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Jessie Buckley on Alex Garland and the collaborative process of Men

We sat down with Jessie Buckley recently to discuss her new horror movie Men, the creative process behind that project, and what the future holds

Jessie Buckley as Harper in Men

Jessie Buckley is widely considered one of the finest actors of her generation after sweeping the independent film scene with an array of incredible performances, and she even picked up an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in the Netflix movie The Lost Daughter recently. With her new movie Men, Buckley takes the plunge into the unfamiliar territory of making a horror movie.

Men is a dark and twisted story of grief and guilt, and the hold that past trauma can have on us. The mind-bending movie is helmed by director Alex Garland, whose previous works include the sci-fi movies Ex Machina and Annihilation. Buckley stars opposite Rory Kinnear, in a movie which we heralded as a gloriously gory surrealist nightmare in our five-star Men review.

We had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Jessie Buckley recently to discuss the collaborative environment created on the set of Men, the critical reception to the movie, her experiences working with Garland and Kinnear on the project, and what the future may hold for Buckley’s career.

The Digital Fix: I just want to say I watched Men last night, and I loved it! I spent the entire train journey home just trying to figure out…

Jessie Buckley: What happened?

Yes, exactly! But no, brilliant film, exactly the kind of dark and weird film I love! Speaking of which, your filmography as a whole is pretty dark and bleak, I would say, but this is your first dive into proper horror though, so why now and why this project?

Well, I’m actually terrified of horror, so that was a good start! I just really liked the script. I met Alex [Garland] and we really got on and spoke the same language immediately.

He’s an interesting filmmaker, who has made excellent films, and his work continues to provoke conversation in film, too. I thought it would be an interesting and wild ride whatever happened, and I’m drawn to projects like that.

I just wanted to touch on some criticism that I’ve been seeing, and that I don’t agree with personally, which is that the messages about women in the film come across as skewed because Alex is a male filmmaker. What do you think about that as a woman working on the movie?

I think it’s a bit silly to be honest. I’m in a world with men and women and I love them both. I think it’s a conversation, it shouldn’t be something that’s divisive. I have amazing men in my life, I made this with amazing men, and we had a very open and honest conversation which wasn’t projecting an idea onto something, but offering questions.

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Alex offered that question, and other female directors, like Sarah Polley, who I did a film with next, offered a similar question and I thought, this is an interesting dialogue. When those opportunities come along, you’ve got to take them. I can’t make a choice on something that I feel challenged by based on whether they’re a man or a woman; I want to work with people who are curious, whatever they are.

It’s counterintuitive to even say that only one kind of person can even engage in that conversation, right?

It exacerbates the problem. Then there’s no moving together, it’s just you and me. It seems kinda boring.

Thinking about the amazing men you worked with on this project, I want to talk to you about Rory Kinnear for a moment. Was there any particular character of his that you enjoyed working opposite the most during the process?

I loved Geoffrey! We had such a good time making this film, for all its darkness and heaviness, we had a blast! Often I would be completely corpsing and unable to pull myself together, because Rory is a very funny man, and whenever Geoffrey was around there was a sense of fun.

Rory is brilliant at improvising, so you didn’t really know what was going to plop out of Geoffrey’s mouth next.

Love it! You mentioned Alex too, of course, and I just wondered what it was like working with him compared to other filmmakers you’ve worked with in the past?

They all have their own kind of voice, and that’s what’s great about them. But Alex is such a collaborative filmmaker. He insisted we had a two week rehearsal period, which wasn’t just to read the script, but to build a common consciousness of the world we were going to step into.

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And, that doesn’t just lie with us the actors, that’s his entire crew, who he would say are really the filmmakers, you know – the grip, the production designer, everyone was leaning into it because Alex made such a collaborative environment.

Alex is bold, you know. He’s prepared to take a risk, which is always exciting, because it makes you want to take a risk. You come to work every single day not just wanting to, but knowing you could offer up your widest, most creative and mad ideas and they would be heard, and talked about. There wasn’t anything that wouldn’t be considered properly.

The approach was very much ‘let’s do something, let’s not be boring, let’s provoke’. I loved working with Alex, I really, really did. It was only the three of us for the most of it really, but it was brilliant.

That’s good to hear, I’m a big fan of his. Now, looking ahead, you clearly like working on independent movies and more arthouse projects, and from what I can see that’s set to continue, which is great! Can you see yourself ever jumping into a blockbuster or anything like that?

I love doing independent films. It feels like it’s always such a creative place, with new voices and people who have carved out their distinctive styles, people who have been working on their craft for a while. I like watching independent films, I like making independent films, and I like the community that’s built around independent film.

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So, I don’t really know. I never even thought I would be doing films, to be honest. I guess if something came along in the blockbuster scene that piqued my interest, I would be open to it. I don’t know how much draw there would be for throwing an Irish girl like me into something like James Bond though for example [laughs], but who knows.

I guess like you say it depends on the connection to the scripts and the projects?

Yeah, absolutely.

Men is screening right now in theatres in the US, and is hitting UK cinemas on June 1, 2022.