Juno Temple’s striped underwear is visible beneath the fur-and-plastic dress that’s just been pulled over her tiny frame. The 22-year-old actor is readying for a photo shoot in Ozone Park, an outlying residential section of Queens, and she’s concerned that the pattern will show through as she poses between puffs of Marlboro Seventy-Twos and repeat visits to the stylist’s chair to tame her tangle of blonde hair. Not that she particularly minds; lingerie is one of her obsessions. “I’m always dressed in ripped-up, nasty clothing, so it’s almost like this surprise package when I undress myself or someone else undresses me,” she says. “I wanted to design this line of surrealist underwear with, like, eggs and bacon, eyes and a mouth. I have an entire book of crazy designs.”
While crafting Man Ray–inspired unmentionables remains on Temple’s list of to-dos, performing has always been her primary career fixation. This month, she’ll star in Dirty Girl, a cherry-scented teen flick set in 1987 Norman, Oklahoma, as Danielle, the town’s wedges-and-halter-top–wearing provocateur. Danielle’s knack for sticking her polished fingers into other people’s soft spots—a talent that can also make her mean—is tested when she and Clarke, a tubby, gay misfit played by newcomer Jeremy Dozier, decide to steal Clarke’s bigoted father’s car and set off in search of Danielle’s own long-lost dad. A lightly anthropomorphized sack of flour, a “baby” assigned to them in a pro-abstinence sex-ed class, rides in the back seat, its Sharpied mouth moving from a complacent smile to a curlicued expression of angst as their exploits unfold. Somewhat puzzlingly, country stars Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw costar as Clarke and Danielle’s respective dads, occupying opposite ends of a spectrum that runs from physical violence to khakis and burger flipping. While it’s difficult to gauge exactly who Dirty Girl’s intended audience might be—a male prostitute shares the screen with talent show–finale teen pandering—Temple’s performance is alternately vulnerable and chafing, childlike and precociously knowing. Says Temple, “I really hope people love that movie and want to go see it, and I hope that for so many reasons,” not least of which is Dozier himself—the two became extremely close while filming. “This is his major moment, and he’s fucking extraordinary in it.”
Temple’s father is legendary punk documentarian Julien Temple, whose early films about the Sex Pistols—most famously The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle—helped define the ’70s London punk scene (“Whenever I listen to the Kinks it makes me miss my dad more than anything”). Her mother is movie producer Amanda Pirie, who she refers to as her “best friend in the entire universe.” Considering her familial ties to the industry, it’s all the more impressive that Temple’s first real acting gig, as Cate Blanchett’s daughter in 2006’s Notes on a Scandal, was one that she earned entirely on her own merits. But it was a role she wasn’t exactly meant to land. Recalling how her parents attempted to coax her from the spotlight, Temple, who’s changed back into her own black stockings, high-top Chuck Taylors, ’90s-era floral print skirt, and distressed “I Love New York” T-shirt, explains, “They sent me to the open audition and were like, ‘You want to see how many other girls want to be an actress? Good luck to you.’ Two weeks later I got a phone call to my parents’ house, and my mom came out crying. She said, ‘Guess what, you booked it. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.’”
Still, Temple’s early and stratospheric success, balanced equitably between searing indie roles and lighter Hollywood fare, wasn’t a surprise to anyone in her family, herself least of all. “I’ve been a drama queen since the moment I popped out. I’d do things where I’d dress up as a Russian refugee, someone with a very strange accent that I would wing completely, and I’d knock on the kitchen door having tiptoed around the house with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. I’d say to my mom, You…must… feed me, and she’d be like, ‘What?’ That was followed by a moment of, If you don’t play along, mom, there’s going to be drama.”
After Notes, Temple graduated from bucolic English boarding schools (St. Trinians, Cracks) to bucolic English manors (Atonement, The Other Boleyn Girl) before leaving London, at 19, for Los Angeles. “I think it’s important to be in a place where you can go meet people for auditions,” says Temple, who now lives in Los Feliz with her best friend, an Oklahoma native. “I’ve definitely benefited from being able to shake people’s hands and not just send in tapes.” Within a few months of the move, Temple had lined up supporting parts in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg and Gregg Araki’s Kaboom (“It makes love affairs seem so enticing and romantic”), swapping in American Spirit for Rule Britannia. Before the year’s out, in addition to Dirty Girl, she’ll also have appeared as Queen Anne, who ruled France as a teenager, in the 3-D remake of The Three Musketeers. “That’s an intense thing to have to deal with, to have to run a country and be on top of your shit at 15.”
Temple’s biggest role to date, about which she remains tactfully but apologetically mum, won’t arrive in theaters until next July, when Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises arrives in theaters. Speculators from Den of Geek to IFC have her playing everyone from Robin to Catwoman’s sidekick to a street urchin. “All I can say is that I’m fucking excited to be a part of it. It’s such an honor.” She admits that Nolan was on her Most Wanted list before Batman, and as for how she discerns which scripts to pursue, it all comes down to her directors. “It’s a give-and-give-otherwise-you-don’t-win kind of a relationship,” she says. “With all my roles, I’ve had moments where I’ve needed to trust whoever’s directing it because I need to go to a pretty dark place, so it’s very important that a director could then help me get out of that dark place afterward.”
From depictions of sexual abuse in Atonement and bleak Sundance favorite Little Birds (out this spring), to casual dorm-room sex in Kaboom, to lycanthropic lesbian makeout sessions with Riley Keough in Jack and Diane (also out next year), Temple is not an actress who shies away from sexually charged material. Explaining why she’ll take her top off when the script calls for it, she says, “Who goes home and fucks with their bra on when they haven’t seen their husband or boyfriend all day? I know that sometimes nudity can be risqué, but it’s also honest, and I want to be an honest actor.” A hint of frustration edging into her voice, she adds, “I’m not nervous about nudity. I’m more scared of reacting to an invisible monster that’s going to be added in green-screen when I can’t even fucking see it.” Lighting up a cigarette, she puts on a shaggy white coat, looking suddenly very punk rock.
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Photography by Jeffrey Graetsch. Styling by Christopher Campbell.