Miller's master of the Superheroes
The cast of Justice League are just as impressive in real life, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
12 November 2017
What do Superheroes and buses have in common? You wait all your life to meet one and then five come along together. The latest DC film Justice League has a very starry line-up with Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot reprising her role of Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Jason Momoa with a very new interpretation of Aquaman and newcomer Ray Fisher debuts Cyborg.
Regular fans of the DC Universe will already know that poor Superman is dead. The world has been plunged into despair, and disarray. There’s a ‘reactionary’ terror group that wants to bomb civilisation back to the Middle Ages (but they’re all white English guys so any similarities to any terror groups living or dead is merely a coincidence), and public morale is at an all-time low. So far just like real life then. (There’s a nice nod to the passing of David Bowie at the start of the film where he and Superman share the front page of a newspaper with the headline ‘Did they go back to their own planets?’). In Justice League the general malaise has left the world vulnerable to attack from a demonic entity which will bring about an era of darkness. (And no, he’s not in the White House.)
While bearded and bejumpered Ben Affleck bears little similarity to his dashing on-screen persona; Jason Momoa (Aquaman) looks and sounds pretty much the same as he does in the movie. Fans of Game of Thrones will know the actor as the (now sadly deceased) Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo. He’s rocking a Heavy Metal/Biker chic with long curly hair, non-Hipster beard, fitted trousers and a velvet waistcoat complete with fob chain. All the better to show off his muscles and his (rather tasteful) tats. His fingers are a riot of ornate heavy silver rings (skulls feature a lot).
As Momoa sits down beside me he removes his boots. “Are your feet hurting?” I ask him. “No, I just want to get comfortable,” he replies in his distinctive deep gravelly voice. Momoa then proceeds to lie back on the banquette and raise one knee, rest his arm on it and throw his head back (like Michelangelo’s Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling). If this were anyone else, it would be risible but Momoa is cool enough to carry this pose off. Just.
The actor comes across as a man who has never had a moment of self-doubt in his life but without being an ass about it. “Do you like swimming?” I ask Momoa. The actor has only just met me but he’s already got my number. “Yeah,” he replies looking at me quizzically. “All that time in the water, you might get a bit pruney?” I inquire. The newly-minted Superhero pauses briefly and then says “Eh no, I’m doing just swell!” before adding that he has “nice thick Hawaiian skin, that doesn’t get too pruney”. I’ll just leave that one there.
Fisher is an incredibly sweet, polite young man, a far cry from the moody angry Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. He tells me that Momoa’s children, then seven and eight (their mother is Cosby Show actress Lisa Bonet), were frequent visitors to the set. “They’d call us by our character names, and I said “My name’s Ray, I’m playing Cyborg”. Then Jason pulls me to one side and he says (Fisher goes into deep gravel-voice mode) “Man these kids still believe in Santa, you’re just Cyborg”.
We’re meeting in London after a week during which the news has been full of allegations of sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate actions in Westminster alongside the ongoing post-Weinstein and Spacey Hollywood stories. The lop-sidedness of Hollywood with regard to women in and on film though is not news (most Superheroes are male too). “There’s room for more stories that are female driven, definitely,” Gadot tells me, (the actress is even more impressive in real life than she is on screen). “In the world it’s 50/50 between sexes, there is not enough representation for women on film, it’s better on TV but still... I think that gradually we’re moving forward but in a very slow way.” Glacial, I volunteer, and Gadot agrees.
What about sexually inappropriate behaviour, has she experienced that in her career? “I would like to give you an honest answer,” she says seriously. “I never experienced any physical sexual harassment.” She goes on to give me an example of the ‘attitude’ she experiences. “Yesterday I had a conversation with a German journalist,” Gadot tells me. “I said you guys are doing great with a woman Prime Minister — Angela Merkel. And he said ‘yes, but she’s tough’. I said ‘what do you mean she’s tough?’” The journalist responded that Wonder Woman was tough but you could see her heart. (Ezra Miller, who is sitting beside the Israeli actress and I look at each other in disbelief.) Gadot informed the journalist about the difference between movies and real life. “She’s the Prime Minister! She has business to do. Then I asked him, the leader before Merkel, how was he? Did he show any emotion? He said ‘No’. And what about the one before him, did he show any emotion? He said ‘No’.”
The actress then gave the journalist a list of nine examples of how positive attributes ascribed to men are routinely portrayed negatively for women which she’d come across online. (She later reads out the list to me. It begins with ‘A man is forceful, a woman pushy’ and ends with ‘He’s a perfectionist, she’s a pain in the ass’).
“That’s what I experience,” she says matter of factly. “I think now — something has to change. It’s been like this forever, (where) its OK for people to use their power to manipulate someone to give them something against their will. And it’s not OK and I think it’s very important that people are coming out and speaking against it.”
Ezra Miller interjects with “Sexual predatory behaviour your wrath upon this world is over!” (He’s brilliant on screen and off. He absolutely steals Justice League and deserves a full interview by himself.) Gadot continues saying that when she wants to make a point “I try to be nice, so I’ll be listened to. This is wrong. It’s just wrong… I wish we could all join forces — the truth is there is nothing to fight. The truth is that people are the ones who create all the problems — there’s no aliens, there’s no monsters, it’s just about us learning to live together.” Then she adds, almost to herself, “I wish.”
Justice League is in cinemas from November 17
In a Galaxy not so far, far away, an Irish Star was born.
The Star Wars legend charms Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Even as a girl in single digits I had a ‘thing’ for ‘Bad Boys’. Luke Skywalker, the young hero of Star Wars, was never going to do it for me. He was too nice, too blond, too clean and far too much of a ‘goody-goody’. So I went to meet actor Mark Hamill safe in the knowledge that because he’d never been blu-tacked to my bedroom wall, I wouldn’t make a holy show of myself both personally and professionally.
We’re meeting to talk about the latest Star Wars instalment, The Last Jedi, which of course, we’re not allowed talk about. As you can imagine sometimes trying to have a conversation with someone about something you can’t actually speak about can be (as they young ones say) #awks.
Not this time. As soon as I open my mouth and Hamill hears my accent he volunteers “all my relatives on my father’s side are from Ireland and my Mom’s from Sweden.” The veteran actor goes on to tell me that he’s doing a documentary on his ancestors for the Irish Tourist Board, to promote Ireland as a destination for Americans. “God forbid you have a bunch of loudmouth Americans mucking up the place,” he laughs, “but it’s so beautiful, so unique and the people are unbelievably friendly.”
Part of The Last Jedi was filmed in Dingle “I loved it. I wish we could have just stayed and made the whole movie there.” One of seven children, Hamill’s father was in the US Navy and he’s no stranger to travel. When he tells me that he attended nine different schools around the world in a period of twelve years I respond saying that such frequent moving is tantamount to child abuse. Hamill laughs, “When I was younger it was sort of like an adventure. (As an) adolescent, when it was more important to have friends and be part of a group, that’s when it got to be a real nuisance.” When he graduated from High School in Japan Hamill promised himself he would “never be in a profession where I would have to uproot my kids…” before laughing at the irony.
While the constant travel didn’t give him the acting bug it helped him develop skills as an actor. “You have to be a chameleon; you have to suss out what is acceptable. You move from San Diego to the East Coast and they’re like “look at Surfer Joe over here” (said in an accent that wouldn’t be out of place in The Sopranos), you’re constantly trying to fit in.”
Coming from a conservative Catholic family Hamill had no contacts in the entertainment industry. “I didn’t know anybody in show business and I didn’t know anybody who knew anybody in show business.” As a young child “I saw Clarence Nash recording the voice of Donald Duck (on TV) and thought if it’s somebody’s job, to go to work and be Donald Duck, I want that job!” Similarly, he discovered that films and TV shows had vast behind-the-scenes crews from watching Walt Disney’s television shows and thought “I could find something I could do. If I wasn’t in the show I could be near the show and that was important to me.”
It’s forty years since the first Star Wars hit the cinema and propelled the relatively unknown actor to global fame. In the past four decades the original trilogy of films have become a pop culture touchstone and even those who have not seen the original films are familiar with the characters – Princess Lea (with the iconic hair), Han Solo, light sabres, Darth Vader “Luke I am your father,” and of course “May the force be with you.” How does Hamill feel about being the living embodiment of a cultural icon?
“Wow it’s so much to take in,” the actor replies. “I don’t carry it around with me on a day-to-day basis.” We’re meeting the day after the GQ Awards in London where Hamill was awarded ‘Icon of the Year’. In those situations, “you get so much attention, the photographers are all pointing the cameras your way, there’s all the hoopla and adoration, and then I’m back home and Mary-Lou (his wife of almost 40 years) is telling me to take out the trash, clean up after the dog and the backyard looks a mess!” Hamill goes on to tell me that none of the cast expected the films to become such a huge part of the pop culture landscape. He tells me that when the initial fuss started, while the first film was still showing in cinemas, he was taken aback and thought “in a few years something else will come along and there will come a time when people say ‘oh remember those films’ you know when they’d see them on the Late Show or something, but it never went away,” Hamill concludes still sounding quite surprised at the staying power of the Star Wars universe.
When I ask him why he thinks the Star Wars films so thoroughly captured the public imagination and have remained in the collective conscious and unconscious for four decades he’s on surer ground. “It’s really primal storytelling, it goes back to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, really harking back to a more innocent time when good and evil were so clearly defined, – here’s the bad guy, here’s the good guy.”
Hamill says he was “stunned” when he got the call about the new trilogy. “We, (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and he) were not meant to be in the third trilogy anyway. They said if I didn’t want to return they wouldn’t recast but they’d write Luke out of the story. That was a responsibility and part of me was just terrified to come back and, reunions are inherently disappointing.” At the time Hamill was also convinced his former co-star Harrison Ford wouldn’t be on-board. “I said Harrison’s not going to come back – he’s too rich and too cranky and he’s too fed up with Star Wars – he gets sick of talking about.” Hamill goes on to say that when Ford was confirmed as returning to the character of Han Solo “I knew they were going to kill (Han). (Harrison) to be a martyr, he wanted to get killed off in the original, to be a hero’s hero.”
When I say I was shocked by the manner of Han Solo’s on-screen death, Hamill replies “I was too!” He tells me he was saddened when he read the script as he knew it meant that Luke and Han would not be reunited. I ask him if he got to work with Carrie Fisher (who died at the end of last year) as there is a trailer online that shows them together in a car park. The poor man looks pained. We’re not allowed to discuss the details of the film. “Well yes,” Hamill replies hesitantly “I certainly got to do photo shoots with her.”
“I know I’m not Luke, I’m not virtuous and heroic in the way he is.” Maybe not, but if there is a nicer man in Hollywood I’ve yet to meet him. I wonder if it’s too late to blu-tack his picture on my bedroom wall.
The Queen of the Small Screen Goes Big
From Tesco to the Tower, after two coronations actress Claire Foy has never lost her head, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
As someone who studied history to post-graduate level, reads history books for fun and gobbles up historical fiction, I was beside myself with excitement when I heard the BBC were dramatizing Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the Man Booker Award winner 2009.
Transferring beloved books onto both the big screen and the small is a notoriously tricky task but director Peter Kosminsky’s adaptation was a unanimous hit. The casting was superb throughout - from the bit players to Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damien Lewis as Henry VIII. To my mind though, Claire Foy, who I had never heard of at the time, stole the show as a magnificent, complicated, wholly credible, Anne Boleyn. Wolf Hall won many awards and although Foy was nominated for several she didn’t get one gong, when really she should have won ALL the awards.
In person Foy is nothing like Anne Boleyn (probably a good thing), she’s petite and bears a passing resemblance to Henry’s second ill-fated wife, but that’s it. The actress tells me that she was as excited as I was when she heard that Wolf Hall was being made into a TV series (we both agree that Hilary Mantel is a “genius”.)
Foy speaks rapidly and speeds up as she speaks. “I was like oh my God, ohmyGod, ohmyGod, AMAZING!” when she heard, "but absolutely knowing that I wasn’t right for Anne. I never, ever saw myself as her, but (director Peter Kosminsky) gave me a shot. Thank God, I loved it, I loved it!”
In the two years since Wolf Hall appeared on TV Foy has found global fame playing another Queen – the current incumbent of the throne, Elizabeth II (in the early years of her marriage to Prince Philip) in The Crown.
Is she deliberately cornering the market in royalty? Foy laughs, “I don’t know how it happened,” she admits, “it’s a bit embarrassing isn’t it, I mean oh God! I’ve had two Coronations! How swish! I’m not Royal, or even upper or middle class so I don’t how that all happened. It’s odd but I’m very grateful.”
