Oscars 2022: Can Jessie Buckley win an award before Saoirse Ronan?

Kerry woman Jessie Buckley has been nominated for best supporting actress

Look closely at the CVs of those competing for best supporting actress at the upcoming Oscars and you’ll uncover convincing evidence that we really are in the 21st century.

Two of the actors came up through the vicious world of the contemporary TV talent show. Ariana DeBose, who, barring typhoons, will win for West Side Story. She made her TV debut on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.

Jessie Buckley, contender for most famous Kerry woman of her generation, generated initial buzz as runner-up on the BBC's I'd Do Anything in 2008. That is now a legitimate route to Oscars.

But there is something else about those two performers – something that links them with a great tradition. They are both all-rounders of the highest degree. They can sing as well as they can act. DeBose and Buckley belong on the line that stretches from Debbie Reynolds through Judy Garland and on to Barbra Streisand.

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One of Buckley’s standout performances on I’d Do Anything was of The Man That Got Away from Garland’s apotheosising A Star is Born. Yet few people gawping at her on that talent show – the winner got to play Nancy in a West End production of Oliver! – would have guessed at quite the range she would later display.

She went on to sing country while being convincingly Scottish in Wild Rose. She was eerily abstract in Charlie Kaufman’s bizarre I’m Thinking of Ending Things. For the last two or three years pundits have been predicting an Oscar nomination, but not many thought it would come so soon.

'There was music in every room when I was growing up. It could get like a warzone'

When the shortlists were announced last month, it transpired her performance in Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter, where she played a younger version of Olivia Colman's lead character, had secured her the spot many had pencilled in for Ruth Negga in Passing. Limerick's loss was Kerry's gain. Nobody is getting past DeBose this year, but the world is reasonably wondering when the Kerry woman will have a little gold man on the mantelpiece.

It sounds as if Buckley, the eldest of five children, was marked out for performance from the beginning. Her mother, Marina Cassidy, has been a harpist, a vocal coach and an opera singer. Her father, Tim Buckley, who ran a guest house, is apparently something of a poet.

Raised in Killarney, she remembers doing Irish dancing for American guests in the evening. She ended up achieving grade eight in piano, clarinet and harp at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. (Seriously, is there no end to her talent?)

“I lugged that harp up and down to Dublin on the train,” she told The Irish Times in 2018. “There was music in every room when I was growing up. It could get like a warzone. But that’s the great thing about a big family. There’s a bust-up and then you all put your arms around each other and watch a film or go for a walk.

“My parents worked bloody hard to give us experiences and to try different things. So we’ve all ended up doing completely different things. My brother is a mountaineer. My sister is an engineer. My other sister is a nurse.”

'I sold cereal in a market for a while. I worked in a clothes shop in Brixton. But that's the life of an actor'

After leaving school, she travelled for a few months and then moved to London where she auditioned unsuccessfully for drama school. Still inexperienced, she took a crack at I’d Do Anything and made it right through to the last episode.

More than a few runners-up on such shows have become more famous than the winners. One Direction finished third on The X Factor. Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for Dream Girls, speaks of how much she learnt from the experience of not quite making it to the top on American Idol.

“I did I’d Do Anything,” Buckley said. “And then a play and then A Little Light Music. I played jazz in a night club where nobody listened to me for two years. I sold cereal in a market for a while. I worked in a clothes shop in Brixton. But that’s the life of an actor. You never really know when your next job is coming.”

She eventually decided to enrol at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and, following graduation a decade ago, almost never again found herself out of work. She played Miranda in The Tempest. She was in Kenneth Branagh’s production of The Winter’s Tale.

In 2018, she moved into film with the dark thriller Beast and the inspiring musical drama Wild Rose. It helps that she has apparently retained the sort of unpretentious good spirits they insist upon in the Kingdom. Accepting an award from this writer on behalf of the Dublin Film Critics Circle in 2019, she could hardly have been more delighted if she were grasping a Nobel Prize.

As she gets drawn into the awards complex, an indecent query creeps into trivially minded brains. Might she win an Oscar before Saoirse Ronan?

The staggering list of work over the past few years seems almost consciously designed to prove her versatility. She was the intelligent Marian Halcombe in the BBC’s take on Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. She was splendid in the fourth season of Fargo. Her Juliet opposite Josh O’Connor’s Romeo was broadcast to acclaim during the pandemic.

She and Olivia Colman don't look much like one another, but they share the same troubled soul in The Lost Daughter.

No other actor is now so sought after for such a contrasting array of projects. As she gets drawn into the awards complex, an indecent query creeps into trivially minded brains. Might she win an Oscar before Saoirse Ronan? She has little chance this weekend (Kirsten Dunst is most probably in distant second place for The Power of the Dog), but she has potentially Oscar-friendly challengers for 2023.

Alex Garland's horror film Men looks to offer her a dominant central part. More promising still is her role opposite Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand and Claire Foy in Sarah Polley's adaptation of Miriam Toews's Women Talking.

She will certainly be back. And probably soon.