In John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme, Jamie Dornan’s slightly bumbling character, Anthony, has an 11th-hour reveal to his onscreen love, Rosemary, played by Emily Blunt. It’s a seemingly ludicrous reason for why he’s been so tentative about their relationship and so convinced he’s not worthy of love—not worthy of her. Without giving away the humdinger, the actor handles the scene with such commitment and truth that you actually buy it.
Dornan has come a long way from Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades franchise.
The thesp’s first career was modeling until Sofia Coppola cast him in Marie Antoinette in 2006. He then made a significant impression in the ABC series, Once Upon a Time. Fifty Shades of Grey catapulted him to worldwide fame, and since the trilogy, he’s mostly taken on challenging indie roles in works as diverse as the Northern Irish TV series The Fall (in which he played a serial killer) and films such as A Private War opposite Rosamund Pike and Untogether with Ben Mendelsohn.
He is currently starring opposite Emily Blunt and Christopher Walken in the fable rom-com Wild Mountain Thyme where he gets to show off his comic chops and propose to a donkey (you have to see it to understand)!
Next year he will appear in Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast co-starring Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar opposite Kristen Wiig.
Awards Daily spoke with Dornan on the eve of Wild Mountain Thyme‘s opening.
Awards Daily: How are you most like Anthony?
Jamie Dornan: You know, Frank, I feel like everyone puts on — particularly in this industry — you’re often putting your best foot forward or your best version of yourself or you’re trying to play all the hits. And the reality is sometimes you don’t feel like doing that or you’re actually hiding an embarrassment, an awkwardness, a lack of confidence…So Anthony, I felt, was the embodiment of all my old insecurities and quirks that I was able to put into him and then embellish further for what made sense for him. We have different lives and different paths and different ways but, in many ways, I felt like I could relate to him and his weaknesses of which there are plenty–his chronic, crippling shyness…I think I have ways of masking it or ways of overcoming it sometimes, but I’ve been lucky that I’ve been presented opportunities…and got myself to this stage. With Anthony, he doesn’t have (those) ways and means. I definitely recognize a lot of myself in him.
AD: Emily talked about the repression inherent in English and Irish culture. Was that something you brought to him as well?
JD: Yeah, I think that’s true, particularly when challenged up against Americans, for instance. Americans tend to have more confidence in expressing themselves. I don’t think that’s news to anybody, that’s the situation. For whatever reason there’s a slight repression with people from this side of the world and uneasiness admitting you’re good at something or you look well or whatever it is… (laughs) It doesn’t come easy for people from this side of the world to give self-praise. I don’t know why that is, particularly…But I definitely agree with Emily that that is a thing.
AD: How did the script come to you?
JD: Email. [Laughs] I’m lucky—very, very lucky in my career. I’m in a place where I get sent some stuff and offers. Now and then I’ll get a little note from my agent saying, ‘Read this first.’ John Patrick Shanley brings a certain element of clout with him. We’re talking about Pulitzer Prize-winning, Academy Award-winning, Tony-award winning—all for different projects, may I add—writer. That’s a big deal. And I was a fan of Shanley before and I read it and I thought, this is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever read but I love it and I want to do it. I’m just being truly honest. I think I was pretty close to Emily Blunt’s opinion of it. I’ve never had an opportunity to play a character like that who’s so unassured of himself. And to speak these words, these beautiful words they get to speak, particularly that entire third act of the movie. That’s a 25-page scene that Emily and I have in the kitchen. It’s rare to get an opportunity to say words like that so I didn’t have to think too hard about it.
I had them set me up with a phone call with Shanley and those calls usually go on for an hour or an hour and a half. But that’s not the way he works. He spoke with me for about seven minutes. I had said to my wife, ‘I’m going to go speak with John Patrick Shanley. I’ll be done in about an hour and a half.’ Eight minutes later, I’m standing in the kitchen and I’m like, ‘Well, he wants me and I think I’m going to do it.’ [Laughs]
AD: There is great chemistry between you and Emily.
JD: Thanks, man. You can’t—I guess you can kind of manipulate that yourself. We’ve all probably had to do that at various times. It’s not easy to do that. You have to work all that harder to sell that chemistry on certain jobs and then sometimes it’s just naturally there. I’m lucky to say that Emily and I just had that naturally, in spades. When we met I just knew we would have it. I think we both felt that. We met each other a couple of times socially. Emily and my wife are best friends, so I’ve been around the Blunt family before and, like Emily Blunt, they’re all great, very fun, amazing family to be around. So we knew early on we were going to have a lot of fun together and we definitely did have that.
AD: Tell me about working with Walken. What was that like and did you get to glean any insights chatting with him onset?
