Spoiler alert: Some detailed questions and answers give away Midsommar’s dramatic climax.
Sitting down at the Crosby Hotel over tea one morning, Jack Reynor starts with a disclosure: Midsommar is a hard movie to talk about. The Irish (but American-born) actor is jet-lagged, and it’s early in the day to be talking about grief and pain and technicolor cults. But here we are, discussing Ari Aster’s horror movie, in which nearly ever terrifying scene takes place in blistering, sunny heat. Playing Christian, the passive, disengaged boyfriend of Dani (Florence Pugh), was one of the most challenging moments of Reynor’s career so far. “It’s shocking,” he says. “It’s some hard-core shit.”
Precisely because it’s so hard-core, Reynor really wanted to go there: When this group of college students arrive to visit Sweden’s made-up cult Harga to celebrate the summer solstice, Christian is quickly lured in. When the character is seduced into a weird, dozen-woman orgy, Reynor decided that the scene called for Christian — drugged, confused, horny — to run around a field completely naked. “I was the one who suggested to Ari that it should be full frontal nudity,” Reynor says laughing, seeming more than a little proud of his early contender for the year’s most trippy sex scene so far. (A representative for Aster tells Vulture the nudity was definitely in the script.) “I was like, This is it; this is the moment. If I’m ever going to run into the middle of a shot with my dick out, this is gonna be it.” Reynor spoke to Vulture about acting in Aster’s Hereditary follow-up, the film Instagram he runs on the side, and why he’s pretty sure he ate one of his director’s pubes.
What did you think the first time you saw this movie?
We all watched it together as a cast. Florence saw it the night before we did. She came back to watch it a second time with all of us because she wanted to see how we reacted to it. For the first two-thirds of the film, we laughed at all the black humor. For the final act, we sat in silence. When the credits rolled we put our heads in our hands and couldn’t talk to one another for ten minutes.
It’s so funny.
There’s a lot of black comedy in there.
Did you audition for this?
I just met with Ari. He had the idea that he wanted me for the character. It was great. I watched his short films. I read the script. The script was as horrifying as the film is. I kind of felt like this is not something you have the opportunity to make every day — it’s incredibly ambitious. I was really fascinated with how this guy was going to go about executing this film the way it was written on the page. When he and I sat together, we both talked extensively about films. I’m a big cinephile as well —
Oh, I follow @jrcinemania. We’ll talk about that.
[Laughs.] He and I spoke extensively about films, which was great. He pitched what the tone of the film was going to be, and how he was going to go about shooting it.
So what’s the pitch you heard? Something as complicated as this movie seems really hard to articulate.
He pitched it as a breakup movie, the same way he pitches it to everyone else. What I loved about it was that it was going to be in broad, blistering daylight. There are no shadows to hide the horror in the corners. It’s all right in front of you; it’s all clear to see. Finding the darkness in broad daylight. He told me that that’s how he wanted to do it: Everything was going to be really light. He told me that he wanted to use really refined cinematography, long takes with intricate camera movement and blocking for the actors, in order to make everything feel fluid and kinda trippy. He wanted to find a way to visually represent a mushroom trip in a way that had never been done before. Having watched the film, I can’t think of a single example of a film that more accurately depicts what it’s like to have a mushroom trip than this one.
What was the first thing you shot?
The first thing we shot was the sequence where we’re all in the car together on the way to the festival. That was the only day we had any vehicle stuff to do because everything else essentially takes place in the village. The car stuff was easy — there are only so many ways you can shoot the interior of the car.
Once we got to the village and stepped out of the car, which was the second day of shooting, that was when I think everybody in the cast realized, like, Oh my God, this is going to be an incredibly tricky and sometimes very vexing way to shoot. For this project, the specificity of the camerawork and the blocking made it so they had to show us where the camera would be, how it was going to work, showing us exactly where we needed to stand to the inch, basically, at all times.
Florence told me the hardest scene to get right was the entrance into the village because there were so many moving parts, and so much choreography in that scene. Was that your experience, too?
No, I’d say the orgy. [Laughs.] That was the hardest scene for me.
Tell me about shooting truly the craziest sex scene I’ve seen this year.
It was pretty hard-core. The vast majority of those ladies don’t speak any English. We shot the scene for a good 12 hours. A lot of it had to be cut back for censorship. I’m sure there will be a director’s cut where it’s a lot more graphic because it was. There were 37 setups to be executed that day, which is insane to try to do that in one day. They were very ambitious shots, as you can see. We got every single one of them. It seemed never-ending. It was collllld in that room, and we were all butt-naked the whole time. It was tough. I was trying to break the tension and make some jokes and stuff. I did, but the language barrier was a killer. That poor lady who’s getting down and pushing my ass into that girl? I just don’t think she wanted to do it! [Laughs.] But she did, she committed herself. Everybody committed themselves to that scene.
Let’s talk about the scene where you eat that pube.
The pube was apparently synthetic. I don’t know if I believe that. I think it might have been one of Ari’s pubes. It was a real hair. The way we did was that I had to have a bite of the pie — the fuckin’ pies were so gross, oh my God. All the food in the movie was prepared in a traditional way, so it was all fuckin’ gnarly. It was all out in the sunlight, all day, every day. They hadn’t sprayed it with any glycerin or anything like that. All the meat was rotting; there were maggots falling out of everything. There were insects and wasps everywhere, and it was really hot, so it stank.
