Saturday 20 January 2018

The stage is set for Jessie's burgeoning acting career

One-time reality TV star is now winning critical acclaim, writes Stephen Milton

Centre stage: ‘I’d Do Anything’ runner up Jesse onstage with Hollywood star Jude Law. Johan Persson
Centre stage: ‘I’d Do Anything’ runner up Jesse onstage with Hollywood star Jude Law. Johan Persson
Jessie Buckley and Jude Law out on the town. Getty

Treading the boards opposite Hollywood heartthrob Jude Law and earning a slew of rave reviews in the process, it's a reassuring indicator that Jessie Buckley is at the mere beginnings of a very promising career.

However, for her first audition as Shakespeare's French Princess Katherine, romantic foil for Law's Henry V, the 23-year-old actress from Killarney made every effort to ignore the fact she was performing with a twice Oscar-nominated movie star.

"Jude was just another guy," she explains, "just another actor and if I thought about it, outside the setting of the play, I would've generally gone mad.

"When you go into those situations, you go: 'We're two people here, we're potentially going to work with each other but in these five minutes, we're just working on a text'.

"And Jude's fantastic. Incredibly successful and genuinely one of the most brilliant actors I've worked with. And then when you meet him, he's just so approachable and lovely and up for a laugh."

Despite the might of her heavyweight co-star, best known for movies Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr Ripley and Sherlock Holmes, many critics have suggested the fresh-faced newcomer actually steals the show in Michael Grandage's pared-down treatment of the literary classic, currently enjoying a sell-out run at London's Noel Coward Theatre.

"It's lovely to hear. Everybody likes to be told they're good at something and going in the right direction at least.

"Although I speak French in this production, I'm waiting to hear some French people say: 'What was she saying, it made no sense and her accent was terrible'."

It's sweet vindication after cruelly finishing runner-up five years ago in BBC's talent series I'd Do Anything, Andrew Lloyd Webber's search for a new Nancy in the musical Oliver.

At the time, Jessie was devastated. "I was 18 and it was the end of the world, like when a boy you like first dumps you.

"Of course I was sad, especially when you've invested so much time but looking back at it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Not least, as it resulted in a rather helpful working relationship with Lloyd Webber.

"He's been a massive support, very quietly keeping an eye out for me. Been really obliging but never been like: 'You must do this.' Just subtly checking what you're up to.

"Although, I don't quite have him on speed dial. I'm not like: 'Hey Andy, babe, what's up?'"

After the disappointment, Jessie went to ground, training in Shakespeare at RADA before going on to play Anne Egermann in the West End revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

Meanwhile, fellow I'd Do Anything competitor Samantha Barks, who finished one place behind her, was starring alongside Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe in Les Miserables and performing at the Academy Awards. Surely she felt a tinge of envy at the time?

"I don't think I was jealous," Jessie grins broadly, "it wouldn't have been the right thing for me to be a part of, especially as I'd made a choice to go and train and I knew I wanted to focus on theatre. I love film but I'm really happy for her."

With growing success, the Britxon-based actress, who's spent the summer appearing in the Globe Theatre alongside Roger Allam in Shakespeare's The Tempest, has found it increasingly difficult to get home to Kerry, missing her three younger sisters in particular.

'Lily's seven, Eva is 14 and Julia's 16 and I have sisterly guilt that I can't get back as often as I want. I wish I could be there for them more and find that the hardest thing.

"I get home maybe twice, three times a year. And actually, I didn't think I'd get home for Christmas but I'm getting back for three days.

"My brother, Cillian, is over here in London now though, which is lovely. He's a chef and lives around the corner from me."

With Henry V finishing a celebrated run in mid-February, Jessie is busy negotiating a flurry of high-profile follow-up roles that will only serve to boost her burgeoning profile.

However, witnessing firsthand the hordes of screeching fans backstage every night, desperate for a glimpse of Law, has convinced her that fame is far from the desired path.

"Jude handles it so well but it's not something that I would be comfortable with nor would want in my life on a daily basis.

"It's great that people are supportive but when it becomes incredibly personal, I've learned that you have to keep your boundaries up to protect yourself from those situations, otherwise it can get difficult.

"I actually look at Judi Dench as the ideal. She's a prime example of maintaining a private personal life and still regaled for her fantastic work. That's what I want.

"Although, fame's not the worst thing in the world. It's not a massive sacrifice. It's not like I'm not cutting off both my legs."


Irish Independent

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