JD: You know even to hear you say that I just find it so cool that I worked with him. I sometimes have to pinch myself that Christopher Walken played my dad. It’s kind of crazy, you’re a kid growing up watching and admiring and slightly obsessing over some of his performances –if someone told me as a teenager that he’d play my dad one day! It’s one of those mad things. I’ll tell you the best takeaway for me, Frank, is that Chris is terrified and really nervous and kind of just like the rest of us. The first day we were doing kitchen scenes with myself and Dearbhla Molloy and Chris sort of muttered to Dearbhla that he was nervous and I overheard it. And Dearbhla was just like, ‘You’re Christopher fucking Walken! [Laughs heartily] You catch yourself on. [Irish slang for put yourself together.]’ I think he just needed to hear that. But it was lovely for me to see that someone of his stature…would still be there, day one, take one, terrified, like we all are. That was just refreshing to see. And also a little bit alarming—’Oh my God, am I going to have a whole career (where I’m) never going to relax?’
AD: They say the best actors feel that way. Jane Fonda talks about how she knew she’d do well because she was nervous before each performance.
JD: I mean I think you have to have that…The more terrified I am reading a script or about what my plan is, that’s a sign that it’s the right move…because it should be challenging. You don’t want to be showing up on set like, ‘Oh I’ve got this. I’m this guy.’ That’s why I never want to be in a situation where I’m knocking out the action movies a year, playing the same relatively vacuous character. I like the challenge of having to inhabit a different world and a world you’re uncomfortable with, because what’s the point of being an actor if you’re not willing to take on those challenges.
AD: That brings me to your career trajectory of late. You seem to be moving away from big Hollywood films like Robert Pattinson. I’m guessing that’s deliberate on your part.
JD: To be honest with you, I feel, in the last four or five years that I’ve been doing that, that’s where the best scripts are or where I think the most interesting scripts are — the most interesting worlds. Sometimes directors who I find very intriguing are in that world — that $5-15 million indie budgeted… A lot of those come my way because I’ve been in movies bigger than that… I think there are really interesting filmmakers out there who have great stories to tell and I’m of the belief that people bring their best work at that level, because you don’t have the luxury of time and money to come back and shoot stuff and do multiple takes. Everyone has to knuckle down and get it right. And that energy excites me.
I’ve dipped my toe back in the studio system two or three times in the last couple of years and I like doing that and I think you still need to do that, but I will strive and continue to keep challenging myself and doing interesting roles in that (indie) world, too, because I’m slightly worried about that world to be honest with you, Frank, because independent film, particularly after the year we’ve had, it’s tough and it’s tough to get them made. I’ve just written a script, during lockdown with my friend and we just have these absolutely incredible—I keep pinching myself—producers on board and we’re about to start that very challenge of trying to find the financing outside of the streaming world. If they jump in, great, we’ll be seen, but it’s tough to get those films seen. And it’s sad because I don’t want it to get to the stage where the only movies you can see are people wearing capes…That would make me really sad. But I sadly think that’s the way we’re going.
AD: Looking back on the Fifty Shades trilogy, what would you say was your best and worst memory?
JD: [Laughs] Oh god. This could be very exposing. [Pauses] Almost the best and worst thing was in the same moment: finishing it. Wrapping in Paris — when we actually wrapped the trilogy — Dakota and I hugged each other, and we’d gone through this crazy experience. And it was best to have been able to capture it well. Yeah, it was a critical shit-show but it made a ton of money. And those movies were made for the fans and they loved them. And there was the satisfaction of getting through it and Dakota and I maintaining the great friendship that we have throughout it—we have a lot of respect for each other. So that was the best moment and it was kind of the worst moment in a way because it was this mad, crazy experience and you do make these lifelong friends and it’s sad because that comes to an end. But I was also very happy to get on the other side of it and excited about what would happen next.
AD: I applaud you on your diplomacy answering that question.
[Dornan bursts into laughter.]
AD: Can you tell me about Belfast?
JD: I probably can’t say too much about it or Kenneth Branagh will not be a happy boy, but it’s a very personal story for Ken. A lot of people don’t realize that he was born in Belfast and raised there until he was nine years old and got out of there when the troubles kicked off in 1969. So there’s an element of that in the story. I was very lucky to be able to shoot something during the pandemic. It was a treat and a joy. I’m such a fan of Branagh’s. Again, from Christopher Walken playing my dad in Wild Mountain Thyme, I got Ciarán Hinds and Dame Judi Dench playing my parents in Belfast! I’m getting to see it next week so I’m very excited and I can’t wait for people to see it.
Wild Mountain Thyme is currently in theaters and on demand.