One of the standout moments in the hit comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar arrives early in the narrative when a thundering loon of a screwball character bursts into song on a Mexican beach. “Edgar’s Prayer” is an outrageous yet poignant showstopper in which a conflicted subordinate named Edgar (Jamie Dornan) fully immerses himself in a power ballad lamenting the unrequited feelings of love he has for his villainous boss (Kristen Wiig). It’s two and a half zany minutes of the sorrowful henchman running, kicking up sand, leaping, doing splits, twirling (like a baby ballerina), and climbing up a palm tree while crooning about doing all those things as he does all those things, mostly to seagulls that aren’t really paying him much attention! It’s a rollicking sequence that combines clever camp with the “burning” sincerity and unabashed commitment of Dornan’s performance.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written by lead actors Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (both Oscar-nominated for the Bridesmaids screenplay), Barb and Star is a bonding film about two pals (Wiig and Mumolo) who leave their dull lives to live it up a bit in the (fictional) beach town of Vista Del Mar. There they meet and frolic with Edgar who is on a mission to basically destroy the town on orders from the sinister pale-faced vamp he’s enamored with (also played by Wiig). As the crazy plot unfolds, Edgar finds a much healthier relationship and must decide between two, well, Wiigs.
Coming off a terrific, underrated turn in John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme, Dornan delights, proving he’s as deft at raising his own comedic states.
As was the case when we spoke back in December, I found Dornan to be very open, humble and hilarious as well as craft conscious.
In preparing for the interview I began immersing myself in the BBC series The Fall, Dornan’s breakthrough project from 2013, a disturbing, beguiling series that delves into the dark recesses of human nature. Dornan received a BAFTA nomination for his portrayal of a serial killer who also happens to be a committed grief counselor, a loving father and a semi-loving husband.
Watching Barb and Star and series one of The Fall in a 24-hour period was quite the journey into the world of Dornan the actor and his exemplary range.
Awards Daily had a blast Zooming with Dornan about the film and his work.
Awards Daily: So, Jamie, when we spoke in December I was I was struck by how terrific you are with comedy (in Wild Mountain Thyme) and then you go and gobsmack us all by upping your own ante with Barb and Star! Seriously, what gives?
Jamie Dornan: I don’t know. It’s just one of those things where…you have many sides to you as an actor or you should–that’s the idea–and you don’t get to stretch them all, all the time. I guess it was a scratch that I needed to itch…I always wanted to do more comedy because in life I err more on that side. I like to try and make people laugh. I’m quite silly a lot of the time. But I’ve played a lot of serious characters. I’m been in a lot of serious films. Some very heavy films like Anthropoid and Private War—heavy topics. But then anyone who knows me well knows I also have this really silly side and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to put onscreen and take to work. I feel with Wild Mountain Thyme I got to show off a little bit of that, but it’s obviously a very heartfelt film. I did Barb and Star before Wild Mountain Thyme. (laughs) I knew that I had this thing that I’d done that is as out there as it gets, comedy-wise…I had so much fun but in a weird way it felt normal to me. My publicist kept saying, ‘it’s going to be so crazy when the world sees this side of you.’ And I was like, ‘yeah, but you see this side of me all the time.’ And she said, ‘yeah but the world hasn’t.’ Oh, okay, I guess. And there has been this crazy reaction to seeing me like that which has been really good.
AD: Edgar is this role reversal character. It’s usually the female who is the eye candy that pines for the male lead.
JD: Yeah. I think those girls like to flip a lot of things on their heads in terms of form and structure. It’s funny, they were telling me the other day—we were doing some press and Kristen said, when they were writing it, they had this idea of a Jamie Dornan-type. We didn’t know each other at all but we have the same publicists and we have a few of the same friends…And then when it came (time), they were like, ‘well, why don’t we actually send it to him?’ I guess they thought I wouldn’t be into it. For maybe some of the reasons you’re saying. You could see him as a little bit vacuous or something in the himbo of it all. (laughs) I had never heard that saying, ‘himbo.’ In the same way girls could be put off by playing some sort of airhead. But Edgar to me is so much more than that. And as soon as I read it, I was like, I am 100% doing this!
AD: Let’s talk about the song ‘Edgars Prayer!’ You got to show off your singing chops. Are you trained?
JD: [Laughs] I wouldn’t call it trained, no. But I’ve sung a lot. Weirdly, one of the first things I ever did that was creative outside of school–when I had a while of not quite understanding where my place was in the world, what I wanted to do with my life, like a lot of kids, and knowing that it was probably not some sort of linear path my school was trying to push me down–I remember convincing my dad, my dad’s a doctor and he had a patient who was a singing coach—I (took) some singing lessons with this woman. Classic, Rat Pack stuff—Sinatra. A lot of Cole Porter. I loved it…It’s one thing singing those songs, which are beautiful and something that I very much love singing and it’s another thing with something like “Edgar’s Prayer which is a power ballad. It’s so big. And so, like, having to grab your balls to hit the notes type thing, which is really fun.
There’s a way crazier version (of the sequence) that exists as well…there’s a longer version. There was so much more mad shit on that beach, over the two days we shot it. I would be amazed if they didn’t release some extended version of it at some point because we did a lot of crazy stuff. (laughs) But the reaction to that song has been great.
AD: In 1982, Charles Durning received an Academy Award nomination for one musical scene in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It’s the highlight of the film. And I thought of that after seeing ‘Edgar’s Prayer.’
JD: That was the year I was born. [Laughs] That’s not going to happen!
AD: You never know. You’ve experienced the extremes. What would you say the major differences are between doing comedy and drama?
