Jack Reynor interview

At its heart, writer/director Ari Aster’s twisted new folk horror nightmare Midsommar is a relationship drama. Florence Pugh (Macbeth, Fighting With My Family) plays Dani and Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Free Fire) plays Christian, a couple who are slowly drifting apart and whose problems come to a head during a trip to an isolated Swedish commune. It’s a mesmerizing “break up film” that’s punctuated by occasional bursts of violence, and watching this couple work out their issues leaves you with some images you won’t soon forget.

I sat down with Reynor for in a spoiler-filled discussion about the movie, and he told me about the jaw-dropping scene that instantly became his reason for making the movie, the movie’s comedic elements, the shot that made him cry for real, and more.

Final warning: spoilers for Midsommar ahead.

Jack Reynor Interview

Before we really dig in, I want to talk quickly about that shot in which your character, Christian, is cradling Dani after she finds out about her family’s death.

A largely overlooked shot.

That must have been pretty intense to be in Florence’s presence when she was in such a vulnerable state.

Yeah, and Florence and I have a great relationship, a very warm relationship. We’re close friends and one of the really difficult things in filming Midsommar was she’s suffering for so much of the film, and she’s so committed as an actress that you can really feel the pain when she does it. That moment in particular that you’re talking about, I just remember her laying in my lap and just screaming, and I was so upset by it. I was really crying at that moment, just feeling the weight of emotion that she was portraying. It became very, very real for me. It’s a testament to her as an actress. She’s just absolutely phenomenal. I don’t know if there’s anything she can’t do.

Christian finds himself in a tough situation in this relationship. I’ve heard you talk about how you didn’t want to portray him as just a one-note jerk, but you and Ari worked to give him some extra dimensionality. What kinds of conversations did you have about how you could add those extra layers to him?

We talked about some of my previous films, actually. There was one movie that I did in 2012 with Lenny Abrahamson called What Richard Did. That film is based very loosely on something that happened in Ireland twenty years ago, but it’s about a young man who goes to a private school and he kicks one of his peers to death in a drunken fight one night accidentally. He finds out the kid has died the following day and is suffering with the guilt, but nobody knows that he did it. So it was a difficult character in that, that’s somebody who an audience could very, very easily just write off altogether. The response to the film was such that people actually really empathized with him, so we were taking something of that and trying to inject it into this character of Christian, but in the context of being a failing partner in a dissolving relationship.

So that’s something that I try and do with all my roles, really. I’ve never played an out-and-out antagonist. I’ve never played a real, pure villain – except maybe in Free Fire. (laughs) But every film I do, I’m really trying to empathize with the character and put myself in their shoes and think about how I would feel if it was me, and that’s the case with Christian, too. There were a lot of scenes that were omitted from the final cut of the film that showed a more compassionate side to the character and a more engaged and involved side in some moments of Dani’s need. But I think for the sake of the narrative and for the payoff at the end of the movie, they didn’t make the cut.

You were talking about the guilt of Christian, and at a certain point in the movie, that guilt almost gives way to this hypnotic state, which brings us to your big sex scene in the movie. The film foreshadows that moment in several different ways, but I’m curious about how you guys spoke about Christian’s intentions and desires versus the trance-like state that he finds himself in.

That’s as a result of drugs. She gives him the thing to drink, and it’s a trip. It’s a heavy psychedelic trip that turns into a really bad trip. His intentions and desires…?

Yeah, he clocks that this girl [Maya] likes him and he’s obviously having some trouble in his own relationship, so I was just wondering how you struck that balance of finding the empathy in Christian, making this a bit of a moral grey zone.

Yeah, I think the character in the first two acts of the film, as we say, he’s insensitive to Dani and trying to break away from the relationship and probably also feels some of the shame and guilt of being inadequate in her moment of need which I think allows him to go on a path of breaking away from her and trying to find his autonomy from her, basically. This character Maya is a part of that manifestation, but he doesn’t make any moves on her. He doesn’t really engage fully until the point where he’s drugged by these people and he’s actually led to the door, so there is kind of a moral grey area there, I think.

Midsommar Jack Reynor Florence Pugh

What was your reaction reading that sex scene for the first time?

I thought it was brilliant. That was really why I wanted to do the film, because it’s not the kind of thing you encounter every day, especially in contemporary cinema, especially not in something that’s going to open wide. So what I was really interested in was flipping on its head the culture of exposing female actors in these really humiliating death scenes that you see in a lot of slasher films. The Last House on the Left is the one that I keep coming back to, but also you see it as a pervasive culture in giallo cinema, the Italian horror movies – Dario Argento, Lucio Fulce, Lamberto Bava, all these guys, it’s something that occurs in all their films, too. That’s just been the way things have been for the longest time, and for me, having an opportunity to put myself as a male actor in that position and experience something of the humiliation of it and the turmoil of it, that was kind of the hook for me, you know? And it was difficult.

I wrote something down in my notes when watching the movie, and then saw that you mentioned this same thing in a different interview, and that’s the idea of “how far are we willing to go into these unfamiliar traditions before we decide a line has been crossed?” I know the film takes that to the extreme, but that core idea is pretty grounded in reality.

Absolutely, and I think there are two elements that speak to that in the film: one is the comedy, and the other is the folk element. The comedy is something that Ari and I spoke about a lot before we even went into production, and we’re big fans of this British satirist Chris Morris, who did Four Lions. I don’t know if you saw that film, but he also did a great satirical prime time TV show called Brass Eye. It was very funny, but it was on the membrane edge of what’s comedy and what’s really, really serious and obscene, basically. So we always knew that we were going to go there with this film and we were going to try to inject a lot of gallows humor into it. Because what that does is it forces an audience to really have to think about what they’re laughing at, and to assess with themselves and check back in with themselves about whether what they’re watching is really funny or if it’s actually horrifying.

Similarly, the folk element, we’re talking about pre-Christian traditions here. Trying to delve into that – pagan traditions, that’s pre-history at a certain point. So with that, all of what we know and understand about our social structures and our moral codes is suspended, and you’re sitting there as an audience kind of in uncharted waters, and you’re having to decide moment to moment what’s acceptable and what isn’t. How much are we on board with this, and how much is it actually an offense to us?

My wife and I both love Sing Street, and the moment with you celebrating at the end of the movie gets me every time. Do you have any favorite memories from working on that film?

Oh, thanks man. Everything about that was amazing. Coming home after, I don’t know, four or five years of working abroad on a lot of American productions and a lot of continental European productions, coming back to shoot that film was a real homecoming. I just loved every moment of it. It was obviously a very personal film for John Carney and it was kind of semi-autobiographical, so I was honored to take on a role that was based on somebody who was very close to him, and it was also somebody that I related to a lot as well through my own experiences with my family. Everything about that movie was beautiful, man. I loved it.

Do you share Brendan’s feelings that “No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins”?

I like Phil Collins. (laughs)

*****

Midsommar is in theaters now.

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