Killarney star Jessie Buckley set for breakthrough role

Wild Rose looks like being a breakthrough role for Jessie Buckley, and the Kerry actress has a string of other big projects in the pipeline, writes Esther McCarthy.

SHE grew up steeped in music, but little did Jessie Buckley realise that when she signed up to play a country singer, she would end up writing songs and supporting Kris Kristofferson on stage.

The 29-year-old Kerry actress immersed herself in country music for Wild Rose to play sassy Glaswegian Rose-Lynn, a cleaner with a criminal record who dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a star.

It’s a terrific film, moving and funny, with a soundtrack featuring many songs co-written by Buckley. She’d never penned songs before and they happened organically, during weekly sessions with screenwriter Nicole Taylor.

“It was basically an excuse to see her and have a coffee because we’d lived with this character,” she says. “And I suppose those songs are kind of an extension of the narrative of what she would have wanted to say after the film had finished in her album.

“It just kind of poured out of us and I’d never really done anything like that. My dad writes poetry but I’d never really done it before. I just… I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’ve got a band now and that keeps evolving. We’ve been doing gigs. Last year we ended up supporting Kris Kristofferson.”

The daughter of harpist Marina Cassidy, Buckley grew up in a very musical home and honed her skills at Feis Maitiu and Killarney Musical Society. 

At 17, she was turned down for a place in a London drama school and decided, while she was in the city, to audition for I’d Do Anything, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West-End reality TV show.

She ended up coming second but Lloyd Webber and audiences were charmed by the Kerry teenager’s talent and personality, and she forged a stage career in London.

Buckley at her welcoming reception in Killarney in 2008 after she nearly won the I’d Do Anything talent show on BBC. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan
Buckley at her welcoming reception in Killarney in 2008 after she nearly won the I’d Do Anything talent show on BBC. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Screen roles followed, in TV’s War & Peace and Taboo and British indie Beast, but Wild Rose feels like a game-changer for Buckley.

She is sensational as Rose-Lynn, a Glaswegian ex-con and mother of two who feels trapped by her life, and dreams of stardom in Nashville.

“I suppose she’s a rebel dreamer in a way. And she’s got this tenacious electrical charge which you want to light up your house but you also are afraid to switch on in case it blows up! She’s raw, and she’s real, and she’s of the people. She feels like everyone I’ve met, and like no one I’ve met as well.

I could relate and I think lots of people can relate to that struggle of wanting something for yourself and being afraid of what that passion is. She is at times feckless and defensive and selfish. But none of those moments come without a cost for her. It’s everything that she can’t say in person, she can say in her music and it is like a purge, you know, it’s like an explosion coming out of her.

Unfamiliar with country music before getting the part, she immersed herself in it and it has been a revelation to her.

“Dad often brought home blues stuff. I suppose there’s a lot of similarity with Irish folk music. And the notion of storytelling as well. What I love about country music is the characters that exist in these three minute movies in a song.

“When you really listen to it and you realise where these stories are coming from, they can tear you to pieces.

“It has genuinely changed my life, it’s changed how I act, it’s changed how I sing it’s changed what I want to experience when I’m doing both those things. Actually removing myself out of those moments and engaging with these character’s thoughts or what the music is feeding you. Trusting it.”

CHERNOBYL SERIES

She has no fewer than six other projects on the way, including a Doctor Dolittle movie with Robert Downey Jr.

The eagerly awaited Judy Garland biopic, Judy, will see her play Rosalyn Wilder, a music manageress who ended up caring for Garland (played by Renee Zellweger) in her latter years.

She will also star in a major Sky series, Chernobyl, playing the real-life wife of one of the first firefighters to the scene of the nuclear disaster. As part of her research, she met with long-time campaigner Adi Roche.

“She’s been so incredible and generous. The work that she has done since that has happened has continued and continues to happen because the effects of this explosion continue to kill. Over 4,5000 people died because of that explosion.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with that unique empathy that she has, that unique kindness. And hopefully we can work together as this comes out to shed light on what is needed to continue.”

Her international career continues to grow but you get the sense that Buckley prefers to do what she has always done — focus on her work and lead a full and balanced life.

“You probably do get more opportunities to work with people that you might not get opportunities to work with. But I think you’ve got to be patient with that, you know. I’m glad I’ve had that journey. I think it would be terrifying for it to have happened when I was 17.

Jessie Buckley
Jessie Buckley

“I feel like I’m finally figuring out that I have something to say and having an opinion about work that I want to do and what it is I want to do. It’s important to take time out and get hungry as well for the right thing, to do normal life. My life outside of this is very normal.”

She says she cycles in London, enjoys cooking and having a glass of wine with her flatmates, who are not in the profession.

London has been kind, but Killarney will always be home, and she returns regularly to reunite with her family and friends.

“It’s such a nomadic lifestyle — I suppose it’s more about the people that are in your life that can bring you back to what home means wherever you are in the world. You can be in the States or whatever and feel very lonely and then you can get on the phone to your dad or your friends and all of a sudden they can feel like they’re around you.

“I actually got two weeks in Killarney over Christmas which was brilliant. I just love it. You probably take it for granted when you grow up and then you move to a city like London. All I want when I get away is to be in Killarney. Have that space, that green and be with my family and have a cup of tea and brown bread that Dad just made. I go back as much as I can.”

Wild Rose is in cinemas on Friday

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