The Matrix Resurrections Star Jessica Henwick Helps Bring The Matrix Back To Life [Interview]

Audiences couldn't have asked for a much cooler tour guide through The Matrix than Bugs. The new hero, played by actress Jessica Henwick, helps ease viewers back into the Wachowskis' world with a bang in "The Matrix Resurrections." Bugs is, as Henwick says, the audience's eyes, and the performer has a lot of heavy lifting to do, not only with the action, explaining the how and the why of this new movie, but she makes it all play cool and smooth. 

Bugs is a great new addition to the world of The Matrix, and it marks another memorable performance from Henwick. In a very full Thanksgiving feast of a movie, Henwick hits a wide range of emotions in and outside of the action. Bugs is a true believer, fast but thoughtful, and a rule-breaking captain with compassion. Henwick, known for her roles in "Game of Thrones," "Underwater," and the terrific "Love & Monsters," recently told us about working with Lana Wachowski and playing Bugs in a spoiler-free interview. Check it out below.

"The original was perfect and should not be touched."

You were thinking of leaving the industry and then got a call about "The Matrix Resurrections," right?

It was my agent. I was in a weird space and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I think I was going through a quarter life crisis, and basically I've been acting for 14 years now and I just took a second to think, 'Am I doing this because I still want to do it and I love it, or am I doing this because it's what I'm used to?' And so, I stopped and I decided to get out of town and I bought a one-way ticket to France. And then, I just started walking.

I just started hiking and I was halfway through a 40-day hike. I turned on my phone, it was near my birthday and I wanted to tell everyone I was alive, and I got an email saying, 'Would you like to audition for the Matrix?' And I just said no, because I hadn't finished the hike and I hadn't come to an answer yet of what I wanted to do in my life. I turned it down.

I finished the hike. And that's when I got a call from my agent saying, 'Lana still hasn't filled out the role. Are you interested?' I made a self tape, flew to America a couple days later, tested with Yahya and had the phone call from Lana a few days after that.

So, after "The Matrix Resurrections," were you rejuvenated and want to continue acting?

No, I mean, it's a long — that thing was such a journey emotionally. It was a part of it, but I think I came to that decision without the script. And then it was just nice that this was the first thing that appeared to me after.

What was your first impression of Bugs on the page and how to play her?

I loved Bugs. I think she's really empathetic and really easy to come to grips with. In my eyes, she's the audience's eyes, she's kind of the window into the new film. When I first read the script, I was blown away by a few things: How long it was, how complicated it was. It's Lana's typical style of filmmaking. She's talking about huge themes here. But also how different it was. I know that the [co-]writer has done an interview where he said it kind of breaks the rule of the blockbuster, and I think that's true. It definitely doesn't follow a standard format that we're used to for this genre. It's quite unusual, the structure.

I've heard it called a coda to the first movie.

Yeah. I think it would've been really easy for us to just come and try and recreate the original and just do that because it worked, but we all knew coming into this that the original was perfect and should not be touched. And so, this had to be something that's paying homage to it, but is also very new and fresh.

"The point of the movie is what you make of it."

There's a great scene where everyone talks about what the Matrix means. Did your view of the Matrix change working with Lana?

You know, it's interesting because being in it, you have access to God, which is an honor. I could have asked her at any moment, 'What does the Matrix mean?' I didn't, because I knew that that wasn't the point. The point of the movie is what you make of it. And Lana doesn't want to feed you an answer. So yeah, it means something to me. I don't know if it means the same thing to everyone else, but you have to wait and see.

What were some of your earliest conversations about with Lana in terms of playing Bugs?

We didn't. She didn't want to talk about — it's interesting, because you hear stories of the original, where she would give each actor a pack of textbooks and films and novels to read to understand. She didn't do that with us. She's changed, her filmmaking style's changed, and she was very fluid about it. I remember one day scheduling a meeting with her to discuss Bugs, and the entire time we talked about life and not about the film at all, and that's kind of her preferred way of working now.

How'd you approach playing Bugs when she is in the Matrix versus when she's in the real world?

