How Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack Created Intimacy for 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande'

Spoiler alert: It started with a walk in the park but evolved to the Academy Award winner cooking dinners.
by Amy Amatangelo — 

Daryl McCormack

Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson stars as Nancy Stokes, a retired school teacher whose deceased husband never fulfilled her sexually. Nervous, repressed and full of self-deprecation, Nancy hires sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) to give her something her husband never could — an orgasm. Directed by Sophie Hyde, the movie, which consists of a series of hotel room encounters, is an exploration of self-acceptance, sexual awakening, intimacy, body positivity and generational divides. 

It's also a major career move for McCormack, who more than holds his own opposite Academy Award-winner Thompson. 

"I feel so grateful to have had this experience relatively early in my career," McCormack tells Metacritic. 

After auditioning, at which point he already knew Thompson was attached, the ended up meeting her for a walk near her home so they could get to know each other a bit more.

"We didn't read any scenes or anything like that. We really spent two hours and a bit together getting some tea, walking around the park and getting to know one another and speaking about the film," he recalls. "The following morning Emma texted me saying she wanted me to be the Leo in the film, and that's when it all began."

The Irish native may be best known thus far for playing Isaiah Jesus in the final seasons of Peaky Blindersand his three episode turn on Prime Video's The Wheel of Time. But also, he will be seen later this summer in Sharon Horgan's new Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters, proving this is his breakout moment.

Here, he talks to Metacritic about the making of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande which, after making its debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival, premieres June 17 on Hulu. 

Leo is such an interesting character because he's simultaneously confident and comfortable in his own skin, but as the movie progresses we also see how vulnerable he is. 

That was real fun to play. I love as an actor playing two things at once. I think Leo does a really good job of actually forgetting about his vulnerabilities because he's so focused on Nancy — he's so focused on what this woman is seeking and desiring. He cares about what he does so much, he really wants her to walk away feeling like she's had the best time and not just her money's worth but [that] he's been able to impact her in a way and gift her something. So, I think in those moments he's really not self-aware until she asks him a question that would require him to reveal more of himself. I thought that was fun. That's when the boundary and professionalism of his work came in and he had to do it with a sense of charm and a sense of evading because he's still being hired and he still wants his client to be comfortable and have a good time. That was a lot of fun playing those elements of the script. 

The majority of the film is just you and Emma Thompson on the screen. How different is it when a movie is just two people?

The work feels a lot more intense. The kind of commitment to the work feels very intense. And also the reliance on your fellow actor is fundamental. Essentially you can't really do a film like this and not feel connected and not feel like you can trust the person that you are working with. That was something that was exciting — that feeling that you have nowhere to hide except in the character. Emma and I always said we needed to plug in every day. That was our anchor to the story, otherwise standing in a very spacious hotel room you can feel like you are drowning, in a sense. So, plugging in with Emma every day and trying to bring these characters to life was something I don't think I'll ever forget.

Are there things you and Emma did off screen that helped you find that connection on screen?

We had a lot of things set up for us. The whole cast and crew actually lived in the same accommodation in Norwich which was a 15-minute walk from the set. So, every morning we would walk to set together and we would also walk home. And on our days off we tried to shop around the city and find something like a dinner to cook because we had this kitchen that we could use. So, we sat down and had meals. Emma would be cooking the chicken and I'm like, "What can I do can I help?" I know nothing about cooking a roast chicken. "Can I pour wine?" That was really important. Those conversations that we had off set were fundamental in us growing in trust with each other. It was really amazing, particularly special, I have to say.

I read that you did some Zoom calls with sex workers in preparation for the film. What did you learn from them during these calls that you brought to your performance?

They all have a similar openness in regards to their relationship with sexuality and intimacy. I was amazed they all [had the] capacity to serve their client. What we desire sexually is very individual and unique. It all depends on our own taste, what intrigues us, and just to meet people who have really expanded themselves vastly enough to occupy those desires for multiple different people and multiple different experiences was something I found really amazing. And then on top just their sense of authority of what they did, their sense of self-respect, particularly in a job that has been stigmatized a lot and diminished. I just didn't feel like I was meeting diminished people. I felt I was meeting really empowered people.

What can you preview about your new AppleTV+ series Bad Sisters, which premieres August 19?

It's a dark comedy thriller. I play a brother who is involved in finding out a murder mystery, in a sense. I don't know if I can say much more than that. I'm excited that it's coming out soon. It was a real joy to shoot and I'm excited for people to see it. 

Get to know Daryl McCormack:
McCormack's first onscreen role was as Pierce Devlin in the Irish soap opera Fair City. He joined BBC and Netflix's  Peaky Blinders (Metascore: 77) for the crime drama's final two seasons and, as aforementioned, can also be seen The Wheel of Time(55), as well as Pixie(45), and A Good Woman is Hard to Find (65).