But the pube: I basically just had it in between my fingers, so I just faked it. I did have to put it in my mouth every time, which was fucking disgusting. It was funny. Will’s reaction in that scene is amazing; I just love it.
What do you make of Christian’s arc through this movie? Do you think he got a fair shake in the end?
It’s funny because at the screening the other night, we did a Q&A, and I asked for a show of hands: How many people thought that he deserved to die in the way that he did —
I was there; I raised my hand.
Did you? Why?
Are you kidding? Come on! He’s a terrible boyfriend.
I think that he is insensitive. I think that he is not pulling his weight in the relationship at the very beginning, even before the tragedy that she suffers. But when that happens, they become locked into a broken, toxic, co-dependent relationship with one another. Had that not occurred, they would’ve broken up, probably sooner rather than later.
I think he is a guy who is well-meaning, but is just totally detached. He isn’t clever enough to navigate the situation in a healthy way. Ultimately, in the sex scene, he’s been drugged out of his mind. He’s clearly very uncomfortable. It’s not an enjoyable sexual experience at all. There’s a kind of a one-tone-ness to the character, up until the point where they give him these drugs. I think that’s when he starts realizing what’s going on. He realizes his own guilt. He starts to feel his accountability for not having done the right thing: either commit himself to her in the relationship, or break up with her. That was what I was trying to play through, the very constrictive physicality that I’m stuck with toward the end of the film. A lot of that had to be in the eyes, in the way I looked at her. Looking at her like, Oh my God, what the fuck have I done; I’m so regretful of all this. But, yeah, to be boiled alive inside a bear? Really?
Was the bear costume heavy?
The head was super heavy. If I stayed in it for very long, my neck was, like, breaking. It was really hot, too. We shot lots of different stuff with that. We came back and did reshoots in Utah at the beginning of this year. I don’t think it made the cut, but there’s this really horrific practical burn makeup that I have on. My eyeball has exploded and my face is just melting, basically. I’m gagging and in excruciating pain. We shot that on my birthday this year, which was a lotta fun.
In addition to everything you’re saying about Christian being so disengaged from his relationship with Dani, there’s another funny evolution where he just becomes a total jerk. He steals his friend’s thesis idea!
Now that was unforgivable. I think there’s a couple of things [he does] that you’re just like, Wow this guy is such a fucking prick. That is one of them, where he says, “Yeah, I’m going to do my thesis here, too.” The other one being where he throws Josh under the bus for having stolen [the cult’s holy text]: “We just want you to know that we don’t associate ourselves with that guy in any way, shape, or form.” That’s pretty fucking bad, too.
What was the hardest day on set for you?
The scene where [Florence] has just become the May Queen. I was a few feet further away, but close to where she was, there was this construction of shrimp, basically. I think it’d been in a shipping container all weekend, but again, had not been sprayed with glycerin. Oh God — your face! [Laughs.] These shrimp, from being in direct sunlight, were rotting. It was very clear they were in bad shape. The cast who had to sit down in front of them, started retching. One of the guys who’d been joking about it a lot, stood up, stepped away from the table, and vomited everywhere. That was pretty rough. That was just stinking, rotting, meat and fish, and people vomiting. Because every glass just had sugary water in it, there was a herd of wasps. Every glass had at least three or four wasps swimming around in it or dead in it. You just had to be okay with wasps.
Did you get sunburned?
Yeah. Pretty bad, a couple of times.
How do you decompress after working with such heavy material?
I was going to the gym every single day. I was cooking for myself.
Are you a good cook?
Yeah. When I’m working I’ll generally make a big pot of chili and keep it for a couple of days. I cook loads of stuff. I could sit here all day talking about what I cook. I find cooking is something that is good for my mental health. We would each cook for one another. Florence would make ratatouille a couple nights of the week, we’d sit down and have that. I would cook a big salad, or whatever. We kind of looked after each other in that way. This was a film where mental health was critical. It was really, really important because the material is so heavy. I don’t care who you are, if you’re doing that for 12 or 15 hours every day and you’re in that mental space — particularly for Florence — that is gonna be an assault. You’ve really got to look after yourself.
Now we have to talk about @jrcinemania because I love it.
How did this come about?
Well, I just love talking about films. I don’t have enough opportunities to talk to people about films where I live. I’ve never been a social media person, so I was thinking, Fuck, maybe this is a good way to do social media and not have to deal with the annoying side of it. I set this thing up only a couple months ago. With the culture of franchise movies and Netflix, it seems like people are only watching what’s being advertised and smashed into their face. I’d love to have an outlet where people can talk about other stuff. There’s a whole history of cinema out there. For me, it’s as important as books; it’s as important as music; it’s as important and as culturally relevant as anything else. I grew up watching films all day, every day. A lot of who I am as a human being is informed by the films that I’ve responded to in my life. This is a place where I can talk about these films, I can curate movies, introduce people to things they haven’t seen before, hear what people like, hear what they don’t like.
What’s the story behind your photo, the one of you with all these Blu-rays, DVDs?
That’s me in my house! [Laughs.] I’ve got hundreds of films, a lot. A lot. I love buying physical copies of movies.
How do you even have a Blu-ray player? Do you have a computer with a disc drive?
No, I watch all my American Blu-rays on my American Xbox. I watch all my European Blu-rays on my PlayStation.
You go live every week. What’s this week’s movie?
I’m doing one tonight, 8:30: Sonatine, by Takeshi Kitano. You ever see that?
No, I haven’t.
It’s a hell of a movie.