Naked ambition: Jack Reynor on his directorial debut, Japanese movies and fully-nude scenes in Midsommar

It would take a truly serious movie buff to out-geek Jack Reynor.

He may be just home and jet-lagged from a lengthy press tour for Midsommar, yet within a 30-minute interview, the Blessington native cites a blizzard of obscure directors and cinematic eras, from Ingmar Bergman to Nagisa Oshima.

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His favourite thing to do, he notes, is to sit at home in Dublin and watch movies on his curved 65in telly with his fiancée, Madeline Mulqueen (he also owns homes in Detroit and Los Angeles).

So enthused is he about film, in fact, that he has started his own ‘film club’ on Instagram (@jrcinemania). He’s clearly keen to find like-minded souls to chew the cinematic fat with. The handle on the Instagram account reads: ‘Any requests for posts on films, directors etc just DM me’.

“I’m a bit of a cinephile, and Japanese cinema in particular – I’ve watched well over 200 Japanese films,” he notes before taking me on a whirlwind history of the genre.

What this means for the rest of us is that Reynor’s directorial debut, a live action short set in post-Famine Ireland entitled Bainne, is soaked in cinematic know-how. Lush, atmospheric and intense, Bainne is a feast for the senses.

Of becoming a first-time writer and director, Reynor says: “I absolutely f***ing loved it. I’ve spent my entire career trying to build up my capacity to do this. It’s what I’ve been working toward the whole time. I’ve worked with so many directors and I always pester and annoy them, asking about how they achieve their vision and articulate their creative direction.”

On Bainne, he assembled a crew from people he had already worked with on Sing Street, What Richard Did and Glassland. He returned to his hometown of Blessington, Co Wicklow, to shoot the short. Madeline, a former model and now photographer, worked as stills photographer on the set. “It’s the place in the world I identify with most, and it’s such a part of who I am,” he notes. “I wanted to showcase my whole childhood on these locations – it was in my head how to shoot it all for a long time.”

There was only one man in mind for the lead role of the farmhand who encounters a ghostly female figure stealing milk from his landlord’s barn.

“Will [Poulter] is one of my best mates,” says Reynor. “It’s our fourth time to work together and I don’t think we have intentions of slowing down. He was the only person I asked [to play the role]. I know what kind of collaborator he is and how easy he is to work with. We’ve sat down and watched a lot of movies together, so he knows my vision more than anyone.”

To play the part of the Irish-speaking farmhand, Londoner Will immersed himself in Irish history and even learned to speak Irish. “He came over to get himself into the mindset of an Irish person who is struggling with a part of British economic policy,” explains Reynor.

Bainne is in part a stylistic nod to his beloved Japanese cinema, and is inspired by a story from Lafcadio Hearn, a 19th century Irish-Greek writer who was raised in Ireland but moved to Japan. Yet Reynor says Bainne has another more contemporary message.

“It’s kind of inspired by my reaction to Brexit,” he notes. “In a way, I don’t like to use the word ‘ignorance’, but I think there’s a sort of naiveté and unknowingness in Britain with regards to the history of Ireland, and what British colonisation has meant for us – if you think of the policies of the British government and the damage they have done to our country in the past century. And then I was looking at what’s going on in the news and I was thinking, ‘Jesus, anything could happen on this border issue’. All sorts of tensions and issues could flare up.”

For all Reynor’s enthusiasm about his directorial debut, he hasn’t turned his back on acting. He cites a number of directors he’d like to work with: “I’d love to do something with Lenny [Abrahamson, director of What Richard Did] again,” he reveals. “I’d also love to work with Jacques Audiard [Rust & Bone, A Prophet], Spike Lee, Werner Herzog.”

Reynor is certainly well known for his part in Michael Bay’s wallet-busting Transformers franchise, yet his CV runs a much wider gamut. There are intimate homegrown indies (Glassland), Hollywood comedies (Delivery Man), prestige projects (Macbeth); adaptations (The Secret Scripture), dystopian sci-fi (Electric Dreams) and fact-based drama (Detroit). There’s even room for a dud: 2012’s Chasing Leprechauns opposite Amy Huberman was a prime slice of paddywhackery made for the Hallmark Channel in the US.

It’s not as if a glossy Hollywood career hasn’t been there for the taking.

Headlines and rumours suggested he had landed a major role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and shortlisted for the role of a young Han Solo in last summer’s Star Wars prequel. Yet by all accounts, Reynor was not sorry to see Alden Ehrenreich land the role instead.

“To be honest, I’ve tried to force myself to get excited about going up for franchises,” he admits. “One or two have been exciting, but honestly, it feels like I’m forcing myself every time. I don’t think I’d enjoy the experience of being locked in [to a franchise]. I love to talk to people in the press about something that I’m proud to be a part of, in fact to chat with people like you is one of the best things I’ve gotten to do, but if I was to spend three or four months talking to 50 people for five minutes at a time about something I wasn’t creatively stimulated by, I couldn’t think of something that would turn me off more.

“I’ve tried in the past to think ‘I’ll get one of these [big movies], and it’ll be good exposure and good for my career’. I’d be good box office value, as the Asian market might say, but I can only really apply myself to things I have a genuine commitment to.”

Among the most recent acting projects he fell hook, line and sinker for is the eerily brilliant Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary).

“Horror is a genre that people still go to a movie theatre for,” says Reynor. “People still make an event out of seeing it. I’d watched [Ari’s] short films, as Hereditary hadn’t come out yet, and I loved how literate this guy was in the culture of films. We sat down and had all these conversations about different directors, and what tone he wanted to strike. Florence [Pugh] came along and she and I had wanted to work together on something, so this was perfect. And then Will [Poulter] signed up. How could I say no, really?”

Midsommar, in which a soon-to-expire couple travels to Sweden to an eerie midsummer festival, has been lauded as a breath of fresh air for the horror genre: a relationship break-up film mixed with a visceral, chilling horror.

In one scene, Reynor’s character finds himself running for his life, naked. He went fully nude for the scene – something he was keen to do, if only to turn the convention on its head.

“There is a kind of sexual violence in it and there’s a humiliating exposition that happens in it and that historically has been reserved for women in films,” he says. “I’ve seen so many films where the female actors in the movies are being so horribly humiliated in these death scenes where there’s so much sexual violence and it was probably about time that it was flipped.”

Despite continuing his role of Jack Parsons in 1940s series Strange Angel, Reynor prefers to keep Hollywood largely at arm’s length. He has a number of other films in development as a writer/director. The future for his acting career is slightly uncertain – which is just as he likes it.

Bainne premières at the Galway Film Fleadh tomorrow in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway. See for more information. Midsommar is currently in Irish cinemas nationwide.

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