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Actress Jessie Buckley On Her Character's Dark Role In 'Beast'

May 11, 2018
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The new movie "Beast" is a psychological thriller set on a quaint island in the English Channel called Jersey. Twenty-seven-year-old Moll lives a quiet, stifling life with her controlling mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEAST")

JESSIE BUCKLEY: (As Moll) I felt funny, so I went for a walk. Then I fell asleep on the beach.

GERALDINE JAMES: (As Hilary Huntington) I thought we were best friends.

BUCKLEY: (As Moll) We are.

JAMES: (As Hilary Huntington) Then don't lie to me.

BUCKLEY: (As Moll) I just wanted to go dancing.

CORNISH: Our colleague Ari Shapiro spoke with the star of the film.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

She's an Irish actress named Jessie Buckley, and this is her first big starring role in a feature film. I asked her to tell me about Moll.

BUCKLEY: She's numb, basically. She's kind of stuck in a purgatory of trying to atone for committing a crime when she was 13 and is living in this very oppressive, prison-like family household where she's trying to be good whilst knowing that underneath her layer of skin, there is a kind of dangerous pulse. And she's hungry to escape and be free.

SHAPIRO: Moll meets a mysterious stranger named Pascal, who becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. The movie is dark, and so is Jessie Buckley's character. But when we started talking, she was all jokes and laughter. She told me she's the exact opposite of the woman she plays in "Beast."

BUCKLEY: I am. Thank God for everyone, including myself.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCKLEY: Although I probably have signed myself up to the single life for a very long time. I think people are a little bit afraid of me.

SHAPIRO: You mean by playing this role.

BUCKLEY: Yeah. But then, you know, I am - this is real me. So hopefully that will kind of, you know, override (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Your character is in virtually every scene of this movie. And in virtually every scene, your character is experiencing some kind of torment, whether it is psychological or physical.

BUCKLEY: Yeah, I suppose. Although I never really experienced her as a victim because I think she's so hungry to go on a journey from the very beginning. You know, she's somebody who - I became enlivened by her. I never felt that I wasn't being able to express anything or get something out because she is so prepared to question her vulnerabilities and question her foibles and flaws and the flaws of humanity in a very intense way. So it was really enriching. And, like, yeah, I came away from her feeling very alive.

SHAPIRO: The movie made me think about whether we are inevitably defined by the worst parts of us, whether we can move beyond something terrible that we've done or if we have to carry it with us. What's your view on that?

BUCKLEY: Whatever has happened in your past, it's - you can never deny it. I mean, you can never wash what's happened before in your life out of you. The model of Moll, in a way, is actually somebody who tried to quench the past and tried to hide the past to the point where it became kind of simmering, steaming pot underneath her that she couldn't contain it anymore.

She tried to push that thing in her down so much that it became louder and louder and louder. I think it's about acceptance. It's about accepting the foibles of character. And that's, I suppose, why maybe Pascal and Moll find each other and fall in love with each other - is that they accept their flaws when everybody else is trying to shame them.

SHAPIRO: Was that ever a lesson that you had to learn for yourself in your own life?

BUCKLEY: Absolutely (laughter). I don't think there's anybody who hasn't. We've all, you know, done things that we think at the time were bad, but actually in hindsight you look back and go, I'm really grateful that happened because I'm a stronger person (laughter).

SHAPIRO: I don't want to pry. But if it's something you'd be comfortable telling us about, I'd be interested to hear what it was.

BUCKLEY: Well, when I was younger, about 15, I suffered badly from depression. And it was something in my community - you know, in Ireland it's - or even in the world, mental health is something that is still a stigma of some sort. And I have to acknowledge it at a certain point. But, yeah, I suppose that was something that I learned from engaging with and actually going, do you know what? This is actually a part of me. And I'm not afraid of it, but I need to understand this. And it's OK to be sad. And it's OK to experience that.

SHAPIRO: Could we talk about your career for a bit?

BUCKLEY: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Your first break into the world of entertainment on the public stage was totally different from this film. It was a BBC talent competition show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I'D DO ANYTHING")

BUCKLEY: (Singing) As long as he needs me.

SHAPIRO: And you didn't win. You came in second.

BUCKLEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And that was 2008.

BUCKLEY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And now it is 2018, and this is your first big starring role in a feature film. And I wonder, over those 10 years, of course you were doing work in that period, but was there ever a moment that you wanted to give up?

BUCKLEY: No. I love it far too much. I don't really believe in going, oh, I haven't got my big break. Like, I just want to experience something. And you can kind of dream about it all, expect nothing and enjoy the surprises. That's kind of my life motto with my work. And actually, all I really want is to continue to learn and try and be challenged and grow and put out of my comfort zone.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: And I suppose if you're so focused on trying to make your big break, you're missing out on so many other things that might open completely different doors that will enrich you in so many other ways. So, yeah, I don't really know (laughter).

SHAPIRO: This is a small-budget, independent film in which you give the kind of performance that makes people ask, is she going to star in the next "X-Men" or "Transformers" movie?

BUCKLEY: Oh, God, really?

SHAPIRO: You haven't heard that?

BUCKLEY: Well, I don't really want to.

SHAPIRO: Really?

BUCKLEY: (Laughter) I haven't heard that, no. And I don't think they'll be getting me into a catsuit anytime soon.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCKLEY: I'll be a wonderful woman, but I won't be a Wonder Woman, I don't think.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: I mean, it does seem like a springboard role to something. And I wonder what that something would be if you could choose.

BUCKLEY: I don't think it's "X-Men."

(LAUGHTER)

BUCKLEY: I don't - I really just want to continue. I love people. And I love characters. And, like, normal people in day-to-day inspire me all the time. And I suppose what I want to do is to continue to tell stories about people in the most human and vulnerable and raw and provoking way possible. So I don't know if "X-Men" would offer that to me. I like to play kind of the girls-that-eat-worms kind of character.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Jessie Buckley, it's been wonderful talking to you. Thanks so much.

BUCKLEY: Oh, it's been lovely. Thanks (laughter).

SHAPIRO: That was Jessie Buckley, star of the new movie "Beast." It's out now.

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