Jack’s dedication to his craft coupled with his curiosity for uncertainty reignites something in me which I think had been dormant for a while. "As long as you have faith that you will be doing something next, it’s exciting," says Jack of acting. This past year and more, I found some comfort in the certainty of our situation, as did others, I can imagine. Although the pandemic was raging on our doorsteps, we were all somewhat stuck, unable to move forward or do much. As such, it was easy to get trapped in a cycle where days, weeks, and months became indistinguishable. The openness he brings to his work prompts me to appreciate uncertainty more, and leave comfort behind from time to time.
Jack - as you will discover - is a passionate storyteller, and if there’s one feeling he will leave you with, it's his desire to challenge himself and others through the stories he tells. In our conversation, we connect over honest and bold storytelling, complex characters that challenge archetypes like those found in his new film The Lost Daughter directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and marriages that fall apart...
'The Lost Daughter' is now available to stream on Netflix.
Where in the world do you feel most at ease?
I guess with my friends and family. I love my job so I feel pretty at ease when I'm working on something I care about and it's nourishing and fulfilling for me. Somewhere between there, I guess, is where I feel most at ease.
On a different note, what makes you sad?
Things that make most people sad… Injustice. Unfairness. I don't like people who aren't grateful. There's lots.
What gets you up in the morning?
Um, well, coffee… You know, I'm super lucky to be making a career out of one of the things I love the most in the world. I feel very grateful and that gets me up for sure.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I think I was quite young. Maybe around 10, at school, when I was doing these plays with an amazing English drama teacher. We did these incredible plays that totally fired me up and brought it into my life as a possibility. I just did it more and more and more until I ended up at drama school basically.
Have you watched something recently that had a significant impact on you?
Well, I'm currently watching this new adaptation of Scenes from a Marriage - I don’t know if you’ve watched it - with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain.
Oh yes, I've been meaning to watch it.
You should watch it. I've got one episode left. There are five of them. It's heavy and confrontational and real and raw - but extraordinary. It's kind of like watching five long scenes of a play. The work they’ve done is phenomenal. It’s a really dense and intense portrayal of two characters and their relationship. It's inspiring.
Have you seen the original?
I haven't, to my shame, which I feel terrible about. But obviously, I will now go and watch it. In a way it’s good because I had no expectations. I was speaking to someone here the other day about it, and they didn’t want to watch it because they liked Bergman so much. I don’t have that, so I've just come to it totally fresh. I will now watch Bergman and it will be nice.
It's very, very good. I'm half Swedish, so…
It's like home territory.
Indeed, Ingmar Bergman is the pride of the nation.
Of course he is. Sorry, I haven’t watched it, and I’m talking to you… I need to go and watch it. I’ll watch it today haha.
Good. Well, the theme of Scenes from a Marriage seems very suitable considering your recent projects.
You’re right, it is suitable. Maybe I'm drawn to that? Marriages that don't work out…
Spencer is currently showing in cinemas and is attracting a lot of acclaim. The unravelling of Diana and Prince Charles’ marriage has been covered and interpreted widely in the media. What makes Spencer different from other dramatizations of that period and relationship?
It's a good question. The only reason to make it is if you're offering something different, which I think it really does. I knew that from the start, from reading the script and the fact that it's Pablo [Larraín] and Kristen [Stewart]. They’re all original people who want to approach the story from an angle and offer something new.
I think what marks it out is that it's not really professing to tell the viewer anything new or give any facts. It's very much an emotional response to this woman and what she may or may not have been going through at this time. It's a fictional weekend. We know that she went to Sandringham for Christmas. The year is kind of up for grabs, but around the early 1990s. It's basically a deep dive into her psyche - her perspective - during a weekend toward the end of their marriage when it was all just falling apart.
