It’s close to a baptism of fire, making your screen debut opposite Johnny Depp in a big-budget Tim Burton movie, and certainly, for a 17-year old from Ballymoney in Northern Ireland, life has never been the same since.
The movie in question is 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, and the wide-eyed young girl who was stepping in front of the cameras for the first time is Jayne Wisener. Since then, the work has been steady – with appearances in the likes of The Inbetweeners, Misfits and last year’s big-screen awards magnet Jane Eyre – but now Wisener is finally stepping front and centre for the Irish feature film A Kiss For Jed.
“And it’s just so thrilling to have a movie out there where I’m actually the girl on the poster,” smiles the just-25-year old Wisener. “Finally, a poster I can stick up on my bedroom wall, as proof that this is what I do for a living. Because sometimes, when you haven’t managed to get a gig for a few months, you do begin to wonder what it is that you actually do…” That Wisener has had to wait three years for A Kiss For Jed to make it to the big screen reflects no much on the film’s quality as the commercial reality when it comes to low-budget Irish films. Back then, it was called A Kiss For Jed Wood, but a certain John and Edward Grimes put paid to that name. “People just kept asking me if I kissed Jedward in the movie,” laughs Wisener.
Written by Horslips founder-turned-screenwriter Barry Devlin, A Kiss For Jed concerns reality TV show winner Orla Cassidy, leaving her native Antrim for New York, where she’s determined to grab a kiss from US country superstar Jed Wood (Neal Bledsoe) in time for next week’s show. On camera duties is reluctant documentary filmmaker Ray (Mark O’Halloran, of Adam & Paul fame) whilst holding the overhead mic is jaded soundman Mike (Lee Arenberg, Action, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl), their plight taken up by morning radio show host Carter (Jay Thomas). Up until the 11th hour, Sarah Bolger (In America, The Tudors) was lined up to play the role of Orla Cassidy, but fearing the role might be a little too adult for her, the rising Dublin actress – who’s four years younger than Wisener – bailed. Was it tough for Jayne, stepping into the film so late? “It was kind of exciting for me, actually,” she answers. “Because I hadn’t been at the casting process, the whole thing just kind of came out of leftfield. I read the script and I thought it was hilarious. So, I was just delighted to be part of it.” As for figuring out who Orla Cassidy really was – strong and independent on one hand, naïve and clueless on the other -wasn’t too much of a challenge for Wisener either. Teenage girls are, after all, only ever truly understood by other teenage girls.
“It’s very rarely that I’ll read a script and know straight away who that person is,” says Wisener. “That’s only happened to me a few times, but I could see where Orla was coming from, all the different aspects of her personality. I mean, I’m not saying that she’s me – by no means is Orla like me – but there are elements that I could draw on from my own experiences. I could just see her way of thinking.” A few days in Dublin with Mark O’Halloran before joining their co-star Arenberg in New York meant that the trio had a little time to work out their on-screen chemistry before the cameras rolled. Which would have also given Jayne and Mark a chance to discuss the exact nature of their characters’ love/hate relationship, Orla and Ray being ostensibly the romantic leads in the film. Despite the huge age gap. So, were they aiming for a little Lost In Translation ambiguity, or were there ever suggestions of going the full Soon-Yi here?
“I kind of left that up to them,” offers Wisener. “I think they wanted to leave it somewhat ambiguous, sure, and there was a determination not to reveal the ending until the very end. To keep people guessing. You shouldn’t really know where these guys are going to end up. I just did my job as an actress to make my character as real as possible, and whatever happened within the story happened.” As for the film’s three-year slow boat ride to the big screen, Wisener accepts that, for most actors in the business, that’s just another day at the office. Nonetheless, she did find the wait a little heartbreaking. “Well, because I was so passionate about the film, it was very frustrating for me to have to hear again and again that, no, it’s not coming out just yet. I had such a good time doing it, and then for it to just go into this blur… “People would ask me, ‘What’s going on with that film?’, and I wouldn’t have an answer. Now, finally, I do. And I have the poster to prove it!”
Having moved to London from her native Ireland after the success of Sweeney Todd, Wisener has made a life for herself there. “It’s where all the auditions are,” she says, “and so, until I crack Hollywood, it’s where I’ve got to be.” Besides, her future hubby is there with her, the two planning on getting married in July after almost four years together. He may be a project manager at Barclay’s bank, but 34-year old Wayne is just as determined that his future wife makes it in this business as Jayne herself is. “I have an app on my phone, LineLearner, and he’s always the other person. He’ll also tape me for a lot of auditions. Wayne’s very hands-on, and he knows so much about the process now, he could be an actor himself. “Maybe we’ll perfect a double-act. It worked for Brad and Angelina…”