The crux of Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary, the exquisite Midsommar, is the disintegrating relationship between the bereaved Dani (Florence Pugh) and the self-absorbed Christian (Jack Reynor). At a recent screening of the film, it was clear that the audience’s sympathy was not on Christian’s side — Reyner seemed to be the only one willing to try to justify Christian’s behavior.
In real life, Reynor is far from the insensitive jerk he plays on film. Sitting down with Polygon for an interview prior to Midsommar’s release, he says that, for this press tour, he’s made it an unspoken rule not to sit directly across from the people he’s speaking to — “I feel like that’s confrontational.”
It sounds like a joke, but given how grueling Midsommar is, maybe the impulse makes sense. “It was not an easy film to make, not an easy film to make at all,” he said, digging into everything from the film’s black humor influences to suggesting that a scene be changed so his character would end up stark naked.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for Midsommar follow.]
Polygon: Were you sympathetic toward Christian from the moment you started reading the script, or did you have to get into that more empathetic mindset?
Jack Reynor: I read it and I was already empathetic towards him. I think, as an actor, your job is to be empathetic towards the character you’re going to play, and we all have to fall in love with our characters a little bit. Granted, there are some characters in cinema, obviously, who are just abhorrent, and they’re just irredeemable. I wouldn’t have signed on to do the film if I thought Christian was that kind of character.
I feel that there’s more complexities going on, and I think that there are a lot of people out there who don’t necessarily have the capacity to do the right thing as far as society would dictate it to them all the time. This guy is one of those guys. That doesn’t absolve him from his insensitivity and his lack of taking account of what he does that’s not good, and his lack of emotional availability.
I think his apathy towards [Dani] is really nasty. It’s not good. The way he behaves with Josh, who’s his best friend and the other anthropology student, he’s basically like, “I’m just fucking going to steal your project.” He’s full disclosure about that. He’s not a great guy, but I don’t necessarily feel that that qualifies a person to have this kind of fate.
What was important to me in playing this role in the film was that it’s a 40-minute long, very humiliating death that he suffers. I was watching a movie a while ago called The Last House on the Left by Wes Craven, from 1972, and I’ve seen lots of films like this, I’ve seen lots of films that have very explicit and nasty sexual violence towards women. But this film in particular made it indelibly clear to me how you see all this exposition of these female actors in this film, and the awful things that are done to them in this scene of their murder, and then at the end of the film, the payoff, this scene of revenge and vindication, none of the male actors in the film suffer anything like the humiliation that the female characters do, even in their death.
In this film, when I read the script, I saw it as an opportunity to flip that on its head. Even things like the scene where I come running out of the house and it’s full frontal nudity, I suggested that to Ari the day before we shot it. I was like, “Dude, this needs to be full-frontal. I need to come running out of there, and you need to see everything because the character needs to be as vulnerable and as humiliated as possible.” And so that was basically what we did, you know, and it was difficult.
As an audience, you watch it for 40 minutes, but we shot that sequence for— that was two weeks of, every day, going in to try and get myself into the headspace of this guy being humiliated and slowly killed in the most uncomfortable circumstances you can imagine, on drugs and paralyzed. It was really rough, but all that said, there’s humor involved in it, too. You were there, you could see, once we get into that sex scene, the audience are laughing because of the expression and the bewilderment of the character. I think that’s okay.
Ari and I spoke a lot about a common influence on both of us. This guy, Chris Morris, who’s a British satirical comedian, but also a phenomenal director and actor as well, who pushed the letter of black comedy. He’s really on the membrane edge of it. Ari, certainly, from the conception of the project, felt that he wanted to inject a lot of that into this film. That really got me interested in it, too. I think that there’s plenty of opportunity and room for the audience to laugh during the film, but you’ve also got to ask yourself the question: Where do you stop laughing? At what point is it not funny anymore? At what point are we actually watching horror, but we think we’re watching something funny?
Were you always meant to play Christian, or did you read for any other parts?
I knew that Christian was the role that Ari wanted me to play. We weren’t sure that I would be able to do it because, with these things, they often need somebody who is in, you know, a huge fucking franchise, and can bring $1 billion, you know what I mean? And I’m not that guy, those are not really the choices that I’ve made for myself and my career very much.
But Ari, very flatteringly, felt that I was the guy to play the role, and it was very fortunate that it worked out that way. I was very excited to work with him, because he’s a director with an incredibly clear vision and a unique vision, and it’s not every day that you get to make a film like this. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to be an actor.
And the full-frontal scene was originally scripted differently?
Yeah, he put the robe back on, he ran out with the robe on.
What was it like shooting the big sex scene [which involves a fertility ritual performed by the female members of the Hårga community]?
It was difficult. There was a lot of vulnerability in the room. The girl [actress Isabelle Grill] who I’m having sex with in that scene, this is her first feature film, she never even had to kiss somebody in a film before. So, to go from never having done something like that to shooting such a demanding and difficult scene of a sexual nature, it was very difficult for her, and to be her scene partner in that context is also quite intense.
And all those ladies who were in the room, they were largely supporting artists who don’t really speak any English, and they’re in a room full of men in North Face gear who were pointing cameras at them while they were standing there basically pumping their breasts, butt naked. There was a lot of vulnerability in the room, and it was a tense environment. But you see the way it comes out.
I’m also curious if you spent any time on set outside of filming, because I understand that they just built that entire village.
When we were not working, we were nowhere near that fucking set. [laughs]
I also wanted to ask about the huge bear suit your character wears at the end of the film — what was that like?
It was very hot. Heavy. It’s a weird one; I’ve died a lot of times in a lot of films [laughs], but that was a particularly harrowing one. I mean, to try and play in my eyes the fear and regret and final understanding of accountability, and also the sadness with a version of a locked-in syndrome, the paralysis. Just seeing these flames coming up, it was pretty, pretty heavy.
Florence tweeted out — I assume jokingly — that the film gave her PTSD. I assume some of the scenes we’ve already talked about factor into that, but was there anything else that was particularly difficult throughout the shoot?
Those scenes in particular, and it was a case for me of like mental preparedness to do them, and vigilance about good mental health. I think we all had to make a concerted effort to do that. Just making the film was — it was a tough shoot, it was a difficult film to make, and as I mentioned, the language barrier made it hard at times to execute things in the specific way that they needed to be done. The tone of the shoot was a heavy one. It was not an easy film to make, not an easy film to make at all.
Midsommar is in theaters now.