When I sit down to interview Jack Reynor the day after seeing his new film Midsommar, the actor kicks things off with a question for me: “How did you sleep?”
Midsommar, which stars Reynor and Florence Pugh, is the latest from director Ari Aster, the auteur director who exploded onto the scene with the 2018 horror film Hereditary. Like Hereditary, Midsommar has a constant atmosphere of dread, with lingering shots allowing the scares to come naturally, rather than jumping out at you. This time, though, he’s working with a significantly brighter canvas. Where Hereditary found its horror in a dark family home, Midsommar mostly takes place in a massive field filled with foliage, flowers, and sun.
When the movie begins, it almost immediately introduces a terrifying situation that could happen anywhere in the world. Before the opening credits even hit the screen, viewers are already jarred—and the film keeps its foot on the gas for the duration of its nearly two-and-a-half hour run time. With each passing scene, the film gets more and more twisted—and, in a way, darkly funny. Entertainment Weekly called it “a thrilling, seasick freefall into the night”—and with so much going on, viewers’ reactions could vary.
“I think it’s going to be down to each person individually, how they’re going to deal with the film,” Reynor tells me in New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel. “It’s really heavy. It’s really, really intense, and I think it will leave anybody who goes to see it emotionally exhausted.”
Anyone checking out the movie probably has some idea of what they’re in for—it’s from the director of Hereditary, after all—but you’d be best served not knowing much more beforehand. The movie is about a ritualistic pagan ceremony that occurs every 90 years. Outside of that, I don’t think you need to know much more before going in.
Shooting the film in such a short period (a little over two months, to be specific) took a toll on everyone involved. “We realized very quickly that this was an exercise in practicing good mental health,” Reynor says. For him, this meant keeping on top of his health in a big way: he ran 5K every day, in addition to a workout in the gym. He cooked for himself, read books, went to bed early, and made a special point of getting at least eight hours of sleep every night.
The self-care was essential, because when the free time ran out, the actors seem to have felt the same dread the viewers would eventually feel. “Arriving at that set, it’s just like, ah, fuck, here we go again,” he says. It wasn’t just the content of the film that made things difficult—as they shot in direct sunlight in Hungary, the heat occasionally became brutal to bear. There were also major language barrier issues; with the cast split between Hungarian, Swedish, and English-speaking groups, getting everyone on the same page would sometimes be a challenge.
“Arriving on set, it was like, ‘OK, here we are, brace yourself, because you’re fuckin’ going back into the breach,'” Reynor recalls.
Merie Weismiller Wallace/A24
You’d never know it from watching Midsommar, but the red-haired Reynor hails from Northern Ireland, his accent prominent as he chuckles through our conversation. This is probably the biggest role to date for the 27-year-old actor, but he’s far from new to the scene. He’s played key roles in artsy updates like MacBeth alongside Michael Fassbender, big-budget blockbusters like Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, and now plays the lead in his own CBS: All Access streaming series, Strange Angel.
I had heard that Reynor was a true film buff before meeting him—he’s got a separate Instagram account that he uses for movie talk—but he really puts those skills on display during our meeting, recommending a number of deep cuts throughout our conversation, including the uber-disturbing Snowtown and In The Realm of the Senses (“I wouldn’t say I recommend it, because I wouldn’t do that to somebody, but it is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking,” he says of Snowtown); Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom; and specifically the mirror scene in Ken Russell’s Women in Love (Midsommar has a stunning one of those in the early part of the film).
You’d imagine a film nut like Reynor would be on top of new releases, but he said he hadn’t even seen Hereditary when he first signed on to appear in Midsommar (the movie came out in June; reports of Reynor joining the film came in late July).
Part of what makes Reynor such a fit for the movie is his ability to not only sell the horror of the film, but also the dark, twisted comedy of it. There are a number of times where something shocking—utterly shocking!—happens, and Reynor’s character, Christian, just doesn’t know how to say the right thing. I do my best recitation of one of his funniest lines back to him, and he laughs. “He kind of can’t help but get in his own way a little bit,” he says.
After Hereditary came out, Alex Wolff, one of that film’s leads, revealed that he felt thoroughly rattled following the work he put into Aster’s film. (“I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterward,” he said in an interview with Vice.) Did Reynor have a similar experience in the aftermath of Midsommar?
“The first week after we finished, I was pretty rattled,” he says. He channeled his energy, luckily, into his own work. Following Midsommar, he immediately went into production on his own short film, a ghost story called Bainne, starring another Midsommar co-star, Will Poulter. Having something else to work on right after such an intense project really made a world of difference, allowing him to “figuratively metabolize” the film, while keeping his mind busy. “If I had walked away from it, and just stopped, and had nothing to do afterwards? I think I would’ve found it really, really challenging to process, and reconcile it.”
Gabor Kotschy / A24
While he managed to find a way to wean himself off the intensity of Midsommar‘s shoot, getting back into Midsommar mode to promote the film brought all the feelings right back.
“The first proper day of press, I was fucking rattled,” Reynor says. “Especially after seeing it—I did one interview, and I was shaking.“
Certainly not a normal reaction to revisiting one’s own work. But the really crazy thing? Given the way Midsommar plays out, he’s far from the only one who’ll be rattled.
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