Juno Temple has rebel carved into her genes - so she couldn't be better suited to her latest role, says Matt Mueller
Juno Temple is telling me a ghost story. It’s not terribly scary and, truth be told, it’s not meant to be. It’s mainly a way for the British actress, known for playing unbalanced, erratic young women in films such as Atonement and Killer Joe, to illustrate her unwavering belief in the “weird magic” all around us, and to demonstrate that she’s at her spryest when her imagination is let loose.
The spirit in question apparently spent a night opening and closing a bedroom door in her parents’ 650-year-old Somerset farmhouse, which, as far as hauntings go, is one dull ghost. Yet Temple is recounting the phantom visitation with such breathless enthusiasm, waving her hands as if she’s conducting an orchestra, I’m almost tempted to turn around to see if the ghost of her imaginings is behind me. “I never want to lose being able to dip my toes into something I don’t completely understand,” she says.
Today she is festooned as a bohemian, free-spirited actress who lives in LA’s cool Los Feliz district and shops vintage: baggy pinstripe trousers, drapy light-grey top and enough silver and gold dangly, bangly jewellry to adorn an Incan emperor’s tomb. “That’s why I love what I do so much ¬– you get to create your own fantasy world every time. I spend most of my time not being entirely sure of things.”
It’s fitting on all counts, then, that her new film is an eerie psychodrama called Magic Magic and that in it she plays a character losing her marbles in spectacular fashion. Shot in remote southern Chile, it’s chilling in its portrait of a young woman’s mental disintegration, fuelled by unsympathetic housemates. Watching Temple unravel as the fragile insomniac Alicia is as unsettling as it is persuasive, leaving you wondering whether the actress might have been walking her own mental tightrope on the other side of the globe.
The answer, of course, is no. Or, sort of. Her director on Magic Magic occasionally had to remind her that it was only a movie. She also admits to a propensity for doing “stupid things” because the idea of “faking it” is so abhorrent. “If my character is meant to be wet and in the rain and freezing, I don’t want a warm coat put on me, and I will refuse for six hours,” she says. “And it so works. If she’s meant to be frightened, it heightens the fear.” (In chilly Dorset for Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd, she came down with flu, and sounds positively delighted about it.)
Temple is infectious company, her halo of lovely optimism matched by the chichi London hotel suite we’re ensconced in, which is a brightly coloured riot of eccentric furnishings. (“Did you see the pink radio? I love that.”) She’s taken up residence on the floor, rather than sinking into the large sofa cushions behind her, because “it’s more interesting down here”.
She’s still able to play tormented teens like Alicia in her twenties, she reckons, because “I have that thing where I can still look 17”. But she can also be defiantly adult, and has the nude scenes to prove it. From the time she first registered, as the deceitful snipe in Atonement, she has appeared comfortable in her own skin and unafraid to show it. This strange brew of starry-eyed innocence and feral sensuality has become her trademark.
Has she ever felt like a muse? “I don't know about that. I stand by the idea that it’s the mad directors who cast me.” Those large, shimmering eyes beam happily.
Temple credits the “amazing, powerful women” in her life – mother, godmother, dear friends – for keeping her buoyant with self-confidence. Her childhood sounds bucolic and idyllic, a never-ending story of dragon quests and dress-up (“I spent a lot of time trying to make my brothers sisters”), before she left at 17, trailing a boyfriend to Los Angeles and staying for the work. Her posh tones are now lightly spiced by an LA twang. She used to feel panicked when she wasn’t working and, judging by her 2014 work rate (she has six films out this year, with Maleficent, Far from the Madding Crowd and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to come, and Afternoon Delight already out), she is still somewhat gripped by jobless-phobia. “I used to find it hard to say no, but I want longevity in this industry, so I don’t want to just work for the sake of working any more.”
With a father, Julien, who was out making docs about the Sex Pistols and screening classic films like La Belle et la Bete and The Red Shoes for her when she was a corkscrew-haired four-year-old, Temple’s sensibilities were bound to skew towards punk. We’ll also see her with Daniel Radcliffe in Alexandre Aja’s bizarre psycho-thriller Horns, in which the Hogwarts swot develops Satanic projections after being blamed for her murder. The two bring palpable ardour to their pairing, before her naked, lifeless body ends up displayed in an ethereal tableau in a forest. “I had to wear these milky contacts so I couldn’t actually see, then be covered in snakes. You find yourself in strange positions in this industry.”
It’s arguable, too, that Matthew McConaughey should have thanked her in his recent Best Actor speech. Their mesmerising scenes together in Killer Joe, she as the trailer-trash virgin offered as collateral to McConaughey’s slickster hitman by her scumbag clan, helped launch the McConaughaissance.
Temple will be 25 in July, and the sell-by date for carrying on as young soul rebels and lost girls is surely approaching. In Far from the Madding Crowd, playing the downtrodden servant girl Fanny opposite Carey Mulligan’s strong-minded Bathsheba, Temple will have a chance to gleam alongside a contemporary whose trajectory has been more meteoric. It won’t hurt her, either, to be coated in the fairy dust of a Disney release headed up by Angelina Jolie. In Maleficent, a villain-fixated take on Sleeping Beauty, she’s the youngest in a trio of bumbling fairies, alongside Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville.
Is there any time for respite? Don’t count on it. Temple has just signed up for Martin Scorsese’s rock’n’roll series for HBO, and plans to keep seeking the next wave of eccentric female mindsets to feed her fevered imagination. “Some people could look at the roles I’ve played as similar,” she says. “I disagree – they’re just going through the same time in their lives. I’ve tried to make them all different.”