Jack Reynor: "There are two parts to my life - You have to be very black and white"

It’s a long way from the hills of Wicklow to the heights of Hollywood, and Jack Reynor has made the trip in just two short years. Megastardom awaits, but the Transformers star is keeping his feet firmly on the ground

Two years is a long time in showbusiness. Just ask Jack Reynor.

The last time I caught up with the star of Lenny Abrahamson's What Richard Did, he had lately departed for Los Angeles and was suitably thrilled with himself, having landed a few meetings and having just made the acquaintance of Elementary star Lucy Lui.

Flash-forward to 2014 and the same young fellow has worked with Mark Walhberg. And Vince Vaughn. And Toni Colette. And Michael Fassbender. And Marion Coutillard. And Stanley Tucci.

And, well, you get the picture.


Suffice to say, at 22, Reynor’s no longer the star-struck kid he once was.

“When I meet someone who I really admire, I enjoy nothing more than trying to connect with them and asking them about their career,” he says. “I want to know who the people are behind the performances and how they relate to their performances. But it’s maybe not as novel as it once was. If I still got starstuck, I couldn’t do my job properly.”

He shakes his head with a little smile: “Four years ago, I had just finished my Leaving Cert. I remind myself of that almost every day.”

As reported exclusively by all media outlets, the young star has just touched down in Dublin, his 15th city in three weeks, for yet another international red-carpet premiere of Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Has he actually seen any of the places he has visited, I wonder?

“Oh yeah,” he says. “I make it my business to see or do something cultural in every place I go to. If you don’t, you’ll get into a state of constant despair.”

By now, the Belevedere College graduate is accustomed to moving around. Transformers 4 was shot between the US and China, touching down in Chicago, Michigan, Washington State, Chongquig and Hong Kong. For Reynor, the production represented two dislocated ribs and a sizable chunk of his 22 years.

“A five-and-a-half-month shoot plus two-and-a-half months prep,” he says. “It was a long time to be away.”

Transformers: Age of Extinction sees Reynor and co-star Mark Wahlberg form an alliance with Optimus Prime as one batch of enormous robots do battle with a rival batch of enormous robots. Explosions happen. Car chases happen. Cities are destroyed.

I can’t imagine it was a very dialogue-heavy screenplay. Or that it made a lick of sense before the SFX were added.

“Oh, when you read the script, it makes zero sense,” nods Reynor. “It’s totally technical. So what’s interesting about that is that the only prep you can do for the movie is get into the physical shape that’s required. You have to get yourself a little tanned. You get the teeth a little whitened. And from then on the only thing you can do is trust your director. And that’s essentially what Michael demands from everybody.”

Michael Bay has not always seen eye to eye with his actors. The megabucks megaphoner fired Megan Fox for comparing his onset behaviour to Hitler. Shia le Beouf squabbled with the same director on Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon for unplugging his iPad. Post-Armageddon (the 1998 film, not the end-times assembly described in the Book of Revelation) Bruce Willis stated that he would never work with Bay again.

Reynor, however, seems genuinely impressed by, and indeed properly fond of, the brains behind the Transformers movies. That's just as well: the film-maker has the option of keeping the Irish actor on for another two instalments of the franchise.

“Michael and I are friends,” says Reynor. “He knows what he’s doing. And he does understand the script when you don’t. He sees everything in the frame from every page. He is a visionary. Whatever critics might say, the guy understands a Hollywood blockbuster like nobody else on the planet.”

This is true. The film, despite a mortifyingly low aggregate score of 17 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, has already made $575.7 million in box office receipts. There's method in the madness, insists the film's star.

"Transformers gives people the ability to relax and rest for three hours. That's a substantial amount of time, given how plugged in to our devices we are. People don't give themselves enough time to sit down. They're no longer comfortable with themselves."

If the business of working on a $210 million production has spoiled Jack Reynor, the effects aren't immediately apparent. While he did get along with co-stars and describes his colleagues Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci as "just the greatest guys in the world", he spent much of his time on the shoot with his own personal posse.

“I had my girlfriend (Irish model Madeline Mulqueen) out with me. My cousin came out for three months. So I had my own people, which kept me very grounded and very sane. I would walk out on set and shoot the most incredible, incredible action set piece – beyond anything you could ever imagine – and then I’d come home in the evening and do the exact same stuff I’ve always done. I’d have some dinner. I’d play some videogames. I’d have a beer.”

Still, it's all rather a long way from Blessington, Co Wicklow, where Reynor was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. As recently as 2012, the same actor was delighted to have landed roles on Kirsten Sheridan's lo-fi, experimental drama Dollhouse and the Hallmark TV movie Chasing Leprechauns.

Lenny Abrahamson's superb What Richard Did changed everything for Reynor, who won multiple awards – and much interest from Hollywood – for his depiction of the film's callous young killer. He remains "enormously proud" of the movie and of his association with Abrahamson. But I wonder if that overnight success has come between his and his old chums from Belevedere at all?

“There was a really strong sense of community about my secondary school,” he nods. “What’s difficult – more than anything – is that four years is long time for the guys I graduated with. They’re now leaving college and are looking for jobs. We’re not the same group of people that we were. I’ve had this crazy experience and it has isolated me. It took me away from home and from everything that I really know. And that’s the price I have to pay for having all these incredible experiences.”

What is the longest amount of time he has spent back in Ireland since becoming an Overnight Sensation?

“Eight months. But when the time comes and I do get to spend time at home, the people who really care about me will still be there. They’ll still be the same people and I’ll still be the same person.”

What wold he have studied at college, were it not for Hollywood’s intervention?

“Probably something to do with the sociological effects of film. It’s such a powerful means of communication.”

A bright, articulate young thing, Jack Reynor knows there’s a difference between Jack Reynor “the product”, as he calls it, and Jack Reynor: “The guy who still makes Koka noodles”.

“There are two parts to my life,” he says. “And you have to be very black and white about that distinction. I know that when someone is coming up and asking me what kind of water I want, it’s because someone is paying them to do so. I’m the kind of person who wants to get out there and do my job. I’m not going to let stuff like that go to my head. That stuff is not real.”

Unsurprisingly, a cursory glance at his Twitter account flags the presence of a big heart. He’s his mother’s son: and she, of course, is Tara O’Grady, the human-rights activist.

“If you have an opportunity to reach people on a broad scale, it’s not enough to just entertain people. You have to take responsibility. You has to do something substantial. Otherwise you’re squandering what you have.”

Jack Reynor's thirst for the substantial also applies to his artistic output. Since Transformers 4 he has shot Macbeth alongside Michael Fassbender in the title role.

“No fucking around there,” laughs Reynor. “But really, it was so indulgent. Just to work with that calibre of actor. I had to jump in, feet first, and go for it. First period drama. First Shakespeare. Totally original approach to iambic pentameter. It actually excited me how much the film made me want me want to shit my pants.”

He has also returned to Dublin for Glassland, director Gerard Barrett's keenly anticipated follow-up to Pilgrim Hill, co-starring Will Poulter and Toni Colette. With a price tag set at €1.5 million, it wasn't quite a Transformers 4 sized production.

“I’ve been very lucky,” says Jack. “I have a great team around me. And they understand that I want to experiment with different sizes and scales and registers. This job isn’t catharsis for me. I don’t need to vent. I want to explore. I want to do everything.”

yyy Transformers Age of Extinction is out now on general release and is reviewed on page 12