If you don’t know Jessica Henwick from her turns as Colleen Wing in Iron Fist, Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones, or X-wing pilot Jessika Pava in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you will know her soon. Next month, she will appear as Bugs in The Matrix Resurrections. We talked to the English actress about her part in this iconic franchise.
Do you remember the first time you watched The Matrix?
I was 12 or 13, and it was probably on VHS. I loved it, but it scared me. I remember I would have nightmares about the small machine going into my belly button and my mouth stitching up. The imagery is so iconic and striking, and it really did stay with me. Even though I probably didn’t watch it again for another five or six years after that, I could have told you scene for scene what happened.
What was your first day on set like for The Matrix Resurrections?
My first day on set was in San Francisco, and it was almost the entire cast. Priyanka [Chopra] had this 10-page monologue of thick, very technical Matrix dialogue. And bless her, she killed it. Then at the end of the scene, Keanu [Reeves] had one line. The line was like, “Will it work?” Or something like that. I remember looking around at the entire cast, and everyone’s facial muscles started to twitch because we all wanted to break at the exact moment. Because we were like, “That’s so cool. It’s Keanu. And he’s in his Neo costume, and he’s using the voice, and he’s just… Oh, we’re here. We’re in it.”
How was the character of Bugs first presented to you?
All they told me was a very short description of her being a captain, and a leader, and a true believer in the legend of Neo. Yeah, that was it. It was pretty minimal.
How did your look for this film come together, and how much, if any input, did you have in it?
In terms of costume, I didn’t have much input, though I did ask them. I begged them for sunglasses and leather. I had a bit of a say in which sunglasses we wore, because I must have tried on 30 or 40 sunglasses. And the ones that I got were just so cool.
In terms of the hair, that was definitely more of a discussion. When I auditioned, straightaway Lana said, “Would you be willing to shave your head entirely bald?” And of course you have to say yes, otherwise you don’t get the role. So, I did say yes, but once I got the role, I eased off of that idea because it has symbolism within the Matrix world. If you have no hair on your head, you probably are recently free and so I didn’t want there to be any sort of confusion about how long she’d actually been awake for. So, that’s why we moved in the direction of having the blue hair and, obviously, Lana has her reasons there.
What was it like to work with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss?
It was so wonderful to work with them, honestly. I don’t have a bad thing to say. Keanu really is everything you’ve heard. I mean, it’s not news for me to say he’s the nicest actor in Hollywood. Everyone knows that. Very kind. Very generous. Very, very shy. Very intelligent. There was no small talk with Keanu. It was always just like, “What do you think is at the bottom of the ocean?” We would have these really esoteric discussions between takes. It was a highlight of my day, honestly
Carrie-Anne has kids, and we were going through the process of filming during Covid, and none of us had our support systems there. None of us were able to fly our families out. And so she kind of became a mother, especially to me. I found it really difficult at times, filming in Covid. And I remember she would just call me to come round and she would just be like, “Okay. Sit down. I’m making you toast.”… She’s so wonderful and inspiring and really strong. She was a real rock for me during filming.
What is Lana Wachowski’s directing style like?
Her directing style is very different. It’s intuitive, and fluid, and it’s very much how she feels on the day, on set… She doesn’t stand by the monitor. She’s standing right next to our camera operator, holding the camera, pulling focus. She will, in the middle of a scene, just turn him around. So she’ll be filming Keanu, and Keanu will be talking, and halfway through his line, you’ll just feel this camera turn around, and suddenly you’re on. And you’d better be on and you better know your line because there’s a camera pointing in your face, and you only get two shots. She’ll just run like that. She doesn’t really cut. So it’s 20 minutes of just pure acting, which I do really like… As an actor, it makes you feel like you get into it more. The rhythm is faster. Sometimes on film, especially coming from a theater background and theater training, sometimes film can just feel so slow. And it’s start. Stop. Start. Stop. And you never get into it.
Lana’s process is, I would say, actor-friendly.
Does Bugs have a specific fighting style?
No, it was pretty fluid. What I loved about coming onto this was that I’ve trained with so many different people at this stage, and in so many different styles. Colleen [Wing on Iron Fist] was heavily Aikido. Then in the second season, we moved it away and we did a little bit of Taekwondo. In my personal life, I’ve trained in Hapkido, but then I’ve also, for fun, trained in Wushu. This was a beautiful fusion of all of them coming together and just going, “Okay. I now know what my body can do and what my body can’t do, and what looks good and what doesn’t.”
What are you most excited for fans to see in The Matrix Resurrections?
It’s the nostalgia and seeing Keanu and Carrie-Anne on screen; it’s magical to see these two absolute Hollywood heavyweights returning to the characters that made them famous. As a fan, I loved it. I would often go to set on days where I wasn’t filming just to watch those two act.
Do you know what was supposed to happen with Colleen Wing after the Iron Fist season two finale? Was a Misty Knight-Colleen spinoff ever discussed?
Season three would’ve been a split narrative between [Danny and Colleen, with us going] hardcore on the “Daughters of the Dragon” element. But beyond that, I don’t know. I don’t think anything was discussed that heavily because we knew that the deals would change.
We knew that Disney+ was happening, so we knew there was little reason for them to keep making a show for an enemy streamer, so we saw it coming. So yes, there were light discussions about it, but I think all of us knew it would probably close quickly. It is what it is. I feel very lucky and proud of Colleen Wing, and I’m happy with where we left it. We left her in a really good place. She’s happy.
What was it like to work with Rian Johnson on Knives Out 2?
He’s so lovely. He’s very quiet. He’s very calm. He’s very kind. Even though I didn’t see a single storyboard during production, I know that he knew everything he wanted down to a T. I mean, he’s a genius. He writes those scripts so quickly, and the quality of dialogue and characterization is amazing. And really what makes his films so unique is how wonderful his characterization is. If I didn’t know better, I would think that he came from an acting background.
The Matrix Resurrections is in cinemas and on HBO Max on Dec. 22.