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Jack Reynor isn’t interested in repeating himself, and a brief glance at the Irish actor’s resume makes it clear that’s a plan he’s been sticking to for awhile now (and one that doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon). Reynor first turned heads with his 2012 performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s unnerving high school drama “What Richard Did,” which earned a slew of awards, including an Irish Film and Television Award for Reynor. Post-“Richard,” Reynor picked up parts in films as diverse as the American version of “Delivery Man,” Julian Jarrold’s crowdpleasing period piece “A Royal Night Out,” Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” and, oh yeah, a little film called “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
Despite Reynor’s initial dalliance with big screen blockbusters, his recent work is still tuned to the indie world, including upcoming features with directors like John Carney, Ben Wheatley and Jim Sheridan. His latest release, Gerard Barrett’s “Glassland,” was a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where Reynor again earned accolades for his acting. In the film, Reynor plays young taxi driver John, who spends his days fighting to earn a living for himself and his alcohol-addicted mother (played by Toni Collette), a way of life that’s threatened at every turn by forces both internal and external.
Indiewire spoke with a slightly bleary Reynor (he was just coming off his first night back in Dublin for many weeks) on the phone this week, and the actor revealed why he never wants to do the same thing twice, and how that doesn’t preclude a starring role in a major Hollywood blockbuster (like a Han Solo prequel? maybe?).
“Glassland” premiered at Sundance over a year ago. What does it feel like to have to wait so long for wider audiences to see a film that was received with so much love at the festival?
Although the themes of the film are universal and very broad, it is inherently an Irish film, and the audience that I worried about the most were the Irish audience and how they were gonna view the film. When it was released here last year, it had a really great reception. People have come up to me in the street and been really complimentary towards me about it, so that was absolutely fantastic.
Once we had achieved that much, I kinda put it out of my head and didn’t worry about it again. The last couple of days have been really nice now. It’s a nice surprise to see all these really nice reviews coming out from people in the States seeing the film. It’s fantastic.
At Sundance, you received a special jury prize for your work in “Glassland.” Those awards aren’t always a given; they had decides not only to give an acting award, but to give it to you.
That was really amazing. I was incredibly flattered. I didn’t expect that I was gonna win anything at all. I unfortunately had to cancel my trip to the festival last year because my mother was undergoing an operation that week that I had to be home for, so I couldn’t go, but I got the phone call from the producer of the film to tell me that I’d won that award and it was an incredible feeling. Absolutely amazing. What an honor. I’m incredibly proud.
They sent me a big glass trophy which I have up in my house. It’s an amazing thing that I really didn’t expect.
“Glassland” is particularly anchored by its performances. What was your experience working alongside Toni Collette and Will Poulter?
It was fantastic. The shoot in it’s entirety was 16 days long, which is quite short. It was very much like running and gunning.
Toni and I struck a really great relationship. We only had her for five days and they were a pretty intense and quite intimidating five days, as I’m sure you can imagine. There were no easy scenes for her in this film. There’s no moment where she’s just relaxed, sitting there and not doing much. In every frame that she’s in the film, there is an incredible intensity. Those five days were a really powerful five days for both of us as actors.
Although we have much lighter scenes together, Will and I, thankfully because you need that levity in the film, it was still quite a unique experience for us as actors.
For me, in a way, [it] redefined how I approached making films and opened my mind to the possibilities and the things you can do in a very short space of time with a very low budget as long as the people around you are committed and dedicated to it. And that was just what everybody was. It was an incredible level of commitment and dedication.
Having such time constraints can sometimes be oddly freeing. Did you feel that way?
Yeah, absolutely. And on top of that, it’s that thing where when you are really under pressure, you perform at your best. Unless I’m a little bit scared about something, I’m genuinely not actually entirely happy. I feel I need to be just that little bit outside my comfort zone, and then I can really surprise myself and stretch myself, and I think that’s a really good thing for any actor.
You were back at Sundance this year with a very different film, John Carney’s “Sing Street,” which emerged as the biggest crowdpleaser at the festival.
What was really nice was that I was there with John Carney, who is a very good friend of mine, and we had a nice group of Irish people out there. As I said, I hadn’t managed to attend the festival the year before, so to have an opportunity to go out and see what it was all about and express my gratitude for having won that award the year previous was a really lovely experience. It was really fantastic.
