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It’s an exciting time to be Jessica Henwick as the Matrix Resurrections star is in the midst of her greatest run yet. Besides leading Thomas “Neo” Anderson and the audience back into the Matrix, the English actor has also wrapped notable roles in Rian Johnson’s untitled Knives Out follow-up and the Russo brothers’ The Gray Man, which, along with a third Knives Out film, combined to cost Netflix upwards of $650 million. Henwick has even become a prolific voice actor as she’s currently leading Blade Runner: Black Lotus.
In Resurrections, Henwick plays Bugs, the captain of a “ragtag” crew who believes Neo (Keanu Reeves) is still alive and worth risking everything to find. In order to do a chemistry read for the role, Henwick had to make her own red pill/blue pill-type decision since she was also up for the role of Shang-Chi’s (Simu Liu) sister, Xialing, in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Ultimately, one of the factors in her decision to choose Bugs was that she didn’t want to put a lid on her fan-favorite Iron Fist and The Defenders character, Colleen Wing, potentially joining the MCU proper. She also knew that her The Defenders co-star Charlie Cox had already gotten the call to join the MCU by way of Spider-Man: No Way Home.
“If I did [Shang-Chi], I would effectively be putting Colleen to bed. It wasn’t the main factor, but it definitely came up in conversation,” Henwick tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I love Colleen. She changed my life. Of course, if I was given the opportunity to revisit her, I would, but I just don’t know how likely that is. Charlie [Cox] knew about that opportunity years ago. He already knew it was happening. I think I would have heard by now if there were any plans with Colleen.”
Henwick’s journey to Rian Johnson’s next Benoit Blanc-led (Daniel Craig) mystery began in the late 2000s when she watched Johnson’s feature directorial debut, Brick, during a film class. A number of years later, Henwick was cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Jess Pava, the first female X-wing pilot. J.J. Abrams wrote the role for Henwick after six months of Rey auditions didn’t work out, and she expected to return for Johnson’s follow-up, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, until things took a turn.
“When I was a teenager, I watched Brick in school and I loved it. So I wrote [Rian Johnson] a fan email, and he never responded,” Henwick shares. “Cut to seven years later, I’m in [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], and I’m meant to go back to [Star Wars: The Last Jedi]. But Rian cuts me out of the project! Cut to this year, I finally got sent this script and I was like, ‘Put me in coach. Give me a Zoom. I don’t care if I get it. I just want to speak to Rian.’ So I revealed all of this to him. I was like, ‘I have a bone to pick with you!’ And of course, he was forced — he was morally obligated — to cast me in Knives Out.”
Henwick and Johnson quickly hit it off, and once he learned of Henwick’s filmmaking aspirations, he even served as a mentor to her as she prepped her own directorial debut, Bus Girl.
“The main reason I really signed on was because I actually wanted to study him,” Henwick adds. “I was directing a short film [Bus Girl] at the same time, which he very kindly was able to make a break in the schedule for me to fly home, shoot and then fly back to set. So he let me shadow him on and off throughout production, and he gave me directing advice. So it was just the best time.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Henwick (the “w” is silent) also discusses the time she crashed the Venom: Let There be Carnage set, which inspired Tom Hardy to return the favor on Resurrections’ nearby set in San Francisco.
Well, I just searched your name in Apple Music, and I still don’t see your Interstellar cover record.
I’m sorry! Honestly, I have not played piano since the lockdown ended. It’s really annoying, but I’m going to play over Christmas. I’m going to get back into it. I just know I’m going to be rusty now. I’ll have to work on the Interstellar because that’s the warm-up song.
After our last interview, a few people made sure that I saw your sequel video with someone crawling in the background.
(Laughs.) Yeah, my mom doesn’t have a phone, so she doesn’t really know where the camera can or can’t see when I’m filming. So I was recording myself doing a little bit, and she saw that the phone was up there. So she was like, “I’ll crawl and it won’t see me” but you can clearly see her scurrying around. It’s hilarious.
Well, you are absolutely incredible as Bugs in The Matrix Resurrections. She’s just so cool.
