The Wylde Interview: Jenn Murray
Northern Irish actress Jenn Murray is amassing an extraordinarily varied back catalogue of work; from her deeply disturbing breakout movie Dorothy Mills (2008) – playing the eponymous, disturbed teen – to light comedy, in the delightful Jane Austen flick Love and Friendship (2016), and on to her turn as the shy Chastity Barebone in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Adding to these roles, she’s in this month’s mega-release Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, playing alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, and we managed to stop this mercurial performer for 5 minutes, for a Wylde chat-and-shoot…
Interview by David Newton / Photography by Etienne Gilfillan
Wylde: Could you briefly outline your character in the upcoming Maleficent: Mistress of Evil movie? What do you most like about her?
Jenn Murray: My character is called Gerda and she is Queen Ingrith’s right hand woman and devoted servant. Gerda is skilful in weaponry and other perhaps more sinister tools. What I most liked about Gerda was her focus, she was incapable of being distracted. She had no interest in being seen in a spotlight. She worked hard without seeking reward.
You exploded onto the acting world with your debut performance in the deeply disturbing movie Dorothy Mills… was that a difficult role to take on so early in your career?
I find the difficulties in a career as an actor are not the roles specifically but how you maintain your confidence and creative satisfaction when you are unemployed. Dorothy Mills was a gift of a role. I had an amazing scene partner in Carice van Houten and everyday was pure joy. Even though it was my first job, I was aware of how lucky I was to land such a complex role and I savoured it. They bleached the crown of my hair every Friday night. Note to twenty-one year old self: say no to a weekly bleach! It was a strange movie, unsettling and very atmospheric. I am so proud to be a part of it.
I hear from our photographer Etienne that you’re not a fan of musicals? Why not? I love them!
Yes, I appreciate the unbelievable talent and discipline that goes into them but it’s just not really my bag, so to speak. I do think Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago is utterly magical; the performance is primal and that is thrilling to watch.
If you could move eventually into directing, what sort of movie would be your debut film?
My focus would lean towards writing and producing, rather than directing. To be a director is such a massive undertaking, I don’t think I would want that responsibility. The films I want to make are the films I want to see. Manchester By The Sea, Last Of The Mohicans, When Harry Met Sally, Thelma and Louise are all films I adore. The land plays a role, whether it is autumn in New York City, or the dusty roads around the Grand Canyon. I like intimate, urgent conversations amidst nature. I like characters who show fortitude and resilience against circumstance or themselves. My aspiration would be to tell stories that make an individual watching feel expansive and hopeful.
And who would you cast in it? (In other words, who are your favourite actors right now?)
I love actors! There are so many I admire, it would be hard to choose. I like an actor who hand themselves over to the spectator without vanity. In a dream scenario I would like to work with John Hawkes, Kyle Chandler, Marion Cotillard, Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Debicki and Christopher Walken.
What do you most fear?
I fear rodents. When I lived in London, one climbed up through the sink drain and scuttled along my jars of seasonings, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, garlic salt. I silently and swiftly packed a bag and went immediately to a friend’s house. I did not resume normal breathing for several hours. It was the size of a kitten.
Stage or screen: you are extremely adept at both, but do you lean towards either one in particular?
I love both. I love acting, you see, so whichever way it unfolds, I am game! I feel particularly exhilarated by a live audience; they give you energy and you give yourself. It feels sacred. Lately, it can feel if something is not documented by a photograph or a video, it has less meaning. But I think the moments that are present and private in an art form are essential for the human spirit. I saw Adam Driver in Burn This recently and I already know I will never forget that performance. In film, I love how the camera can see what you are thinking. I like the collaboration and the early mornings. I like the pocket of silence when the camera rolls and the First AD yells “Action!” and you go searching with your scene partner. I have been so fortunate to work with real masters of their craft. Colleen Atwood, the costume designer on Fantastic Beasts and Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer on Maleficent, are two women that I am so inspired by. They take you in, they think of the story, they pick up a material, a colour and they create an epic painting. When I have a costume designed by one of them, I feel I have an extra layer of confidence around me to take a leap with the character.
I believe you have a fondness for 1980’s movies; which ones, and why?
I do! The fondness is for so many reasons. Firstly when I was a child, my older brother and sister were watching these movies and so, if I was lucky, I could sit with them and watch for fifteen minutes before I had to go to bed. I love Back To The Future and The Breakfast Club, Alien and Ghostbusters, Working Girl! I liked the structure back then, when a camera would sit on two actors for pages of dialogue with the confidence that the audience would not lose interest. Sigourney Weaver played characters who were smart and fun and aspirational, yet attainable. Also in the Eighties there was less interest in celebrity culture and so you were an actor because you wanted to act, not because you wanted to be famous. There was less focus on pleasing a mass audience and more dedication to telling a story that was authentic.
You look amazing in the clothes we got you to wear for our shoot; there’s a moody, character-actress quality to the pictures. What do you gravitate towards, fashion-wise?
I like Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera, both fans of the classic white shirt! I like clothes that make you look comfortable and chic. I gravitate towards someone who has a signature look that is timeless. I think Keanu Reeves always looks great in his black suits and desert boots and Sofia Coppola in her tailored suits and silk dresses. I adore silk scarves. The production team of Maleficent had a black silk scarf made for me, and I was delighted. I have a weakness for a great leather jacket. I found this 1950’s brown leather baseball jacket at a market in Los Angeles. I definitely did not need it but I couldn’t resist.
Finally (our favourite question!): what strange dreams have you had recently?
I dreamt Jack Nicholson was cooking me dinner in an attic the other night. He had a mini fridge and he pulled out mince meat, fresh figs and a can of coke!
Grooming: Paul Rodgers
Stylist : Olga Timofejeva at The ONLY Agency
Stylist’s assistants : Goda Andriunaite and Lacie Gittins
Photographer’s assistant: Paolo Navarino