Good luck to you, Daryl McCormack

Daryl McCormack barely recognized Norwich, England, when he first returned to the city after filming Good luck to you, Leo Grande. “I walked back and it was outside the lockdown and I thought it was the strangest thing,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is not how I remember Norwich.’ I remember no stores were open.” Amid the height of the pandemic, McCormack shot the two-hander in front of Searchlight opposite Emma Thompson, who stuns as Nancy, a widow seeking sexual satisfaction and trying to make up for lost time. McCormack plays the titular sex worker she hires to take her on that journey; VF‘s main critic Richard Lawson writes that he “holds up pretty well against the force that is Emma Thompson.”

“I remember she did a scene one day, and when she came in in the costume, I just couldn’t see Emma,” McCormack says. “It almost drove me crazy…. She is incredible at what she does.” The Irish actor talks to VF about working against a living legend, chatting with real sex workers and the nuances of intimacy.

Vanity Fair: As Leo Grande, the sex worker Emma Thompson hires Nancy to show her the tricks of the trade, you’re the one who takes the lead for most of the film. What was it like taking the lead against a legend like Emma Thompson?

Daryl McCormack: It was a challenge. I think it was a challenge to trust myself – to trust that I was enough to play that part. That took me some time, because of course I have so much admiration for Emma. She is an incredible actor, but of course also as a person, she is a legend. Sometimes it’s hard to shake that off when you start working. But Emma as an actor is really inviting in terms of collaboration, and I felt really respected and kind of welcome in that process. That pedestal… it’s not that I took her off, you know, I think she might have invited me [laughs]†

How was your dynamic with Emma off-camera?

We grew more or less at the same rate as Nancy and Leo, because we were shooting chronologically. So the first week we were both a little nervous. We were both on our way to this trip and we both had our concerns. But the more time we spent together, you know, how we laughed at this job – I’ve never had so much fun with anyone. By the time we got to the end of the movie, where you feel like Leo and Nancy really know each other, it was the same with me and Emma. We really felt like we had built a friendship that would surpass the movie.

Can you tell me about how you prepared to play a sex worker?

That started with speaking to a handful of sex workers that [director] Sophie Hyde had organized. We sat with them via Zoom and talked for about an hour. I had some scenario based questions. I would ask them what would happen if a client was in the room, their vulnerability made them feel unsafe. What were the protocols? They were really enlightening because what I started to see was that they had such freedom of choice about their work and developed such an expansive space for their clients so that their clients could really explore their intimacy and their sexual desires. I found that inspiring, because you are not really taught that. They simply had a sense of self-esteem and authority over what they were doing, and they were proud of what they were doing. They recognized the value they offered to people.

I’m glad you brought up the vocation aspect of it. We often hear “sex work is work” as a culture, but we rarely see it on screen. Good luck to you Leo Grande actually questions that statement and delves into the politics of sex work.

The author, katy brand, is based in Germany and sex work is legal in Germany. So I felt really blessed that this came from her area, and especially maybe a country that was a little less embarrassed about sex. I was so proud that these subjects were explored in the film. You saw Nancy as a character who felt that her sexual identity was something she had suppressed for a long time, to her own detriment, and how society almost never gave her the chance to live a fully thriving intimate life. I’m very grateful that this film shows that sex work has that ability.

I think the general story is that: [sex workers are] people who are disabled or who are victims. I just didn’t feel like I was meeting people who are victims. I have discovered the exact opposite.

Was there an intimacy coordinator for the sex scenes?

We have never worked with an intimacy coordinator. Myself, Emma and Sophie really managed to do it themselves. We all appreciate the work intimacy coordinators do in this industry – I think it’s just a testament to how safe we ​​felt with each other and the intimacy we were already building. Sophie set aside a day for all the intimacy in the movie, and she just invited so much play.

We were really just observing our bodies. We drew them on scraps of paper and outlined the areas we like, the areas we don’t like. What we started doing was to stop objectifying ourselves and to stop judging our bodies based on how desirable it would be.