She’s the “White Rabbit” of this story as she guides “Tom” Anderson (Keanu Reeves) and the audience back into the Matrix. Was it quite a thrill to read that you would be the one to lead everyone back inside the Matrix?
It was crazy! I do remember reading the first page, the second page, the third page, and I was like, “What the…? This is all me! Where is everyone else?!” It was very surprising. Instead of the blue hair, maybe I should’ve had the white hair, but maybe that’s too obvious. Lana [Wachowski] would probably say that’s too obvious.
When you first met with Lana, you didn’t actually discuss the character, but you still read some scenes for her, right? I’m also asking because Jonathan [Groff] told me that he read The Analyst’s (Neil Patrick Harris) scenes for her.
Yeah, she actually told me about reading with Jonathan, and I think she said that it was amazing because she couldn’t tell when he started the scene. And that’s how she knew he was so good because it seemed so natural. She made me read the scene with Yahya’s [Abdul-Mateen II] character where we first got introduced to one another. She also made me read the scene where Neo wakes up. It’s the scene from the trailer, actually, where he says, “And everything I did was a lie,” or whatever. And then I kind of reveal everything that’s happened since the last Matrix film.
The opening of the movie really belongs to you, and it’s one of the coolest sequences in the franchise. Did you get to do the cool Inception shot in the hallway where she runs up the wall and fires the gun?
Yeah, that’s me! That’s me on a wire. It was great! You wouldn’t think it was that cool if you saw all the rehearsals where I just couldn’t get onto the wall and I looked terrible. Wire work is a whole new thing for me, really. I touched upon it a tiny bit when I was on the Marvel Netflix series, but not much.
Speaking of the Marvel Netflix series, since Bugs is the most you’ve changed your look for a role, did Carrie-Anne Moss still recognize you from those days? It’s been four or five years, and I can only think of one Iron Fist scene with the two of you.
Yeah, we saw each other at the read-through, and I had my long hair still. So she recognized me. We actually went to get our haircuts together. We went to a salon together and she was all emotional because it was the first time she’d seen the Trinity hair in so long. So we held hands. And for me, obviously, it was a huge change. But she’s lovely and I love working with her.
Can you tell I was banking on that story? “Carrie-Anne Moss did not recognize Iron Fist co-star Jessica Henwick.”
Oh no! Did I ruin the headline? (Laughs.)
My fantasy story is ruined!
I know how important prep is to you, but it’s my understanding that Lana’s improvisational style would often do away with any pre-existing plan on the day. Was it frustrating at first to not be able to perform something you prepped for several months?
Yeah, definitely. It did frustrate people, but you kind of know what you’re getting with Lana. She was very forward about her filmmaking style during the audition process, so I knew that there was no point fighting that. It had to be her way, so I just accepted that and I decided that I’d go along for the ride and turn myself into a vessel.
I also read that while you generally don’t fan-girl over actors, Keanu was an exception. Is his mystique a very real thing?
It’s funny because I do feel like my characters leak into me. When I’m playing someone, I do start to take on their qualities, so I think it was half me and half Bugs when I first met Keanu and had that pinch-me moment with him. Yes, his mystique is as real as people say, but he’s also just a normal guy. We got along well and we would talk about food and what we did the other night. He’s just a normal guy, but it’s interesting how he’s taken on this idol-like mantle over time. It’s fascinating. I don’t know what else to say about that because he’s so private, and I don’t want to infringe upon his privacy in any way.
Since you don’t fan-girl over actors, did you act completely unimpressed when Tom Hardy crashed the Resurrections set?
I did act cool! I played it cool, for sure. To be fair, I crashed the Venom: Let There Be Carnage set first. My friend was over there, and he’s in this Hollywood motorbike gang with Tom Hardy. So he was like, “We’re filming down the street from you. Come say hi.” So I went over there, shook everybody’s hand and as soon as Tom found out that I was from The Matrix, that’s when he said, “Well, I want to come have a run around in the background.” But yeah, I played it cool. He’s a really nice guy!
