1883 Magazine

Rising star Irish actress Jenn Murray is a name you will be hearing a lot more of over the coming months and years. Having appeared in a number of recent high profiles British films and TV series her career is about to be taken to the next level with a starring role in J.K. Rowlings ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.

Jenn started her professional career playing a disturbed young girl with a multiple personality disorder in ‘Dorothy Mills’, that got her nominated for ‘Best Actress in a Lead Role’ at the Irish film and Television Awards in 2009. After moving to the UK, she picked up appearances in the award winning supernatural drama ‘The Fade’s’ for BBC Three, the romantic comedy/Sci-fi feature ‘Earthbound’ and then the role ‘Dorothy’ in the feature ‘Testament of Youth’.

Last yeah she played ‘Dolores’ in the Oscar nominated film ’Brooklyn’, that was a smash hit across both sides of the Atlantic; finally, her most recent appearances are in the role of ‘Lady Lucy Manwaring’ in Whit Stillman’s ‘Love & Friendship’. But all this pales in comparison when she takes on the role of Chastity Barebone’ in the hughly anticipated ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ out this week.

This charming Irish actress who possesses an ear-piercing-yet-heartwarming laugh talks about her first steps in acting, tips to aspiring performers, her cravings for Parma ham and we do our to get her to reveal secrets of  ‘Fantastic Beasts’.

When did you first realise you wanted to act?

I’ve always wanted to do it since I was a little girl. But when I was leaving school and had to choose a university, I sort of thought to myself ‘Are you going to try, or are you not?’ So I think when I was 18 I decided that I was going to be a professional actress. Not decided because you don’t become one. I was going to try, and I was going to audition to drama school. It was something I always wanted to do but, you know, it didn’t really become a reality until I was an adult - so when I was 18 and I actually had to make choices that were going to make that possible. It could no longer be a dream in your head.

You once said that the best actors you’ve met have eyes on the back of their heads, what do you mean by that?

I just mean that the best actors I’ve met, they observe. They pay attention to what’s around them. They are aware of everybody. When you’re on set you have to focus and you have to deliver, so you can’t be exerting energy into all these other things. Obviously always be polite and have manners. But you need to bring it when you have to bring it, because then people will watch that film for years and years and years, and what you did in that frame is what’s going to matter. Not like, did you crack that joke that everyone laughed at on set. But what I mean is that they’re just aware, aware of people’s emotions, they’re aware of people around them, like geographically. If the director is giving direction to a group of people and you’re all in a semicircle, the actors are aware of who needs to hear and bring people in. Just sensitive to their surroundings, emotionally, physically, those kinds of things. That’s what I mean.

Do you think you have eyes in the back of your head?

Oh no! Do you? Until someone comes and smacks you from behind. No, like, I just mean… I pay attention, I just pay attention to the people around me. When I’m on set I like working with actors, I like working with the props department, I like working with the costume [department]. It’s a collaboration, it all comes together, and I am aware of everybody’s passion and hard work. And the more you listen, the better everything will be. But I also know I have to tune out things that are not useful. If you worry too much about what people think you’ll get lost, you’ll lose yourself. It’s different isn’t it? In a professional atmosphere you need to listen and do what you can do. But for your own personal life there’s people that you will listen to and there’s people that you just have to tune out, or just don’t go looking. Go looking? Don’t google.

Your first film appearance was in ‘Dorothy Mills’, where you play a young girl afflicted with multiple personality disorder, or at least it is what the film makes us think in the beginning. How did you feel having such a complex and major role for your debut film?

It was amazing… I still remember the day my agent rang me and it went to voicemail, and I was still at drama school and I was doing rehearsal. It was a break and I looked at my phone - and it was a really old, like Nokia, not that it was like a million years ago or anything, but you know it was like a flip phone - and I had a little sign that said voicemail. And I rang him and I got the part. I remember everything about that moment, because that was the moment when literally I was like, ‘I can be an actor now,’ like, I’m actually professional. Someone’s going to pay me to do something creative. It was fucking ma… (covers her mouth and asks if it’s ok to swear) It was magical because I was young, not so young, but I mean, I hadn’t worked in the professional world before. So to get this part with all these complex personalities, it was a challenge, it was just work, it was pressure, it was excitement, it was a gift, it was a gift. Because I remember when I was 16 and going to bars with my friends and we’d have fake IDs but my friends all looked like women. When I was 16 all my mates looked like 20 and I looked 12. I never got in. I was always in McDonalds having chips on my own. So my mum always said to me this will be a gift one day, that you look young. And then when this part came along that’s exactly what it was. In reflection now I realise just how wonderful that was, because your career does weird trajectories; I started off doing leads and independents in Ireland, then I moved over here [England] and landed some British TV and independente roles; then i started getting small parts in big movies - and you’d think it’d be the other way around. So at the time I was just excited. Now that I look back that really was really special. To be given that kind of platform at the beginning.

