The Irish actress is set to breakthrough with a role in Charlie Kaufman's forthcoming Netflix drama I'm Thinking of Ending Things. But she's been doing fantastic work in everything for years
Though Jessie Buckley is not yet a household name, there's an inevitability to the idea, a sense that it's only a matter of time before that's a thing. The Irish actor first came to attention in 2008 after appearing on British TV show I'll Do Anything, where she placed second. Since then, Buckley has slowly but surely brought her unique talents to a range of hugely diverse projects: TV shows, indie films, blockbusters, everything in between. The single aspect that ties them together? She's excellent in every one.
Buckley, now 30, has carved out a reputation as the most reliable of performers. She isn't precious and seems to approach every role – no matter its size – with a palpable rawness and vitality. In her own words, Buckley is “rough and ready” – a rare quality in an age of pristine movie stars – and while she's certainly comfortable playing the centre of attention, she's equally inspired cast in a supporting role. There is, despite that unique face and unmistakable red hair, something chameleon-like about this performer, too – an ability to disappear into a role to such an extent that you might get halfway through a film only to realise it's been her all along.
Buckley is now set to play the lead in the new film by acclaimed writer-director Charlie Kaufman, I'm Thinking of Ending Things. The film, based on the novel of the same name, comes to Netflix this Friday and focuses on a young woman whose world starts to unravel as she contemplates a break up and begins – in typical Kaufman fashion – to descend deeper and deeper into her own thoughts. As perhaps her highest profile role to date, and the one that will likely to expose her to the largest audience yet, it's sure to win Buckley further plaudits and more lucrative projects. But where to start with her previous performances?
Buckley's film career got off to a great start with the bleak and eerie thriller Beast, where she starred alongside fellow musician-turned-actor Johnny Flynn as a young woman caught up in a very questionable relationship and also, perhaps, in the machinations of a serial killer. The film itself is gripping, elemental, and moody, though it's Buckley – playing an unhappy Jersey tour guide – who enriches the material with a subtly nuanced performance of shifting allegiances, lending the picture an intriguing, ambiguous edge.
Beast might have flown under most radars, but chances are people have probably seen Buckley in something else and simply not realised. Though not technically a film (but impossible to ignore), she turned in a fascinating, layered performance as the curly-haired Lyudmilla Ignatenko in TV's award-winning miniseries Chernobyl. Cast in what could have felt like a thankless “wife” part, she came to elegantly symbolise the thousands of normal citizens whose lives were turned upside-down by the tragic 1986 reactor meltdown. A deeply emotional, raw, and egoless turn.
Elsewhere, she's brought her skills to smaller roles in larger films. First, in Renée Zellwegger's Oscar-winning Judy Garland biopic, Judy, where she played Garland's put-upon assistant Rosalyn Wilder. The film mostly serves as a showcase for Zellwegger and doesn't leave much room for Buckley. The fact she still leaves an impression on the viewer shouldn't be downplayed, though, especially as Zellwegger sucks up all the air. Likewise, her turn in the poisonous Robert Downey Jr. vehicle Dolittle – the opposite of a good film, yes, but proof of Buckley making things work in the murkiest of Hollywood offerings. Here, playing a sickly Queen Victoria confined to a bed for the entire length of the film, Buckley somehow gets through the madness unscathed (keeping hold of your dignity in a blockbuster that ends with a dragon excreting a magical bagpipe is no easy feat).
More recently, she appeared alongside Keira Knightley in Misbehaviour, based on a true story of the feminist protesters who set out to disrupt the 1970 Miss World beauty pageant. If this is yet another broadly drawn British film designed to charm you into a stupor on a Sunday afternoon, Buckley does fine work as the rowdiest member of the woman's liberation group, Jo Robinson. Once again, she emerged as the most memorable piece of casting and the film misses her whenever she's off screen.
Buckley's best role to date, though, is surely as former convict and single mum, Rose, in Tom Harper's rousing musical drama Wild Rose. Determined to make something of herself after being released from prison stint, Rose attempts to balance her home life with a seemingly misguided attempt to get to Nashville, where she hopes to make it as a country star. This is, suitably, a star-making performance, Buckley effortlessly donning a Scottish accent and setting fire to the screen for ninety exhilarating minutes. And while the film does err on the formulaic side, Buckley paints such a rich and lived-in portrait of this young woman that any flaws simply fall by the wayside. Of course, she sings, too, and, of course, she's fantastic, delivering goosebump-generating vocals on multiple occasions – especially as she belts out the emotional, Oscar-nominated “Glasgow.” A role she was born to play.
It seems necessary to note that most of these performances are from the last few years alone, a testament to Buckley's rise, but also to her consistency (and that's failing to mention all her great work in the BBC adaptation of War & Peace, her turn in Tom Hardy-starring TV series Taboo, or her excellent performance in a TV adaptation of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White). As for the future? She's set to appear as a major character in the latest season of Fargo, and has signed up to play the lead in a new film by Maggie Gyllenhaal, based on a novel by Elena Ferrante. It's not merely a case of “I'll do anything” with Buckley, just a sense that she can.
I'm Thinking of Ending Thing is available to stream on Netflix from September 4.