I think there's a bit of vulnerability in the real world that she wouldn't show in the Matrix because the Matrix is how you used to display herself. I think when she's in the Matrix, she is kind of firmer and harder, and in the real world she's a little more introspective and a little quieter. But I also wanted to keep it a straight throughline because I was worried that people wouldn't recognize me without the blue hair. 'Cause in the first 20 minutes of the film I have blue hair. I did try and make sure that it wasn't too much distinction.

Since Lana didn't give you textbooks, films, or novels, what homework did you do?

I re-watched the originals a couple times and I just read the script over and over and over again. I think besides that on this, more than any other project, I tried to give myself over to the process and not be as rigid with my preparation and my execution. I knew from the auditions how precise Lana is down to the intonation on a line. I really just put it in her hands and I had no ego about the performance. I was like, 'It's yours.' This is her film. 'How do you want me to perform?' Whereas normally I would be more like, 'Well, I think the character would do this.' I never said that once on set.

"You can't slip with Lana."

Lana will just go for 20 minutes and let the camera keep rolling. How was it experiencing that approach on the day, and now having seen how it was cut together?

It's definitely interesting going, 'Oh, that's what she used, huh?' In terms of how it is on set practically, it just means that you have to be ready all the time because you never know when the camera's going to be on you. She expects people to bring their A game every day. You can't slip with Lana.

How about working with the stunt coordinators? How was Bugs' fighting style defined?

We had a specific idea coming in, which was kind of this Kenshin style, but it never — again, working with Lana, you just can't commit to making a choice without knowing what she's going to do on the day. So we would come up with these huge choreographed sequences, and then I would get there on the day and she'd be like, 'How about this?' And she would just make something up. For me, a lot of it was just trying to get back in shape, get my endurance up, and train in a bunch of different styles so that I was ready for whatever she wanted.

You were hoping to do wirework. Did you get the chance?

I did. I did a little bit of wirework. It's hard, dude. I'm just not made for it. It's a skillset. I think I don't have enough air awareness also because I'm afraid of heights. It's definitely not my forte. I'm going to keep working at it.

It looks painful.

It's not comfy. Have you ever worn a harness?

I haven't.

Right. It's just uncomfy in the crotch area. It's not nice.

"The original Matrix is like the original superhero film."

With your past experiences, especially in action, where do you feel most comfortable with the fight choreography and stunts?

I try never to go into it thinking 'I've got this,' because stunt teams like don't react well to that, actors coming in with that. Unless you're Tom Cruise, they don't like it when actors come in with that mentality. I very much go in like, 'Oh, empty cup. Let's start from scratch. Go back to the beginning.' But saying that, I do think that I've had so many wonderful coordinators that I've worked with in the past who've taught me a bunch of different styles, obviously on "Iron Fist," I got to work with Brett Chan and then aikido and learn how to use a katana. On "Game of Thrones," I was using a bull whip, "Love and Monsters" was a more [broad] type style. All of those experiences came together to make me ready for this one.

Brett Chan, I just talked to him. He's fantastic.

Oh, what did you talk to him for?

For "Warrior."

I love him and I love "Warrior."

One of the best shows around right now.

I agree. I'm so glad they got picked up for another season. Again, the power of fandom.

Even talking to Brett for a little bit, I got to learn a lot. What did you takeaway from that collaboration?

I think Brett taught me a lot of room awareness, which was not intentional, but he's very ... not paranoid. When you go out for dinner with him, and I would go out for dinner with him all the time, he would always bring out all the stunt guys. I would always tag along. Such a leader, such a nice guy, absolutely love him. He would always choose the seat with the back to the wall so that he could see the entire room. He has a level of awareness of what's going on at all times that I picked up by osmosis, especially living in New York at that time. It was my first time even coming to New York. I got a little more aware through him.

Like you said, you revisited the past films, so what did you takeaway from them going into the sequel?

How timeless it is. It's not aged at all. I also think I realized that the original "Matrix" is like the original superhero film. It is the OG. It proved how wide an audience was ready for that. It kind of started that resurgence of what was next. Like, Sam Raimi started doing "Spider-Man" shortly after that. I think "The Matrix" pushed everything forward.

"The Matrix Resurrections" is now in theaters and on HBO Max.