How ‘Wild Rose’ turned Jessie Buckley from actor to country singer – and brought her character to real life

The star of the anti-A Star Is Born tells Liz Aubrey about blurring the lines of reality

Actor Jessie Buckley wasn’t a country fan before Wild Rose, the film in which she plays 23-year-old Rose-Lynn, a Glaswegian single mum with a dream of being Nashville’s next big country star.

But working with the film’s writer (and avid country fan) Nicole Taylor led to a surprising outcome for Buckley: not only did she grow to love country music (particularly Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves and Bonnie Raitt), she also began writing and performing her own country songs, some of which were used in the film, and many of which were written from the perspective of the character. An album of songs and a string of live gigs later, Buckley has married two artistic worlds in a way she never imagined.

Did you ever think you’d end up involved in a project that brought music and film together in this way?

JB: “Definitely not! I have done a bit of music in my life in different ways but I’d never really done any country music or blues or made an album so it was all kind of new territory for me. I absolutely loved it, but it was definitely scary. I’d never listened to country music before this!”

Wild Rose

Was it a help or a hindrance coming to the film without the knowledge of country music?

“I think it was definitely a help and it meant you looked at it with fresh eyes. I was also working with some amazing musicians who just had a wealth of folk and country knowledge so they were informing me of the cream of the crop of country music. They basically bombarded me with the best of what was out there.”

What did you like about country music when you finally heard it?

“For me, what blew me away the most was the lyrics in country music: the music is so simple and affecting. It was the real humanity of the storytelling and the simplicity behind the storytelling which just manages to get inside your heart and rip it out.”

Read more: The 25 best country songs of all time

The film’s writer, Nicole Taylor, is a lifelong country music fan and said that the genre is “popular in places and among people who aren’t used to talking about their feelings.” Was there a sense that country music is Rose-Lynn’s only way to self-expression and ultimately discovery?

“Yeah, 100 percent. Rose-Lynn empathises with what she hears and it helps her to express her emotions. I think as well, country music feels very much like the people’s platform of singing. It feels really grounded and rooted in the struggles of what it is to be a human and just in the mundane day-to-day life – being a housewife and struggling to capture a dream for yourself or being a drunk and finding it hard to find a way out.”

We still see so relatively few female working class characters like Rose-Lynn on screen. The film seems to emphasise the struggles women in particular have when trying to pursue a career in the arts with little financial or emotional support.

“Absolutely. What’s exciting about a film like this is that I learned from my character about having the courage to still go towards something when you’re up against it. There are lots of people out there for whom Rose-Lynn’s her story is their reality.

Even for my own mother, she wanted to go and study opera but she was told that she should be a teacher because it was “safer.” Then she had five kids and all of a sudden your dreams belong to somebody else the minute you bear a child. Life happens and you make a choice in your life which leads you down a different yellow brick road.”

Did your mum inspire your portrayal of your character?

“Yeah, my mum was kind of the main breadwinner for many years in our house and always went out and worked, but has now gone back to college to study music psychotherapy in Edinburgh in her mid 50s. She was what I suppose was underneath the belly of Rose-Lynn – she inspired that resilience and tenacity we see on screen.”

Could relate to Rose-Lynn’s journey yourself, particularly that desire and need for creativity?

“Yeah, I suppose in ways. I think I try and look at characters as unknown friends that I need to get to know. I always want to come away with a bit of them and hopefully they come away with a bit of me and that we both wander around together.”

Originally, the film’s makers reached out to Nashville for songs to tender for the film but then eventually you started to write your own songs with Nicole Taylor. How did this come about?

“Well, when we got into the room together, it all poured out. We’d all gone on that journey together already and the film had wrapped. I suppose we were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to tell stories from an extension of Rose-Lynn’s narrative after the film finishes of what she wants to say now’ and so we did just that.

For example, ‘It’s Alright To Be Wrong’ is like a lullaby to her children, telling them that you’ll want to make mistakes in life and you’ll often be afraid to make those mistakes because that’s where you learn the most about yourself.”

Have your skills as an actress helped you with the live musical performances?

‘I think it’s similar in lots of ways yes. The thing is, with singing a song, it can change every time you go to sing that song because your relationship with the world or what’s happened to you that day affects how you sing that song. I could sing ‘Angel From Montgomery’ 20 times on consecutive nights and each time it could sound different and I love that.”

‘Wild Rose’

You’ve said previously that ‘Crying Over’ really helped you to understand more about the country genre but that it was a really difficult song for you…

“There’s a cinematic, emotional laser beam within those songs… I suppose what I learned is that you can’t take music for granted. You can’t sing a song willy-nilly, you can’t take a moment in a point of telling a story about people for granted. You have to risk and give over a bit of yourself in that. Sometimes that’s really scary.”

Was it difficult writing the songs as a character rather than yourself?

“Yeah but it was also liberating at the time. I think because we all had a collective conscious about who this woman might be at that point so we were being creative and creating a new extension of her story. In a way, it gave us an opportunity to kind of write a want for her, like a love letter after she’d finished one journey to begin another.”

Do you have any plans to perform the songs live again?

“Yes! I just love the band so much and those guys are just extraordinary. We did a rehearsal the other day and I was having such a terrible day but after working with them it was like being bathed in a feeling of completeness, I just felt so alive after I finished. I would love more than anything to just chortle around with those guys and do a tour and go and do festivals.”

Did the musical influences from your own Irish heritage help in making the film?

“For sure. That way of storytelling, even in Ireland, of kind of just a very pure personal storytelling, it’s in the Celtic blood. Anytime I go home for Christmas, you literally have to fight to have a sing. It’s like, we all bottle into a room and whether you have a notion in your head or not, you have to sing a song.”