The vagaries of film release schedules and the minor inconvenience of a global pandemic can cause strange overlaps in Australian cinemas. And so it is that Pixie, the darkly comic Irish vengeance flick starring a badass Olivia Cooke in the eponymous lead role, hits local screens at the tail end of Oscar-tipped Sound of Metal’s run, in which she plays a punk rocker alongside Riz Ahmed, despite completing the projects at least a year apart.
What these films share in common is requiring the down-to-earth northern English actor to acquire whole new skillsets. I first met the star of films including Ready Player One and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and TV shows like Bates Motel and Vanity Fair by a rooftop pool in Toronto in September 2019 during the city’s celebrated film festival, when she spoke about rocking out in Sound of Metal.
“It’s like cramming for an exam, because you know you’ve got to perform to the best of your abilities and do justice to this genre of music,” she said of her sessions with New York-based thrasher Margaret Chardiet, aka Pharmakon. “She taught me how to scream, taught me the riffs on the guitar and how to loop.”
Reconnecting some 18 months later – with Cooke now tapped to appear in the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon and spy series Slow Horses with Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas – Cooke addresses getting to grips with an Irish accent for Pixie. She plays the daughter of Gangs of London’s gravel-voiced Colm Meaney, a gangster warring with Alec Baldwin’s dodgy priest (also affecting a burring brogue).
“We spent about two months with a dialect coach,” she recalls of her and fellow English co-star Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody, Mary Shelley). Together they form two-thirds of the film’s central trio, forced to hit the road with a bag full of MDMA and a body in the boot of their car. “With having a regional accent myself,” she notes of her Greater Manchester upbringing, “you want the person that’s going to be doing it to do it really well. I just didn’t want the wrath of the Irish on my back.”
Peaky Blinders actor Daryl McCormack, a local, helped keep Cooke and Hardy right. He plays Harland, best friend to Hardy’s Frank, both besotted by Pixie. “Poor Daryl,” she recalls. “We were on him every day, like ‘Daryl, just say seagull’. He’d say it and then we were waiting for them to shout action. He was like our language coach and just general therapist, really, when we were like, ‘oh it sounds like shit’.”
One thing she knows she nailed was handling a gun. “I was surprisingly good. I shocked myself, hitting the target on my first try, and I was like, ‘oh, what do you do with this skill?’”
The accents weren’t the only fakes. Ostensibly set in Sligo, south of the border, most of the film was shot in Northern Ireland. “We were constantly going out and having too many drinks, really making use of Belfast’s nightlife,” she reveals. “It was summer and it felt like the atmosphere of the movie called for it.”
It is a heap of fun, chock full of double-crossings and stacking up a fair few corpses. But it was corpsing, or the inability to stop oneself from laughing on set, that was Cooke’s biggest challenge, particularly when Black Books creator and star Dylan Moran showed up to shoot a memorable cameo.
“He was only in for one day and he made us all die laughing,” Cooke says. “He ad-libbed and the camera was on the back of me and my shoulders were juddering up and down. I spoiled so many shots because I just could not hold it together. He was brilliant.”
Filming with 30 Rock star Baldwin was also a trip. “It was really surreal seeing him with an Irish accent, toting a gun and dressed as a priest. Shooting this was so much fun. Like we just had such a laugh every single day, and that’s exactly the environment that you want for a film like that.”
Maybe not if you are director Barnaby Thompson (St Trinian’s) or cinematographer John de Borman (An Education). “They were just like, if you’re struggling, just think of a black wall, and so I was just constantly like ‘black wall, black wall, black wall’, because I’m just so bad. And once I go, I’m gone. I can’t get it back. Those moments are just so delicious to live in, but such a nightmare for the crew who have literally got to get this scene done before the sun goes.”
An inversion of the ‘Manic Pixie Girl’ trope, Cooke’s character isn’t for the boys’ entertainment, determined to win justice for her late mother and hop a plane the hell outta there. She’s electric, easily outshining even the Hollywood glitz of Baldwin. “She’s manipulative and conniving, but you still root for her,” Cooke says. “And it’s fun going on the journey with her, because she’s doing all this stuff that you’d never dream of doing.”
Pixie is in Australian cinemas from January 28. Sound of Metal is out now. Watch the Pixie trailer now:
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