Jamie Dornan on Improvising His Role in ‘Endings, Beginnings’ and Working with Drake Doremus

     April 17, 2020

From co-writer/director Drake Doremus, the relationship drama Endings, Beginnings follows Daphne (Shailene Woodley), a 30-something woman navigating love and heartbreak while also exploring what she wants out of life. After finding herself attracted to best friends Jack (Jamie Dornan) and Frank (Sebastian Stan), for very different reasons, she ends up on a journey that will teach her more about herself than she ever could have expected.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jamie Dornan talked about the experience of improvising his role for the length of the film, how he thought about running for the hills on the first night of the shoot, having a filmmaker like Drake Doremus to guide him, the love on set, what surprised him about his character, and what he thought of the way the finished film turned out. He also talked about how excited he is for people to see his first foray into comedy with Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar, with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, how he came to voice a character in Trolls World Tour, and what he’s looking forward to with his next project, Dr. Death, once he gets to shoot it.

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Image via Samuel Goldwyn Films

Collider: It seems as though doing a film like this, where you essentially have a detailed outline and you’re improvising, would be equal parts exciting and terrifying for an actor. When this project came your way and you thought about that aspect of it, what was that internal back and forth like for you?

JAMIE DORNAN: Truthfully, the first night that we were shooting, I thought about running away, like running for the hills. I was just so frightened. I was so scared. I felt so at ease with the people, but then, I just thought about having to improvise. I’d done a little bit of improv before, in various realms, but never for a whole movie. There was also something about improvising and it not being comedy. Usually, it leads towards making people laugh. It was about doing it in a way that was truthful for the character and truthful in the response to who you’re in scenes with. Having not done it on that scale before, it was purely terror, at the front of my mind. It was only that first night, and then you find a rhythm with it. I found Jack’s voice within myself, fairly quickly, and then it was a joyous experience. I loved it. But, it was that first night. There was a 60-page skeleton script, where it would say, “Jack talks about why this happened.” And then, it was for us to make it up, on our own. For the first couple of takes, I said every single word that was in that skeleton script. I just said every suggested thing, and then (director) Drake Doremus came over, straight away, and was like, “Okay, forget everything in the script. You have to find your take.” I was like, “Oh, shit, okay.” That’s when I nearly ran for the hills.

Now that you’ve seen the finished film, how different did this turn out from what you thought it might be, when you started? Because you really did get to explore this in a way that you don’t usually with a film, did it feel like the movie that you thought it would be, or did it feel very different, in any way?

DORNAN: I’ve never watched a movie before, where I had no idea what was gonna happen. There were so many ways in which we performed every scene. It could have been edited so many different directions, so that was an interesting thing to watch, for the first time. I feel like it definitely has as much love and hope and spirit as was in that skeleton script and the conversations that I had with Drake, very early on, and all of the feelings that we had on set, with Shailene [Woodley] and I and Sebastian [Stan]. There was a lot of love on that set. It felt like we were all in this mad experience together, and I feel like that did come across. So much of that is Shailene Woodley. It was so incredible to watch her do her thing. There’s not a second in the movie that she’s not it. It quite literally is just her. She’s carrying this whole thing, and it’s a lot. Emotionally, there’s a lot going on, and there’s so much going on in her character’s story. I thought the way she handled that quite beautifully ended up being portrayed in the final film. I was very aware, when I was doing those scenes with her, how beautiful her work was, and I think that came across in the final cut of it.

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Image via Samuel Goldwyn Films

Because of the way that he approaches filmmaking Drake Doremus feels like much more of a guide than just a director. Did it feel that way, when you were working with him, throughout this? Does it feel like he’s always guiding you to where he needs you to go, or does it feel more subtle than that?

DORNAN: It’s a lot about trust with him – trusting that he’s got the right players in the game. I feel like, if you’re wavering away somewhere other than where he thinks it needs to be, then he’ll let you know and try to guide you back, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly. Sometimes he’d say, “Guys, stop doing that. That’s not working. Let’s get away from that and start fresh. Let’s take a totally different tact.” So, there was a bit of that happening. But usually, he was very trusting of us, particularly as we got further on. He had a great deal of trust that we were taking it in the appropriate direction ‘cause we had a good enough handle on the characters, certainly a few days or a couple of weeks in. Probably, for me, more so early on, there might have been more guidance. I feel like Shailene nailed it, from day one. She was incredible. But it very much ended up being this beautiful, trusting, free experience. Sebastian and I had a couple of moment together, but it was often me, Shailene and Drake, navigating these scenes. And then, the other days, it was Sebastian and Shailene and Drake. You felt like you had your own energy between the three of you, and you made it work. You were very rarely not in tune with each other.

As you were making this, did you learn anything about your character that really surprised you, or did he go in any directions or end up anywhere that you didn’t expect him to, just because of something that happened, in the moment?

