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Kerry actress Jessie Buckley on partying with Paul Mescal, missing her family and Romeo and Juliet

Jessie Buckley is taking on the iconic role of star-crossed lover - but with an Irish twist, writes Lynne Kelleher

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Jessie Buckley with co-star Josh O’Connor in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Jessie Buckley with co-star Josh O’Connor in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Jessie Buckley with co-star Josh O’Connor in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Jessie Buckley is in the middle of a golden period in her screen acting career with a CV crammed full of award nods and A-list co-stars.

The 31-year-old Killarney native has shared the stage with Judi Dench, starred opposite Renée Zellweger in her Oscar-winning turn in Judy and has recently wrapped up filming with Paul Mescal.

Now she is set to feature opposite Golden Globe-winning star of The Crown Josh O'Connor in a modern-day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for Sky Arts. But despite more than a decade in film and TV, the actress seems to have escaped the pitfalls of 21st-century fame by quietly keeping her private life out of the public domain.

"I'm conscious of it. I think you choose the life that you want to live," she says from her London home.

"I love my work and that's all that is important to me to be out there in the world. I just get on with my life. It's important for me to come away from it and be quiet."

She first came to the attention of millions as the fervent 18-year-old songstress who came runner-up in I'd Do Anything, the 2008 television search to find Nancy for the stage revival of Oliver!

With her Bafta-nominated raw performance in Wild Rose as a brash, Glaswegian country singer with dreams of making it in Nashville, winning her a raft of critical acclaim in 2018, she has been on every casting director's wish list, landing roles in everything from Chernobyl to Fargo.

Her latest role in the Sky Arts production of Shakespeare's tale of star-crossed lovers sees her as an earthy version of Juliet, using her Killarney accent. She says: "Early on when we were meant to do it in theatre it was (decided) that I would do it Irish, which is great.

"I've actually hardly ever used my own accent. There was part of me that was quite nervous of it, because I was like, 'Oh, it's just me.' But I really wanted to go for that and be as vulnerable as possible, and it was gorgeous, I loved it."

The beautifully stylised production shot on the Lyttelton theatre stage in London mixes Shakespearean dialect with ordinary 21st-century costumes for the actors, modern furniture, and racks of clothes as props on the stage.

It was originally slated as a UK National Theatre production, but it was turned into a film in the empty auditorium over 17 days.

Jessie concentrated on the love story, which is set to capture a new generation of audience in cinematic form.

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"It's to kind of understand love, as much as Juliet wanted to understand love, and when you find love, real love, it's an incredible feeling.

"I mean it's like litmus paper and you're kind of, you're off, you know, and that's what Romeo and Juliet is."

Her co-star Josh O'Connor, who plays Prince Charles in The Crown, has been a friend for more than a decade. "I think he's such an incredible actor. We're great friends. We have known each other for about 10 years. We've known each other around. At a certain point, we lived close together and we were kind of just out of college."

She says she believes their friendship could have helped with the chemistry on screen. "I guess it does help. I love him with all my heart.

"I think when you have a friendship, and a trust, you know you can move to the edge of the cliff, you can push each other, and know that you're safe with each other and (have) respect for each other."

During the pandemic she has been working steadily, with her previous movie, The Lost Daughter, filmed in Greece over the summer alongside Paul Mescal and Olivia Colman. The actress laughs off suggestions that she could give the Kildare actor advice on the acting world.

"Oh no, he can give me advice. He seems much better at it than I am. He's gorgeous, he's like a brother, and you're just delighted. It's so exciting when you see someone be so brilliant and be such a lovely person alongside that. And I can't wait to see what he does next. I think he's an incredible man and an incredible talent."

She adds: "He's also great for a sing-song at the end of the day. The two of us, we had great nights. Us Irish, that's a great thing about us, whether you have a note in your head, by the end of the night, all Irish people are up for a sing-song."

The busy actress got home at the start of the pandemic for one of the longest breaks in Kerry since she first moved to London more than a decade ago. She says: "The first lockdown I finished filming in Chicago, and I came straight to Kerry for six weeks.

"But I was meant to go out at Christmas time, then literally we finished filming on the 22nd and England went into a big lockdown again, so I had to cancel my trip. But I'm missing it, I'm missing my family."

During the filming of Romeo and Juliet, she spoke about the strangeness of performing in an empty auditorium. She says: "This film was made in a global pandemic. You see the inside of the theatre, which is empty, has been dark for months and months and months, and this is the only thing that has been able to turn the lights back on in this building.

"We were in a bubble; people were living in housing together. I was cycling in and out, you don't go anywhere else or do anything else, we were being tested twice a week, every day we had masks and were very vigilant. They were brilliant. I guess never in our lifetime will we ever experience something so universally communal."

National Theatre's 'Romeo & Juliet' will premiere on Sky Arts and NOW TV tonight at 9pm


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