It’s quite a shock to discover Foy is “not posh” in real life (she’s from Stockport originally rather than the Home Counties), as her latest role, Diana, in the film Breathe, is another 1950s young lady with a mouth full of plums. “I had to take the edge of her accent actually,” Foy tells me, “because I’d just finished doing the first series of The Crown, and the characters are similar, they’re a similar generation – Keep Calm and Carry On!”
Breathe is based on the real life love story between Robin Cavendish and his wife Diana. Robin (Andrew Garfield) contracted polio at the age of 28 while Diana was pregnant with their son Jonathan (one of the film’s producers).
Robin was paralysed from the neck down and given mere months to live. The Cavendish’s flew in the face of convention, Robin refused to stay in hospital, returned home and enjoyed his life. The couple travelled extensively and with the help of an Oxford Professor friend (Hugh Bonneville) designed a chair to allow Cavendish and other ‘responauts', as they were known, to achieve a degree of independence.
The Cavendish’s revolutionised the lives of many disabled people and also the public perception of disability. While Robin Cavendish passed away in 1994, Diana was very much a part of the film-making process, which was “incredibly reassuring,” Foy says. “I could just ask her “what did you think about that?” But it’s also difficult for Diana, it’s very hard for her to look back on 35 years of her life and say exactly what she was feeling, or even want to tell me what she was feeling.”
Breathe is a ‘feel-good’ film and to some extent ignores or sugar-coats the day-to-day drudgery involved in caring for another human being who cannot move. I tell Foy that as I watched the film I thought I could never do what Diana did and then add “well perhaps if it was my child.” Foy cracks a huge smile – “You see! Well it’s that form of love, it doesn’t necessarily mean with your partner, but when you feel that strongly about someone, and you love them, then you do, you find the energy and you find the time and you find the ability within yourself to do it.”
We meet the same week as the film’s premier and the media is full of stories about Foy retuning to work “too soon” after the birth of her daughter. Foy tells me that she was misunderstood. “I don’t think I went back (to work) too early, I think I put myself under too much pressure. I wasn’t very nice to myself and I think a lot of mothers have that. All mothers struggle. End of.”
While Foy only has one child she is from a “massive Irish family. My granddad, one of 13, is from Dublin, my Nan, one of 11, from Naas, they met, hilariously, at a dance in West London. Classic!” Foy’s grandparents lived in Edgeware for most of their lives before moving up North to be closer to their children and grandchildren. “The whole street in Edgeware was Irish,” Foy says, “it was like being in Ireland.”
The actress herself is one of three and neither her brother nor sister are involved in the arts or entertainment. As a little girl Foy had no notion of becoming an actress. “I wanted to be a Ball Girl at Wimbledon and I wanted to work on a till. I used to look at tills in the Argos catalogue,” she tells me laughing, “and when my brother had friends around I’d put on a tennis skirt and be like “I’ll get the ball.” Then she adds “maybe because I fancied all of my brother’s friends!”
Foy realised both ambitions. “I worked at Wimbledon doing security and I worked at Tesco’s for five years. When I got the job at Tesco’s I was like “this is it!” Foy also had jobs in “the local box factory” and in a Call Centre, “now when people (call me) I can see why I got such short shrift all the time,” she says.
Foy’s next role is Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider's Web (based on the Stieg Larsson book). Lisbeth is a far cry from Royals and posh girls “I’m excited and terrified,” Foy tells me. Throughout our time together she’s been rubbing her shoulder and massaging her neck, “I’ve got to get myself physically fit. I can’t have a frozen shoulder as Elizabeth Salander, it would be a disaster!”
The final word is drawn out in a terribly, terribly posh way – disaaaasss-ter. Well after two Coronations, what else can one expect?
Breathe is in cinemas from 27th October.
Boyz to Men: Keith and Brian hit the road
Boyzone's Keith Duffy and Westlife's Brian McFadden relive their boyband days with the Boyzlife tour, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Having been in the United States for the rise and heyday of Irish boy bands Boyzone and Westlife, my knowledge of the scene is limited to Laddz, the fictional group that appear in many of Marian Keyes novels.
The real life lads, Brian McFadden (Westlife) and Keith Duffy (Boyzone) have never heard of their fictional counterparts. But, Brian eagerly informs me, Westlife got a namecheck in Cecelia Ahern’s first book. “That’s because of Nicky,” McFadden explains to Keith Duffy who rolls his eyes no doubt well aware that Ahern’s older sister is married to Westlife member Nicky Byrne.
We’re meeting to discuss their upcoming tour as Boyzlife, where they sing each others songs and tell stories. After their Boyband heyday McFadden became infamous for his very public love life (he was married to singer Kerry Katona, engaged to singer Delta Goodram and married to model Vogue Williams).
Ireland is a very small country and I’d heard from more than one source that Brian, contrary to his public image, is really a “lovely guy.” I found it hard to credit that someone who regularly generates such bad press could be that nice, but within minutes of meeting him it all makes sense. Brian is a lovely guy, and for someone who has been in the glare of the spotlight for almost two decades, he’s strangely guileless. He’s very ordinary, down to earth and unguarded.
When discussing the current state of pop music Brian declares “everything that has come out in the last ten years is pretty shit. Everything apart from Ed Sheeran and Adele.” Both men blame X-Factor – where their former manager Louis Walsh is one of the Judges.
While Duffy looks like a celebrity – white teeth, trim, leather jacket and still devilishly handsome, McFadden, on the other hand, looks like a Dad you’d meet on the primary school run. Although his two daughters are both in their teens, the singer is still quite baby-faced despite, as he says himself, having “more skin and less hair.”
I ask him if he thinks the negative coverage of his romantic life impacted on his career – his first solo album Irish Son in 2004, was a critical and commercial success yet his subsequent career failed to live up to that early promise. “Yes,” McFadden replies honestly, “it wasn’t by choice! My first solo single was the second biggest selling single in Europe in 2004 and it was all going well until the bad press… The only thing I can say is that I have a great divorce lawyer and it’s very comforting to know that my next one will be free,” he continues joking, “every third one is free!”
So are you planning on marrying again? I ask him. (McFadden is currently living in Rochdale with his girlfriend Danielle Parkinson). Duffy saves him from the awkward question by intervening with “Sure he introduces his new girlfriend to everyone as “my future ex-wife.” "
Next year Boyzone will mark their 25th anniversary in showbiz. McFadden will be joining the four remaining members of the original line-up (Stephen Gately passed away suddenly in 2009) for the anniversary tour. It’s also a quarter of a century since their infamous debut appearance on The Late Late Show. (The video is still very popular on YouTube). “It’s great isn’t it,” McFadden volunteers laughing, (easy for him to say as he's not in it). “We show that on a big screen at our (Boyzlife) show – that’s where it all began." “It was cringe worthy,” Duffy adds with good humour.
Trying to interview Duffy and McFadden together is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. However, they're great company – the conversation is ceaseless, littered with stories and anecdotes, many at their own expense. “The kids of today have no idea who we are,” Duffy tells me without any hint of resentment. “It’s quite bizarre when you’ve lived with being well known, a familiar face, for a long time.”
Duffy goes on to give me an example that has all three of us laughing. “We were flying out of Dublin airport a few weeks ago,” he says. “Brian throws me a bottle of water and says “here, get me that Dad.” I say “No problem son.”” At this point one of the cast of reality show Geordie Shore approached Duffy and asked if he really was McFadden's father. “I said, “yes, I had him young.” And she says, “you look great you do!” I went over to Brian and his girlfriend and said “she actually believed I was his bleedin’ Dad.””
Later at the baggage carousel at arrivals, various people started asking for selfies and autographs. The Geordie Shore cast member approached them again and announced “I know you’re not his Dad, you’re from Westlife and you’re from Boyzone.” The young reality ‘star’ was surprised that people weren't asking her for autographs and photos and had to enquire who the two men getting all the attention were. “Then she googled us,” McFadden adds, crying laughing, “and she showed us her phone with the search results!”
McFadden tells me that the Boyzlife audiences are made up of 45% Boyzone fans, 45% Westlife fans and the remaining 10% are Coronation Street devotees who have come to see Duffy’s character Ciaran McCarthy in real life. (Duffy appeared on the long-running soap from 2002 -2005 and again from 2010-2011, and tells me that he would be happy to return to the famous Cobbles if he ever has time.)
“When you say Coronation Street they all go crazy,” McFadden explains, while Duffy tells me that Larry Mullen once said “I loved you in Corrie.” Both men are huge fans of U2 - Duffy especially. He still can’t quite believe that he knows his favourite band in real life. When The Edge once said hello to him at a U2 gig he was in shock at one of his heroes knowing his name only to be told that the Edge’s daughters had posters of him plastered over their bedroom walls.
“You don’t think Rock Stars live like (the rest of) us,” McFadden says. He’s got his Vape going, they're both having a mid-afternoon vodka and about to do a TV interview – it sure looks like Rock’n’roll to me.
Boyzlife are touring the UK in December. Tickets and information www.boyzlifetour.com www.boyzlifetour.com
Snowman Star Melts Our Hearts
Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson star of The Snowman is no Snow Queen, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Interviewing celebrities for a living isn’t exactly spending ten hours down a pit hacking away at the coal face. There are times though, (and people), who make you think that perhaps a shift in the colliery would be preferable to trying to get them to to talk to you like a normal person.
Before I met Rebecca Ferguson (the Swedish actress, rather than The X Factor runner-up), I had some preconceived notions. I expected Ferguson to be enviably slim. She is. I thought she would be ridiculously beautiful. She is. I was convinced, for no good reason, that she would behave in the detached way that some northern Europeans have. I was hoping for, at best, a polite distance while imagining the worst case scenario of chilly distain. Boy when I’m wrong, I’m really wrong.
Rebecca Ferguson is not aloof; in fact, she’s the best of craic – a right good laugh. She is fun and funny - despite her ‘Ice Queen’ good looks and a cut-glass accent that even Betty Windsor herself would find posh, she has no front.
“My mother is English,” Ferguson tells me explaining the accent. We’re meeting in a fancy hotel in London’s Soho – one so hip they hide the toilets and never light the public areas with anything over 40 watts. When I attempt to get a glass of water Ferguson hops up and brings back two bottles, one still, one sparkling and a glass – all three items in the one hand, like a practised partier.
The star, whose CV includes the BBC drama The White Queen, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation and The Girl on the Train laments that we don’t have any vodka.
Ferguson is wearing a simple black sweater, black wide-leg linen trousers and a fabulous eye-catching pair of gold platform sandals. When I ask the designer’s name she replies “I’ll tell you!” before struggling to name the brand. “Oh God, I’m really annoyed. I should know these things,” she says laughing, “so you can write “Rebecca knew exactly what it was.”” Giving up trying to recall she takes off her sandal and checks inside. “Giuseppe Zanotti,” she reads slowly, squinting to see the name. “I should have known that,” she says putting her sandal back on, “because they make the most fantastically comfortable shoes for people with quite broad feet.” She goes on to say that the gold sandals, beautiful as they are, are “work shoes”. Ferguson lives in a fishing village in Sweden where there is little call for heels.
Various sources state that Ferguson began her career at the age of 13. “People say it,” she says, “but no. I would say that’s a lie. I was signed up to a modelling agency, couldn’t stand it, turned down every job, I took one job and that was that. I didn’t like being photographed. And I wasn’t a model. I was in the ‘people’ section because I was too short, and probably too fat!” “Were you fat?” I blurt out, because the possibility seems as likely as the DUP campaigning for a 32-county Republic. “Well, it’s modelling isn’t it,” Ferguson says dismissively, “I was a normal person.”
Ferguson began her acting career at 15 and had her son Isaac, almost 11, in her early 20s. It turns out that Isaac is two days older than my own son and we both enter ‘Mammy’ mode discussing how tall our respective babies are. “They grow so fast,” Ferguson says with a mixture of pride and regret that mothers everywhere will recognise. The star tells me that she tries “to normalise the job I do,” for her son’s sake. “He comes to the set, I go off and leave him with the stunt guys and I come in and he’s hanging off a harness somewhere. He loves it but I don’t think he would like to act.”
In her latest film, The Snowman, based on the book by Jo Nesbo, Ferguson stars opposite Michael Fassbender who plays Harry Hole. “I love him,” Ferguson declares. “He’s just the coolest guy ever. He’s funny. And he sings! He sings Irish folk songs. He is wonderful and he is FUN to work with. It’s nice to work with someone where you can just kick off your shoes and tell stories.”
Ferguson is also trying to pin down her own Irish roots. “God my family is big. My Grandfather (Ferguson) was Scottish and my Grandmother Northern Irish, her name was Martin.”
