Daryl McCormack is beaming widely. For his role as a sensitive sex worker alongside Emma Thompson in the powerful, subversive two-hander Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, the Irish actor has recently been nominated for the Bafta Rising Star award. The nomination is for an honour that Tom Hardy, Letitia Wright, and Daniel Kaluuya also received at the beginning of their careers, and Bafta has booked him a very posh London suite.
“I’m in this insane room that’s on the corner, so I can see the South Bank behind me,” he says, lifting his laptop up to flaunt the view of skyscrapers at dusk. “The butler, I was practically shouting at him when he showed me the room, like, ‘This is insane! There’s no need!’ I come from, honestly, humble beginnings, and I love this stuff. I’m sending videos to my mum, like, ‘Wow, look at this!’”
A few days later, McCormack was seated at the high table: for his work in Leo Grande, he was nominated for Best Actor together with illustrious actors Bill Nighy and Colin Farrell. He turns 30 today, so it’s been a busy week overall. Having been in Peaky Blinders and Bad Sisters, McCormack is undoubtedly on the rise. When he was chosen by multiple Oscar winner Thompson to act opposite her in the most exposed and vulnerable role of her career, his career took off like a rocket.
McCormack portrays a lovely escort hired by Thompson’s widowed retired instructor in Leo Grande. She has only ever had one sexual relationship, and she has never experienced an orgasm. She makes a list of the objectives she wants to accomplish during their two-hour meeting: “Number one, I perform oral sex on you. Number two, you perform oral sex on me. Number three, we do a 69, if that’s what it’s still called? Four, me on top. Five, doggy style.” “We’ll do as much of this as we can today,” comes his amused reply. “I think we’ll certainly make a significant dent in it.” “Number one, I perform oral sex on you. Number two, you perform oral sex on me. Number three, we do a 69, if that’s what it’s still called? Four, me on top. Five, doggy style.” “We’ll do as much of this as we can today,” comes his amused reply. “I think we’ll certainly make a significant dent in it.”
To get to know each other before McCormack was given the role, the pair took a walk together. “I was nervous,” says the actor. “Because it was initially meant to be on a Zoom, and I was out with my friends the night before. At 10pm or so I got a text being like, ‘Emma wants to meet you tomorrow. In person.’ I have never left a party so quickly.” During the walk, says McCormack, he knew that “there needed to be a real, almost spiritual, sense of safety” between himself and Thompson, a home-grown Hollywood heavyweight who has achieved national treasure status and whose downstairs bathroom I imagine is absolutely bursting with trophies and statuettes. “I had so much respect and admiration for her for doing this, and I just wanted her to feel safe with me,” he says. “Even though I was lesser known and just starting out, I wanted her to know that I was going to give everything.”
It was essential that the performers felt safe. Most of the movie takes place on or near a bed in a hotel room, and it closes with Thompson looking in the mirror and seeing her completely and totally naked body. However, the actors and the director, Sophie Hyde, made the unusual choice to forego hiring an intimacy coordinator, a requirement on the majority of modern film and television sets. “We all agreed that there seemed to be such a connection between myself, Emma, and Sophie,” adds McCormack. “This is not to suggest against intimacy coordinators.