HEAT VISION

Jamie Dornan on the 'Wild Mountain Thyme' Ending and the Day Christopher Walken Made Him Cry

Jamie Dornan
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The actor also reveals why he appreciates that co-star Emily Blunt freely admits she has no memory of their first meeting.

[This interview contains spoilers for Wild Mountain Thyme]

Jamie Dornan has never played a character quite like Wild Mountain Thyme’s Anthony Reilly, and the 38-year-old Irish actor will be the first to tell you that he has more in common with this eccentric Irish farmer than one might think. In John Patrick Shanley’s latest film, which is based on his own play Outside Mullingar, Dornan’s Reilly and Emily Blunt’s Rosemary Muldoon star in an unrequited love story that comes to a head during a familial farmland dispute. Since these lonely Irish farmers both grew up next door to each other, the two longtime friends have a rather contentious relationship that includes lots of bickering. Oddly enough, a forgotten first encounter between Dornan and Blunt helped establish the groundwork for their characters’ on-screen dynamic.

“It’s art imitating life. What I love about Emily is that she just admits that [she didn’t remember meeting me]. A lesser person would pretend that they remember everything about meeting someone,” Dornan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But I love that she didn’t do that and just say she remembered me. For a lot of that back-and-forth that they have, particularly that big 25-page third act of the film, we needed to have the right thing off camera for that to work on camera. And by the time we shot that, we really had a real understanding of each other.”

Dornan is also opening up about the bizarre reveal at the end of the film, so proceed carefully if you’ve yet to see Thyme.

“It was the morning of the scene and I was like, ‘When he says that, does he actually believe he’s a bee, or is he just saying that as some dramatic thing?’” Dornan recalls. “And [John Patrick] Shanley was like, ‘Sure, we all believe we’re something we’re not, right?’ And I was like, ‘Do we?’ Only Shanley can say something so off-kilter and weird, but he believes it. He believes that everyone thinks they’re something they’re not, and usually, it’s some other form, like an animal. It’s kind of mad.”

Dornan will also never forget working opposite Christopher Walken as father and son characters. In fact, their last scene together may have been Dornan’s most emotional day on any set to date.

“He admitted that he was terrified, and I loved that because he’s had so many iconic performances in his career,” Dornan shares. “But he’s the sweetest guy, and he just broke my heart in that scene where he’s on his deathbed. I honestly cried all day. I didn’t stop crying that day, and it didn’t help that it was pouring. He was breaking my heart with the way he was delivering those words, and by the time we came around to my coverage, I was just this big, red, inflamed beetroot thing with tears in my eyes. I just couldn’t keep it together anymore.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Dornan also discusses collaborating with his wife/composer, Amelia Warner, on Wild Mountain Thyme, his upcoming film Belfast alongside Kenneth Branagh and his memories from The Fall’s final season.

Christopher Walken’s character, Tony Reilly, accuses your character, Anthony Reilly, of being more of a Kelly than a Reilly. In your mind, which way did the scale tip?

(Laughs.) I think he’s definitely got a bit of the Kelly madness. I’m not sure as much as his dad [Christopher Walken] thinks he does, but I definitely think he has some of it. So I’m going to say he’s sort of a hybrid. But hey, it’s good to have a bit of madness in you. A lot of people have a bit of madness in them, a quirkiness to them, and it’s probably a bit closer to how we all are in real life.

Are you more of a farmer like the Reillys, or a fisherman like the Kellys?

(Laughs.) You know, I’ve never fished. I’ve done some sea fishing and tried to catch some stuff way out in the sea. But I’ve never done any fly fishing where you’re out standing in a river. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I play golf instead. Not a lot of people play golf and also fish. (Laughs.) It’s like you choose one outwardly boring sport or the other. I do live in the countryside so I’m surrounded by farms, but I’m highly allergic to farm animals. So I would be totally useless as a farmer.

When we spoke for Endings, Beginnings, I wrote the headline “How Jamie Dornan Found His Comfort Zone,” but I think Anthony Reilly applies even more to that notion. Emily also said that this role fits you like a glove. Do you happen to agree?

Are you going to use the same headline again? (Laughs.)