The Snowman has many themes including the influence both mothers and fathers, or the lack of them, can affect the adults’ children become. Ferguson grew up in Sweden where her father is a lawyer. She tells me that her parents “met through an interesting way,” but then refuses to tell me how, batting back the question with “how did your parents meet?” Ferguson’s parents never married. “Marriage isn’t a big thing in Sweden I think we’re quite open to everyone’s ideas and visions which is quite lovely.” I reply that they also have lovely furniture and Ferguson says “Well Denmark does! Sweden does too but I’m a fan of Danish design. I’m renovating two houses and spending a lot of time in Denmark going “I can’t’ afford that, I can’t afford that, I can’t afford that,” as she mimes pointing at various items of imaginary furniture. “How expensive is Denmark?” I wonder, considering the Giuseppe Zanotti shoe’s retail at just under £600 sterling. “Very!” Ferguson replies laughing. “But it’s very beautiful and its quality,” she continues drawing out the last word slowly. When I remark that, unlike her character, she appears to have a healthy relationship with her parents she replies, “But I don’t know what a healthy relationship with parents is! What’s interesting is when we get to a point where we are making our own decisions and when we cut the umbilical cord. Sometimes having a fantastic relationship (with a parent or parents) can be a bad thing.” As a parent herself she says “I worry that I’m going to fuck it up for him somehow, we usually do don’t we? I mean you always make mistakes. I try to listen to him a lot. I think we look at our backgrounds and I think – “what didn’t I like about myself and what can I change?””
Swedish actors like Stellan Skarsgard and his sons Alexander and Bill and her co-star’s girlfriend Alicia Vikander are huge in Hollywood at the moment.
Why are Swedish thespians so popular? “Because we’re just awesome,” Ferguson replies before laughing out loud. “Just because we are FANTASTIC!”
She’ll get no argument here.
The Snowman is in cinemas nationwide from October 13th
He's back! And this time in 3D.
Self-effacing actor Robert Patrick is ready to scare a brand new legion of Terminator fans as the iconic T-1000, writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
I’m old enough to have seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day in the cinema when it first came out. Old enough in fact to have been on a date at the time. I can’t for the life of me remember who the chap was but the film has been one of my favourites ever since and a large part of that is down to Robert Patrick – better known to fans as the T-1000.
The T-1000 is a Terminator in the guise of an LA cop and he is almost impossible to kill – shoot him and the wounds heel instantly, incinerate him and he reverts to liquid and reforms, freeze him and… you get the idea. It is this, along with his relentlessness, that makes the T-1000 one of the scariest screen villains in history.
In person Robert Patrick is, thankfully, nothing like his on-screen lookalike being warm, friendly and extremely generous towards other actors. We're meeting to chat about the coming re-release of the iconic film remastered in 3D. The actor is keen to stress he was only one of several people playing the T-1000 (which can morph into any shape it wants). “I’m a very small part of the performance of the T-1000, the T-1000 had a lot of different elements, I just happen to be the face they go back to," Patrick says modestly. "There’s a lot of people helping me play that part," he continues stressing that the other actors also deserve credit. As far as fans are concerned however, Patrick IS the T-1000.
Although it’s 27 years since he starred in the film that changed his life (he was living in his car at the start of the shoot and married his girlfriend half way through – they now have a son and daughter), Patrick still looks very like his younger self. If he wasn’t so nice it would be very unnerving.
On hearing my accent he’s quick to tell me about his Irish connections. “My family fled Scotland to get away from the Campbells, we went to Ireland and we changed our name to Patrick and we ended up in Jamestown, America. My family has been living there since the 1600s – that’s all I know.” That’s all! I’m pretty impressed that he can go so far back.
On his finger Patrick wears a skull ring. He tells me his wife bought it for him because she thought it looked a bit like the Terminator. Before he was cast in the second film Patrick was already a fan of Schwarzenegger's Terminator. "You’re going to think I’m making this up but it’s the God’s honest truth,” he says smiling. “I was in Ohio working in a weightlifting gym and the guy I was rooming with was the manager of the place. I told him I was going to Hollywood to get into acting and I said “you should come with me man, you could be the next Terminator,” because he was a bodybuilder…. Brad Squires was his name."
Patrick admits that when he got the part he was rather intimidated “it was a daunting overwhelming feeling, I’m going to be the Terminator, Jesus Christ how did this happen?” The actor goes on to say that he was initially star struck by Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He’d already been a huge impact on my life, I’d read a book about bodybuilding that he had written … it’s intriguing to think back on that now, even to this day, I’ve done scenes with Clint Eastwood and guys like that who are iconic, who have had a big impact on my life and you have to (say) ‘keep it together man, you’re just an actor and he’s just an actor,' and you can’t let that overwhelm the situation. but yes working with Mr Schwarzenegger was very very unique experience, very rewarding and he was a very generous actor, congratulatory and was able to give you a compliment and approval when you did good.”
He could be talking about himself as he has nothing but nice things to say about actors he worked with including Joaquin Phoenix (he played his father in Walk the Line) and Christopher Meloni who he co-starred with in an episode of Law & Order SVU. "I certainly enjoyed working with Chris Maloney, there’s nobody more dedicated to acting than Chris … he’s just a magnificent actor." (Incidentally Law & Order fans should keep an eye out for S Epatha Merkerson, aka Lt Van Buren, in T2).
Although I’ve seen T2 many times since it was initially released I'd forgotten just how much it belongs on the big screen. The 3D effects are pretty good but to be honest – it’s gilding the lily; the film stands up on it’s own. Fans will relish seeing it on the big screen and a whole new audience has a massive treat in store. Patrick agrees with me. “It stands up and it stands the test of time and I think it’s almost the perfect movie – it’s a really amazing execution from all the tools Jim (Cameron, the director) had at the time to pull it off.”
He’s right, apart from a few anachronisms (the old-school computer games in the arcade, people smoking - even in hospital) the film hasn’t dated. Linda Hamilton is very modern with her ‘Madonna Arms’ (and this was before Madonna had ‘Madonna Arms’) and attitude, she’s a fighter who doesn’t wait around to be rescued. Those new to the film will recognise many of the catch phrases that have become an ingrained part of modern culture – “come with me if you want to live”, “Hasta la vista baby” and, of course, “I’ll be back.”
There are moments of terrific comedy and director Cameron (who later won the Oscar for Titanic) neatly inverts the ‘good guy’ ‘bad guy’ tropes. Patrick, as clean cut cop, riding around LA in a police car with ‘To protect and serve’ written on the side is the face people trust. It’s a testament to the story and the execution that even after all this time Terminator 2 still has the power to shock and in many ways is more relevant to the world today than it was when it was first released. Ancient as I am I was also shocked when, after seeing the film, I overheard two 20-something American girls trying to figure out what the “room with all the molten lava” was and “like, duh, you wouldn’t have a room like that.” It’s called a foundry. Duh.
Although Patrick has never stopped working since he made T2 Judgement Day he still has a great fondness for the film “It’s neat to think you are part of film history,” he says, “I mean I’m a very small part,” he adds depreciatingly. I beg to differ. I ask him if little kids run away from him in the Mall. “No. Little kids don’t really know me,” he replies equably. I have a feeling that might be about to change.
Get tickets for 29th August Judgement Day T2:3D event on WWW.TERMINATOR2-3D.CO.UK. In cinemas nationwide from 1st September
A Very Modern Rom-Com
Emily V Gordon, co-writer of The Big Sick, turns her own illness into a laughing matter, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
The Jewish Mother and the Irish Mammy are well-known stereotypes – they’re basically the same person, guilt-tripping and nagging their grown children. Now, thanks to The Big Sick, they’re become part of an unholy trinity along with the Muslim Pakistani Mum. The MPM in The Big Sick is a version of star Kumail Nanjiani’s own mother as he also co-wrote the film with his wife Emily V Gordon.
The plot based on their own experiences and how early in their relationship Emily became seriously ill and spent over a week in a medically induced coma.
In real life Gordon is a lot cooler than her on-screen version played by Zoe Kazan. “That’s a lovely thing to say,” she tells me, “I think Emily in the movie is pretty cool too.” The real Emily is far more polished than the on-screen one, with a short fringe, glasses and a vintage-style dress.
The Big Sick is set in Chicago where the couple first met at one of Nanjiani's stand-up gigs. Despite much of the plot being true to life Gordon is keen to stress that the characters we see on screen are exactly that, characters and that the on-screen parents (both hers and Kumail's) bear little relationship to their real-life namesakes. “My father never cheated on my mother,” Emily laughs. “I’m contractually obliged to say that in every interview. What kind of monster would I be if (her father had been unfaithful) and I was like “Hey Dad, remember when you cheated?”. When I say there are plenty of people who would have no compunction about doing that she looks genuinely horrified.
Despite The Big Sick tackling racism, Islamophobia, serious illness and inter-racial relationships, all rather weighty topics, it is a very funny, feel-good Rom-com. In the movie Kumail and Emily have broken up when she gets sick. He keeps vigil by her bed and advocates on her behalf. He also meets her parents Beth, a wonderful Holly Hunter and Terry, Ray Romano at his awkward best. Hunter is brilliant as the mother who is grudgingly grateful to Kumail but at the same time loathes him because he broke her daughter’s heart. The way the relationship between Kumail and Emily’s parents is both touching and funny and culminates in my favourite scene in the movie where Beth takes down a racist heckler at one of Kumail’s stand-up gigs.
Even though their history and relationship has been fictionalised I wonder how strange Gordon found watching her husband re-enacting their story with another woman. “Maybe a little weird,” she admits, “but actually it was surprisingly normal. We’d spent so long writing it that I kept drumming into my head “this isn’t me; this is a character”." She goes on to say that she can’t act which is why she didn’t play herself as her husband has. The only time Gordon felt odd about the project was at the auditions for the part of Emily. “I was a little, “what have I done? I’ve made a huge mistake” because there were gorgeous women flirting with my husband.” Gordon goes on to tell me that Nanjiani asked that she wasn’t on set during the "make out scenes", however due to a schedule change she was present for one of them. “I thought, “that looks awful,” it’s awkward, it doesn’t look sexy, it’s kind of gross and that really weirdly helped, because it does not look fun.”
While the scenes of Kumail’s family dinners, where his mother introduces him to a succession of Pakistani Muslim women who just ‘happen to be passing’ reminded me a lot of Woody Allen’s films (in a good way) the fact that both men started out as stand-ups is where all similarity stops. Kumail is a handsome and confident man who has no problems with the opposite sex. In the movie he tells a lot of lies and I tell Gordon that at times I thought on-screen Kumail was a total jerk. “It’s interesting,” she says, “some people think Emily is the jerk.” When I say I hope that what we see isn’t the real Kumail she replies without a hint of acrimony “It’s shades of the real him, he was trying to avoid getting into trouble. He was one of those guys, his words weren’t matching his actions. He would say “I don’t want a relationship” and then (behave like) an amazing boyfriend. Most guys will tell you wonderful things and then treat you like shit. He was telling me shitty things and then treating me like a wonderful boyfriend.” Gordon admits she was confused but “I learned early just go with the actions.”
While The Big Sick works successfully as a rom-com it actively subverts the usual Rom-com clichés. When Emily awakens from her coma she doesn’t swoon into Kumail’s waiting arms, because as far as she is concerned he is still the man who broke her heart. It’s a scene very much based in reality. “Everyone was so excited and happy when I woke up,” Gordon remembers, “I was so miserable, scared and angry. They couldn’t get it, “why aren’t you smiling?” I was catching up!” In Rom-coms the climax often involves a character giving a heartfelt speech, spilling their emotional guts, usually in a public setting and The Big Sick is no different. At an important gig, instead of doing his usual material, Kumail talks about his girlfriend being in a coma and the worry that she might die. In a traditional Rom-com the heart of the booker from the prestigious comedy festival would melt. I won't spoil the reveal here.
Judd Apatow, the Godfather of the modern Rom-com commissioned and directed the film. He also made the couple do several rewrites. I wonder if working with her husband on such a personal project became problematic. “We weren’t hovering over each other’s laptops,” Gordon laughs. “I probably would have murdered him if we’d done that.” Gordon also did some rewrites while on set. “I know a lot of writers aren’t welcome on movie sets, so I’m grateful,” she tells me before adding “I wasn’t weighing in with “well that wasn’t how my hair looked,”” she says in a bratty voice. “I would never – people would have murdered me.” Three months after coming out of her coma the real life couple got married. Her in-laws, she tells me “are very much at peace,” with having a non-Muslim, non-Pakistani daughter in law. “It’s been ten years,” she explains. “But they came around quite quickly because they love their son. We all realised that we were a family, so let’s just dig in and be a family and we have and it’s been really lovely.”
The Big Sick is in cinemas nationwide.
