The actress Jessie Buckley is a natural brunette, but her hair is currently chopped into a ragged black bob and her nails are painted the same emerald green that the writer Christopher Isherwood gave Sally Bowles, the glamorously in-denial singer, in his 1937 novella of the same name. “Different hair for every job,” says Buckley, characteristically wry over a video call from London. “People think you’re very transformative.” Later, she’ll go onstage in “Cabaret,” the musical adaptation of Isherwood’s story of Weimar-era doom, at the Playhouse Theatre’s Kit Kat Club, alongside Eddie Redmayne. And in a few weeks, she’ll fly to Los Angeles for the 94th Academy Awards: Her performance in “The Lost Daughter” garnered her a nomination for best actress in a supporting role. Her brother had delivered the news to her over text the day before. “I thought he was joking,” she says. “It’s just something that doesn’t happen in life.”
Buckley, 32, has been earning praise for her deft portrayals of maddening, messily vital characters, but her own career trajectory has been disciplined, even conventional: drama school (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) to theatre (Shakespeare’s Globe), theatre to indies, indies to Hollywood. She was born in Ireland’s County Kerry and seems to fulfil a kind of Yeatsian fantasy of the woman from the west who’s gifted in song. Raised in an artistic household with four younger siblings — her mother is a musician and teacher, and her father is a poet and bar manager — she moved to London as a teenager, where she finished second on a TV talent series called “I’d Do Anything.” YouTube videos show her delivering a tune from “Oliver!” with the same blend of power and vulnerability she’d bring to later roles.
It’s Buckley’s voice, after all, that astonished audiences in 2018’s “Wild Rose,” a movie in which she plays an aspiring country star. This summer, she and Bernard Butler — a veteran musician, songwriter and producer — are set to release a 12-track album called “For All Our Days That Tear the Heart” on the British label EMI. “I feel a bit shy about it,” she says. “It was a really pure, beautiful, untainted thing, and a bit of a secret.” Over the past two summers, she and Butler would meet weekly to drink tea in his kitchen and discuss, among other things, lines of poetry. At the end of the day, they’d record whatever they’d made on an iPhone, just one or two takes, “and then we’d say goodbye,” says Butler. The finished album conveys the intimacy of two friends finding private meaning through creativity.
In the fall, Buckley will travel to Spain to film Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s “Hot Milk.” This year will also see the release of the Sarah Polley-directed “Women Talking” — starring Buckley, Rooney Mara and Frances McDormand as members of a remote religious community disturbed by sexual violence — and Alex Garland’s “Men,” in which Buckley portrays a widow alone on holiday.
Before that, but after the Oscars, Buckley plans to abscond to her 500-year-old house in rural England. Perhaps she’ll bake — nothing “sourdough fancy,” just her dad’s recipe for brown bread. “I’m like Houdini,” she says. “I’m going to disappear, take some time out and just do life. I can’t wait.”
Hair: Mark Francome Painter. Makeup: Florrie White at Bryant Artists. Photo assistant: Yoan Zdravkov