Jessie and Jude

Jessie Buckley talks to Shelley Marsden about playing Jude Law’s lover, learning French and why she’s come to appreciate Shakespeare’s talent for ‘human brilliance’

Jessie Buckley, the bubbly, red-haired actress/singer that wowed judges on reality show I’d Do Anything, might have been pigeonholed as the perky, all-singing, all-dancing musical Irish girl, but of late she has moved away from musical theatre to straight roles that will bring a whole different kind of kudos.

Following a drama course at RADA, the Killarney native’s first job was as Miranda in The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe. Now, she has landed possibly her biggest role to date – as Princess Katharine opposite Jude Law in the title role of Henry V, the final instalment of Michael Grandage’s inaugural season of shows at the Noel Coward Theatre, a collaboration with Law that being with Hamlet in 2009. Henry V, Shakespeare’s great play of nationhood investigates the horrors of war and the turbulence of a land in crisis.

Jessie, who reached the final on the 2008 BBC talent show, was shocked when she got the part of the French princess: “Sometimes, with high-profile shows like this, you go in for an audition thinking, I have absolutely not a hope in hell of getting this, so I may as well just enjoy it. So it was a nice surprise.”

Surely it’s a leap to go from musicals to Shakespeare alongside a Hollywood star who after a few years in the wilderness seems to be at the peak of his powers? Jessie resists the temptation to gush: “Look, of course I have my moments where I’m going, arggh, I can’t believe this! But mostly I try not to not think about the stuff ‘around’ the work –because yeah I would freak out a bit. I focus on our rehearsals and the work at hand.”

Working with an A-lister

But it must be hard concentrating on your lines with the Don Hemingway actor looking back at you? “Haha, luckily my character has to fall in love with him, which is not difficult. Jude is not an unattractive man to have to drag yourself into that situation with, so… but above anything else, he’s a grounded,approachable guy.

“Jude’s work ethic has made all that ‘starry’ stuff really easy to deal with. It’s not hard to come into work every day! And yes, there’s a bit of onstage romance between us, but you’ll have to come and see the show to find out what. Sure, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without a few kisses and cuddles.”

What about the romance situation offstage, then? The last time I spoke to Jessie a couple of years ago, she confessed she was single but would be entirely favourable to being swept off her feet.

She laughs a little too hard at this: “Oh, there’s plenty of room for romance, there’s just no romance! So if you know anybody you’d like to set me up with… maybe we could re-launch I’d Do Anything to find me a boyfriend. No, I’m joking, the whiff of desperation! In the meantime I’ll have to just put up with Jude Law as my pretend lover. I can’t complain.”

As Princess Catharine of Valois (daughter of Charles VI of France who became the wife of Henry V), not only has Jessie perfected a French accent, but brushed up on her language skills as her first scene is in the language.

She says: “I’ve been swatting away for the past few weeks. I actually did an acting job in France just before I started rehearsals for this, so that has proved useful – plus, I’ve been watching literally tons of interviews with French actresses and listening to Edith Piaf records on loop!”

Princess to Queen

As the play begins Catharine is Princess of France, but she will become Queen, and Jessie has enjoyed getting to grips with the complex dynamics of portraying this young but extremely astute woman. She has an unspoken strength which interplays with her natural excitement about filling the rule of future wife to Henry and future Queen of England and France.

“To me that means an escape from something that’s been quite dysfunctional in her surroundings in France”, says Jessie. “She’s a very astute eighteen. She knows she’s a political pawn between two countries, and people see her power in an aesthetic sense – something that will win England, but she’s cleverenough to go no, I’m more than a pretty face.

For the full article, buy this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 23 Nov 2013).

• Henry V is at the Noel Coward Theatre from November 22 to February 15.

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