I hadn’t seen “Sing Street” before we screened it at the festival and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was a really nice film and I was very proud to be part of it. I think it’s some of John’s best work and it’s a beautiful ode and homage to his youth and when he was growing up in Dublin. I think it’s a very articulate film in a lot of ways and it was lovely to be part of it. I can’t wait to make another film with John, actually.
Are you two thinking of doing that?
Yeah, me and John talk about making films together all the time.
The film also carries a very touching message about the power of brotherhood. Did they strike you?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s a very personal film for John. It’s got a lot to do with his own life with his dad and the concept of brothers and what brothers mean to one another is a very important concept to him, as it is to me. It was a great opportunity for me to assume that role and what I loved about it was, I have a brother who is 8 years of age right now, very young [laughs]. He has yet to reach that age where music is a big deal for him and girls are a big deal for him, but while making the film, I was thinking, this is what it might be like for me in couple of years with my little brother.
John is just one in a long string of great directors you’ve worked with in a relatively short amount of time. Is that what’s most attractive to you about a project?
Yeah, it is. That is certainly one of the factors. I think that diversity in your performances is what keeps you alive as an actor. You have to keep constantly evolving and surprising the audience and showing them that you can do things they didn’t expect you to do. That’s the most important thing for me. I don’t ever want to do the same thing twice. I don’t want be in a position where I feel like I’m not stretching myself as an actor all the time.
What appeals to me in a project is, I’ll read the script and I’ll be like, “Is this something that’s new and something I haven’t experienced before?” And if so, “Am I gonna be able to handle it? Am I gonna be up to this challenge?” That’s what I try to do.
It’s a strategy that myself and my agent arrived at a couple of years ago and we just decided, rather than trying to climb the fucking IMDb Starmeter, why don’t we just make sure that everything I do is strong, that I work with good people, and that I work on many different types of things that I could possibly work on.
It seems to be a strategy that’s working. Just looking at your resume, from “Transformers” to “Glassland” to “A Royal Night Out” to “Sing Street,” all in a row, they are all very different.
Then it was “Transformers” obviously, which was just a massive machine, if you’ll excuse the pun. And then I went straight from “Transformers” to “Glassland.” I’d done two studio films at that point, and I needed to get home to Ireland to make something really small and I had an opportunity to put in a very strong performance. That was what I was attempting to do, at least.
It was a week and a half before I finished “Glassland” that I got a call to say that I was gonna fly out and do “Macbeth” two weeks later. So, that was a little bit intimidating because I’ve never done Shakespeare before. I’d sat with the director but I hadn’t read for him, so he had no idea what I was going to be like speaking in Shakespearean verse basically, and that was a bit of an intimidating experience.
But again, it was fantastic. I said to myself, “Look, I have an opportunity to do something right here, really, really well, or I can not put my heart and soul into it.” I basically put my fears aside and went straight into it and tried to do the best job I could with it and that was an amazing experience. These are the kinds of things that I’m trying to do all the time.
Now you are reaching the point in your career where your name keeps popping up on these short lists for major features, most recently the Han Solo prequel.
It would be absolutely amazing. It’s like the dream really, isn’t it? When I was a kid, I used to pretend I was Han Solo all the time. Running around with my fingers pretending they were a blaster.
It’s funny, it’s not a place I thought I would be in at this stage in my life. When I started doing independent films at home in Ireland, I thought I would reach a point where I would be considered for things like that, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon in my career, so to be considered for those kind of things is really amazing.
If the Han Solo thing happens, it would be incredible. I would absolutely love to do it. It’s an amazing opportunity. And the people who are putting that film together are very talented and very committed filmmakers and industry people. It’s something that I’d love to do if the opportunity presented itself. Then at the same time, if it’s not to be, I’m gonna keep doing my thing and try to be as diverse as possible.
So if it’s not to be, what else would you like to do?
I’m hungry to direct my own film. I’m rising at the moment and I want to start to move a little bit behind the camera as well. Not in an, “Oh, I’m an actor turned director” kind of way, because that can be really bad. There’s kind of a precociousness to that. I just want to make something small.
Even if I make a short film that’s fifteen minutes and I put it in an Irish film festival, I just want to see if I have an ability to do that. I figure I have time and I have resources, so why not try to do that? That’s taking up a little bit of my attention at the moment.
“Glassland” is in limited release today, February 12.