I think what it offers is a much more emotional, spiritual, and imagined version of her experience, or what might have been her experience… I'm not sure I've seen that before. A lot of the stuff that we see about them is about the reality of what happened. This film is more about heart and feeling and pain and motherhood and identity. I've always thought and said that it feels like a painting as opposed to a photograph. It's a poetic imagining, which I hadn't seen before.
I agree. I feel other films or series that have tackled this have tried to be a little bit too accurate. I think that's a mistake because they can't know all the details. It borders on gossip which feels insensitive.
I completely agree with you. I think the strength of this film is that it lets you know from the very beginning that we don’t know. As it says at the beginning, the film describes itself as a fable; a true tragedy. We're imagining this. We don't know. Steven Knight, who wrote the film, obviously spoke to people, did research, and gathered as much information as he could, but then he created something. And Pablo created something. And Kristen created something. It's theirs as much as it's anyone else's. It has a kind of personal energy to it that is very much grounded in reality but that’s also imagined.
What did you find most challenging about playing Prince Charles?
It's very challenging and scary playing a real person who is that famous and well-impersonated. Can I offer something that feels authentic and new? As soon as I started to look, I was surrounded by images and footage of him. There's so much of it. It’s quite easy to feel like you're getting it wrong somehow because you're constantly presented with the ‘real’ version of him.
The process for me was about watching, listening, and reading as much as I possibly could, and then letting it go when we started filming. Instead of worrying too much about impersonating him, I made it personal to me. The challenge was to come out from behind the impression and allow my work to free itself from the research and exist as an individual thing.
Considering what this film aims to be, that might make it easier. Since the film is a fable, it doesn't necessarily have to paint the most accurate picture of him, because in the end, do we really know who Prince Charles is?
I've researched and researched and I’ve got no idea who he is. I've never met him. I know what other people say about him. I know what he says about himself. I know how he walks and when he puts his hand in his pocket, but I don't know him. I could never ever profess to know him, ever really.
Not the easiest person to meet.
Yeah, exactly. I can't call him up. So you're right, you have to accept that. I have to somehow present a version of my response to him, of what I think a bit of his spirit feels like, and the part that feels relevant for this story, in this film.
The film feels sharply Manichean; divided into good and bad. Larraín and Knight’s Prince Charles is fairly hard to like, and most certainly one of the ‘bad guys’. He is extremely cold and harsh against Diana, like his comment about her eating disorder. However, I did find that they afforded him a few redeeming moments: his interactions with William and Harry. In a recent interview, you said: “I had to show up and fight his case and present his version. I had to be his bodyguard and his lawyer. If I’d showed up not believing in him and how he felt, there would have been nothing for Diana to oppose.” What aspects of Prince Charles’ experiences did you empathise with?
A lot. Obviously, the circumstances in which he grew up and the specifics of that is something I will never ever know. But, the feelings that I sense that he might have had are human feelings; they're relatable. The process of researching anyone ever - however, we might think of them to start with - is a process of deepening empathy for them and understanding. Even if you're researching the most hateful person in the world, I think, the deeper you dig, you will find things that you can connect with.
There are lots that I connected with, lots of human emotions. I mean, I'm not a dad, but I can connect with the idea of the pressures of fatherhood, or the pressures of a marriage under intense scrutiny. The pressures of history on his shoulders and parents bearing down on him. It’s all very human.
At its heart, this is a marriage that’s not working and it’s as simple as that. There are obviously extraordinary reasons why it’s not working, like press intrusion, history, and the royal family… But the fundamentals of a marriage not working or a couple struggling with different attitudes toward raising a family are things that a lot of people can relate to. It wasn’t tough to emotionally access him, and maybe that came from Steven’s script or the process of making it personal to me…
The challenge for a lot of people when they consider Prince Charles is his privileged position. It’s difficult to see past that.
Absolutely, that's the front-page news: he is a member of the royal family. But he's also a human being.
I understand that you shot the confrontational scene, which takes place across the billiard table, with Kristen Stewart on the first day of filming, how was that?
