It’s not official yet, but 2019 could easily end up being the Year Of Jessie Buckley. After a stage career kick-started by TV’s ‘I’d Do Anything’, she burst onto cinema screens last year with a blistering performance in Michael Pearce’s BAFTA winner, Beast, swiftly followed by BAFTA Rising Star nomination. Now she’s back, in powerhouse form, this time as an aspiring country singer in Wild Rose and, for both the film’s director, Tom Harper, and writer, Nicole Taylor, she was the one and only choice for the role.
Set in Taylor’s home town of Glasgow, the story follows the fortunes of Rose-Lynn Harlan (Buckley), a country singer with dreams of making it big in Nashville. But there are obstacles in her way – her young children, who have only just returned to her care after her time away in prison, and next to no money. Her mother, Marion (Julie Walters), is none too keen on the idea either but, with the help of her employer Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), that dream looks like becoming a reality and Rose-Lynn finds herself in the Nashville sunshine.
While Harper agrees Wild Rose is a feel good film, he’s also keen to point out that’s just one side of the story: following your dreams isn’t always painted in glowing colours and there are times when Rose-Lynn is her own worst enemy. But both he and Taylor are both hoping that audiences will have smiles on their faces after seeing their film – their first collaboration, even though they’ve known each other for some time.
Talking to THN’s Freda Cooper, Harper also looks forward to his next release, The Aeronauts, which re-unites Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, while Taylor talks about her love of country music and why, to quote the Rose-Lynn herself, it “gets what’s inside out.”
Read the interview in full below and read our review here.
The film is an absolute joy. I wondered how the initial idea came about. I’m assuming it was yours, Nicole, if only because of your accent.
Nicole: Yes, and the fact that I’m sat here with a can of Irn Bru.
Yes that is a bit of a giveaway.
Nicole: Yes, so I’m from Glasgow. I am a lifelong fan of country music and one day about ten years ago this character popped of Rose-Lynn Harlan. She just started chatting away and just was who she was and she had such a strong voice. It honestly felt when I started to write that it was just like transcribing a real person rather than me making anything up.
So, did somebody inspire this?
Nicole: I think so. I think there’s something very Glasgow about this girl – something very intrinsically Glasgow about her outspoken-ness and her cheek. So I’m not consciously inspired by any one individual but I fell like this an absolute Glasgow character.
The tone of the piece is – well, I wouldn’t call it light – but it is certainly different to your BAFTA-winner which was Three Girls.
Nicole: I think, a film like this, could exist on a spectrum with Ken Loach on the one side and Billy Eliot on the other. It could have been more social realist, it could have been much grittier but, to be honest, my hopes for this was that it would be really authentic and it would feel really grounded and real, but fundamentally it is an uplifting film and I wanted for people to leave the cinema singing and crying and just wanting to tell their friends about it. That was my aim and that is what Tom has achieved.
Tom Harper: But the truth is, all life has its ups and downs and its highs and lows and there’s light and shade, and maybe if the had ended three months later, maybe it would not be a positive, uplifting film – it would be down – but then it would turn around again.
Nicole: That’s why life is a mess and narrative is amazing.
Tom: I watched Billy Elliot for the first time the other day since, I don’t know, it came out almost, and it’s pretty – I thought I’d watch it with my little boy and – it was maybe a mistake because it was harsher than I remember. It’s quite…
It’s quite gritty.
Tom: Yeah. It is – it has its moments and obviously it is uplifting and it does do those things as well, but it has its moments of aggression and grime as well.
So was it the uplifting side of the story that appealed to you when the script landed in your lap?
Tom: I definitely like stories that have optimism in them. I go for warm-hearted things in general. That’s not to say that I’m not interested in or we shouldn’t all be interested in things that are hard to look at or difficult or challenging or violent or whatever it may be but. in general, I think that I fundamentally believe in people and I think that no matter who we are, we all have difficult times and dark times. Even if you’re the luckiest person in the world, bad things happen to us and we all use film and stories as a means by which to see other people and to share and communicate with each other – and therefore we feel less alone in the world.
Had you two met before, or come across each other before? You’ve both been in TV.
Nicole: Yeah, we knew each other. We’re both exactly the same age – we’ve been woking around the same people and our paths have crossed so many times and we’ve always wanted to work together…
This was your big chance.
Nicole: Well this came about not through us kind of directly knowing each other but Faye Ward, who was the producer of Wild Rose, snuck it to Tom..
Tom: Joined the dots.
Nicole: Yeah, hoping, but not expected that he would say yes but then, happily he did and had a vision for Jessie Buckley.
Nicole: I wouldn’t even meet you because I would get my hopes up that you would direct.
Tom: I was scared that you were going to meet me and go; ‘definitely not the right person.’
So, when it came to working together, Nicole, was your script set in stone or was it much more of a work in progress?
Nicole: Definitely not set in stone. I love working with directors and I love actors and Tom was so open to me being on set and being around the actors and taking notes from the actors, and I love that. I think that a script would feel so inert if you weren’t right open to changes, right up until you actually shot it. He’s got a very laid back way of doing things so I felt really comfortable on the set, and I think the casting, particularly of Jessie, but also Sophie Okenedo, helped me so much with the writing because she brought certain things to the part that just made it better, quite frankly. So, I did lots of rewrites with he in mind, so we collaborated really well – me and Tom – just as soon as he joined.
