HEAT VISION

How Jamie Dornan Found His Comfort Zone

After coming to prominence with a studio franchise, the actor has found his niche in projects such as his latest, 'Endings, Beginnings': “It brings you closer, rather than a big studio movie where there’s four different setups and a guy on a crane that you’re never going to meet."
Jamie Dornan   |   Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
After coming to prominence with a studio franchise, the actor has found his niche in projects such as his latest, 'Endings, Beginnings': “It brings you closer, rather than a big studio movie where there’s four different setups and a guy on a crane that you’re never going to meet."

Nearly four years removed from his last day on the set of a major studio franchise, Jamie Dornan has quickly amassed an intriguing slate of film and TV credits that suit his sensibilities like never before. Whether it’s Wild Mountain Thyme, a romantic drama co-starring Emily Blunt, or a return to his comedic roots alongside Kristin Wiig in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Dornan has found his comfort zone.

This is especially true of Drake Doremus’ Endings, Beginnings, Dornan’s latest independent film that was completely improvised alongside Shailene Woodley and Sebastian Stan. The Irish actor, most known for Universal’s Fifty Shades franchise and BBC Two’s The Fall, admits that he’s most comfortable in the indie space.

“That is where I feel like I am the most comfortable,” Dornan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It brings you closer, rather than a big studio movie where there’s four different setups and a guy on a crane that you’re never going to meet. It’s a much more close-knit environment, and I would try to do that my whole career if I can.”

For Dornan, the upcoming Wild Mountain Thyme was a dream come true since he got to perform a John Patrick Shanley script in his homeland of Ireland, opposite an actor like Blunt, whom he greatly admires.

“It was incredible. It happens sometimes where you work with someone and you just know they’re going to be a friend for life,” Dornan says of Blunt. “She’s one of those people where you’re like, ‘God, if you could do every movie with Emily Blunt, it’d be a great career.’ She’s such a force and a great actor above everything else. Yeah, to be able to say John Patrick Shanley’s words, which are magical, and to do it with the likes of Emily and Christopher Walken, while shooting in Ireland where I’m from, was one of those dream scenarios.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Dornan discusses improvising throughout Endings, Beginnings, working with Blunt in Wild Mountain Thyme and the differences between his dark characters on The Fall and his upcoming Peacock limited series, Dr. Death.

First things first, how’s everything with you and yours?

That’s very kind of you to ask. Everything is okay, I think. Like everyone else, we’re just like, “What the fuck is happening and how is long is it happening for?” I’ve got it better than most, I think. I know a few people who’ve had coronavirus, but they got through it and are okay. I know some people haven’t been great with it, but I don’t know anyone closely connected to me who’s died or anything. There’s people way worse off than us, and I’ve got my whole family with me; we’re all getting through this together. I guess that’s as much as you can really ask for in this situation.

Endings, Beginnings is so intimate that I felt like I was eavesdropping or invading the characters’ privacy. Did it feel just as intimate for you as a performer?

That’s a really lovely way of breaking it down, actually, and if you said those words to Drake, I think he’d be so happy. I feel like that is what he’s trying to create, often, in all of his work. He’s trying to drop you in the lives of his subjects, make you feel like they feel and get as close to something you can relate to as possible. I think he does that with the efficacy of the way he shoots, the lighting, the liberty of the dialogue and giving us the freedom to improvise with his words. All of that adds to making it feel like a more intimate thing than we’re used to seeing on a silver screen. Although, this won’t be on a silver screen, but you know what I mean. (Laughs.) So, I think that is definitely something he’s trying to achieve, and it’s cool to hear you say that.

What’s your history with improvisation?

Very limited. So, before my career kinda took off, or before big things happened, I always wanted to do comedy. I found myself doing that and making good connections in that world, and then I played a couple characters that were not funny at all. So, that kind of took me away from that world. I’ve done a little improv in improv classes in L.A. fuckin’ years ago, and there’s a little bit of improv in the first movie I ever did with Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette. There’s a couple scenes where we improvised around a dinner table, but we’re talking 10 minutes or less. So, it was very minimal compared to a whole movie’s worth. So, it was daunting to say the least.

Drake told me that he was convinced you could handle an improvised movie after working together on a Hugo Boss short. When he returned to you with this project, was it an easy decision?

Yeah, it was a total no-brainer for me. Listen, I’m a big fan of Drake Doremus’ work from the moment I saw Like Crazy. I was like, “This is fucking beautiful, and I feel so connected to it.” I think Breathe In is one of the most underrated love stories if we can call it that. So, I’ve always had a keen eye on him, and we’re also at the same agency, which, in some warped way, connects you. I always heard his name talked about socially and everything. So, I always felt I was loosely connected to Drake, and then we got the chance to do this Hugh Boss campaign together. Sometimes, advertising campaigns can have little heart in them, but he was able to make this Hugo Boss thing into something really beautiful. When I found out he was going to direct it, I knew I was in safe hands. We definitely hit it off really quickly. We have a passion for golf in common. So, we spent a lot of time talking about golf, and when I was in L.A., we were playing a lot of golf together. Then, he said, “I’m working on something that could be really right for you.” So, from the early-ish stages, I knew I was going to be doing it, and I’d love to work with him again.