“How Jamie Dornan Found His Comfort Zone Again”

[Dornan’s next answer contains spoilers for Wild Mountain Thyme]

(Laughs.) Yeah, I hope I’m not like Anthony, but I guess he’s probably closer to myself. I’m close to Jack in Endings, Beginnings, and since that was mostly improvised, I’m definitely allowing a lot of myself in there. With Wild Mountain Thyme, nothing is improvised, but I feel like I was exploring all the quirks that I have, the lack of confidence that I have, the lack of self-belief that I have or the shyness that I have. I’m not saying any of those are negative things, but any of those that I have as myself, I was able to put into Anthony and then embellish them further. And that was a departure for me. I haven’t done stuff like that before. Playing Anthony, I’ve never felt so exposed as an actor and so vulnerable as an actor. And in some warped way, I got myself to a point where I believed that I was him. In the end, he reveals his really peculiar secret to Rosemary [Emily Blunt], and I got myself to a place where I totally believed that I was a bee. You know what’s so funny? That day, I approached Shanley and said, “Shanley, there’s something I haven’t really asked you.” It was the morning of the scene and I was like, “When he says that, does he actually believe he’s a bee, or is he just saying that as some dramatic thing?” And Shanley was like, “Sure, we all believe we’re something we’re not, right?” And I was like, “Do we?” (Laughs.) Only Shanley can say something so off-kilter and weird, but he believes it. He believes that everyone thinks they’re something they’re not, and usually, it’s some other form, like an animal. It’s kind of mad.

Emily also mentioned to me that she didn’t quite remember the first time the two of you met, and that you found her oversight to be “appalling.” Since Anthony and Rosemary love to bicker, did Emily’s memory lapse provide you a solid foundation for your playfully contentious scenes together?

(Laughs.) There might be something in that, yeah. It's art imitating life. It’s funny. What I love about Emily is that she just admits that. A lesser person would pretend that they remember everything about meeting someone, but I’d met her a couple times. One time, we had a long conversation about something quite odd, and even when I tried to jolt her memory by talking about that very specific thing, she was like, “I don’t remember it.” But a lot of people would be like, “Oh yeah, of course. Oh yeah, I do remember talking about that. Yes, of course.” But I love that she didn’t do that and just say she remembered me. For a lot of that back-and-forth that they have, particularly that big 25-page third act of the film, we needed to have the right thing off camera for that to work on camera. And by the time we shot that, we really had a real understanding of each other. We also didn’t get to rehearse that scene, so you just hope you’re ready. But I loved shooting it.

I know you’re from Belfast, but did you have any history with this rural part of the country?

Not really. The play that the movie is based on is called Outside Mullingar, and Mullingar, Westmeath is probably about 200 miles from where I grew up. So no. Mullingar is a little bit east of the very middle of Ireland. So I would’ve holidayed in West Cork in the very southwest of Ireland, and Donegal in the very northwest of Ireland. And my dad, for the last 20 years, has had a place in Connemara in the very sort of middle-west of Ireland. So west of Ireland, I would know more than Mullingar, but it's a small place. We’re all fairly connected.

There are so many accents in Ireland despite being a relatively small place. Even your Belfast accent is markedly different from Anthony’s rural accent. Was Anthony’s accent more complicated than people might realize?

Oh definitely, yeah. (Laughs.) People wouldn’t believe the amount of dialects in Ireland. At the end of the day, Shanley said something interesting at the beginning. He said, “We’re not making it for people in Ireland. Of course, it’s got to be something that’s understood across the world.” Shanley then said, “If we tried to sound like the actual people that Rosemary and Anthony are based on, nobody would understand a word we said.” So we tried to do accents that were sort of Midlands, Ireland and quite specific. So we do sound like we were trying to sound, and that’s what I’ll say about it. But I’m from a country where we take the piss out of each other, and when that criticism came along, it was expected. But it’s funny because I’ve had plenty of Americans come up to me before and guess where I’m naturally from. In A Private War, this movie I did a couple of years ago, I play a guy from Liverpool, England and he has a very strong accent. So when I did a screening somewhere, I was in the toilet afterwards, and this American guy came up to me in the toilet and was like, “Hey, what part of Scotland are you from?” I’m like, “Uh, I’m an Irishman playing an Englishman, and this guy thinks I’m Scottish.” (Laughs.) So it’s like, “What’s the point?” (Laughs.)

You had some wonderful scenes with Christopher Walken in this movie. While I’m sure you played it cool early on, did there eventually come a point where you could pick his brain about this role and that role?

No. (Laughs.) But I’ll tell you why I’m saying no to that. It was actually because Chris was scared, which was the most beautiful thing about him. He admitted that he was terrified, and I loved that because he’s had so many iconic performances in his career. But day one, take one, he was shitting himself like the rest of us, and that was just really refreshing. So, because he was in his head about trying to do the accent, or trying to learn the dialogue and all these aspects of it that he was outwardly fearful of, I felt like there wasn’t a great time to bring up The Deer Hunter. I just couldn’t do that. (Laughs.) But he’s the sweetest guy, and he just broke my heart in that scene where he’s on his deathbed. I honestly cried all day. I didn’t stop crying that day, and it didn’t help that it was pouring. He was breaking my heart with the way he was delivering those words, and by the time we came around to my coverage, I was just this big, red, inflamed beetroot thing with tears in my eyes. I just couldn’t keep it together anymore. It was just all day of crying because he was just brilliant.