I heard your story after I saw the movie, so I’m not sure if he made the cut or not, but I do know that Resurrections’ helicopters made it into Venom 2.
Oh, that’s cool! There’s a give and take.
When Bugs and Morpheus are trying to convince Neo to take the red pill, The Matrix is playing on a screen behind them. Was there an actual projection on the day, or was it filled in later?
There was a projection on the day. Lana likes to do everything practically if she can. That scene was a very slow filming process because she wanted very specific shots to be playing in the background. So if we were saying our lines too slowly, then the reel would get ahead of us, and if we were saying our lines too fast, we would get ahead of the reel. So we kept having to restart over and over again. But it was trippy seeing 33-year-old Keanu projected onto the screen in front of present-day Keanu. He was staring at himself and I could see such a mixture of emotions playing on his face because he told me that he hadn’t seen it since the film first came out. So it was weird to witness it since the film changed his life.
You and Yahya also shot a scene inside Thomas Anderson’s apartment. Did you get the impression that the crew went to painstaking lengths to recreate it?
I’m not going to lie, when I walked in, I wasn’t immediately like, “Oh, that’s exactly how I pictured it.” I think it’s because in the original film, they were quite specific about the angles they used, and this was more of a 360-filmmaking style. So I didn’t recognize all of it, but it was cool to see floppy disks, old phone sets and old VHS tapes.
So the last time we talked, you made global headlines because of two words: Jess Wick. The plan at the time was to pitch [John Wick director] Chad Stahelski when he arrived in Berlin to help design an action sequence — or so we thought. So did you shoot your shot as they say?
(Laughs.) You know, I saw Chad a couple of times after that interview. He would come by set and he was always surrounded by people. So it just never seemed like the right moment, but I did get my team to float the idea. (Laughs.) It’s so funny. This is just a joke that has gone on way too long at this stage. But they’ve already shot the next John Wick, and I think they already have the story blocked out for the one after that as well. So maybe one day Jess Wick will become a realized idea, but for now, I’m just doing my own thing.
Out of curiosity, did you go out for Ballerina, which is a spinoff in the John Wick world?
No, I didn’t! I don’t think anyone did. They just made straight offers, I believe.
Returning to Chad, he told me and several others that he was helping Lana with an action sequence. Was that just a cover story for his real purpose in the movie?
(Laughs.) Yeah, he didn’t design no action sequence as far as I saw. He was in an action sequence. This is coming out after the film’s release, so Chad plays Chad [Tiffany’s husband].
It’s one of my favorite cameos ever since he was Neo’s stunt double in the first two films. I love how meta Resurrections is, but his cameo was the master stroke.
I think it was genius. He’s got an insane life story as well. To go from being Keanu Reeves’ stunt double to being the director of a huge Keanu Reeves resurgence film [John Wick], it’s fascinating. I do want to have a sit-down with him one day.
So you were given a choice: either you audition for Shang-Chi’s sister or you audition for Bugs.
Hey, that’s not what I said! (Laughs.) You added the role that I was auditioning for. Who said that?
Well, they went straight to Awkwafina for her role, so that leaves only one other role, really.
So you couldn’t audition for both. Is that unusual?
I did a self-tape for both. And then they wanted me to screen test for Shang-Chi with Simu [Liu] or chemistry read for Matrix. It’s actually not that bizarre. It’s kind of standard if you’re going to screen test, especially coming from England. They would have to fly me out and put me up, so you have to sign the contract beforehand. And the contract basically says that you must give them a period of exclusivity. So they knew that I had the offer from each side, and they, of course, put that exclusivity clause right front and center. There was no guarantee I would get either, and if I had chosen the wrong one, I guess we wouldn’t be on the phone today.
You can’t go wrong with either role, but Bugs is someone I’ve never really seen before.
Aww, thank you.
That said, I have a theory about your motivation.
By the time this interview is published, two characters from Netflix’s Daredevil will have made their debuts in the MCU proper: Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk in Hawkeye and Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But you probably already knew that.
(Laughs.) Yes, I already knew.