DORNAN: Drake was very insistent that Jack was Irish, so I kept my own accent and that was a real comfort to not have to worry about. And then, I had a thing of not wanting him to be too much like me or to respond how I would, in these different circumstances. But to be honest, as it went on, I found myself more and more in tune with him and aligned with Jack and how he thinks. He’s a pretty good guy. He’s pretty solid dude. And I like to think of myself, that I’m a pretty good guy and I usually do the right thing. Those aspects, I tried to give to Jack and just let that be. That seemed like a more comfortable way to play him, rather than fighting against letting myself in. But then, there’s a way that I feel like I respond, in the scene when Daphne comes back, and tells Jack that she’s pregnant and that it might not be his baby. That was my favorite scene to shoot because it felt like she was saying those words to me for the first time, every time. And we’re not talking a Fincher-esque 72 takes, but we probably did four or five, and they all felt as new, as raw and as honest, as the last one. I found myself reacting, as Jack, very differently, every time she told me. I felt like I did something very different, and that surprised me. I thought I would find a groove of her telling me and me responding a certain way, and I ended up, on the day, every time she said it, I felt like my body reacted in a different way. It was crazy.

The work that you do tends to fall into the drama category. Was that part of the appeal of doing something like Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar? If you’re going to jump into a comedy, is it reassuring to do one with Kristen Wiig?

endings-beginnings-posterDORNAN: Yeah. It’s funny, to be honest with you, I always wanted to do. I felt that I would do comedy. At the beginning of my career, there were a couple of things that never aligned and I didn’t quite get, and the contacts I was making in the comedy world then dried up. And then, I played a couple of dark characters, and nobody was going, “We’ve got a goofball comedy. Let’s get the guy from The Fall.” I’m not at the top of those lists. But I guess I’ve said to enough people, in the past, that I wanted to do comedy, and I’ve made some of the right people laugh, over the years. I’ve been edging myself into the frame, a little bit, for stuff. I can’t wait for people to see that movie, by the way. I really hope the cinemas are open again by then because it’s so fun. To have my first comedy be with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo was just insane. That’s the thing about being an actor. That’s what I love about doing this. I’d never be comfortable just doing three action movies a year. That wouldn’t satisfy me, at all. Maybe one action movie, every four years. Some people find themselves a niche, playing the same kind of character, over and over and over again. I feel quite lucky that I haven’t fallen into that yet. I’m still getting these opportunities where I can show a different side of myself, and I hope to keep doing that, in my career. I want to keep taking risks and chances, doing crazy off-the-wall comedies, and I’ve still got a lot of dramatic stuff lined up. The variety of it is what appeals to me about this career.

And you made your first venture into voice work with Trolls World Tour. Had you been actively trying to do some voice work? What was that experience like for you?

DORNAN: That’s something I did because I have three little girls. Our youngest is only one, so she doesn’t know what’s going on, but the other two loved the first Trolls movie. DreamWorks was bought by Universal, and I made a franchise of movies with Universal, so that was just me, calling the heads of Universal and saying, “Can you please just find me something? Can I do something in Trolls? It would just get me the best daddy points, ever.” So, I picked that up myself, basically. And talk about terrifying. When I did my session, I did it remotely, first. I was in London and the directors were in L.A. I had never been in that environment before. It was a totally new thing for me, and I just went so big with the first take. I would have loved to have seen their faces. They must have been like, “What the fuck is this guy doing?” I was talking crazy. I had to re-record my whole session. It’s a small performance, but my kids have already watched it three times, in the last two days. I ended up loving it. I love the character and I love the movie. When I went to L.A. to shoot Drake’s film, I went and re-recorded it. That was such a fun world, and I’d love to do more of that.

You haven’t gotten to shoot it yet, but you’ve signed on for Dr. Death, which is another foray into a dark character. What was it that struck you about that story and made you want to play that character? What are you most looking forward to getting to explore with him?

DORNAN: Well, we were three days off of starting shooting, when we got shut down with all of this madness with COVID-19, and had to get out of New York. You can’t listen to that podcast and research that story without being really amazed by it. I’m fascinated by Christopher Duntsch, who he is, and why he did what he did. I wish I had the opportunity to talk to him. It’s just a fascinating world. There are so many avenues in that story, beyond just the man himself doing these terrible things to innocent people. There’s also the failing of the medical system, and so many different aspects to it that are fascinating. And Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater are doing it. There are so many tantalizing aspects to the job that really excite me. I love that mini-series format, with six or eight parts. The Fall was like that. I like that format of television. Rather than signing up for seven years of something, I prefer that format. So, there are just so many aspects about it that really appealed to me. I think we’ll still get a chance to make it this year, hopefully. And it’ll be something different for people, compared to what I’ve done recently.

Endings, Beginnings is available on digital on April 17th and on-demand on May 1st.

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