I reached out to Kristen the day before to ask if she wanted to talk it through. She, very rightly, suggested that we just show up and see what happens. That was totally the right thing to do. What that scene presents is the idea that they were really struggling to connect. The lack of conversation, and also my first day energy, was, I think, useful.
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s film The Lost Daughter, now on Netflix, you play Joe, the husband of Leda in flashback scenes. How did you prepare for this role?
It was a different process. Joe is a lot more relatable. The book and Maggie's adaptation are open-hearted, raw, and hugely complicated, but also quite simple and straightforward emotionally. It was so easy to be moved by the story and to find yourself in these characters who are kind of wondering whether they've made the right decisions. It felt very accessible emotionally.
And then, you know, you work with someone like Jessie, who is just the most beautifully open and heartfelt person. She raises your game and you connect to the material through each other. Maggie was extraordinary and just served in every way that she possibly could by elevating and guiding us. It felt very close. I didn't have to run a million miles to find it. The preparation was more about making sure I had taken everything off by the time I arrived on set and not protecting myself too much.
The cast and crew boast some incredibly talented women, and the film itself challenges conventional depictions of motherhood. Olivia Coleman as Leda confesses at one point: “I’m an unnatural woman”. What have you learnt about women and motherhood from this film?
I think there's a huge amount to learn. I get from the film what I think everyone gets which is a feeling of honesty. Leda is not an archetype. She's not a character we're used to seeing in films because she's incredibly real, flawed, and just normal, you know? She’s a complicated and difficult human being like we all are.
The versions of women that we are used to seeing in films, for the most part, or less so nowadays, have been of a few particular types. There hasn’t been this well-rounded complexity which you see in Maggie's film, where you're not sure how to feel about this woman. You can't tell if you like her or you hate her. You don't know if she's made the wrong or the right decision. Maggie's film shows you that you can be honest in film and you can present difficult, truthful characters. You don't have to slip into the age-old archetypes that we're too familiar with.
Since it is based on a book, I was curious to see what people write about the main character on Goodreads. Several reviews mentioned that they didn't like the main character, many of them women… Maybe that’s because they see too much of themselves in her?
I think we're used to seeing versions of men and women in cinema that fit into what we might expect. When something confronts us, for whatever reason, it's disorientating, but I think that's exactly what this film is aiming to do. I've heard people say the same about the film as well, that they don’t like it or they don’t like her. I think it’s a visceral response that they are having to the film and to her. And as you say… It's very possible that it's more about feelings toward themselves than her.
But then at the same time, it’s hard not to like Olivia Coleman.
Well, it's good casting, isn't it? She is so deeply likeable. I think Olivia does a really good job of treading that line. We sort of know what she's going through, but she behaves badly and so you're torn.
Returning to the flashback scenes between Jessie Buckley and you. You were friends from before, do you think that helped this particular relationship?
This situation was different to Spencer because Jessie and I wanted to create something before we started. We wanted to establish the feeling of some shared history so that as soon as filming began, there was a marriage there that could fall apart. It meant that we could get to work much quicker and also that we really looked after each other throughout the process. But even if I hadn't known Jessie, I think the experience would have been a deep and connected one… She's incredibly caring and full of love.
This was Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, and a critically-acclaimed one at that, what was she like as a director?
Totally wonderful. I guess directors bring themselves to the job and because Maggie is a sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate woman, she is that as a director as well. That’s what you want. She sees what you need and what is useful to you as an actor. Since she has huge experience as an actor, she can offer you things that she knows will be helpful rather than things that might get in the way. She didn’t prescribe things or tell you how to do it. She opened the door for you and let you walk in, if you wanted to.
It was a very freeing experience shooting this film. We weren’t told where to stand. They had a camera that was mainly hand-held, operated by an incredible cinematographer, Hélène Louvart. Maggie and her just followed the action. We had a beautiful time because Maggie was so happy to be making this film despite everything going on in the world. As a result, there was so much love for the work.
