Daryl McCormack Is Bringing Sexy Back

The Good Luck to You, Leo Grande star opens up about intimacy, acting opposite Emma Thompson, and championing independent film.

Daryl McCormack wearing a brown blazer and staring pensively at the camera with his hand on his fore...
Courtesy of Joseph Sinclair

It’s no secret that in recent years, Americans have been having less sex. The reasons why are yet to be understood, but according to a handful of surveys and reports, many people, particularly those in younger generations, just aren’t doing it as much. The same is true across the pond, where the British have been experiencing a similar downward trend. On screen, though, is a different story. Of late, it seems like there have been more scenes depicting fully nude men than ever—and there’s one new film coming out this summer which challenges our long-held beliefs about bodies, intimacy, and shame.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, a delightful two-hander about an older woman who hires a sex worker so that she can have good sex for the first time in her life, premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It now faces a theatrical release in the U.K. and a Hulu drop in the U.S. While Emma Thompson’s Nancy reinvigorates her humdrum sex life, Daryl McCormack, the 29-year-old Irish actor who plays the titular Leo, brings a relaxed and easygoing charm that makes this straightforward film sparkle.

“I really liked his confidence,” McCormack says about Leo, grinning during a Zoom call from his home in London. “I’d never seen the dynamic between an older woman and a younger man on screen in that sense—and I’d not seen intimacy the way this script presented it before, either.”

In the film, Leo is hired by Nancy (Thompson), a middle-aged retired teacher who has never had an orgasm. Now that her husband is dead, she’s decided to take the reins on her sexuality, and invites Leo to meet her in a nondescript hotel room (filming took place in Norwich, England). Before Leo and Nancy can get things started, she awkwardly quips that she’s never touched anyone like Leo before. He pauses, clearly wondering what exactly she means by that remark: a sex worker? Someone Black? Someone Irish? Or maybe someone who’s younger? It’s a striking representation of the tensions between what people say they want, what they actually want, and what they are willing to do to get what they want. “There would’ve been potential that he could have been fetishized in the past,” McCormack says. “But what I really liked about this film was that we were aiming at something deeper and not letting the surface of what these people look like, dictate what they can share and offer to each other.”

It was important for director Sophie Hyde that the actor chosen to play Leo could convincingly embody several contradictions—and McCormack, who is both tall yet gentle, and “beautiful, but he doesn’t come across as particularly vain,” the director explained, fit the bill. “There’s a shifting power dynamic that goes on all the time and it’s not straightforward,” Hyde added during a Zoom call with W. “I loved the layers that Daryl bought.”

“Leo’s sense of authority over everything he knows with regards to intimacy has come through his own journey with intimacy, through receiving rejection and pain as a result of trying to actually embody that,” McCormack says. “He’s managed to take one of the biggest scars of his life and turn it into a superpower. I love that contradiction because that’s what we can do as humans: reinvent ourselves and take a negative experience, live with it, mourn it, and let go. If shame comes in from other generations and such, you can relinquish it and find your identity again.”

It was also imperative to Hyde that there would be no “save the sex worker tropes” at play in the film. In fact, the script written by Katy Brand initially had no sex scenes in it at all. “I did say to Katie, we’re gonna need a sex scene. It’s about sex, I want to see them interact,” Hyde said. In the final product, the first couple of times that Leo and Nancy do begin to have sex, the camera pans or cuts away, which the director noted was a “playful” choice. But eventually, they do become physically intimate on screen, and the camera sensitively captures their connection. “There definitely was a chemistry between them, and not just an electric, sexual chemistry,” Hyde said. “It’s a feeling of safety as well, that they care about each other, and that was there instantly.”

To prepare for the role, McCormack spoke with a handful of sex workers to keep the film’s presentation of a young man hired for sex by an older woman truthful. “We were able to see the levity of the script when it’s fun and joyous, but also to lean into the more weighty moments when they are trying to unravel some of those shackles that have kept them from finding freedom,” he says. “I think we are a lot more sensitive than we think when it comes to intimacy. When you are bringing yourself to someone else in an intimate space, you’re bringing all of your facets and you have to learn to accept them for yourself before you give anyone else a chance to validate them for you. That was really eye-opening because I was like, wow, intimacy is an amazing thing, but it also should involve the entirety of us.”

Now that he’s had experience with spots on Peaky Blinders, The Wheel of Time, and Sharon Horgan’s forthcoming series Bad Sisters, McCormack says he is looking forward to acting in more films, particularly of the indie variety. His next role brings him to Berlin, where he will soon begin filming The Tutor, a psychological drama with Julie Delpy and Richard E. Grant. “I really do like films that are character-driven,” he says. “But also speak on something bigger than just the story.”