Simone Kessell and Jay Ryan talk Muru – Toronto 2022

Maria (Simone Kessell) in Muru. Photo credit: Christopher Pryor.

Simone Kessell and Jay Ryan sat down with Solzy at the Movies in Toronto to discuss their new film, Muru, playing the fest.

This interview probably plays better if one is listening to the audio. Alas, you’ll just have to laugh along while reading the transcript. As a side note, Simone Kessell’s casting in the upcoming season of Yellowjackets came up after the interview wrapped.

Muru doesn’t have a US release date yet so I’ve gone ahead and decided to run the interview. As of now, I know it’s available digitally for New Zealand audiences to rent.

Muru is one of the most tense thrillers I’ve seen recently.

Simone Kessell: Fantastic, thank you.

Jay Ryan: I felt it was tense last night, too.

How did it play with an audience?

Jay Ryan: Well, I mean, that was the first time I’d seen it with an audience and it was incredible. We had people responding to the movie vocally. There were a lot of Canadian indigenous people there last night and they were really vocal during the movie. The energy was full-on last night in the theater, in a good way.

What was it about the script that drew you to the role?

Simone Kessell: Working back home, working back in New Zealand, and getting an opportunity to tell a story that hasn’t been told before New Zealand, fantastic filmmakers but a lot of their films are very similar. I think we were able to weave in humor, heart and incredible score as well as having locations that haven’t been filmed before, not in that way. All of that creates the film. I’m incredibly proud to tell our people’s story.

Jay Ryan: For me, I was a fan of Tearepa Kahi’s work. He is a bit of cavalier (inaudible) back home.

Simone Kessell: I wasn’t. Never heard of him (Laughs)

Jay Ryan as Gallagher in Muru.
Jay Ryan as Gallagher in Muru. Courtesy of Rialto Distribution/Arclight Films.

Jay Ryan: (Laughs) (inaudible) each other. Yeah, I was a fan of his work and when I read the script, I thought it was incredible because I didn’t only learned of the bigger picture of the raids of 2007, I learned that this had happened 100 years before and 100 years before that. The way that he’d encapsulated this history between Tūhoe and what the crown had agitated against them was pretty amazing in 100 pages. I knew it was a special project and I wanted to work with Cliff Curtis because I think he’s hot.

Simone Kessell: I didn’t. When I found out Cliff was on it, I was not interested. (Laughs)

Jay Ryan: I was real interested but he wasn’t interested in me so it didn’t work out.

Simone Kessell: (Laughs) I’m just gonna be that today. I’m just gonna go against it.

I know Canadians were known for their humor but I didn’t know that New Zealand was.

Jay Ryan: We’re a dry bunch.

What sort of prep did you all do in advance of filming?

Simone Kessell: You worked out.

Jay Ryan: I worked out.

Simone Kessell: Crazy.

Jay Ryan: Yeah, I learned hand-to-hand combat because I knew that it was a big part of the end of the story and the action sequences. I was working with Manu Bennet, who was notorious for his action. He’s quite a full-on fellow in the ring so I needed to obviously match Manu’s physicality and surprisingly, I had to match Cliff’s physicality, which I was not aware of. That guy can run and run fast. I had to overtake him in a few of the action sequences and Cliff wouldn’t let me because when he’s in, he’s in, and if you can’t beat him, you can’t beat him.

Simone Kessell: Yeah, true that.

Jay Ryan: True, yeah.

Simone Kessell: He goes into a complete world. There’s a scene when we’re in the van and he’s like, Well, he’s my father and he’s at 10. Holy moly. When he’s on, he is completely in that zone. He’s pretty terrifying. He’s an extraordinary actor. He really is.

Jay Ryan: Yeah, he really is. I did Krav Maga, which is hand-to-hand combat. I read books. One’s called On the Front Line, which spoke of many different times in New Zealand’s history from the police perspective, about the raids and what was one of the topics. I spoke to officers and tactics members who were part of the raid, who were there on the day. Cliff himself actually has friend of the family that were part of the tactical group so we got to have firsthand inside knowledge on their experience.

Simone Kessell: Very believable. I didn’t know that.

Jay Ryan: Actually, my stepfather—my mother’s partner—he’s an ex-cop from that time from the Springbok (sp?) store when racism was rife and people were trying to change the system 20-30 years ago. I spoke to him about those times as well.

Queen Breha Organa (Simone Kessell) and Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
(L-R): Queen Breha Organa (Simone Kessell) and Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) in Lucasfilm’s OBI-WAN KENOBI, exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Simone, how did working on this film compare to being a part of the Star Wars universe?