Dunkirk stars show plenty of spirit
A new World War II epic tells a gripping story with Harry Styles and Cillian Murphy joining a stellar cast, says Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
“Are you inviting me out on a date Harry Styles?” are not words I thought I would ever say. I was meeting the One Direction member to discuss his role in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, in which the 23-year-old makes his acting debut.
Styles is one of a number of actors making their film debut in the movie about this pivotal moment in British history. The cast also contains quite a notable trio of Irish actors - Kenneth Brannagh, Cillian Murphy and Barry Keoghan, who has gone on to have a spectacular career since being the notorious ‘cat killer’ in Love/Hate.
Before I meet Harry Styles I sit down with Cillian Murphy to discuss his role in the epic film. I’ve been told by various other (non-Irish) journalists that they find Murphy “difficult”. This is our second meeting and I wonder if the upfront, honest and charming man I met before has undergone some sort of mysterious personality change. He hasn’t. One thing I can tell you about Murphy is that he doesn’t like stupid questions. To my mind this makes him human rather than ‘difficult’.
In Dunkirk the story is told from three perspectives – there is the story of the boys (and I do mean boys) on the beach, surrounded by the enemy and trying to evacuate. There were approximately 330,000 on the beach, with nowhere to hide, while German fighter pilots picked them off. The film starts out with soldier Tommy (a fantastic performance from Fionn Whitehead) arriving at the beach. In the air two RAF men (one Tom Hardy) try to pick off German rivals. The third strand is the story that most people know - the ‘Little Boats’, manned by civilians, who pitched in to help evacuate the beach and gave the world the phrase ‘Dunkirk Spirit’.
That narrative follows the Moonstone boat which is navigated by Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney (Irish grandparents)) and his pal George (Barry Keoghan). En route the trio come across a wreck with one survivor, the nameless ‘Shivering Soldier’ played by Cillian Murphy.
Murphy’s character is typical of all of the other characters in that the audience are given no backstory. There are no ‘war’ film clichés in Dunkirk, no ‘girl back home’, no foxhole confessions and no cut ins of Generals strategizing and providing exposition. The script is extremely sparse but this lack of dialogue works extremely well.
Murphy agrees, “it’s pure cinema,” he says. “The film we have now came from silent film and if you can sustain a film for two hours without any dialogue that’s pure cinema. The script (for Dunkirk) is quite slim, so a lot of it is silent and that to me is pure cinema.” When I say that by the end of the film despite not knowing anything about the characters or their background I cared immensely about their individual fates. “That’s quite an achievement,” Murphy agrees.
A lot has been made of the conditions in which the film was made and how physically uncomfortable it was for the actors at times (wearing soaking wet woollen British Army uniforms on a choppy sea). “Journalists always want you to say,” (Murphy puts on a very actorly voice) “Oh it’s so difficult and so hard,”. He laughs before continuing “It was fine – you know real people died, we’re just actors who got a bit wet. It’s not going down a mine, or being a fireman, a doctor or a surgeon, you’re just dressing up and getting a bit damp.”
Of his fellow men in the boat Murphy is lavish in his praise. “Barry is a really brilliant talent,” he says. “He’s just one of those young fellas that has it. He just has it; you don’t get many of those.” When I ask him if he enjoyed working with Mark Rylance he says “oh listen, I’m just a huge fan of his and I have been for many many years. Not just as an actor which we all know – but as a person. He’s got a wonderful energy, he’s lovely to be around.”
And then it was time to meet Harry Styles who has managed to successfully do something which so many other musicians, including Mick Jagger to whom he is often compared, have failed miserably at – which is to be taken seriously as an actor. Rumour has it that Christopher Nolan had no idea who Styles was when he cast him. I ask him if this is true. “I auditioned,” he tells me. Yes, but did the acclaimed director know about the Harry Styles phenomenon? “I don’t think (Christopher Nolan) is always necessarily up to date,” he replies tactfully. “I don’t think he’s a big magazine guy,” he adds laughing.
That’s the thing I liked most about Harry Styles – he laughs a lot. No wonder he’s currently one of the coolest people on the planet. Not only is the 23-year-old young and handsome, with the confidence and charisma of a man twice his age (well, he’s been dealing with frenzied fans for 7 years now) but he’s fun and funny and not afraid to be the butt of the joke.
We’re joined by Tom Glynn-Carney and when I ask if they did any partying whilst making the film Styles says “we formed a large conga line in the town (with the large number of extras). We had a whale of a time, still in battle gear.”
Styles speaks intelligently about his character and the film in general being full of praise for Christopher Nolan but he’s at his best when he’s kidding around. He tells me that the room in his hotel in Holland (where they filmed Dunkirk) was “so weird.” “Yeah,” says Glynn-Carney, “it was full of weird lady pictures.” Of course I immediately ask what sort of ‘lady pictures?” Styles turns to Glynn-Carney and says “Oh thanks for that one. WHAT SORT OF LADY PICTURES?” We’re all laughing by now. I ask Glynn-Carney if the pictures came with the room or with Harry? “He brought them with him,” Glynn-Carney deadpans.
I wonder if Styles has given any thought to future roles. “This film I was very excited about. I loved it so much and fell very honoured to be a part of it.” Then he adds, “Maybe Legally Blond 3, I’ll be Reese’s assistant.” I ask him if he can do Elle’s signature move. “Bend and snap? Yeah right!” he replies beaming.
It’s at this point that Styles starts badgering me to go see the play Glynn-Carney is appearing in. He keeps poking me in the arm and saying “You should see it, it’s on down the road.” “You should see it, incredibly good reviews.” That's when I ask him if he’s asking me out. However horrified he might be (I’m old enough to be his mother) he hides it well. Oh yes, Harry Styles can really act.
Dunkirk is in cinemas nationwide.
It’s full scream ahead with fright night
With his second film about to open, self-taught director Trey Edward Shults shows himself to be a true storyteller, says Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Trey Edward Shults is an unusual young man for many reasons. The 28-year-old Texan is the first American I have ever met who didn’t claim some connection to Ireland. He’s never even tasted a pint of Guinness. “I had an Irish Car Bomb and it made me throw up,” he offers apologetically.
Far more amazing is that Shults has just written and directed his second feature film It Comes at Night, a work so accomplished and flawless it belies the director’s age and experience.
Ostensibly this is a horror film, a category I’d take issue with. There are no hoards of Zombies or chain-saw brandishing serial killers and yet the tension never eases up – I was quite literally on the edge of my seat the entire time. If you like your summer blockbuster old school – a mindless escape into the air conditioning of the cinema, then It Comes at Night is not the film for you as it prompts more questions than it ever answers.
The story centres mainly around Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) a seventeen-year-old boy living in the woods with his parents. At the very start of the film Travis has to help his father Paul (Joel Egerton) kill Bud, his grandfather, and immolate his remains. As Bud has succumbed to an airborne illness, Travis and Paul wear breathing masks as they go about their grim task.
We never find out what the illness is, or how widespread the outbreak, only that it is fatal and that Travis has absolutely no chance of living a normal life. He can’t go out with his friends or have a girlfriend – he is quite literally stuck with his parents. Despite the size of the house the claustrophobia is almost overwhelming.
Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and Paul are a mixed-race couple and I ask Shults if this was deliberate. He tells me that it wasn’t in his original script – it occurred organically as he was casting the movie “to me it’s not a movie about race, it’s not commenting on that at all. I am just so happy and blessed that that worked out and Kelvin is the only kid who could have played Travis. The whole cast are great, they’re such good people and so talented.” The only time skin matters in this movie is when it's covered with bubonic-looking boils, at which point colour is irrelevant.
Like his first feature film Krisha “which we made for $30,000 at my Mom’s house and stars my family”, much of It Comes at Night is semi-autobiographical. The house is modelled closely on the home of Shult's late Grandfather Bud who he was very close to. Shult's had a complex relationship with his father “I hadn’t seen him in ten years (they were reunited just before his father died). He suffered with addiction, alcohol and drugs but for a huge chunk of my life he was good.”
His first film Krisha was based on “my cousin who came home for a holiday, Christmas, in the movie it’s not Christmas. She came home for a reunion and we thought she was sober (clean of alcohol and drugs) and she relapsed and then two months later she passed away. She overdosed. She was in her 30s, it was terrible. So much of stuff with my Dad and addiction with my family came out into the movie.”
Given Shults relative youth and the fact that It Comes at Night is such a well made film it’s quite surprising to hear that the director did not go down what is now the usual route into filmmaking via university. Instead he is self-taught.
“I was little kid and someone gave me a camcorder at a family reunion and I turned it into a little movie. My family watched it, they were my first audience, and they loved it and I got the bug. I’ve been watching and obsessed with movies my entire life.
Naturally he wanted to study film but “my parents wanted me to get a realistic degree and a realistic job so I was in school (university) for business but I lucked out and got on this Terence Mallick movie when I was 19. I decided to drop out of school and did my own film school – I obsessed over movies, I did my own short films… I almost self-sabotaged my life until I had nothing left but filmmaking – I had nothing else to go to. Fortunately, now we’re here.”
Most tellingly perhaps Shults tells me “I’m fascinated by human nature in all aspects.” It Comes at Night is a thorough study of human beings and how they react to each other. Travis parent’s still treat him as a child (despite his involvement in his Grandfather’s demise). Whatever the domestic situation was before Bud got sick now it’s very traditional with Paul very much the ‘head’ of the household. When the family combine resources with a young couple with a small son the situation becomes more complicated. The tensions between the three men are many and complex. The Father/Son dynamic plays out in several different ways. (Shults calls his Stepfather ‘Dad’ and says he has two fathers.) Meanwhile, Travis has a ringside seat witnessing a healthy relationship knowing that he may never have one himself.
Shults tells me that regret is also a major theme of the film. He starts talking about his Grandfather Bud, “there’s regret around his death,” he says. “I remember the night, my Mom asked me if I wanted to say good night and I said no, I was tired. I went to sleep and in the morning he had passed… I didn’t even think about that till now,” he reveals, “there’s a lot of stuff buried in this movie.”
Every single member of the cast of six is note perfect. “I love the cast,” Shults says. I always wanted Joel (Edgerton) but he’s a busy guy. It started with him, I lucked out because his schedule opened and he took me seriously and …. from there it lead to everyone else.”
I wonder given the dystopian nature of his vision if Shults is a pessimist, does he think they world will destroy itself? “I love people and I believe in people but I’m also… I do see us destroying ourselves. That’s my biggest fear, one of my biggest fears, I worry. When I was writing this … (I started) thinking about if society fell apart in some way – whether it’s a disease or economic collapse and society stops functioning the way it is, how quickly we would fall apart.”
I admit to him that if society went pear shape I’d be one of the first to die or be killed as I can barely cope – even with the benefits of electricity and flushing toilets – without I’d have no chance. “Exactly,” he laughs, “it’s hard enough as is, so true!”
It Comes at Night in cinemas from 7th July.
Pirates on Parade
With Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem, the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean can do no wrong writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
One of my many grumbles is the way the word ‘star’ is overused. Say what you like about Johnny Depp (and let’s face it, everyone has, more than once) he is a star, a proper old-school actor with talent and charisma levels above and beyond those of a normal human being.
When I say I’m not a Depp fan, I mean it in the sense that I never had posters of him on my walls or am obsessive in knowing about his private life. On the other hand, I think he’s a hugely talented actor and I absolutely love Captain Jack Sparrow, his character in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Then again, who doesn’t love Captain Jack?
So when given a chance to see Johnny in real life I wasn’t going to turn it down. (I wouldn’t have been let turn it down as my ten-year-old son absolutely idolizes the actor and is a massive fan of the Pirates franchise. So on a filthy Sunday afternoon I found myself and several hundered other people, including my son and mother, drenched, freezing and waiting for Johnny.
Johnny doesn’t really do interviews but he was joining the rest of the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge at the European Premier in Disneyland Paris.
Earlier that day I’d met with the wonderful Geoffrey Rush who has played baddie Barbossa since the very first Pirates film in 2003 and Javier Bardem, the titular Salazar, a villain so entrenched in ‘getting’ Captain Jack that even the notorious Barbossa is on the back foot.
Geoffrey Rush is also an old-school star in that he doesn’t act like a witness in a trial – answering what is asked and then shutting his clob. He talks, he tells stories, he entertains, he’s a wonderful raconteur and I could happily listen to him for hours.
One of the secrets to his success, he confided, was that in all his roles, on stage and screen, he just played the same character. This is of course utter nonsense, Rush is famous for his ability to inhabit characters both real life (among them Lionel Logue in The Kings Speech 2010 and, and Daviid Helfgott in Shine for which he won the best actor Oscar in 1996) and fantastical like Barbossa.