You’ve had such a busy couple of years. Between 2015-2016 you’ve starred in 4 films: ‘Angel’, ‘Brooklyn’, ‘Love & Friendship’, and the highly anticipated ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. It sounds like a lot of hard work.

Yeah, it’s been a lot of hard work. But the acting is not the hard work, the acting is the nectar, that’s what I do it for. The hard work is only exterior stuff, like the auditioning, the not getting the parts, the setting your own disciplines, setting your daily routines, the instability, can I book a holiday, what will happen, managing your expectations, being hopeful, not being cynical. Those things are tough, especially when acting is such a unique way of life. You have to really fall in love with that way and accept it, not fight it. When you see your friends doing the house, the mortgage the marriage, the holidays, the routine, the Christmas parties that are booked in September and you’re like, ‘I don’t even know where I’m going to be in 3 weeks!’ You have to learn to fall in love with what you have chosen, no matter if people can’t relate to you, that’s ok, you know, the beauty is in the differences.

When can we expect to see you again on the big screen?

Well after ‘Fantastic Beasts’ I have a small role in ‘Star Wars’, which is next year. There’s so many things right now. I feel very lucky. I’m in a very exciting moment where anything could happen. I don’t know how to answer that. There’s so many possibilities and I don’t know which one it’s going to be, but it’s really wonderful. I’ve worked very hard for this. It’s not that I’m entitled to, it’s just like you have to enjoy the moments of when it comes together.

In Whit Stillman’s ‘Love & Friendship’ you play the role of Lady Lucy Manwaring, a lady who upon finding she has an adulterous husband, goes to her guardian, Mr.Johnson, played by Stephen Fry, and hysterically begs for him to help her deal with her husband. Your role must have been so much fun to play, how was the environment on set for your scenes?

It was amazing; it was intense, because that one scene where I was hysterical I think was like 8 pages long, we shot all day, 12 hours, 13 hours; therefore you’re staying at that energy all day. I like to give it all no matter what. When the camera is on other people you have to deliver, because it’s acting, it’s not like ‘right this is my take,’ it’s like a collective thing. So you want to do your best for everybody. It was so good because I love comedy. Comedy is like music, you know, there’s beats and rhythm and you need to hit it, and when you know you hit it, you feel it in the room. It’s discipline, and it’s like, I do yoga, and you know when you do those crazy balances and you can’t think of anything else because you need to balance? It’s like that with those kind of scenes, you just hone in on what you have to do, and you’re trying to hit all the beats. And it’s wonderful because you forget everything else around you, which is the most wonderful thing about acting. I don’t know how to say that without sounding crazy. I don’t wanna escape my life, I love my life, but when i’m in that role it’s just so electric. Then when you’re working opposite actors and they throw things at you, it’s so unexpected, it’s so spontaneous; you’re so vulnerable but you’re so vibrant in those moments, it just makes you feel alive.

Were you a big Harry Potter fan when the original films came out?

I was a fan… I was aware of it, who wasn’t? Obviously… I am a fan of everything that it was about, like escapism and magic, not just like actual magic but the way it swept up, everybody came together. It was like a mutual enjoyment, you know when somebody enjoys something and then their friends enjoy it, their aunts and uncles enjoy it, you know, you feel a sense of community - that’s what I love about film. Specially a film that’s about escapism, it really ignites the imagination, it collects people together and brings people closer. It’s so wonderful because sometimes I think at school, when you’re a child and maybe you have interests and there’s nobody in your friendship circle that have those interests, you can feel quite isolated. But then there’s a huge community with this film that if you go to those, it, you know, it can bring people together. Sometimes I think when you’re young, you have to wait until university until you’re focused in on your interests, and then you meet like-minded people, but at school maybe not, but then you have this outside thing like something that was ‘Harry Potter’, which was this huge thing, you feel connected to other people. That’s is what I think is so wonderful about art, it brings people together, it doesn’t bring people apart. So yeah, I was definitely a fan. I’m a fan of just great storytelling.

In ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, you find yourself in the witch-hating side of the plot, playing a part of the Barebone family. Can you tell us anything about your family in this film?

