Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Breakout Daryl McCormack on Playing Emma Thompson’s Lover For Hire


In an anonymous city-center hotel room, a late middle-aged woman, businesslike in prim pencil skirt and blouse, takes a piece of paper from her handbag. Addressing her companion—a 20-something man in possession of double-take good looks—he reads from a to-do list. First on the evening’s agenda? Oral sex.

“All of my preconceived ideas of what intimacy looks like kind of shattered,” says 29-year-old Irish actor Daryl McCormack of his career-making turn playing sex worker Leo Grande in the upcoming Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. His services are sought out by widowed teacher Nancy Stokes (performed with sublime vulnerability by Emma Thompson), who is hoping, as she enters life’s third act, with husband gone and children grown, to finally experience the kind of physical pleasure that had evaded her during 30-odd years of marriage.

The film, the toast of Sundance, written by Katy Brand and directed by Animals’s Sophie Hyde, is intimate on every level—starring just McCormack and Thompson, there is nowhere to hide as we watch Nancy’s journey of self-discovery and the gradual shedding of the layers of shame that have built and hardened around her ideas of sex and self. In turn, we learn about the weight the seemingly supremely confident Leo carries too.

The conversations that ensue between them “shows the capacity we can have to unburden each other,” says a sparkly eyed McCormack over afternoon tea in another hotel (this time the far more salubrious Claridge’s). In preparation for the role, McCormack spoke “to a handful of beautiful people,” each of whom had their own unique path into sex work, but all shared “an amazing capacity to extend understanding and generosity.” Portrayals of sex work all too often fall into one of two clichéd camps: drug-addled prostitute or glamorous escort. But for Leo, it is a vocation akin to care work. One thing “that hasn’t been explored on screen is the extent of what sex work can provide,” McCormack continues. “It felt really special being able to shine a light on something that’s been stigmatized.”

An only child, raised in a small town in Tipperary, McCormack has always, he explains, been at home among women. Raised by his mother and grandmother, he recalls a childhood making his mom laugh so much she would be bent double and his nan would need to “hobble into her en suite.” It was then the seed of performing was sewn. His most notable role since graduating from drama school was that of Isaiah in Peaky Blinders, but it will be Leo Grande that puts him on the map.

And having screen legend Emma Thompson in your corner can’t hurt. They are now “best friends,” the kind who had already discussed which cocktails they’d be consuming on the plane to New York, where they headed for the film’s premiere. Thompson’s got them Broadway tickets to Macbeth, starring Ruth Negga, who, as a biracial Irish actor, has “always been someone I’ve looked up to,” says McCormack. With Leo Grande, there’s no doubt he will soon be that for someone too.