Did part of you say no to Shang-Chi because you didn’t want to officially close the book on Colleen Wing joining the actual MCU?
That definitely did come up in the discussion. If I did [Shang-Chi], I would effectively be putting Colleen to bed. It wasn’t the main factor, but it definitely came up in conversation. I love Colleen. She changed my life. Of course, if I was given the opportunity to revisit her, I would, but I just don’t know how likely that is. Charlie knew about that opportunity years ago. He already knew it was happening. I think I would have heard by now if there were any plans with Colleen.
Well, she’s still eligible to return at some point, and a lot of people, including myself, think she should be the MCU’s Iron Fist since she had that power at the end of Iron Fist season two.
That would be cool! If it was the right moment, the right project, for sure. I love Colleen. But we’ll see. I gave her a happy ending. She’s happily living in New York with Misty [Simone Missick]. They’re running their own business together. So she’s good where she is as well.
Colleen coming back would certainly make [Warrior and Iron Fist stunt coordinator] Brett Chan very happy.
Aww, I love Brett. I’m so happy for him with Warrior and all the kudos he’s getting. I’m glad that they got picked up for another season. That’s amazing.
Did you hear about the compliments he paid you a few months ago?
No! What happened?
He basically said that you had the best action sequences on Iron Fist because you were the only one who put in the work and trained.
(Laughs.) Oh, I did hear about this, yeah. Oh Brett. I will say that he instilled in me an almost militant style of training. He really taught me that you only get out how much you put in. Fighting was such a big part of Colleen’s life. She was a martial arts instructor, obviously, so I knew I had to do it right. Yeah, I love Brett.
So I can’t help but notice that Madelyn Cline has been your partner in crime at various events like the No Time to Die premiere. Is this an indication that your characters in Rian Johnson’s Untitled Benoit Blanc Mystery will also be partners in crime?
Ooh! That’s interesting! Wow! Are we partners in crime? I can say this: our characters have the same level of stakes.
(Laughs.) Yeah, we’re both on the totem pole around the same part. Yeah, I think that’s probably all I can say about that one.
What did you make of Rian and his directing style?
I love Rian. He’s the nicest. I actually have a long and convoluted history with Rian. When I was a teenager, I watched Brick in school and I loved it. We had to watch it for film class. So I googled him, and his email, back then, was public. So I wrote him a fan email, and he never responded. Cut to seven years later, I’m in [Star Wars: The Force Awakens], and I’m meant to go back to [Star Wars: The Last Jedi]. But Rian cuts me out of the project! Cut to this year, I finally got sent this script and I was like, “Put me in coach. Give me a Zoom. I don’t care if I get it. I just want to speak to Rian.” So I revealed all of this to him. I was like, “I have a bone to pick with you!” And of course, he was forced — he was morally obligated — to cast me in Knives Out. (Laughs.) So we have a long history between the two of us, but he’s brilliant. The main reason I really signed on was because I actually wanted to study him. And I wanted the full-circle moment. I was directing a short film [Bus Girl] at the same time, which he very kindly was able to make a break in the schedule for me to fly home, shoot and then fly back to set. So he let me shadow him on and off throughout production, and he gave me directing advice. So it was just the best time.
Can you tell me a bit about your short film Bus Girl?
So Bus Girl is my directorial debut. It’s a short film that I did entirely on a phone camera. A Xiaomi phone to be specific. So it’s this really cute, feel-good story. I’m going for Wong Kar-wai Chungking Express vibes. It’s about a young woman who wants to be a chef but she works as a bus girl. She busses tables at a restaurant, and one day, she sees a critic in the audience. So she navigates a way to make a meal for the critic herself. It has a great cast: Chipo Chung, Dan Portman, Evanna Lynch. I actually wasn’t supposed to be the lead. I cast Jessie Mei Li, and then her scheduling for the Netflix film [Havoc] clashed, so she had to fall out at the last minute and I had no one else but myself to plug in, ready to go. So it’s not a vanity piece; it was an accident.
So what can you say about the Russo brothers’ The Gray Man?