Your wife, Millie (Amelia Warner), and Emily’s sister, Felicity Blunt, were good friends before this movie, and they eventually arranged a dinner for all of you prior to production. Since they’ve likely seen the movie at this point, have they given you and Emily a hard time about anything in particular?

(Laughs.) Well, Millie was the composer on the movie, so I’m super proud of her.

I’m going to pretend like I caught that detail, but I really did appreciate the score.

(Laughs.) Thanks, man. It was one of those weird things where she was pitched for it by her agent. It actually went in a different direction at first. There was another composer on the movie, and then that ended up not working out. So it came my wife’s way, and we ended up inadvertently getting to work together, which was really amazing. We could’ve gone our whole careers without working together, but luckily, we got to collaborate pretty early on in her career, certainly as a composer. So my wife’s probably seen the movie more than anyone else other than Shanley. So yeah, it was a cool thing. I actually don’t know if Fee [Felicity Blunt] and Stanley [Tucci] have seen it yet. I haven’t spoken to them yet.

Jon Hamm’s American character was preoccupied by each farm’s total number of acres, but Anthony and Rosemary didn’t view the world in that way. When you first came to America, did you notice Americans to be overly fixated on something that completely puzzled you?

(Laughs.) Compared to where I’m from, everything’s just bigger in the States. I was just amazed by that. The first time I went to the States, I just felt like everything had money thrown at it. That was kind of my impression. (Laughs.) Everything was bigger, brighter and shinier. Everything just seemed richer, so that was my big takeaway. I still feel that the States have a bit of that element. The first time that I ever went to America was to the East Coast, Boston, and obviously, I’ve spent a ton of time in New York and L.A. So I was seeing the bigger, brighter, sparklier places. Millie and I also drove across America for our honeymoon. It took five weeks, and I saw less sparkly places in the middle. So I’ve kind of seen it all. It’s a different energy, but at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. (Laughs.) We all get affected by the same stuff.

When I last spoke to you, you were really excited about the upcoming Dr. Death limited series. What happened?

Yeah, we got closed down on a Friday, and day one was the following Monday. Originally, we were supposed to close down for ten days because nobody knew what was happening. And within that time, we realized that the virus was much bigger than anyone anticipated. And by that Tuesday, I was already back in the U.K. Then it became a scheduling thing of not being able to shoot with the new proposed dates, so they had to move on and recast. It was a very painful thing at the time because I’ve had such a brilliant relationship with Patrick Macmanus, who created that show. We are still in touch all the time. So I hope it’s a great success, and I think Joshua Jackson will be class. So I’m excited to see it, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to fulfill it in the end. But it was just a circumstantial thing.

Can you tell me about Belfast which you just did with Ken Branagh?

It’s very exciting. I probably can’t say too much about it, but it's about the city that I’m from, Belfast. That’s also the city that Ken Branagh is from. And what I think I’m allowed to say is that it somewhat chronicles a part of Ken’s early life in Belfast. Judi Dench plays my mother, and Ciarán Hinds plays my father. Caitriona Balfe also plays my wife, and there are a couple of young, brilliant actors in there. We got to shoot it during the pandemic, which was weird. We got Covid tests every day, and everyone was wearing masks. I feel like Ken and I are quite close, but I kind of never saw the bottom half of his face. It was quite strange. (Laughs.) I get to see a cut of it next week, so I’m really excited. It’s tonally something very different than anything that anybody’s seen me in before, and yeah, I’m really excited. I’m actually so excited to see a cut of it next week because I had a brilliant time making it.

I can’t let you go without taking a trip back to The Fall. I always found the final season to be interesting because most writers would’ve bypassed the recovery process, but your creator [Allan Cubitt] didn’t cut any corners. What was that hospital stretch like for you?

It was so crazy. We were so hellbent, and rightly so, on being crazy realistic and very much to the point. We couldn’t have doctors watching and going, “Oh, come on, that would never happen.” But essentially, I’d just lay in that hospital bed with a lot of fake, very cold blood circling around my lower back. (Laughs.) That whole experience of being in that hospital was very uncomfortable. I’m also someone who’s not very good at sitting still. I have a lot of energy at all times. So I basically had to be in that hospital bed for about a month, which was tough for me, but it was a joy to be on that set every day. Being on that show was so fun, and shooting in my hometown with a crew that sounds like me brought great comfort to me. All of us received such a great response to the work we did. And since we knew that the third series was going to be my last, I tried to enjoy every day on set because I didn’t want it to end.

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Wild Mountain Thyme is now available in select theaters, on-demand and digital.

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