With a major studio franchise commitment well behind you at the time, was a creative environment like Endings, Beginnings a welcomed change of pace and palate cleanser in a way?

Yeah, I did the Fifty Shades franchise, and I did a Robin Hood thing for Lionsgate. Last summer, I did another thing for Lionsgate with Kristin Wiig [Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar]. It’s coming out this summer. It’s not like I haven’t dipped my toe back into the studio system; I have. But, for the most part, I’ve done a lot of independent film in that $5 million-$20 million range. That is where I feel like I am the most comfortable. By the way, Endings, Beginnings is lower than that. That independent film scenario of scrambling to finish every day, where everyone is up against it and has to bring their game because you don’t have the money to come back, is an environment I love. Apart from the exceptions I mentioned, most of the work I’ve done in the last six years has been in that world. With Endings, Beginnings, I don’t know how they made the movie with so little money; none of us got paid for it or anything. Again, it was this atmosphere that was created where we’re all in this together; it’s a little family that’s got to get through it. It’s galvanizing for the whole crew. It brings you closer rather than a big studio movie where there’s four different setups and a guy on a crane that you’re never going to meet. (Laughs.) It’s a much more close-knit environment, and I would try to do that my whole career if I can.

So, how do you ensure that you’re improvising as the character, Jack, and not as Jamie?

Well, it’s a fine line. Drake is amazing at casting movies. I don’t know when you last watched Like Crazy or Breathe In, but Breathe In is just so perfectly cast. That’s not a happy mistake. The way he approaches his work, he gets the actors he thinks will fit the bill, will shape the character accordingly and do something that even he hadn’t envisioned. He’d always written the character as Irish, so he’d done me a big favor straight off the bat there. I didn’t have to worry about an accent or anything like that. With that, it brings a little bit of “Jesus, can I get a bit too comfortable with this where I’m just totally myself?” You just don’t. Maybe, you do early on in the first couple days as you find yourself. Look, I’m not the first person to say this, but with improvisation, you do let more of yourself in than you would doing scripted. I think that’s just the natural thing, but there’s still a blinder. This guy has a totally different backstory than mine, and he finds himself in totally different situations than I’ve been in... Whether you like it to or not, you’re leaving yourself behind, but that’s not to say it won’t creep in sometimes; I think Shai and Sebastian would say the same thing. You draw on your own truth doing scripted work, too, but probably more so doing this. The takes were so different, and I’ve never been more intrigued to watch a movie than when I watched this. I was like, “What is going to come out of my mouth?” (Laughs.) We gave a pretty colorful palette, and I don’t know how Drake manages all that in the edit. Drake might have made Jack closer to me in the edit than I feel I made him, and there was definitely lots there for all of us. It was a fun way to work.

You recently starred alongside one of the best actors working today, Emily Blunt, in Wild Mountain Thyme. How was that experience?

It was incredible. I actually just got off the phone with Emily twenty minutes ago. She’ll be pleased I’m bringing her up. (Laughs.) It happens sometimes where you work with someone and you just know they’re going to be a friend for life. She’s one of those people where you’re like, “God, if you could do every movie with Emily Blunt, it’d be a great career.” She just makes it so easy. She’s such a force and a great actor above everything else. She’s just a great person to share a set with, and I felt very aligned with her very quickly. I actually met her a few times before; her sister and my wife are very close friends. So, we were in the periphery of each other’s eyes before. Yeah, to be able to say John Patrick Shanley’s words, which are magical, and to do it with the likes of Emily and Christopher Walken, while shooting in Ireland where I’m from, was one of those dream scenarios. I’m excited for people to see that movie.

I absolutely loved your work on The Fall. Is your mind completely free of Paul Spector at this point? He doesn’t resurface every now and then?

(Laughs.) I fucking I hope I’m free of him. Will I ever be? No. Playing that character had such a massive impact on my career, how people saw me and what I learned about my capabilities as an actor. I learned where I could take myself and where I could let my mind go. When you repetitively play someone for three seasons and five years of your life, it has a big impact. So, he’s probably still there.

Your Dr. Death limited series sounds pretty intriguing as well, and I believe you were about to start shooting when the shutdown happened. How similar is Dr. Death (Dr. Christopher Duntsch) to Paul Spector?

I was three days from starting filming when all this happened. So, I haven’t played him yet, but I will; hopefully, later in the year. I couldn’t find one thing that is similar between the two characters; the whole stories are different. There’s a darkness to both of them, sure, but the intentions, the lead-up and what they’re driven by are all just so distanced from each other. It’ll be fun to play another dark character, I guess, but I’m approaching him very differently from Spector.

Are you still doing some character work at home in the unlikely event that things resume relatively soon?

Yeah, kind of. The only thing I know is that I’m not starting shooting any time in the next couple of months. That’s the only thing I know, but there’s definitely a desire to start this year. So, I just try to be mindful of that and prepare for that. I’m ready to go when they are, but I’m putting it aside for a second while we deal with the more immediate issues in the world. I’m just trying to get my kids through the days and educate them as best we can. But, hopefully, we get a start date later in the year, and it’ll all just pick up again. Hopefully, we can keep the same energy that we had three days before we started filming four weeks ago. So, I’m excited to get back into it once given the opportunity.

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Endings, Beginnings is available now on digital HD and on VOD May 1.

  • Brian Davids
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