Sounds like it was a very good experience for everyone involved. Do you have any good stories from set?
Working with those two beautiful girls who played the daughters, Robyn and Ellie, was kind of like the story every day. They were free and different and impulsive and so inspired by the moment. The stuff that we did with them was just joyful because it was anarchic and chaotic. As joyful and beautiful as the film was, it was quite painful. The material we shot was sad and bleak. We weren’t really messing around and having a crazy time on set. These were heavy days… But then at the end of the day, we would go swimming in the sea. It was paradise filming in Greece.
What can you reveal about the upcoming Amazon and BBC series Chloe and your character Richard?
It’s a cool project, a 6-parter for Amazon and the BBC, written by a brilliant young woman called Alice Seabright. It’s about a group of friends in Bristol. After one of them commits suicide, someone that they used to know, played by Erin Doherty - who is just exceptional - injects herself back into the group to find out what happened. It’s a thriller and also a character study of Erin’s character and the group of friends. Richard was someone I just read and connected to completely. I thought it would be a beautiful thing to be a part of as it’s a nice ensemble of people and I rate Alice very highly.
Except for marriages falling apart, what kind of stories are you drawn to?
Just marriages falling apart for me. That’s all I want to do... I am drawn to anything and everything, truly. I just need it to feel real and relevant and profound. Like we were saying about these two films… It makes you ask questions. It teaches you something. It brings you something. I like stuff that feels good and original and interesting. I don’t think there is a particular type of a story I like to tell. What I like the most is the variety. If I feel that it’s challenging the person watching it, pushing them a bit – that’s interesting cinema.
Is there a character you would love to play?
The truthful answer is no. I’ve obviously been asked this question before and by now I should have a good answer, but I just don’t have the answer. I wouldn’t have necessarily said that I would love to play Prince Charles, but then when it comes through and it’s Pablo, Kristen, and Steven… It’s so dependent on what comes in, the material, and the cocktail of people involved.
Yeah, I guess you never know what’s going to come your way.
No, you don’t, which is frustrating but also so exciting.
How do you deal with the uncertainty of acting? And we’ve been living through strange times…
Very weird year, yeah. I was very lucky. We shot both of these films during Covid. One was in autumn 2020 and the other in February 2021. Chloe was early summer this year. These projects came along when everything stopped and stalled, and I’m incredibly lucky in that sense. In a weird way, the uncertainty of life as an actor stopped for a bit when Covid hit because there was certainty in the fact that nobody was doing anything.
As actors, we are used to uncertainty. Until you have your own production company and you make your own stuff, you are obviously at the mercy of someone else wanting to work with you. It’s a strange and precarious thing, but if you are lucky and if you have enough opportunities coming your way, it’s a beautiful thing to be doing. As you say, the uncertainty isn’t a choice, it’s just a given. It’s never not going to be there. Like with any project-based jobs, you do a project for a short period of time and then you stop. As long as you have faith that you will be doing something next, it’s exciting.
Some actors choose to dabble in writing and directing as well, like Maggie Gyllenhaal, is this something you are interested in?
Definitely. It requires a different sort of self-belief that I think I need to train up more, but I have an interest in it and a real desire to scratch that itch so I know that I will at some point. I just need to find the right moment and piece of work.
Is writing something you do currently?
Yeah, I do a bit. Mainly just for me, but I do. I take a lot of pleasure in it. Again, the confidence required to be a writer is huge. It’s a muscle you need to train.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
This has been another strange year, so the prospect of starting a new year is a positive one in the sense that I hope we’re moving away from the worst as opposed to back into it. I hope 2022 will be a much more productive and positive year for everyone really, not just people in my business. I feel that confidence in my business has grown as more and more things are being made and there are support schemes. I hope 2022 feels a lot less uncertain, and I hope theatre can more confidently find its way back.