for having the foresight to make him start at the bottom.
The other element of Jack's childhood first steps into drama and make-believe was growing up an only child in Wicklow. "I was an only child until I was 14," he recalls, "and there were no other kids around the area really. So I spent a lot of time on my own in the fields or by the lake, with just my imagination for company. I suppose I never wanted to let that part of me go."
That combination of a vivid imagination and solitude was put to strong use by Jack in 2012's What Richard Did. Not only is he in every scene, but director Lenny Abrahamson has him in almost every frame of the film, often alone in a scene and Reynor's comfort with the camera is palpable. "I was confident that I could play a character that was comfortable but also agitated in solitude. I've always kind of felt the same way. It's a strange way to be, but there you go."
We may look back on that film and see it as the beginning of a new generation of Irish actors on the international scene: Reynor's co-star Sam Keeley is also doing awfully well for himself. He's just been cast in Chef alongside Bradley Cooper (not the Jon Favreau flick currently in cinemas, confusingly) and will also be seen in upcoming sci-fi sequel Monsters: Dark Continent as well as Ron Howard's period drama In the Heart of the Sea.
"I'm incredibly happy for Sam," Jack says. "Three years ago, he and I climbed out on the roof of [indie filmmaking facility] The Factory in Ringsend with a few beers. Probably not the smartest thing to do, but we did it anyway. Neither of us were working at the time but we were both hoping to be cast in What Richard Did. We had this wanky moment where we said it's you and me buddy, five years from now we'll be in Hollywood and we'll look back at this moment.
"It seems silly," he says, "but we really have achieved those things and we've both been on a really great trajectory. I love Sam to bits and I can't wait to see where he goes and what he does."
Once the exhausting Transformers promotion is done with, Jack will be seen in Irish drama Glassland and next year in the high-profile big screen adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, where he'll be starring alongside Michael Fassbender. In short, all eyes will be on this young actor in the next couple of years to see if he can achieve the same kind of success as our other big-name exports. On that topic, Jack says he's confident in his own abilities – you have to be. "There's nothing wrong with giving yourself a pat on the back," he says. "If you can't do that, you can't be objective about your work. You can't be conceited or cocky either, but you can't be too modest either. So many Irish actors overplay that modesty because they're afraid people will judge them, and say 'the state of yer man, he thinks he's great' or whatever. But that is not the case with me."
By his side through this adventure has been Jack's fiancée, Madeline Mulqueen, to whom he got engaged earlier this year. Predictably, he's a little coy on the topic of marriage though. "We're both focused on our careers," he says, "and we're comfortable where we're at. We have loose plans for the wedding but we're just seeing which way it all goes to."
Equally predictably, Jack scoffs a little at the suggestion of him and Madeline being a 'celebrity couple' – as celebrity couples often do. "It's only in Ireland we get that," he says. "Nobody gives a shit anywhere else."
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent