Jessie Buckley: You can take the girl out of Kerry but...

Jessie Buckley may be on the cusp of stardom, but the thing she’s most looking forward to is returning to Killarney for her sister’s Confirmation, writes Esther McCarthy

Jessie Buckley: You can take the girl out of Kerry but...

Jessie Buckley may be on the cusp of stardom, but the thing she’s most looking forward to is returning to Killarney for her sister’s Confirmation, writes Esther McCarthy

IT’S been a huge week in the career of Irish actress Jessie Buckley. The rising star has landed her biggest casting yet, opposite Renee Zellweger in a forthcoming biopic about Judy Garland’s final days.

As a little girl growing up in Killarney, Co Kerry, who watched the iconic Garland’s films with family and dreamed of one day performing on stage, it’s been a pinch-me moment.

Jessie Buckley in BBC drama ‘Taboo’ last year.
Jessie Buckley in BBC drama ‘Taboo’ last year.

“I’m playing Rosalyn Wilder who was manageress at The Talk of the Town at the Hippodrome in London in the ‘60s. She became Judy’s assistant and carer. I’m so excited.

“I remember watching Vincent Minelli’s Meet Me in Saint Louis with my dad.

“Judy Garland was my first eye-opener into the magic of filmmaking. She gave everything of herself for what she did, at a huge cost.”

Buckley has had many such moments in her life lately. Recently selected by Screen International as one of its Stars of Tomorrow (previous selectees include Benedict Cumberbatch and Carey Mulligan), the actress has been quietly notching up respected TV drama roles, opposite Tom Hardy in Taboo, in BBC army series The Last Post, and an adaptation of War and Peace.

This Friday her first feature film, Beast, debuts at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, which kicks off for 12 days from today.

Set in an island community, she plays Moll, a woman who falls for the charms of a free-spirited stranger, only to discover he’s suspected of a number of murders of young women in the area.

Jessie Buckley with Johnny Flynn in ‘Beast’.
Jessie Buckley with Johnny Flynn in ‘Beast’.

It’s a smart, twisty thriller, and Moll is a complex woman. It is true one of the character descriptions Michael Pearce had was that she was the kind of girl who used to eat worms at school?

“I was like: ‘Where do I sign?!’” she laughs. “That’s me in a nutshell. I remember being in primary school and going on strike against the boy’s football team because I wanted to play with them, there were only two girls and seven boys in my class. I sat behind the goalposts eating grass, so I was just one step away from her.

“It’s so rare that you get a female lead character who’s got so many colours and places she could potentially go.

“There’s something animalistic about what she experiences, and you can’t be too conscious about where you’re going with that. I always want to go back to that base level of unknown in any project that you do. And working with a first-time director, I love it. Because there’s a hunger there as well.”

The daughter of talented harpist Marina Cassidy, Jessie grew up in a musical home, and honed her skills in performances with Killarney Musical Society.

“My mum was a harpist and a singer so there was always lots of music going on in our house, in whatever shape or form,” remembers Buckley.

Jessie Buckley in 2004 at Feis Maitiu in Cork after winning the U14 harp competition.
Jessie Buckley in 2004 at Feis Maitiu in Cork after winning the U14 harp competition.

It was a day after being turned down for drama school that she decided to audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s reality TV show, I’d Do Anything, a decision that was to transform her life. She finished second in the competition, but Lloyd Webber, and millions of viewers, were beguiled by her talent, and she has been working steadily since.

Still, it must have been strange to suddenly find herself in the limelight.

“I suppose I didn’t know what I was getting into, I was just delighted to be a part of something I thought it would take me so long to be part of.

“I still lead a very anonymous life, I get on the Tube and I walk around. Of course it’s changed my life but it hasn’t… I still value the same things. It [the show] got me to London, it got me a fantastic agent, introduced me to incredible friends.

“It’s been a sort of windy yellow brick road since then and hand on heart, I cannot believe how fortunate and lucky I am to be doing the work I’m doing now.”

London has been kind to Buckley, but she longs for more time at home.

“I miss it. I wish I got home more. I’m going back to Killarney for my sister Lily Buckley’s Confirmation — she’s the most beautiful brilliant girl. My heart will always belong to home and maybe at some point I’ll move back and become a hermit somewhere.

“My family are my root and I’m incredibly close to my siblings. As an older sister I always really feel that the roles that I choose, I always think carefully about what role model they are for not only my sisters, but young women.

I think I choose complex characters because it’s important to show women and young women that our imperfections and our vulnerabilities are what our strengths are.

“I love to show that, an honesty and humanity about a person, that isn’t just whitened teeth and fake tan.”

Beast screens at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on Friday, February 23

Beast goes on general release on April 27


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