Standing at a petit 5’2” and topped off with a wild, wavy blonde mane, 23-year-old actress Juno Temple is not your average young Hollywood starlet. With four films out this year, and five in post-production, the British bombshell is literally everywhere. From the moment you see her on screen, she commands a presence that’s at once deeply endearing and frighteningly captivating, taking on roles that are provocative and challenging. This past year, Temple portrayed the innocent-yet-sultry Dottie in William Friedkin’s grease-fried pulp hit Killer Joe alongside a gritty and grizzled Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsh. This summer Temple also made an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises and will star in the darkly romantic flick Jack and Diane, locking lips with Riley Keough.
While the captivating ingénue has already proven her theatrical dexterity, it’s with her latest film Little Birds that Temple really shines. The film tells the story of Lily, a tough and rebellious young girl who longs to escape her hazy and mundane life by the Salton Sea. After meeting a pack of beer guzzling drifter skateboarders, Lily experiences a life-altering event after an impromptu excursion to Los Angeles. We recently caught up with the charming actress to discuss character-building, exploring sexuality on screen, and the drama school of life.
You’ve been in a ton of films this year alone. How does that feel to keep putting out one thing after another?
It’s exciting, and I feel really fucking lucky, because with this business it’s so unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to work or not going to work. I also feel nervous about it, too, because with movies coming out back-to-back people are really going to be judging how much of a chameleon you can be if the roles are really similar or really different. Whatever it ends up being you want to be different in each movie. You want to be forgettable as Juno Temple but memorable as your character.
Does it becoming sort of addicting working so much and throwing yourself into these characters?
It’s always hard to keep tabs. What’s hard is when there’s two things going on at one time and then you really keep like [asking yourself], “Who am I right now?”
Tell me a little bit about how you started acting, I heard about how you watched La Belle et La Bête and decided you wanted to be an actress.
Yeah, that’s when I was a baby. But when I decided I wanted to get my start in the business I told my parents when I was 14. They both went, “Well okay, good luck to you, you’re going to be pretty miserable and unemployed a lot of the time.” And I was like, “Yeah, well, I want to give it a shot.” And they found out about an open audition in London and sent me out for it and I waited in line for about three hours to take a Polaroid picture. They said they’d let me know by the end of the week. I got a phone call two-days later and the director asked me to come in and audition. It was for Notes on a Scandal with Richard Eyre directing, which is amazing. And I was like, “Shit, an audition, what do I do?” And I went in and got it like two days later.
So you started off on a pretty high note.
Yeah right, I know. My mom told me it would all go down hill after that, and then my second job was Atonement.
Your parents are both in the film industry, so it was good they were able to warn you about it. But they didn’t try and hinder your desire for it.
Yeah, that’s kind what I love about it too because it can be hard when you don’t get that job that you fucking want so bad and you think you’re so right for. Oh, it’s like a stab in the heart.
So how did you meet Little Birds director, Elgin James?
My agent organized it. I got sent the script and sat with Elgin for, it must have been two-and-half hours, and we just chatted, and chatted, and chatted. And then I got a phone call from my agent saying they wanted me to pick which role I wanted to play.
Did you see yourself right away as Lily when you read it?
Yeah, I think so. I was definitely more of Lily for sure. And we waited—we had to wait for like eighteen months before the movie actually got green lit. Me and Elgin would meet three-times a week if we could and just sit at this diner and he’d eat French toast. We’d sit there and talk about this character and the script. We became amazing friends because of it. It was instantaneously quick. Rather than waiting, we really did spend time together and came up with this entire backstory for Lily. And then, you’ve got so much time on your hands that you just open up to each other and he’s now a very, very dear friend of mine. He’s like family out here for me.
And once you did start shooting, that must have made it very easy to trust him as a director, especially because there were many really emotionally challenging scenes.
Totally. He would have taken a bullet for me. I know that.
Did you find a lot of yourself in Lily?
Not really. I think as more of a shadow of myself from when I was sixteen. I guess I know a lot of girls like that, or did know a lot of young girls like that, and they’re heartbreaking. The young girls that just make those decisions that lead to another bad decision and another bad decision, and you can’t say, “Don’t do it,” because they’ll turn around and say, “Why? Why not?”
And how was the actual shooting of the film? Was it a short shoot?
We shot it in 17 days. It was quick. We shot in the Salton Sea, which is like World War III happened there, but it’s so beautiful. It’s insanely beautiful. And then we shot a lot in East L.A.
How were things on set? Did you have to keep things light?
We make it light, where you just have to roll with it and be like, this feels crazy dark and foreign but at the moment we’re making a movie. I can go home to my bed at the end of today. Elgin is incredibly protective and incredibly loving so if you ever felt uncomfortable with anything he would figure out a way to make it feel okay. And it’s tough because with this subject matter you’re obviously faking it, but only to a certain extent. You have to feel things, you know?
Another thing I’ve noticed, especially from seeing some of your films in close succession, is that you take on these roles that are really interesting for a young woman. They’re quite fearless roles, and you’re not afraid to explore your sexuality on screen.
No, I’m definitely not. I’m fascinated by it. I think it’s a magic moment in a young girl’s life and it can be something that can be very destructive or can be very liberating. That’s interesting.
Does that ever intimidate you at all or is it something you just feel that really just serves a purpose in the film for the character?
I feel like it’s definitely my choice to show off my body in a way I want to, and it’s interesting to me because there’s such an image about what it is to be perfect naked and I’m definitely not that. I’m 5’2" and extremely curvy. And so I think it’s a good thing in that department to not be afraid to show my body. But I also think it’s something that, almost when you’re rolling you forget. You think, “Well, if I was in this moment, I would take my bra off, it would be weird for me not to.”
Well, it’s not like there was nudity without a reason for it. Like when you’re in the bathtub, what are you supposed to be wearing?
Yeah, and I’m not afraid of nudity. The scariest thing to me ever has been firing a gun. I’m not a violent human being and I don’t like the idea of guns; they frighten me, so that’s way scarier than taking my clothes off.
Speaking of guns, I saw Killer Joe the day before I saw Little Birds. Did you see similarities between Dottie and Lily?
Not at all. They are such different women from such different walks of life. The only similarity would be that they live in trailer parks.
You’ve worked with so many amazing actors and directors in your career so far, have you transformed and a learned a lot as an actor with each film you’ve made?
Honestly, it’s like being at drama school for ten years. You watch people and you learn and they’re so giving. It’s about being a sponge, you want to suck up all that knowledge and just use it. I’m very, very lucky with the people I’ve had teach me things and direct me. I think every time I make a movie someone teaches me something, I hope someday I can teach other people things too. If you get, you want to give. I think that’s the best way to explain it, it’s better than any drama school you can imagine.