Gosh, I don’t know how much I can say about The Gray Man. I can tell you that everyone is going to fall in love with Ryan’s [Gosling] performance. The cast, top to bottom, is, of course, stellar, but holy shit, Ryan is amazing in this. And in real life, he glows. His skin just glows. He looks like he smells like a newborn baby. I can’t describe it. He just has an aura around him.
Jessica, you say don’t fan-girl over actors, but complimenting Ryan Gosling’s glow sounds a lot like fan-girling.
(Laughs.) I’m not fan-girling; I’m jealous, and I want to know what skincare products he uses. He must have a brilliant regimen. Something there just doesn’t add up. We do very long hours in this industry. None of us get any sleep. We’re not eating right. Why does he look so good?
So what’s with the archery in Serbia? What are you not telling your fans? [Writer’s note: Henwick recently shared an Instagram story where she sported a bow and arrow in Serbia.]
(Laughs.) I think it’s interesting that in Serbia, you can just walk around and people are on the side of the street, like, “Do you wanna have an archery lesson right here in the street?” There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no insurance issues. There’s no licensing. It’s just like, “Here’s a bow and an arrow. Be free.”
Are you messing with me right now?
(Laughs.) I am telling you the truth! That was a casual Sunday in Serbia!
So this really wasn’t prep for a secret role?
(Laughs.) No, this is the first time that I’ve had a break. I have no acting jobs lined up. I just have press and that’s it! I’m totally free!
Going back to Resurrections, did you shoot all of the Matrix stuff first so that people could shave their heads and you could color your hair back to normal for the real world or “unplugged” scenes?
Yeah, we did shoot it that way.
Do you want to start with a Bugs spinoff series on HBO Max? Or do you want to go straight to a spinoff movie? What’s your preference?
(Laughs.) Gosh, I don’t know. Bugs completed her mission. She completed her task. Obviously, the world is so rich and there are many other stories to tell. So we’ll see, but as of now, I’ve heard nothing. Bugs is just living the good life.
Were all the exterior city scenes shot in San Francisco?
The Simulatte scenes are in San Francisco and all of the street climax scenes with the big horde. And the rooftop stuff. We couldn’t have filmed all of those horde scenes and the crowd scenes in Berlin because by the time we were in Berlin, there were Covid restrictions. So that would’ve been too many extras. So those really are the streets of San Francisco, but everything else you see is on a stage in Berlin.
Did you show up to set to watch Keanu and Carrie-Anne jump off of a 46-story building?
I watched the first or the second time they tried it. They ended up doing it 19 times, which makes me start to sweat. I have a fear of heights so I could not have done that. I don’t know how they did it, I don’t know why they did it. Everyone thought that was OK except the insurance guy, who was on the side of the set, ripping his hair out and trying to get us to stop. (Laughs.) So I witnessed a little bit of the magic, but bear in mind, they shot that at the crack of dawn. So I was only awake for one of those days.
So when Bugs is washing windows, they must have accommodated your fear of heights.
Yeah, we wanted to do it in San Francisco and I wanted to go get a window washing license. And of all things, insurance stepped in about that, but they still let Carrie-Anne and Keanu jump off a building. I think it was that the weight allowed on one of those window-washing rigs would not suffice having myself, the other actor, a sound person, a cameraman and a director. We were over the weight limit, so they wouldn’t let us do it.
Is there more Bugs material that didn’t make the cut but might be on the Blu-ray?
I’ve only seen it once, so I need to see it again to check what’s been cut or what’s stayed. But nothing really stood out to me when I watched it. I wasn’t like, “Oh no! This scene is gone!” Well, certainly not my scenes, anyway. But I’ll take another look and get back to you.
And since it’s become a tradition to close on this question, what are your most active cast group texts at the moment?
(Laughs.) You know who’s texting me right now? Dylan O’Brien! And Keisha Castle-Hughes just messaged me. So I would say it’s a toss-up between Love and Monsters and Game of Thrones.
The Matrix Resurrections is now available in movie theaters and on HBO Max.
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