You mentioned Jessie and Sophie, and obviously the other lady in the cast is Julie Walters – so you’ve got three women very much in the driving seat. The men tend to take a back seat – was that always your intention or did it just sort of evolve like that?
Nicole: In retrospect I’m damn proud that the film smashes the Bechdel Test. I could not be more proud that there’s a throwaway love interest in it. But at the time, I never write with things consciously in mid. I just write the story that is the story and write from the point of view of the characters that we care most about. Yes, this has got three female leads and um, I just don’t think too much about it. I don’t think other people should. That’s how it should be – that’s the way things are going and I’m delighted by that.
We’ve already mentioned the amazing Jessie Buckley – who is just stupendous in the title role. Did you actually write the role with her in mind?
Nicole: If I’d known about her, yes [laughs]. No, I didn’t know her. It took Tom to agree to direct and he had a vision for Jessie from the very first page. When I met Jessie, I was just incredulous that this was Rose-Lynn Harlan sitting across from me. Then I heard her singing. That was a whole other level of just sheer relief that this character that I loved so much and felt so real to me – as real as my own family – was going to find voice in this incredible, electrifying presence of Jessie,
So what was Jessie response when you approached he about the role?
Tom: I remember telling her about it in a pub in Walthamstow and she said ‘Ya!’ But then, she hadn’t read it yet – I was going to send it to her and then I sent her the email and I think like, half and hour later it was ‘Yep, definitely. I’m in.’ It was a very easy casting process.
Perfect match because she is absolutely amazing. What was it like working with a national treasure like Julie Walters?
Tom: Really lovely and easy. She was so laid back and just came with such a clear idea of how she wanted to play Marion and seeing her and Jessie play off each other is such privilege. With someone as experienced and as brilliant as she is, you slightly wonder ‘what am I going to be able to bring to it? What am I going to be able to tell her? Is she going to feel like she’s done it all before? Is she going to be above us?’ She has every right, to be honest, but was just so grounded and open and lovely and actually you realise that people are just people. We became friends and you’re all working on the same level for the ultimate goal of making the best movie that you possibly can. She was just hanging around on set, having a cup of tea and a biscuit and…
Made it very easy for you – just sit back and let her do her job, basically.
Tom: Yep, I really think the best times of directing is where you do very little whatsoever because you’ve set everything up hopefully. Everyone’s on the same wavelength – people are doing their jobs in a free way and have a space to do their best work and take risks because that’s what creativity is about – it’s about taking risks and feeling in a safe place where you can take those risks.
The film is, of course, set in the world of country music, which has this extraordinary appeal. The film describes it as three-quarters of the truth – which sums it up beautifully. What do you think is the appeal, though, of that sort of music? Nicole, I know you’re a fan so you’re going to be biased.
Tom: Come on [laughs].
Nicole: Okay. I would say that country music to me, for the last thirty years, is a way for me to get – as Rose-Lynn says in the film – what’s inside out. I find it so deeply cathartic and I think that it’s no coincidence that it is so popular in places like Glasgow and then the north of England and in Ireland where people are no brilliant about talking about their emotions of knowing about their emotions because that’s my experience of country music. If I’m feeling a bit down and I don’t know what’s wrong, I will just choose a piece of music and I won’t consciously know that it is about what I’m feeling but it will tell me how I’m feeling. I thin that country music is like this emotional iron lung for so may people who are not otherwise good at expressing themselves emotionally. Even beside that, it’s just got great storytelling. The songs are like three-minute movies. They are so well-structured, they’re so well written – there’s reversals and highs and lows and you know, a lot of them divide into three acts. The songwriting is so sophisticated and I just love country music.
[To Tom] Are you a convert?
Tom: I am. I did like it to start with by I wasn’t massively into country music in the same was as Nicole was, that’s for sure. It always sort of existed in my periphery, and I was always pleased to listen to Johnny Cash or to Dolly Parton, but I didn’t have thre breadth of knowledge, but my eyes have been opened.
So you’ve got the film’s soundtrack on your playlist now?
Tom: I do [laughs].
You’ve been working recently on The Aeronauts? All about hot air ballooning?
Tom: I have. Gas-ballooning, it was at the time. Hydrogen. It’s a safe thing to put in a small container – makes them go up in the sky with but yeah.
And that brings Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones back together?
Tom: It does. We shot last year for ten weeks and yep, they’re reunited in different roles.
When can we expect to see that?
Tom: I think that it is autumn this year. Busy year.
Nicole, what’s next for you?
Nicole: I’m writing a series for BBC One called The Nest. It’s set in Glasgow, again. It’s about surrogacy this time.
Back to TV. Was that through choice, or just the opportunity that came up?
Nicole: I love working with the same producer on all my TV stuff, Sue Hogg, and we always planned that after Three Girls to write something else for television. For me, I don;t have a preference particularly between television or film – it’s just what the material would be best for, so I had this idea that was very much, clearly a TV series. That’s what I wanted to do next and thereafter there’s a few wee irons in the fire film-wise, but it’s taken Wild Rose ten years to come to fruition so, at the moment, its nice not to have another film project and to try and enjoy it. You know, there’s so many times along the way where you thing auch, this is never going to happen, nobody cares about this apart from you – this is a madness – this is a fiction, this is a sickness – you’re obsessed with this story [laughs]! So no, I just cannot wait to go to my local cinema and atch it with everyone. Because that’s all you’re every trying to do – to find and audience and hipe you can make people laugh and move them.
Wild Rose opens in cinemas on 12th April.