When the actor speaks about Barbossa who he’s now played for the fifth time in fourteen years he slips between calling him ‘he’ and ‘I’. As he describes Barbossa’s development in that time Rush says he is full of “terrible vanity, shocking Narcissism, he was the original guy spat out of the mouth of hell, the self-deluding villain in the first film and (eventually) he worked for the King. I loved having the court wig, the hint of make up and the beauty spot,” Rush says animatedly, “still the same teeth,” he adds with an eye roll. “Now he’s a corporate pirate, the wealth is vulgar.” I reply saying, “so he’s over the top, vulgar, narcissistic, despotic, likes gold… did you base him on anybody recently?” Rush throws his head back laughing, “there are parallels I think,” he responds diplomatically.
In Salazar's Revenge the audiences get a glimpse of a different Barbossa. When I tell him I was genuinely touched he tells me that he wept when he saw the whole thing on film. (I can’t go into more detail as it would ruin part of the fun of the movie to know certain things in advance).
I ask Rush what he thinks the secret of the ongoing success of the Pirates franchise is and he replies that people just love pirates, and Captain Jack Sparrow in particular. “It’s a very attractive clown/hero character, like Chaplin’s Tramp.” The actor goes on to say, his tongue very firmly in his cheek, “there’s a young female demographic who are curiously attracted to Captain Barbossa.” While Rush himself might laugh at this possibility, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
I was a bit worried about meeting Javier Bardem – Salazar is a very bad man and Bardem is very convincing in the role, however, we bonded instantly over timekeeping. We’re both of the same opinion about lack of punctuality “I can forgive five minutes,” Bardem says in his distinctive Southern Spanish accent. “But,” he adds in a much sterner tone, “I don’t forgive ten. I think it’s a lack of respect – the one who does it (is late) thinks everybody’s time is less important than their own. I mean, come on!”
Bardem’s wife, Penelope Cruz, was in the last Pirates movie On Stranger Tides (2011). The actor doesn’t like talking about his private life and his family but I wonder if she gave him any advice. “We did talk about how it’s difficult not to become a spectator when you’re working with Johnny,” he replies, “because Johnny becomes Jack Sparrow in front of your eyes – he’s an iconic character.” He was similarly starstruck when he played Bond villain Raoul Silva in Skyfall (2012) “Daniel Craig and Judy Dench, they become Bond and M in front of you and you are “Shit! Wow!” because you’ve seen all the movies and then it’s “oh fuck, I have to say my lines.”"
I tell Bardem that I read an interview where he said he didn’t have any male role models growing up “That’s not true." the actor replies. "That’s what they wrote. Of course I had male role models – my brother who is six years older than me. My rugby trainers were, friends were.“ I ask him if he had based Salazar on any particular any particular men. "Oh! Wow!” the actor replies somewhat taken aback and then goes on to say that for him Salazar was a “wounded bull, in the arena, dying, wanting to kill the bullfighter.”
Part of Salazar’s make up, which took three hours to apply every morning and used real glue, is a black viscous substance that comes out of his mouth when he speaks. I ask him what exactly it was. “It’s called Monkey Poo,” he replies. I make a disgusted ‘eugh’ sound. “Eugh, yeah,” Badim laughs. “It tasted like chocolate they said. Nah!” (he shakes his head) “And I ate a lot of it.”
Well if it’s any consolation to him it was worth it. Salazar’s Revenge got the thumbs up from all three generations of my family (and God knows, pleasing all of us at the same time is some ask.) And this is despite the rank Irish characters – they’re hideous but hilarious.
Back in Disneyland Paris after an hour of heavy rain and just before Johnny Depp is due to appear the skies clear and the sun comes out. Yep, Johnny Depp is that much of a star, even the sun shines just for him.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge opens nationwide on Thursday
Lock, Stock and two Smoking Arrows
King Arthur is not the film Guy Ritchie hoped to make and Jude Law steals the show writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
I hadn’t expected to like Jude Law. He’s a remarkably talented actor, his good looks are beyond ridiculous but unfortunately, he's almost as well known for his rackety love life as his job. Given his reputation I figured Law would either be arrogant or greasily charming in the manner of a Leslie Phillips Carry On character.
In person Jude Law looks exactly like Jude Law, no better and no worse. (Although how it would be possible for him to look better is beyond me. And quite frankly, beyond science.) Far from arrogant he's down to earth, friendly and exceedingly charming, (without any hint of grease).
His co-star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Charlie Hunnam, is a breath-taking sight on screen and in this movie has a body that screams of punishing hours in the gym. Unfortunately, the torso shots are as good as it gets for the actor as Hunnam, unlike Law, is a complete charisma vacuum.
I figured, that in real life, Humman must be magnetic – why else would Guy Ritchie (we’ll get to him in a minute) have cast him as the titular character is what is set to become a franchise of films?
Unlike Law, Hunnam is better looking in real life but far more slight than he appears in cinemascope and at the risk of objectifying him, unfortunately has his shirt on. After a few minutes in his company I can see why Ritchie, (and indeed Sam Taylor-Johnston who initially picked him for 50 Shades of Grey) cast him. The actor, who shot to fame in the TV series Queer As Folk, exudes an air of menace and danger – perfect material for Christian Grey or King Arthur as reimagined as a Guy Ritchie geezer, ducking and diving, in old London town (so old that it’s actually Londinium).
I’ve come across more than one A-list actor who appeared to be sitting on top of a volcanic rage – naming no names, but on each occasion the star tempered the threat with kindness and humour. I’m not getting that here.
And so to Guy. Guy Ritchie is almost exactly as I imagined Guy Ritchie would be. He’s not as handsome, as tall or as posh as his newspaper cuttings would imply. He appears quite normal – there’s a bit of a geezer to him but he’s also polite, funny at times, and someone who likes to get things done. As soon as he walks into the room he asks me if I’m cold as the AC is up high. Worse, for him, is that it’s too noisy. So he has to ‘sort it’ before we can talk and within seconds the room is silent, if chilly.
King Arthur is an odd film. At times, usually when centring on ‘Arfur’ the boy who grew up in a brothel and is now a Boss, running his manor in old Londinium Town, it is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Arrows – there’s a heist-style scene, an improbable sheepskin coat that is uber-Hipster and the Ritchie signature quick cut-ins, rewinds and multiple retellings.
That would be fine but the style keeps changing. The film starts out like Game of Thrones, and gosh, yes, there’s Aidan Gillen with a funny nickname (instead of Little Finger he’s Goosefat Bill) and towards the end it goes all Harry Potter with a giant serpent. In between we get gorgeous set pieces that seem to reference pre-Raphaelite paintings (although Ritchie says this is not deliberate, “I care about the look… but to use certain terms to express what that look is, I would struggle to do so.”) And splattered throughout there are scenes that are pure Video Game aesthetic.
Ritchie himself admits in so many words that this was not he movie he set out to make. “I have a sort of idea and the idea at the beginning of this film, which I did not succeed in at all, was “solemn” I wanted to make a solemn film,” he says laughing. “Somewhere along the way it didn’t become solemn,” he continues, his voice still rising with laughter, “it became something else. The films in this genre, that work, are solemn. So that was my objective.”
The hotch potch style is jarring (although I’m sure teenage boys will dig it) and the only person who appears to know what they’re doing on screen is Jude Law as Arthur’s evil uncle Vortegan who has usurped the throne. And therein lies another problem, because Law is so watchable and believable I ended up rooting for him, which is a bit like going to see Harry Potter and cheering for Voldemort. Law tells me that “it’s great fun” playing a bad guy, “of course the villain doesn’t think he’s a villain necessarily,” he adds. I ask him how he would cope with unlimited power. He pauses, “that’s a big question isn’t it?” before adding, “Hopefully with a lot more diplomacy, open-mindedness and embrace collaboration and humanity than Donald, em, Vortigan,” he finishes laughing.
Law has nothing but praise for Ritchie who he worked with before on the two Sherlock Holmes films (he was Watson, Robert Downey Jr the eponymous detective). At the start of King Arthur Vortegan is twenty years younger so I ask Law how it felt looking at his doctored image. Does he regret the passing of his youth? “I was quite pleased that I could play myself twenty years ago (laughs) that they didn’t bring in some other guy. I was the first person believe me (he squints up his eyes) to go “what have they done, what have they done?””
Law has embraced the aging process, “I’m very happy in my skin right now. It’s funny you know, my son is 20 so I’m very aware of what the 20s are, the kind of blind, staggering, "what’s going on, what to I have to do?" My memory of my 20s is "am I in the right place? Or is the better place over there?" It was full of excitement and frenzy and possibilities but there was an awful lot of insecurities and an awful lot of uncertainty as well and I think we all know as you get older… slowly either you can’t be bothered,” he laughs, “or you feel more comfortable in your skin. So I’m far happier. Happy is not the right word, I’m content now. "
As we chat I comment that he was born to play Bosie in the 1997 film Wilde. “I don’t know if I take that as a compliment, he was HORRIBLE,” Law replies. When I reassure him it is, he laughs and adds, “I got to kiss Stephen Fry, that was one of the most romantic moments of my acting career." Jude Law, ever the gentleman.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in cinemas 19th May
George and the Promised Land
From Northern Ireland to Rwanda, writer and director Terry George is no stranger to conflict
The Sunday Independent
You better write nice things about me,” says Terry George, “or I’ll tell that you tried to steal my computer.”
In all honesty, I did try to take the 2012 Oscar Winner's computer but it was all his own fault. I was so caught up in what the director was saying to me that I inadvertently picked up his laptop, which is exactly the same make as my own, and it was only when I tried to stuff it into my handbag I realised what I was doing.
George needn’t have worried; I’ve always had a weakness for Belfast men – it’s not just the accent but the cheeky charm they deploy which other men just wouldn’t get away with. When I tell George that I think we met in New York in the early 90s, he immediately comes back with “You must have been all of ten then.” See?
We’re meeting to talk about The Promise starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac (totally unrecognisable from his role in Ex Machina) and Charlotte le Bon, which George has directed. The film is a love story, a love triangle, that occurs alongside the outbreak of the First World War and the Ottoman Empire’s purge of the Armenian Community.
The Armenian Genocide, as it has become known, (in fact George tells me the word ‘genocide’ was coined in 1946 specifically to describe events in Armenia) in which 2 million are reported to have perished is not as well known as subsequent global atrocities. To date Turkey refuses to admit that the event ever occurred.
Having already been aware of the Armenian Genocide before seeing the film I was quite shocked at how angered I was at the behaviour of the Turks who are the undisputed bad guys. I wonder if George worried that he’d be accused of Islamophobia for his portrayal of the Turkish?
“No,” George replies promptly. “You present the historical event as it happened … The persecution of the Armenians, the Greeks and the Syrians was definitely based on the fact that they were Christians and there was an attempt to purify the Ottoman Empire. But,” he continues, “the refugee situation that we portray is almost identically happening today with the Syrians and the Iraqis who are fleeing in the exact same area.” The filmmaker stresses that The Promise is denouncing the Ottoman Empire which is a completely different thing from Islamophobia.
George goes on to say, “having learned from In the Name of the Father, Some Mother’s Son and Hotel Rwanda – how those films were attacked for their veracity, I was extremely careful to do the historical research… I’d learned that you better have your facts straight on the story.”
Long before The Promise went on general release the controversy had already begun. “We screened it twice in Toronto (Film Festival) with a total audience of 3,000,” George tells me. "By by the end of that week we had 86,000 reviews on IMDb, 55,000 were one out of ten and the other 30,000 were ten out of ten,”
At the start of The Promise we see the characters enjoying life in the relatively modern Constantinople, yet within weeks, the veneer of civilisation has gone, replaced by medieval barbarity. I ask George if he thinks this could happen again. “It happened in Aleppo already,” he replies. “One of the really sad things about the film is that the images we present – as we were filming in Spain, they were showing on TV, in the exact location that the story was set in, there were refugees fleeing across the desert, trapped up a mountain, drowning in the Mediterranean… The city of Aleppo, which was the biggest city in Syria, has just been flattened in the way that Dresden and Warsaw were. So it happens.”
George himself is no stranger to conflict. As a child, the screen writer and director, loved writing and wanted to do something related such as journalism. “In Belfast that was the situation, the Catholics went towards the arts and Protestants went towards technology and the law and so forth because you couldn’t actually get a job in (those things) back then. By the time I was 16 the Troubles had broke out and that kind of nullified any objective that you had."
In 1975, at the age of 23, George was arrested for paramilitary activity and subsequently sentenced to six years in the notorious Long Kesh jail, (also known as the Maze Prison). He was released in 1978 and three years later he and his family moved to the United States. In 1993 he made his debut as a screenwriter (and assistant director) with In the Name of the Father which was subsequently nominated for seven Oscars.
I wonder if he is worried about being turfed out of his adoptive home under the Trump administration, as his residence is still dependent on a visa. George laughs out loud, “I’m always worried about it… You know you get to a point where it’s like La De Dah… I’m blessed, I’m a film director, screen writer, working in Hollywood, living in the Hamptons with a house in Coney Island in Northern Ireland. If they want to throw me out – go ahead,” he says. But then becoming more serious he adds, “I’m more worried about the people who clean my house, the people in LA who work in the restaurants, the Irish who have been trapped. When I went to the States there was an amnesty, a big chunk of the Irish were legalised, there’s a group now who are trapped and I don’t know if they’re going to get any solution from this crowd.”
The director is similarly dismayed by Brexit and the implications it has for the people of Northern Ireland. “I think it’s a disaster,” he says passionately, “given that (the EU was) the underpinning of the peace process.” We meet shortly after the death of Martin McGuinness, who was a key player in the Peace Process and George has no time for the people who linger on McGuinness’s early years. “For him and Adams to persuade the hard core of the IRA to buy in to the Peace Process, and then for McGuinness to get Paisley and Robinson on board and create a relatively stable government… just look around the world and ask who else could have achieved that?”
George also doesn’t have time for people who perpetuate the story that Christian Bale is a diva. “Christian Bale is the loveliest actor that I have worked with, by far,” he declares. “Well, not by far,” he corrects himself, “I mean Helen Mirren, Don Cheadle but Christian Bale... if you talk to anyone who has worked with him – he’s the best.” They probably say the same about Terry George.
The Promise is in cinemas nationwide from 28th April.
Movie veterans display plenty of style
Hollywood superstars Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman surely have a picture in their respective attics, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Screen legends, it turns out, are a bit like buses. You wait all your life to meet one and then two come along at the same time.
Morgan Freeman walks into the room without preamble and sits down and I have to remind myself that I'm a professional and not blubber "You're Morgan Freeman!" like the besotted fan I really am.
I say hello and tell him I’m delighted to meet him. “We didn’t meet,” he tells me. “I think you’d remember me,” I say chancing my arm. “I hope so,” he replies in that distinctive voice. Morgan Freeman – I’d be happy to watch a film that was just him reading names out of the phone book. At 79 he’s still got it. And then some.
Michael Caine comes in and joins him. I find it hard to believe he's 84 and no, he doesn't look like he's had 'work' done. These behemoths of the silver screen are here to talk to me about Going in Style, their latest movie. It's a heist movie where the collective age of the three lead actors (Alan Arkin is the third) is 246.
Directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff Going in Style is a comedy about three elderly men, who having worked together and lived opposite each other (in the recently gentrified Williamsburg, New York) for over forty years suddenly find themselves broke. The company they worked for is moving to Asia and the pension fund has been dissolved.
Joe (Caine) has just witnessed the local bank, the one that has played fast and loose with his mortgage, get robbed. He decides that bank robbery is the only way that he and his two friends can have a decent retirement. At first Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) think he's joking but as Joe explains - even if the worst happens and they're caught, they'll get free board and better healthcare.
Caine and Freeman have worked together several times before. I ask them, jokingly, if there was any rivalry, clashes of ego or measuring of respective trailers. “Any Baby Jane moments?” I ask knowing that they're old enough to actually get the reference. “No,” says Michael Caine emphatically. “That’s why we’re legends. You can’t be like that if you are a legend.” “Grown ups don’t act that way,” Freeman says. "We’re not lacking in anything,” Caine continues, “I can’t think of a single thing one’s got that the other one hasn’t got.” “Well, I’ve got something you haven’t got,” Freeman teases. "What have you got?” Caine asks in the voice that made him famous. “I’ve got great grandchildren,” Freeman replies with more than a touch of pride in his voice.
Caine goes on to say "we’ve known each other for years, we like each other." It certainly appears that way.
I ask both icons if they feel a pressure to be this person that the public perceive them to be. “I do,” Freeman says immediately. “I can’t walk down the street, that to me is pressure.” “I wear a baseball cap and no one knows who I am,” Caine says. “I’m sorry I lost that ability,” Freeman says sadly. Caine remarks that everyone has a camera now and I ask both of them if they find ‘Selfies’ intrusive. “Yes, very intrusive,” Freeman answers immediately and raises his voice to stress how much. “People start taking pictures of themselves with you... Get out of my face, who are you?” “What I hate,” Caine chips in, “is signing photographs that I know are going to be sold. I signed a photograph once... the guy couldn’t read my signature and said “what’s your name?”". Caine, Freeman and I all laugh heartily at this.
The pair seem not too dissimilar to their characters in the film - men who are comfortable with each other and themselves. Caine says he identified with Joe because “I’m from a very working class background, from a very poor family. What I found fascinating was to put this story (of globalisation, factories closing, pension funds dissolving) in the middle of a comedy."
The film is full of extremely funny scenes, my own favourites including the trios' escape from their practice run at shoplifting and the subsequent dressing down they get from the store manager. There’s also a hilarious scene where the three eat TV dinners while watching the American reality TV show The Bachelorette, and shouting at the telly.
“Everybody jumps on to that scene,” Freeman says in surprise. Were either of them
familiar with the show before? “No,” they say simultaneously. “I like the girl, I like the dress,” Caine adds with a glint in his eye.
Caine spends his down time at his house in the country with his grandchildren. He’s a keen gardener and cook. Freeman spends his leisure hours playing golf and works out religiously. “And I have a relatively young, younger than me, awfully gorgeous lady I get to spend time with and that’s very invigorating," he says in a way only Morgan Freeman could get away with.
Despite their great ages neither star thinks about death. “It’s not important,” Caine says. Freeman wholeheartedly agrees. Neither actor has any desire to retire either. "Retire?" Freeman questions, "Gee Whizz, that’s about the furthest thing from my mind. When the phone doesn’t ring for me as an actor, I’m going to sell myself as a producer or director. From a wheelchair if I have to."
"I’m only ever going to be an actor,” Caine says laconically, “I like to go home early. Directors have to stay late. I never became an actor to make money or become famous,” Caine continues. “I just wanted to be the best actor I could be. To this day, I do the next movie and say "can I do a better performance than the last one?" that’s all. But I do have a bit of money now,” he finishes laughing.
When I say that a film with three elderly leads (not to mention the wonderful cameos from scene-stealing Christopher Lloyd and Ann Margaret) seems a rather odd move from an industry that is constantly being accused of sexism and ageism Freeman is quick to set me straight. “Hollywood itself is not sexist or ageist... it’s Greenish. If it makes money…" Freeman goes on to say that there's a vast audience for the film in the Baby Boomers who are underrepresented on screen. Fair enough, but for anyone who thinks Going in Style is some Hollywood version of Last of the Summer Wine it isn't. It is a genuinely funny film that happens to be about old people.
I ask the pair if there was a 'one that got away' role? “There’s quite a few roles that I wished I had gotten," Freeman says. "that’s always going to be because there are always other actors like Sam Jackson and Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks…” “Tom Hanks?” Caine quizzes. “Oh yeah,” Freeman continues, “I wanted to do Da Vinci Code I called Ron Howard and I told him I was interested." “Tom Hanks does the best impression of me,” says the much imitated Caine. I ask him if he’s ever seen The Trip where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon vie with each other to do the best Caine impression. He has. He likes it. I'm not surprised, for a legend he's very down to earth.
Before we began to chat I told Freeman that I had been instructed by my 10-year-old son that morning to tell the veteran actor that he was one of his icons. As I was leaving he calls after me, "Say hi to your son from me." Legend.
Going in Style is in cinemas nationwide.
Gory RAW will get under your skin
Writer and director Julia Ducournau delivers a coming of age tale with a difference.
The Sunday Independent
RAW is a film about cannibalism that gives a new meaning to the term ‘nail biting’ (you’ll see) but Julia Ducournau’s controversial feature is about a lot more than a young lassie who gets a taste for human flesh.
Justine (Garance Marillier) is a swotty and naïve 16-year-old wunderkind starting at the same veterinary collage previously attended by both her parents and currently by her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf). She has been raised as a strict vegetarian – a point emphasised by an early scene when her mother goes ballistic in a restaurant where Justine has to spit out a bit of sausage that was in her mash.
Older sister Alexia is far more worldly wise and insists Justine takes part in an initiation ceremony where she has to consume a raw rabbit liver. Justine starts craving meat and ultimately human flesh. The scene where she gives into the craving is simultaneously one of the funniest and most disgusting things I've ever seen on a movie screen. While there are plenty of squeamish and horrific moments in the film there’s also a strong vein of humour and plenty of laugh out loud moments.
There are some parallels between writer and director Ducournau and her heroine, both Docournau’s parents were doctors and she has an older sister. But while Justine is a socially awkward teen Ducournau is a witty, engaging and forthcoming woman in her early 30s. The director did harbour notions of following her parents into medicine but they put her off. Similarly, they weren’t impressed when she told them she wanted to be a Criminal Profiler. ""How many serial killers do we have in France?"" she recalls them saying. "“Julia,"" she continues laughing, ""it’s like one every ten years. How are you going to make money from that?""
Before I saw RAW I’d heard about cinemas in the States distributing ‘Barf Bags’ to audience members and stories of people passing out from shock at the Toronto Film Festival. I was more than a bit worried as I don’t have a strong stomach but while there is plenty of gore, RAW is an intelligent, funny film and very provocative film.
While I didn’t pass out or throw up, my appetite for protein was entirely gone when I left the cinema. When I mention this to Docournau and add that for two days I couldn’t eat meat she’s taken aback. “Seriously?” she questions in surprise, “That’s crazy… when I read things like this on Twitter and stuff like that I always think people exaggerate a bit.”
The cannibalism was not the thing that disturbed me the most about RAW. All ‘rookies’ are subjected to a week of brutal and disturbing ‘hazing’ which I found extremely upsetting.
Ducournau, who is tall, blond, beautiful (and no doubt would berate me for mentioning that fact, but we’ll get to that later) and exudes ‘cool’ throws her head back and her hands in the air. “Yes, you see!" Does that reflect student life in France I ask horrified? “Hazing still exists in France,” the director tells me, “but its illegal... The hazing (portrayed in the film) is a mix of a lot of things, some really really bad things happen. Once in a while you get this case where someone almost died. It’s (also), stories that people have told me directly, videos, a lot of videos that I’ve watched..., so many videos of hazing on YouTube,” she adds sadly. “(It’s) all over the world, different kind of schools…. In real life it’s way more brutal than in my movie. In the first draft I had written the hazing as (much) stronger than (the final version) ... (but) the hazing was so strong that the cannibalism kind of fell flat. So I had to rewrite it, tone it down so the movie had a real progression towards cannibalism.”
Part of the hazing includes persistent and institutional misogyny, which made me deeply uncomfortable. Can this really be the reality of third-level education in modern France? “For me we’re not even talking about schools (universities) now,” Docournau replies, “for me society is like that, you know this is how we (women) are treated every day. This constant comments on the bodies of women and the way they dress or don’t dress for me it’s harassment.” This is why I say she wouldn’t thank me for commenting on her looks. Docournau continues by telling me that she thinks the way women are treated has regressed instead of progressed. “today, you have kids driven to suicide by rape or being filmed.” Just days before we met Docournau has discovered the term ‘Revenge Porn’ and is outraged. “It’s so common it has a name!” She says in exasperation, “It’s driving me insane." She goes on to remark that it is usually the woman and never the man who is 'shamed' "even when he was the one with his dick out."
Docournau’s take on ‘Revenge Porn’ is quite refreshing “it’s so important for me to have a female director to portray sexuality and say to these kids ‘it’s ok to want to climax, it is absolutely ok and it’s in everybody, our bodies are desiring bodies and it’s the same for everyone and even if you’re seen, worse case scenario, if you’re shown doing this it’s OK, you are allowed and you don’t have to be apologetic, you don’t have to be sorry about that, you don’t have to be shamed. This is the thing about the shaming, it’s like we are in the Middle Ages!”
Docournau questions where all the shame comes from "all these stupid rules that (apply). Says who? These rules make no sense” Equally the 'rules' about body shape baffle her and this gets a nod in RAW with a couple of casual references to eating disorders.
I question whether cannibalism could be classed as an eating disorder, albeit an extreme one, Docournau laughs, "you can say that cannibalism is a definitely form of eating disorder. For me it’s about how the female body today is restrained – all the rules that you have to do even if they are super unhealthy in order to fit.”
I’ve interviewed few directors as lively and exciting as Julie Docournau and I have to admit to having a huge girl crush on her. But I’m still worried about her diet, so just to check I ask her what’s the most disgusting thing she’s ever eaten. “I can’t eat tripes (sic),” she replies promptly, “and I’m never going to eat Haggis.” And then she makes that face that people do when presented with something hard to swallow. And as far as Docournau is concerned, the unpalatable isn’t just confined to food.
Anya Taylor-Joy in Split
From model to social misfit, Anya Taylor-Joy is an accomplished actor and she’s still only 20.
The Sunday Independent
I’m going to marry an Irishman,” 9-year-old Anya Taylor-Joy announced to her father as they viewed the film Titanic. It was the steerage passengers dancing below decks that did it for her. “Those are my people,” she remembers telling her Dad. “My soul mate is waiting for me in Ireland, I know it.”
It’s somewhat humbling to realise that the conversation the 20-year-old star of Split is recalling happened just over a decade ago as she already has an impressive acting CV.
In person, wearing a tight-fitting red Altuzarra dress and black Armani heels with an ankle strap, Taylor-Joy, who has just made six films back to back, is an odd mix. The actress sounds far older than her years – she confesses to being a ‘bad Millennial’ preferring pen and paper to computers, yet she looks far younger than twenty, an impression that is compounded by the huge scab on her right knee.
While Taylor-Joy has Argentine, Spanish, English and Scottish ancestry through both her parents her 9-year-old self was on to something when she thought her fate lay in Ireland as it was two Irish men who got her into acting. Taylor-Joy, the youngest of six children, says she always wanted to act (none of her siblings are involved in the entertainment industry.)
At 16, she was 'discovered' by a modelling scout and signed to prestigious agency Storm the very next day. While reading a book of Seamus Heaney poems on a shoot Taylor-Joy drew the attention of Irish actor Allan Leech (who played Branson the chauffeur in Downton Abbey).
Leech asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and when she revealed her acting ambitions he asked her to recite some of the Heaney poems.
“He took my name and number and said “Expect a call.”" the actress recalls. "His agent is now my agent. She told me he was quite persistent about it saying “Have you called her yet, you need to call this girl.” It’s unbelievable because he had no reason to do that. He gave me my first shot in life, he opened up all of this."
The next time I saw him was on stage at the London Film Festival whilst he was presenting us for the award for The Witch. When I saw him I said “you did this, you did this for me, thank you.” He’s lovely.”
The actor also has high praise for her Split co-star, James McAvoy. “He’s amazing. He’s brilliant,” she says. “He’s so good. Take aside the fact that he is the nicest man," she says giving each word massive emphasis. "He’s so nice and kind and really really funny. Wickedly funny. On a movie like this it’s important that you get along with your co-stars. He’s just so unbelievably talented. This performance to me is a moment in cinematic history. He’s Ah-mazing… He kills it in this movie.”
Now this might sound like typical Hollywood plámás, but having seen the film I can tell you that Taylor-Joy is not exaggerating. James McAvoy always turns in wonderful performances but in Split he is quite simply astonishing as he plays nine different characters.
Kevin, McAvoy’s nominal character, suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – (what used to be called a ‘Split Personality’ and is sometimes referred to as a ‘multiple personality’).
Although there is no use of make-up or prosthetics between character shifts in some of the ‘alters’ McAvoy is physically unrecognisable as himself. Taylor-Joy plays Casey one of three teenage girls, kidnapped by Dennis, one of Kevin’s ‘alters’, and held captive in a basement.
Kevin has 23 different personalities but two particular alters, Obsessive-Compulsive control freak Dennis and Miss Patricia, who are normally suppressed because of their odd beliefs have taken over control.
While the former is scary and intimidating – he is the one who chillingly and methodically abducts the three girls from a car park in broad day light, Miss Patricia is one of the creepiest characters ever to appear on screen. She is controlled, softly-spoken and calm as long as you do what she says.
Taylor-Joy agrees with me wholeheartedly. “She’s the one who creeps me out the most. I think it’s because she’s unfortunately a woman stuck in a man’s body and she fetishes the girls a little bit, because they’ve got something she can’t have.”
Split is proper edge-of-the-seat thrilling but also thought-provoking and at times, extremely funny. While McAvoy is a powerhouse of versatility, Taylor-Joy’s Casey is quiet, understated and extremely convincing.
As Split is an M. Night Shyamalen film it doesn’t follow the usual DID/Split Personality narrative. The writer’s thesis is voiced by Kevin’s psychiatrist Dr Fletcher – wonderfully played by Betty Buckley, when she presents to a conference. As DID usually results from childhood trauma (we are mercifully spared the details of what happened to Kevin, the gist is more than enough) Dr Fletcher believes that DID is a form of evolution. Her contention is that the power of belief the alters have in themselves manifests physically – for example one of Kevin’s alters has diabetes and has to take insulin shots but none of the others do.
Dennis and Miss Patricia believe in ‘The Beast’, who is best described as an anti-Super Hero (being human but with superhuman strength and abilities). The three kidnapped girls are offerings for ‘The Beast’, who we are warned repeatedly “is coming.”
Taylor-Joy’s character Casey, unlike the other two girls, is an outsider, a loner, a misfit. Taylor-Joy tells me there are some crossovers between them. “I never fit in with people my own age,” she admits. “I never fit in at school. Then all of a sudden, the first time I ever felt I belonged somewhere was on the set of The Witch.”
Taylor-Joy goes on to say there are plenty of differences between her and her latest character. “She’s incredibly patient, I have no patience whatsoever. She’s far more quiet than I am, I’m pretty loud and chatty”.
She is indeed very chatty, and great company, quick to laugh and not afraid to swear when it's warranted. Unfortunately, she's not chatty enough to confirm that she has been cast in the X-Men franchise.
The actress filmed her second movie, Morgan in Belfast and did meet her soul mate. But it’s not a romantic relationship. “She’s my best friend,” Taylor-Joy tells me and the pair share a flat when the star isn’t away on location. So is there a romantic interest in her life? “Well, I am twenty!” she replies giving me a cheeky smile.
Split is currently in cinemas nationwide.
A Monster of a Tearjerker
Spanish director JA Bayona has delivered an instant classic with A Monster Calls, but have the tissues ready.
The Sunday Independent
I think I inadvertently insulted Juan Antonio “JA” Bayona the diminutive Spanish director of A Monster Calls. “Did you enjoy it?” he asks eagerly and, rather clumsily I say “enjoy isn’t the word I’d use.”
Let me try to explain. A Monster Calls, based on the book of the same name by Patrick Ness (based on an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd), is an instant classic. It is a beautiful film, powerful and thought provoking. But it is indescribably sad. By the end of the press screening I was biting hard on one of my fingers because I wasn’t just crying, I was sobbing and I didn’t want the other journalists to hear me. (I needn’t have worried, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.) “Enjoy” just doesn’t seem the appropriate word.
Apart from leaving me emotionally devastated the movie also succeeded in freaking me out as there were far too many parallels with my own life. Conor O’Malley is a sensitive young boy of 12 “a boy too old to be a kid and too young to be a man,” who is bullied at school. He is the only child of single mother Felicity as his father lives in America. His blond Granny (Sigourney Weaver) has a job, a car, and a house full of antiques. There are some differences - my little boy is 9, and my Mum is a far more affectionate Granny than Sigourney and, crucially, I’m not dying of cancer as Felicity is. Also we don’t live beside a graveyard with a giant, ancient Elm which comes to life and tells stories with the voice of Liam Neeson.
In a film that features acting heavyweights like Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver any actor would struggle to shine but newcomer Lewis MacDougall (Conor) gives an effortlessly outstanding performance. Bayona previously directed The Impossible (2012) which starred Ewan McGregor and was the true story of a family caught up in the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The three boys in that cast Tom Holland (now Spiderman) Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast also put in wonderful performances. I wonder if Bayona has a special affinity for directing children.
“I think it’s a question of how much energy you put in in the work,” he tells me. “For kids you feel less overwhelmed than when you work with a star. You start to play with them and do a lot of improvisations and try things that you would never dare to do with the adults. You learn so much from them and then you start to try things with the adults. I learn a lot when I work with kids and I love to work with kids because they are open to everything it’s a very interesting process.”
He goes on to make the very salient point that, “kids normally feel the same way (as adults), for them the emotion is the same.” Kids are people too – it seems so blindingly obvious yet is often forgotten by us grown ups. “The original idea for this film was to help kids deal with bullying and complicated emotions that they can not process. The intention is to help kids process complicated emotions and ideas in... an accessible way.”
A Monster Calls will certainly facilitate opening up several dialogues between parents and children about life, death, bullying, violence and the fact that real life is not like a story.
The film is mainly live action but when the ‘Monster’ tells stories to Conor the stories are portrayed by beautiful water colour animation. The three stories are atypical of Fairy Tales in that there is no clear cut moral, the “happily ever after” sometimes comes at a price (as Conor’s Dad observes at one point the most people can hope for is “messily ever after”,) that there isn’t always a “bad guy” and sometimes there is no “good guy”, that people can be good and bad at the same time and that sometimes, as the Monster tells Liam, “sometimes witches merit saving – quite often, you’d be surprised.”
The beauty of the film is that it’s not preachy or didactic. It is completely heart-breaking though and given the effect it had had on a bunch of hardened film journalists; what effect would it have on a child? “There was a father who came to me and he had cancer," Bayona tells me. "He wanted to see the film and then to show it to his son. I told my sister who is a phycologist and I said “I don’t know with his father sick with cancer how good is the idea of the kid watching the film?” And my sister told me “Listen, there is nothing in the film that the kid doesn’t think about every single day.””
The director goes on to say “We are so overprotective of kids. And kids, they know about loneliness, about sadness, about rage about self-blame – they have that every day in their lives. (This is) a film that tells them “it’s only a thought,” don’t worry about it as it’s only a thought.”
When it came to casting the role of Conor Bayona says, “we knew how important it was to get the right kid. We did massive auditions; we saw hundreds of kids. (Lewis) was so special and so different from the other ones. I remember we were using very emotional scenes – testing the range of the acting (skills of the children) and he didn’t cry, he was reluctant to cry, he was more about rage and I thought that was more interesting. There was something so unique with Lewis that I knew from the very beginning he was very special.”
I ask him why he cast Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother rather than a native English actor. “When I’m looking for an actor I like (someone) who can bring a lot of themselves with them and I think when you think of Sigourney Weaver you think of her persona as one of strength – all the big roles that she has played you will find a lot of strength. And I thought we have to play with both – she’s the grandmother for Conor but also the mother for Felicity.”
Strangely since seeing the film my thoughts are never far from it. It is definitely a wonderful film and one that should be seen. But I still can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it.
A Monster Calls will be in cinemas nationwide from 1st January 2017.
Big The Musical
The Sunday Independent
Last year, flicking through the television channels, I came across Big, the 1988 film starring Tom Hanks. I had very fond memories of the film – the eejitry of Tom Hanks as a young boy with the body of a grown man, the famous ‘piano scene’ in FAO Schwartz, the weird Zoltar machine which granted 12-year-old Josh’ Baskin's wish to be ‘big ‘and the absurdities of the adult world when experienced first hand by a child.
I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my then 8-year-old son. So we settled down to watch a film in which a twelve-year-old boy, albeit in the body of a grown man, engages in intimate relations with a woman in her 30s.
The child had some very awkward questions that I wasn’t capable of answering. The only query I could answer without pause was “did everyone smoke in the 1980s?” (For younger readers the answer is yes, they did.)
Truly the 1980s really were “different times”. Apart from the ‘Operation Yewtree’ elements of the original story, the character of Susan, played by Elizabeth Perkins was just awful – a ‘career woman’ who is neurotic, needy and has slept her way to the top.
To say the experience left me deeply uncomfortable would be an understatement. On top of that I was extremely annoyed – another happy childhood memory ruined by hindsight.
Given all of the above I didn’t take my son to see Big the Musical which turns out to be another wrong move on my part. Big the Musical is Big as I remember it – fun and exuberant, a story about how as we become adults not only do we lose our innocence but the ability to have and be fun.
I sat behind a young girl who was about 8 years old and there was absolutely nothing on the stage that was in any way inappropriate for her to see. When Josh crosses the line from boy to man, as it were, it's subtly handled by him singing 'Coffee Black."
Anyone who has seen the original film, even those of us who are jaundiced by the passing of time, cannot imagine anyone apart from Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin. Despite the rest of the film not aging well Hank’s performance is a timeless classic, that simply cannot be surpassed.
Well, actually it can as Jay McGuiness nails the part. The chemistry between Josh and his best pal Billy (Richard Murphy) was wholly believable and a joy to watch. McGuiness brings energy, enthusiasm, vulnerability and sheer fun to the role.
Diana Vickers takes the (sometimes thankless) role of Susan and makes it her own. When she and McGuiness are on the stage together it’s a thing of beauty.
Susan is still a little bit on the neurotic and needy side (but thankfully not in the same league as in the film) and Vickers manages to make those traits charming. This Susan is a far more rounded and believable character and a lot of that is down to Vickers.
The leads are backed up by musical theatre veterans Jessica Martin and Gary Wilmot as Mrs Baskin (Josh’s mother) and George Macmillan, the toy manufacturer. Gary Wilmot is always great but Martin was especially wonderful in this production. Her very last, wordless, scene was so powerful it had me in tears.
I had a similar reaction to Martin’s performance of Stop, Time, when Mrs Baskin sings about how quickly children grow up and how fleeting childhood is.
On the other hand, the dinner party scene with Susan’s friends made me laugh for a variety of reasons, one of them being the dodgy 80s clothing. And speaking of dodgy clothing Josh still wears the iconic white 'Tails' to the company Christmas party.
Directed by Morgan Young, both the adult and juvenile cast are marvellous, bringing energy and conviction to every scene. The switches between ‘adult’ Josh and ‘young’ Josh are seamless – even when you know the tricks and are looking to spot them!
The lighting and set design are spectacular and the famous ‘piano scene’ is both an eye-catching technical feat and, to my mind, better than the original in the film. The Zoltar machine is as creepy and scary as anything you ever want to see on stage.
Having been in New York in 1987 I especially liked Josh’s arrival at the Port Authority in New York – trust me, it was that dingy and dilapidated.
I watched the show sitting beside two adults with disabilities. They cheered every time a new person arrived on stage – so rather a lot. To be honest this got on my nerves and yes, the irony was totally lost on me.
However Big the Musical soon worked its magic on me, my grumpiness dissipated and I was delighted to see people enjoy themselves so much. My only regret is that I didn’t take my son.
BIG The Musical from 7th December 2016 - 7th January 2017.
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Docklands, Dublin 2
Prices start at €15 ( family discounts with family tickets and half price child tickets through Ticketmaster) Ticketmaster dedicated line 0818 719 377.
For more information see
New Tricks from these Disney Golden Oldies
Can two aging white Americans do justice to a Polynesian folk tale? Yes, the certainly can writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
Meeting Ron Clements and John Musker, the directors of Disney’s latest animated spectacular Moana, the story of a young Polynesian girl making a literal and figurative voyage of discovery, is like spending time with an old married couple.
The pair share similar backgrounds being from the mid-West, brought up Catholic and doing time as alter boys. At one point both wanted to be priests. Now in their early sixties they've been partners on such well known Disney films as Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog and The Little Mermaid.
Despite their similarities it becomes very obvious very quickly that they have different personalities. Musker is the joker and the talker rattling off statements and questions in rapid fire succession while Clements sits beside him waiting patiently to get a word in. He occasionally shakes his head or gives a mini eye roll.
It takes a while before I can even ask about the film as Musker is more interested in finding out where I’m from. “I’m Irish,” he tells me proudly. “My Grandparents came in the early part of the last century, through Ellis Island but settled in Chicago. They were from the same town, Westport Co. Mayo but they didn’t meet till they got to Chicago.” Clements is sitting waiting patiently to talk about Moana. “He hates the Irish,” Musker quips. “No. No, I like the Irish,” Clements replies in his measured tones and then adds. “I had red hair before (he gestures to his white beard) but as far as I know I don’t have any Irish family.”
Musker carries on telling me about a trip to Ireland with his children when he saw “the little tumbledown stone foundation of (my Grandmother's) farmhouse is still there. We got to go to the church were she was baptised.”
To be honest I always sort of dread meeting film directors as, unlike actors, they're generally an unknown quantity. I could happily spend all day with these guys – they’re like an older, greyer, Ant and Dec, fun and funny.
Isn't co-directing a bit of an oxymoron? "Yes," Musker replies immediately, "and I'm Oxy making him...." Clements says nothing. “Are you like a married couple?” I ask. “Yes, unfortunately,” Musker replies. “I’ve been married to my wife for thirty-seven years now and I’ve been married to him for thirty years. That’s kind of scary.” Musker goes on to say that there are several directing teams at Disney “but nobody has our longevity.” “Its not uncommon in animation to have directing teams but sometimes they’re put together against their will,” Clements says. “This marriage was self inflicted,” Musker interrupts.
The pair then have an amicable disagreement about when their union actually started but finally agree that it became official with The Little Mermaid, “I asked John if he wanted to collaborate on it,” Clements says. “So he proposed to me!” Musker adds grinning while Clements gives me a long suffering look.
Musker, like his mother, is one of eight siblings while Clements is an only child. He did not know his father growing up and his mother, possibly out of necessity, took him along to see films that were not what we would now deem ‘age appropriate’. “I saw Cleopatra and The Misfits,” he recalls, “I didn’t know quite what to make of that. My mother loved Clark Gable and Gone with the Wind was her favourite movie of all time. She took me to that too.”
Cartoons and Disney films also played a huge role in the directors’ respective childhoods. After seeing Pinocchio at the age of 9 Clements decided he wanted to become an animator. “It was like a huge profound experience seeing that movie. I was obsessed and I wanted to find out as much as I could about animation and how it was done. From that time, I aspired to work at Disney.”
Musker also wanted to become an animator but he had an ever-changing list of possible professions on his bedroom door. Apart from priest and animator at other times he wanted to be a submarine captain and a detective.
With Moana the directors made a decision to be as accurate as possible with the culture of the South Seas and went to great lengths to ensure that everything that ended up on screen was not a Hollywood reinterpretation. Before they began the project they embarked on a fact finding mission. “About five years ago we went to the islands of Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti,” Clements says. “We met people all over the islands, we talked to linguists, anthropologists, archaeologists and also fishermen, elders and chiefs. The people were so nice, so warm and helpful.” Musker jumps in adding “we had an obligation to them, we wanted to do right by them, we thought of them as collaborators and not consultants". Clements continues “one of the elders in Tahiti said “for years we’ve been swallowed by your culture, one time can you be swallowed by our culture?”" Eventually the team of advisors and collaborators became known as the Oceanic Trust. The Trust continued to work with Disney throughout the making of the film.
One of the more obvious changes that came about as the result of the constant collaboration was to the character of Maui, a demi God. Originally the animators intended Maui to be bald but were told, as Musker explains, “he’s got to have long hair, that’s part of his 'manna'. Manna is your spirit, or your power, your chi and long hair was a part of him.” As a result, Maui now has a spectacular head of hair, worthy of a shampoo advert, which prompts one of the funniest lines in the film.
In tradition Maui is covered in tattoos that tell of his various deeds. In the film one tattoo develops into a ‘Mini Maui’ functioning as his conscience. Moana herself looks extremely like 16-year-old newcomer Auli'i Cravalho who voices the part. The film is quite beautiful and there are some great set pieces particularly with a giant jewel-encrusted crab.
Like all good Disney films there are animal sidekicks cute pig Pua and HeiHei the Rooster. Unlike many Disney animal sidekicks, they do not speak. Just as well in the case of HeiHei who is undoubtedly the thickest animal (animated or live) to appear on a screen. “That’s me,” Musker tells me happily, “he’s the pig!” Clements shrugs and rolls his eyes.
Moana opens nationwide on 2nd December.
Mum’s wish list gets new lease of life
The sad story of a woman leaving 100 things for her family to do after she died is now a powerful film.
The Sunday Independent
In many ways St John “Singe” Greene has lead a charmed life. At 19 he met and fell in love with his future wife Kate, who was then 14. The couple spent ten years together travelling the globe and having adventures before getting married and settling down with their two sons in their home county of Somerset.
Skip forward another ten years and Singe “an unknown, from a little tiny town in North Somerset,” as he describes himself is the best-selling author of Mum’s List which came out in 2012. The film adaptation starring Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox is about to open in cinemas.
Singe, as he prefers to be called, is still trying to take it all in. “I was rubbish at English in school,” the author tells me. “I was told I should stick to maths and now I have a book that’s been translated into 22 different languages!” Singe laughs before continuing, “Mum’s List is a phenomenon that took everyone by surprise.”
Both the book and the film detail the time in Singe’s life when his luck ran out. When his eldest son Reef (so named because he was conceived in Tenerife) was 18 months old he was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer and given only a 6% chance of surviving. His wife Kate was so shocked when hearing this awful news that she gave birth to their second son Finn seven weeks early.
For a few weeks after Finn's birth the couple had two babies in two different hospitals at either side of Bristol city. (There's a scene in the film where Singe talks about his eldest son's cancer and for those of us lucky enough to have no experience of paediatric cancer it's shocking.)
Singe is a lively and funny story teller but when he recalls watching the New Year fireworks from the stairwell of Reef’s hospital, he becomes audibly sad. The couple’s second son Finn had been released from hospital and the four of them were in the stairwell welcoming in the New Year. “Kate and I looked at each other,” Singe tells me, “and said if only we could swap places. We didn’t realise someone was listening.” In less than a year Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer.
While Reef beat the odds and survived Kate was not so lucky and she died in 2010. When Kate realised that she wasn’t going to be around for her small sons she compiled a list of 100 things for the family to do so that she could continue to be a part of their lives after she had gone. The list was published as part as Kate’s obituary in the local paper and from there Singe was contacted to ask if he would think about turning their story into a book.
Initially Singe was driven by the fact that his boys were so young (5 and 6) when their mother died. “Kate was an amazing woman, an amazing partner and an amazing Mum and they wouldn’t remember that,” he tells me. “That was really sad and also, my history with Kate was a lot older than theirs and if anything happened to me then they’d have lost all of that as well.”
Working with writer Rachel Murphy Mum's List took a year to write. Singe was happy that he had done what he’d set out to achieve. “I thought,” he tells me in his distinctive West Country accent, "that’s really cool. The boys will have a book to remind them of their Mum.”
What happened next took both Singe and Murphy by surprise. There was so much interest in the book that it was eventually sold to Penguin after a hotly contested auction. As Singe tells me how the book rapidly climbed the best-seller list you can hear the incredulity in his voice. “It went to number one,” he tells me before adding, “when I say that, even now, I have a giggle, I can’t believe it.”
During our conversation the writer uses the word “surreal” a lot. Seeing his life on screen was “surreal”, going to New York to give a talk to a room of 400 people and get a standing ovation “surreal”, having Rafe Spall (“I mean he’s Rafe Spall) call him at home on a Sunday afternoon is “surreal.” He literally cannot get over the fact that Jamie Dornan (“the 50 Shades guy!”) is tweeting about the film and has said he’s going to buy the book.
Both Spall and Fox give extraordinary performances as the couple. This isn’t just a weepie it’s a full two packet of tissues tsunami of tears. I blubbed from the start and didn’t stop (and honestly I don’t blub easily) and tell Singe that I can’t imagine how he felt watching this very painful part of his life on screen in front of him. He tells me that he did cry seeing the film for the first time but praises both leads for their interpretation of him and his late wife. Then he goes on to tell me about meeting Emilia Fox in his local to give her information about Kate. “It was an emotional chat,” he tells me. “One of my mates was at the bar and I’m sitting with Emilia and one minute we’re bawling, then we’re laughing, we’re trying to eat but can’t. After a couple of hours, she gives me a big hug and disappears out the door. My mate comes over from the bar and says “you breaking up with her?”” We both roar laughing.
One of the items on Kate’s list was that Singe should find love again and the final scene in the film shows him setting out on a date. So, has he? “I’m completely in love again,” he tells me happily. His girlfriend, Lindsay, actually went to see the film with him. I remark that surely it must be intimidating for her watching what is essentially a love letter to his late wife. “She is so supportive of everything,” he replies. “I am very lucky in love. I’ve always punched way above my weight,” he continues laughing. “Lindsay knows how much I love Kate but I’ve moved on because I had to.”
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s will enjoy the flashbacks to Singe and Kate’s courtship. They met at a roller disco where he was the supervisor. He laughingly tells me that at that time in his life he was a “nightmare”. “I had a big leather jacket, a big motorbike and a big attitude.” I suspect he was also extremely charming because he certainly is now.
“I’ve always been Mr. Positive,” he tells me before adding “it got worse before it got better. The book helped.”
His two boys have yet to see the film. “They’re the most grounded kids ever,” Singe says, “but we don’t need to rush everything.” As our conversation ends he’s still marvelling over how his wife’s list became a bestseller and a film. What would she think, I ask? “She might be a bit embarrassed,” he confesses, “but she’d be so proud."
Mum's List is in cinemas from 25th November.