Little Birds Actress Juno Temple on growing up on film, erotica and Brexit
Juno Temple is speaking from her boyfriend’s house in LA, during lockdown. She’s sleep-deprived, having just moved house and is struggling to stay awake. You really wouldn’t know. The BAFTA-winning actress (you’ll recognise her from projects like Atonement, Maleficent and Dirty John) is upbeat and animated, having just put the finishing touches to a set of necklaces handcrafted for her girlfriends in lockdown (she wanted to study fashion before Hollywood beckoned). “It focuses my brain on something because I’ve got a brain that can be quite hard to manage,” she explains of the jewellery-making. Her latest project, Little Birds (out next month) sees her play American debutante Lucy Savage. Here, she explains what drew her to it…
You’ve been acting since you were 11. Is it strange seeing yourself grow up on film?
I don’t really watch the films. I do if they’re in a film festival or at premiere where I get asked by the director to watch a cut. But I sometimes get texts from friends in different places, like they’re in a hotel like, ‘Whoa, look who I’m watching on the TV!’. And I’m like, ‘Wow, that was a long time ago’. It’s funny, because I guess I could do that. I could totally see myself from age 16 to now in stuff, but I feel more aware of it in just life. I remember a moment in my mid-twenties, like, ‘Oh, I’m not in high school anymore’ and I grew up a bit. It was great because I’d stayed in school for a really long time on camera, always playing characters that were supposed to be in school.
Are you relieved that’s not the case now?
That was kind of a good moment. It’s an interesting thing because I turned 30 last year and panicked. Not in the sense that it made me feel old, I just think it feels like a grown up. You’ve got some wisdom and faith in who you are and you’ve learned lessons because you’re 30, you know? And I thought ‘Oh my god what’s going to happen?’ because people always say, ‘Oh, you look so young!’. But I can’t play 22 anymore. I don’t have the brain of a 22-year-old anymore. There’s a freshness to being 22 and I don’t know if you can fake it – it’s in people’s smile and their eyes.
Your character Lucy in Little Birds is brilliant and the whole project – from the costumes to locations – is beautiful. How did it come about?
I was attached to it for about two years before we made it. I was a big Anais Nin’s fan, I’d already I read a lot of her stuff already. Little Birds was actually the first thing that I’d read of hers when I was 17. I read it on a plane flying from London to LA and I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of sexuality, like, ‘Oh wow’.
What appealed to you about the show?
I read the scripts and was like ‘this is a cool opportunity’ because obviously it’s not Little Birds, it’s very much inspired by Anais Nin’s writing of Little Birds. There are snippets of the stories but it’s about two women who are oppressed in their own way and need to learn how to express who they are. You’ve got a different time period where women were treated in such a different way. Even the way they were wrapped into their clothing and how they had to use their voices and hand gestures. Especially for my character coming from a rich family in New York. It was such a specific way of existing where you’re acting while you’re acting, you know?
That’s an interesting way of looking at it.
It’s because you’re not just playing a different person, you’re playing a person who is constantly having to put on the perfect front of being perfect. Even when I was auditioning for it, you could feel that frustration of wanting to scream with it sometimes! It’s so different now to how it was in the 1950s where women were expected to be seen and not heard. I think Anais Nin’s erotica is really important to read because it’s real erotica. It’s not just about being beautiful and sexy, and that’s fantastic. I think it’s a brilliant thing to learn about and understand about oneself, too.
Throughout the show we’re made aware of the caged bird analogy and characters wanting to be ‘set free’. Can you draw parallels between that and fame, do you think?
To be honest with you I don’t really exist in a way I feel that fame is problem for me. I feel like a caged bird sometimes in my own brain. I think fame is a complicated one in today’s society because especially in LA, people sometimes stop me like ‘Hey, how do I know you? Did we go to school together? Oh, wait, are you in a movie?’. That happens sometimes but it’s never something I’ve been in interested in. I think it’s an amazing thing for an actress when nobody ever really knows why they know you. I hope it’s because I can disappear into parts well enough, but it might be because I’ve done a lot of independent films not many people have seen!
You’ve played such a range of parts it must take a minute for people to place you?
I think so too. I played some parts that are similar too. But I like that because it means I didn’t perfect them the first time around, so I needed to do it better! With Lucy and the cage stuff I feel that within my own self sometimes, more than my external existence on the planet. At home, I’m very creative and like to make things all the time. I make jewellery and draw, write poetry, listen to music and dance in my living room. I’m not great at going out.
As a creative person, the Little Birds set must have been exciting?
I thought it was the most beautiful lighting and set I’d ever walked into, I was dumbfounded. We shot all the exterior stuff in a part of Spain called Tarifa which is right on the edge of the coast. You could almost skip a pebble to Africa. There’s an episode where Lucy is in a surreal film by Lili Von X and we shot it in this beautiful old castle space in Spain. It was so close to Africa we were literally feeling the African wind. I remember thinking ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever been part of, I’m literally in two places at once’. I was covered in glitter and silver paint, like ‘This is my dream, I could die happy now’.
Lucy’s costumes are incredible.
I like how we see her change when she’s in New York and first in Tangier to when she learns more about life. One thing I love are the minor details – my character’s hoop earrings get bigger throughout the show, for example. So I was like, ‘Yes! She’s got her big hoops on, she’s feeling free!’. A young Brigitte Bardot was a big reference for me and and she had big hoop earrings on, which you wouldn’t think of in the 50s. I thought it was quite progressive.
How are you at watching yourself back?
I find it quite difficult. I can be very critical of my performance like, ‘Oh god, I wish I made that choice differently’. Or sometimes I’m just critical like a girl, about the way I look, you know? I think that’s the hard thing about being an actress in a world where we’re pumped with what’s supposed to be ‘perfection’. It can be a bit of a head fuck. Watching this is one of the first times in a long time I’ve watched something and really have forgotten it was me in it, because there was so much going on. And Jacquetta [Levon, head of hair and makeup] transported us so we truly look like we are in a different time. All my co-stars are so mesmerising.
What’s your dream role – are there any parts you’d love to play?
One of my favourite writers is a writer called Eve Babitz. If you don’t know her, start with her collection of short stories, Slow Days Fast Company. It’s all about when she was living in Los Angeles. I love the way she writes but I couldn’t actually play her because I don’t really look like her. She’s very tall – I’m scraping five foot three.
Do you miss the UK?
I miss the people. Last year, I shot a TV thing in London for five months and it was an interesting place to be with Brexit going on. I think it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to England – I was really proud of being European. Being English is something that feels a bit alien to me and I felt a kind of heavy sadness in the UK at the end of last year. I actually did the anti-Brexit March in London on my own, kind of by accident as my American agent was in town and the taxi dropped me off and said ‘I don’t know I can get you much closer’. It was right by Hyde Park and I was 45 minutes late for my new agent, but he understood. It felt like a really great thing to be part of.
Little Birds airs on 4th August on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV