What's a nice, well-brought-up English girl doing playing a Texan trailer-trash fille fatale? Not to mention a 1970s prostitute, a sexually voracious student, a lesbian teenage drifter, a schizophrenic, or countless other US indie staples. Juno Temple has rarely paused to think about it. A whirlwind of chaotic enthusiasm, the 22-year-old actor is not the type to look back. In fact, she seems to live her life on permanent fast-forward. She talks twice as fast as most people, and her career is progressing at the same rate. We're here in a west London cafe to talk about her role in William Friedkin's Killer Joe. Next month we'll see her in The Dark Knight Rises (she can't say anything about it, of course). And then, after that, there's The Wild Side, with Nicolas Cage: "I play a serial killer beauty queen who goes on the rampage. It's similar to Natural Born Killers, True Romance, Badlands, Wild At Heart – all these movies that I grew up being obsessed with 'cos they just have the coolest female characters ever."
On screen Temple is often uninhibited, uncalculating and scatter-brained; in real life, she's pretty much the same. She turns up to meet me unaccompanied, her hair messily scrunched up like she hadn't really thought to brush it before going out. She can barely remember what film she's here to talk about. Oh yes, Killer Joe. It was about 10 films ago for her, so perhaps that's understandable. A noir thriller that's been hard boiled then southern fried, to the point it's difficult to identify what it is, Killer Joe is certainly not to everyone's taste. The increasingly perverse plot revolves around Joe, a smooth, black-stetsoned Texan lawman/hitman (Matthew McConaughey, something of a revelation) who is enlisted by a trailer-trash punk (Emile Hirsch) to bump off his momma. Joe initially turns down the job, until Hirsch offers up his little sister (Temple) as sexual collateral. A queasy romance follows, treading a line between grim exploitation and surreal fairytale, one that reaches its climax with one of the strangest, least comfortable sex scenes in recent memory.
'I just want people to feel passionate about it. Whether they passionately love it or passionately hate it'
"When the film played in Toronto last year, they described it as a 'rape scene'," says Temple. "I was like, 'What?' That is so not a rape scene. That's a sweet love scene, in a bizarre way." Right. "I was pretty nervous to take my clothes off with him [McConaughey] to be honest with you," Temple goes on, at pace. "Cos, you know, first of all it's pretty exposing, and second, you're doing it with the sexiest man in the world. And he gets to keep his kit on and I'm like a fucking English yam with a sock tan."
Sock tan aside, Temple remembers the movie with nothing less than total enthusiasm. "It blew my mind the first time I saw it. It felt like first time I watched Reservoir Dogs. It was like, 'POW! Woah! Oh my God!'" (It's not that good, but hey.) Making the film, working with Friedkin, the director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, was a "fucking mind-blowing" experience. "I just want people to feel passionate about it. Whether they passionately love it or passionately hate it."
When chronicling Temple's success, one does have to note that her father is Julien Temple, renowned chronicler of British punk and pop, from The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle and Absolute Beginners to recent documentaries on Joe Strummer, Dr Feelgood and Glastonbury. Temple does credit her parents for getting her where she is now."I didn't have a conventional upbringing," she admits. Raised in Somerset, she knows Glastonbury like the back of her hand, and counted people like Joe Strummer among family friends. "But you grew up not being aware of any of that," she says. "I remember at about age 17 seeing a lot of people wearing Clash hoodies and being, like, 'Oh my God. That's him.' I've been lucky to meet a lot of really inspirational people, but most of the time I didn't know what was going on. I just wanted to play with Spice Girl Barbie dolls."
On the subject of nepotism, Temple concedes to some, but says it didn't really work out. In 1998, Julien cast an eight-year-old Juno in his biopic Vigo: A Passion For Life. After the film was finished, though, he edited her part out. In retrospect, given that the film received a critical mauling, that could count as dodging a bullet. Temple insists that her parents pushed her the other way. "When I first told them I wanted to be an actor, they were like, 'Fuck that! You're going to be miserable. You're going to be unemployed, you're going to be told you're too short, too this, too that.' My mum found out about an open audition in London. She said, 'You wanna be an actress? Go see how many other people want to be an actress too, honey. Good luck.'"
Of course, she got the part. The movie was Notes On A Scandal, with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. Director Richard Eyre had no idea of her connections, but later described her as "intelligent and very droll, with such a grace about her". After that came a larger role in Atonement, but then nobody in Britain quite knew what to do with her, it seemed, except cast her as a posh Brits and public schoolgirls, as with the St Trinian's movies, Wild Child and Cracks. You can see the attraction of leaving for Los Angeles to play psychotic Americans.
'I'm enjoying every minute. No one's life is a complete breeze, but I'm a pretty lucky little girl'
Temple can't really explain how she ended up where she did. She claims she never had a career plan beyond studying lingerie design at college. The best she can come up with is that she looks young for her age, so can still play teen characters. But having been groomed on movies by her dad, her heroes are people like Gus Van Sant, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, and her instincts led her to edgier American work. Being a liberal-minded European, she's also more adventurous than many American actors her age, she suggests. "I tackle things that scare other people off."
2010's cult college comedy Kaboom is a good example. Temple played London, the aforementioned sexually voracious student, who's hilariously free of hang-ups and inhibitions. Temple's character was originally intended for an American actor, according to writer-director Gregg Araki. "But when she walked in, I just fell in love with her. She's so charming and beautiful, such a unique and singular presence. I sort of tailored the part for her."
Like other distinctly English actors before her, Temple looks set to leave the UK to spend more time in the country she says she's fallen in love with. She wants to buy a house in New Orleans, where Killer Joe was shot. Her American accent comes naturally now and she has trouble doing a proper English one. She says "freeway" and "cellphone", and her intonation rises at the end of sentences. She's only back in London to rehearse for another Hollywood movie, Maleficent, an expensive reworking of Sleeping Beauty led by Angelina Jolie (Temple is one of the fairies). After that, in yet another unlikely role, she's playing Princess Margaret, which should knock some Britishness back into her.
Temple laughs at how spoilt she sounds. She's had one of the least troubled lives it's possible to imagine, and she knows it. "I feel like if I don't appreciate it, this will all be taken away from me," she says. "So I'm enjoying every minute. No one's life is a complete breeze, but I'm a pretty lucky little girl."
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