Simone Kessell: Same budget. (Laughs)

Jay Ryan: You made me spill coffee on myself.

Simone Kessell: Yeah, kind of the same budget. No, I actually did Muru before I did Obi-Wan. In fact, I had just auditioned for Obi-Wan and then I had to go down and we’re sitting on location and I was going, Oh, no, did I do a good audition? I was sitting there asking everybody but I didn’t know what the role was that I was actually auditioning for on Obi-Wan because it was also top secret, right? I’m sitting there in my blacks doing a Kiwi  accent on this but all I could think about is, I hope I got that role. Right? I remember another actor, he said to me, what’s the role? I was like, I’ve got no idea. And he goes, Well, you know, it was this and I said, but it’s fucking Star Wars, man. Right? It sort of tumbled on from there. But yes, I think, as an actor, as a working actor, we are so fortunate we get to do everything from independent feature films to huge Disney productions. Yeah, what an honor that is, right.

Jay Ryan: It is a blessing from a small place and firstly, become an actor in your town, and then have the opportunity of the world at your feet. It is harder in one aspect to get all the way up to Hollywood but also, you get to really work your craft before you get to Hollywood. By the time you get there, you feel like you have worked your ass off to get there.

Simone Kessell: Yeah. And New Zealand is we always—you’re gonna be a working actor outside of New Zealand, you have to know how to do a good American accent or else you don’t work. Even in New Zealand, because so many productions comes to New Zealand when we have to put on American accents—unlike Americans, who go anywhere else and can’t do a New Zealand accent or Australian or British accent. I can think of many.

Jay Ryan: We’re raised in American entertainment and television so we have an ear for it for from (inaudible). If Americans were raised with New Zealand televisions, they probably would be able to do a New Zealand accent and vice versa. But unfortunately, New Zealand television is not. It’s only in New Zealand.

I grew up on the Beatles so—

Jay Ryan: Can you do an English accent? Can you do it like Ringo?

It depends on the time of day. I slept in this morning after a very late night watching Glass Onion and The Fabelmans so caffeine hasn’t quite kicked in yet.

Simone Kessell: Right, okay.

Jay Ryan: Do you think my caffeine’s kicked in?

Simone Kessell: I think mine has (Laughs).

I just lost my train of thought.

Simone Kessell: Sorry.

Jay Ryan: Sorry, I was asking you questions.

Now I know what I was going to say. It’s always amazing to watch these British actors and other non-American actors on TV shows and movies with that perfect American accent and then see them on the late night shows, it’s like, WHAT?!?

Simone Kessell: Yeah, I do that, too. I’m like, Oh, I didn’t know they were British.

Jay Ryan: Like Hugh Laurie—for a while, I didn’t know he was British.

Like Simon Baker, watching him on the late shows, that was found out and then the kid from C’mon C’mon with Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Mike Mills—Chris Miller tweeted that he just found out the kid was British and his mind was blown.

Simone Kessell: Yeah. Kids are amazing with accents. Yeah, we overthink it. The kids just hear it and then they go off and stick the landing.

Jay Ryan: We have dialect coaches. They just do it.

Yeah, back to the film. How did it feel to shoot this very personal film back home in New Zealand?

Simone Kessell: Incredible because working with New Zealand crews is really interesting. When you work with American crews, everyone’s got this specific job. For example, if someone’s like, Oh, we’ve got to move that plant. Even as it as a Kiwi, I’ll go, Yeah. As an actor in New Zealand, I’ll help you. Or my makeup artist is carrying a whole lot—I’m like, give it to me, I’ll carry it with you. In America, you don’t do that. You’re literally just an actor, stay in your lane, stay in your pod. Going home, everyone is a part of the film crew is a community more so and in Australia, it’s like that, too. Right? I’d say that. But coming over this side of the world, it’s not so going home is so much fun. And also, there’s no crafties. Do you know what crafties is? Crafties its on-set catering, which you can have 24/7 Right? In New Zealand, there might be a cup of tea and a biscuit. Being a Kiwi working in America, I’m always like, crafties is like a free shop where you can go and get all the food for free and New Zealand is a biscuit. I kinda love that. You know what I mean? It’s just budgets are different.

Jay Ryan: Yeah, budgets are different. However, in New Zealand crews, they always have a barista a person who makes coffee and good coffee all day so that keeps us going. We don’t need the doughnuts and the candies. But I feel like in America, they don’t have good coffee.

Simone Kessell: (Laughs) Start the review with that. “In America, they don’t—”

Muru is still awaiting US acquisition.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.