That just came out at the weekend didn’t it? Someone asked me so what’s your surname and I was like, ‘I can’t tell you’. The Barebone family, I can’t say much, I mean… we’re a family and we look very happy (sarcastic tone). No, I can’t, I just don’t wanna be responsible for messing up, you know it’s so secretive. This is the thing: I’m not trying to deflect, but secrets are the best! Nowadays, when there’s access to everything, they expect immediate responses. This is just a secret. When you’re in the cinema, eating your popcorn, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next; I don’t want to take that away from anyone; I don’t want anyone to take that away from me! So it’s magic.

What are your goals in respect to your career?

My goals… Holy bananas… I would like to play different types of characters. I always want to be learning. I want to work with the best people. I want to work with people that are creative spirits, believe in storytelling and have integrity. I want to travel. You know, there’s these dreams of being in front of Roger Deakins’ lens. I would love to work with Tim Burton. I would love to work with Derek Cianfrance. I would love to work with Daniel Day-Lewis, John Hawkes. There’s people out there that you just want to be part of their vision. Like Jim Sheridan was the reason I wanted to be an actor; I saw his films; he tells stories about families, intimate details… I just want to be part of those kinds of visions. I love a collaboration; I would love to work with John Crowley, who directed ‘Brooklyn’. He would give direction in one word terms, and it was so succinct, and on the money, and you just feel so safe, but you also feel so terrified because you know that they can push you, and I just want to take risks. Like, Sarah Paulson talks about working with Michael Fassbender in ’12 Years a Slave’, and she describes him as, what is that thing called? You know, when electricity… when the wires are attached to the things in the field and one comes loose in the storm, and it flies around like a wild animal? She was like, ‘that’s what Michael Fassbender is like, you don’t know what he’s going to do’. That to me is thrilling. I just want to work with people that are gonna push you out of your comfort zone and surprise you, and then you surprise yourself. So those are my goals.

What do you do when you’re not acting?

I cook, and I run, and I do yoga, I take photographs, and I write plays. I like to write a lot. I’ve written a couple of plays and some short films. A friend of mine and I are going to start a production company together because, you know, no matter how successful you are in acting, you’re always gonna have time off, and what are you going to do with that time? I love to be creative, and I love to write. So that’s what I do when I’m not acting - I’m writing.

Do you have any advice for aspiring actors?

Yes. My advice would be ask yourself why you want to be an actor, and if you feel like there’s nothing else that you can do, then do it. Then I guess it would be: believe in yourself, take care of yourself, and your own mind, and your own heart, and protect your dreams and don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not deserving of them. Leave no stone unturned and don’t give up. But most importantly, take care of yourself, because then you can handle anything. If you know who you are and you know what you want, nothing will deter you.

What do you love at the moment? What is your latest obsession?

I love listening to “Here’s the thing” with Alec Baldwin. I’ve discovered his podcasts and I just love Alec Baldwin! He is so articulate and smart. He’s really into politics and he was going to be a lawyer. He is so funny, and when he interviews these people in his podcasts… they are magic! For me, because I’ve always wanted to be an actor, I always listen to other people who became an actor. So I love to listen to Michael J. Fox, I love him, like how did he get into it? Or Lauren Bacall and her autobiography. Or Julianne Moore… You realise, when you pay attention to the people who really made it, that it’s a long road, it doesn’t happen overnight and if it does so happen overnight, basically that’s actually 6 years of work. There’s no such thing as an overnight thing. So yeah, “Here’s the thing” with Alec Baldwin is my latest obsession.

What else… I’m obsessed with Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa. Oh god! I can’t believe I’ve just said that out loud! But yeah, I love that cook, she’s amazing, because she’s an amazing business woman.

Ok, last question, what’s the food you’ve been craving the most?

Parma ham. I haven’t eaten meat in a while and suddenly I was like, I need meat, so I had loads of parma ham, it was immense. I like lemon sole, god how boring does that sound? I like fish, and I like Nopi, the restaurant Nopi, which is like Ottolenghi [Israeli-born British chef]; all that kind of food is amazing, like aubergine, vegetables, all that sort of thing. And I like a good omelet. It’s really not that exciting, yeah, I’m just going to stop talking.


Catch Jenn Murray playing Chastity Barebone in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ out in cinemas now.

Interview Bárbara Gonçalves

Photography Yakub Merchant

Fashion Jheanelle Feanny

Hair and make up Jade Bird

Styling Assistance Holly Partridge and Toyosi Osifeso

Production Assistant Tamara Borodaneva

Shot at Lucky Voice, Islington

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