JD: You know what’s very strange. I think essentially you are more relaxed with drama. You can have a good understanding if something has landed in a scene. With comedy you can think it’s landed and you all laugh but you’re all so in on the joke—running around Mexico together for weeks by this stage. And you’re like, are we the only people who find this funny? Does anyone else find this funny? …I am somebody who likes to have fun when I work. I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m not saying I don’t take myself to dark places, particularly with The Fall, I put myself (out) there. But I am very quick to find levity in the moments in between. In a weird way, it’s more pressure. Because a lot of comedies don’t work. For some people, Barb and Star didn’t work, but luckily for the majority it did…You don’t get a lot of comedies, particularly recently that really move the needle and that people find funny…So it’s nice to be in one that is different…and that, for the most part, is really loved. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.
AD: Did you create a backstory for this wacky character?
JD: There’s that scene where I tie (Barb and Star) up and I start to give a version of my backstory. That stuff…was all cut a little bit short. I think the first cut of the movie was four hours long! I’m not even joking. Because we did a lot of improv and long takes. We had a lot of fun with that…My whole thing was that he was an innocent, sweet kid who is suddenly picked out, against his will. He’s programmed to do whatever she told him. But essentially he was just this sweet person who wanted to have a normal life and be an official couple and be a normal person, like everyone else. But she had him working for her in a different way, using him. And when he got an opportunity to see real life with real feelings, he took it. I felt like he was caged, overly protected. Then he was seeing a lot of things for the first time. In a similar way Barb and Star were in the same kind of boat.
AD: Can you speak about working with Kristen and Annie and was the script acted as written and/or just how much room was there for improv?
JD: …We stuck pretty tight to it. If time allowed us, we would play…Sometimes time didn’t allow us and we were playing and we’d be like (looks at watch) ‘Oh, shit! We have seven minutes left and two scenes to do!’ But sometimes you just run away with it and those two girls are queens of improv…There’s a whole big section that ended up not being in the final cut which had loads of these great improv comedy actors. And that’s a bit scary. To be in (scenes) with those people if you’ve never done comedy before. I’ve never really been to improv class. I did some acting classes in LA a hundred years ago and there was a tiny bit of improv…I’ve done a whole movie of improv—this Drake Doremus movie (Endings, Beginnings), but it’s a different thing. Comedy.
But very quickly they just made me feel funny…We made one another laugh…I felt like I was accepted and part of the club pretty early. It’s amazing what that does. I used to play a lot of sports and I’m constantly comparing my career as an actor to sports. It’s a confidence thing and it’s the same as any sport. If your confidence is up, it’s going to help and you’re going to do good work and if the people around you are buoying you up and supporting you, you’ll give your best stuff. And I felt so supported by those two…And nobody makes Kristen laugh more than Annie and nobody makes Annie laugh more than Kristen. It’s the sweetest thing after a fairly long time of working together and writing together…And their friends for life and that makes me so happy.
AD: You touched a little on this earlier, one of the fascinating things about Edgar is that he gets to see there is something else out there other than this abusive relationship. They’re a lot of people in this life that are in relationships that are unhealthy. Even with the comedic aspect, that is there in your performance.
JD: Thanks…there’s so much he doesn’t know. And if you’re only told one thing…she’s kind of the only woman he’s been exposed to and he works for her so in his world that’s what it has to be. And then it’s like someone just opens the curtains and a new light comes in. It’s like, oh wow! And he has such a child-like quality to him that I loved…there’s all this stuff beneath his (surface) that’s never been released. Also, his childhood, part of his backstory, was that he was recruited really early on to the spy game. When he was 12. So his childhood was starved…I feel like there was this whole youthful side to him that was never allowed out, that I was just able to let seep out.
AD: I just started watching THE FALL. It’s a fascinating performance. Can you tell me a bit about that experience now, looking back?
JD: The easiest way to sum it up is that it changed my life. It totally, totally, totally changed my life. I had never done a job for the BBC before, let alone be the lead in something. My career just wasn’t going in that direction. No one was seeing me for parts like that, for parts that were as complex and multilayered and challenging as that one. Alan Cubitt, who created the show, saw something in me. It was an opportunity for me to see where I could really go. I love a challenge in everything I do…And I felt that if I could pull this off, it would change my career. And it kind of did. Once The Fall came out everything changed for me. Life-changing is how I consider that role.
AD: You mentioned in December that there was a project you were writing. I was wondering if there was any traction with it.
JD: Yeah! It’s actually a really big week for it. We are in the process of putting it all together. Such a big part of me wants to blurt out the people involved in it—that we’ve managed to convince that we’re capable of doing this. Me and my friend, Conor MacNeill is an actor I’ve done, like, five jobs with. We’ve written it together…We’ve got crazy exciting producers and are in the process of putting it all together. Hopefully we’ll shoot it in 2022.
AD: Have you done stage?
JD: Never, no. I’d love to. I’ve talked about it a lot with people I really admire…And I’ve been offered stuff that I don’t think is the right thing…I really want to do it. I just want to make sure it’s the right thing, surrounded by the right people and for the right reasons. I will do it. I just haven’t got there yet.
AD: Oh, I have to say I honestly think Wild Mountain Thyme got a bum deal.
JD: I agree.
AD: I think it’s a film that will gain in stature as time goes on.
JD: I hope you’re right…A lot of people just didn’t get it or were just very quick to jump on whatever wagon. I’m really super proud of it, proud of my work in it…I had such a great time shooting it.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is currently in theaters and on streaming platforms.