‘I knew I was in good hands’: Peaky Blinders’ Daryl McCormack on filming sex scenes with Emma Thompson | Movies

‘I knew I was in good hands’: Peaky Blinders’ Daryl McCormack on filming sex scenes with Emma Thompson | Movies

Yesou wouldn’t think of 29-year-old Daryl McCormack as an actor’s chameleon. Chiseled face, green eyes, foreground material, sure, but no shapeshifter. In the next movie Good luck to you, Leo Grande, however, he looks like a guy in an advertisement for a £60,000 watch. In the opening shots, it’s slightly grating, like selling the story rather than telling it; as it progresses, you realize that its self-confidence and smooth, intricate perfection are only part of the texture and subtlety.

In Peaky Blinders, which he joined in season five, he looks, let’s just say to be brief, quite comfortable with a gun in his hand, and in the office of the Guardian on a normal Tuesday morning, the Irishman has looking open, unassuming and affable, like he can’t wait to help you with something. Versatility is a constant theme, and not just in the roles he chooses: had he fulfilled his promise as a 12-year-old at Tipperary, he would have been a professional bowler. “I had a golden age in throwhe says with exaggerated sincerity, “and then I didn’t hit my growth spurt the way other young men did. This peak and then the fall… my ego at 14 took a hit. But I lived to tell the tale. He fleshes this out with zesty detail, like I can’t believe it. I definitely do.

“I didn’t want to come in as a fumbling newbie who can’t shoot a gun”… McCormack as Isiah in Peaky Blinders. Photography: Matt Squire/BBC/Caryn Mandabach Productions

Good luck to you, Leo Grande sounds like a young actor’s anxious dream: a feature with no other actor but McCormack and Emma Thompson, no set apart from a unique, characterless hotel room, and a difficult premise that can’t afford to be wrong. There’s nowhere to hide in this movie; every word, every gesture must be perfect.

Thompson plays a retired, recently widowed teacher who, after a lifetime of meaningless sex with a man, hires McCormack as a sex worker. At first she constantly worries about the ethical dimension of her decision, like she’s picking a scab – he’s surely being taken advantage of, isn’t he, what a terrible thing must have happened for him to do that , who is the oldest person he has ever had sex, why is he so vain? There is a lot of levity in McCormack’s performance, but also pride and self-respect. “I really didn’t want to put on my shoulders the fact that I would be representing sex workers. For me, it was too much of a one-man business. He has a rather courteous twist at times, the knack I imagine of only really concentrating in school when he was playing hurling or doing Shakespeare and then going straight to the Dublin Institute of Technology , and then to the Gaiety School of Acting, the National Theater School of Ireland.

“Of course, I was exposed to the idea of ​​the degradation of sex workers, seeing these stereotypes, because it’s so often shown in movies and stories. And then I talked to real sex workers. sex via Zoom, and I met people who had made their own individual journey, found their own sense of authority and power and identity. I was talking to people who weren’t victims, who had a sense of who they were and who found great joy and calling in what they were doing.

Thompson’s almost insurmountable anxiety and body shame wear off, and she becomes very task-oriented: she wants oral sex both ways, she wants it doggy style, she wants it all in their second session because it is quite expensive; it’s so human it’s excruciating, and its abrupt to-do list is another mask. “I think you see him opening doors for her and then saying it’s safe to come in,” he says. “Then you see her anger or her denial, or whatever, and then finally she pushes her way through, and there’s another door. That’s another thing I learned from sex workers. That it’s not always about physics, there’s so much more to what they do. He really saw her desire to explore these things and how daring she is. Leo Grande is trying to convey something more than sex, that “it’s not vain to love your body, if you love your body, not loving what the world tells you your body should be to be loved. “.

The couple’s relationship may be transactional on paper, but it’s a two-way street, and “they both leave this room at the end of the movie, different people.” “I don’t think Leo expected to be changed. I think he thought it would be like a swan dance, with him driving it all. Looking back, McCormack can’t put his finger on what was the most intimidating part of it all: playing opposite Thompson, “knowing you’re in the presence of someone who’s done it all” or just feeling “overwhelmed, terrible impostor syndrome, just feeling sure they had picked the wrong Leo. But in the end, your only option is to connect with the story and connect with your dance partner. And it was Emma Thompson, so I was in good hands. He absolutely loves Thompson, but everyone says so.

Emma Thompson as Widow Nancy, left, and Daryl McCormack as Leo in a scene from Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)
Emma Thompson as Widow Nancy with McCormack as Leo in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Photography: AP

McCormack grew up in Nenagh, Tipperary, with her mother, a single mother. She met her father briefly in the United States when she was young; she is now 52 and has just moved to Peterborough. Did she do this to be closer to her son, now that he lives in London? “No,” he said, surprised. “I think she did it for her own life, actually.” His memories of Nenagh are extremely fond, and the place has even fonder memories of him; his old science teachers come up to him at the pub when he gets home and tell him how proud they are of his career, like a Novel by Sally Rooney. But it was complicated. “I was one of the only biracial or non-white kids who was Irish, so there was an element of being an outsider. I also have an American family. So I had to find more spaces where I could explore that part of my identity, become more fully formed.

It helped that he was incredibly good at everything, not just hurling – his paternal grandfather is certain that if he had been raised in the United States, he would have been a basketball pro. All the time he played, sang, was part of a band. “Sometimes I felt like an elephant in the room, but I was a jovial pink elephant dancing. I didn’t try to hide. Somehow I embraced my difference and I knew there was something beautiful about being different, and that was his own journey.

Daryl McCormack and Ben Hardy in 2020 British comedy thriller Pixie
McCormack and Ben Hardy in the 2020 British comedy thriller Pixie. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

He and his grandfather have a very close relationship, a certain similarity for which separation by continent and parents were not up to par. “When he was in his twenties, in the 1970s, he was in Los Angeles, trying to be an actor. So he had his own journey with that and he’s really, really proud, living vicariously through me now. He loves to see his grandson to take the trip he made himself, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m going further than where he ended up.

McCormack’s career seems effortless to the point of being preordained. He did 36 episodes in Ireland’s longest running soap Fair City, straight out of drama school, made his West End debut aged 24 in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and won over the cast and audience of Peaky Blinders when he joined, in 2019, as a replacement for another actor, which is notoriously hard to do. “I desperately wanted to feel part of it. I didn’t want to come in as a fumbling newbie who couldn’t shoot a gun. It got a lot easier in season six. In 2020, he starred in the British comedy-thriller Pixie, alongside Olivia Cooke, Ben Hardy, Colm Meaney and Alec Baldwin. When I met him he was about to fly to Dublin for Bad Sisters, a new show by Sharon Horgan for Apple TV+ in which he is cast in all 10 episodes. No observable dry spells, almost no documented disappointments (although it narrowly missed Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Yet one could never read his CV as a strategy document for building the Daryl McCormack brand, he aspires more to get lost in the work than to put his stamp on it. “As an actor, it’s not like you’re sitting behind a character. You’re sitting behind the belief of the project. If the message is liberating, I’m not just invested as an actor, I’m invested as a person, with the fullness of my being. If I read a script like that, my toes start to tingle. I’m so excited for it to be done, even if it doesn’t happen that I get thrown into it The actor erased—no offense—sounds like a contradiction in terms.But lo and behold, Daryl McCormack is there, contradicting the terms.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is in theaters June 17.

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