Mimi & RGB still battling over sex
Mimi Leder has never let her sex stand in the way, just like the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes,
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
17 February 2019
Mimi Leder is that very rare thing – a female film director. Even rarer a female film director who regularly directs Hollywood films. At first glance Leder, quite disconcertingly, looks like Roseanne Barr, but that is where all similarities end. While Barr is now notorious for shooting her mouth off Leder is reserved and chooses her words carefully. She’s rather formidable, not unlike the subject of her latest film, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
On the Basis of Sex stars Felicity Jones as RGB, as she is sometimes known, an iconic figure in the USA where she currently, at age 85, sits on the Supreme Court. However Irish readers may not be as familiar with Ginsburg’s life, work and role in the feminist movement as their American counterparts. On the Basis of Sex documents two pivotal moments in Ginsburg’s life and career – in essence it is almost two films. The movie begins with the young Ruth entering the male dominated world of Harvard Law School in 1956 – out of 500 students only 9 are female; it was only six years since they had started accepting women. The Dean (Law & Order’s Sam Waterston) invites all nine to a meal and then makes them individually justify why they are deserving of a place having usurped a man to get it.
The early part of the film is fascinating as Ginsburg is not only faced institutional sexism but when her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) is struck with testicular cancer she manages not just to nurse him, care for their baby and keep on top of her classwork – but she takes on his student work as well. (If this was a work of fiction audiences would no doubt scoff at any woman (or man) being capable of juggling so much, but as the cliché goes, truth invariably is stranger than fiction.) Despite graduating top of her class Ginsburg found it difficult to find work (her husband was inundated with offers) and she, instead, went to Rutgers to teach law. Leder tells me that she admires RGB “tremendously as a woman who changed things, who made our country a better place.” Leder is referring to the latter part of the film and the landmark Moritz case that changed US Law so that nobody could be discriminated against on the basis of their sex. Ironically, considering the huge implications the ruling had on the lives of women, Ginsburg was acting on behalf of a man who faced sex discrimination by the inland revenue. (Again, truth trumps fiction in oddness.)
Felicity Jones is marvellous as the powerhouse who keeps striving to improve the lot of women, whilst keeping the character’s humanity up front. I see parallels between Leder and her fellow New Yorker Ginsburg and wonder if this had any influence on her decision to direct the film. “I felt a lot of commonalities with her in very different generations – we both paved the way for women to come,” the director replies. “We are both Jewish women, we are both mothers and we both have had very long marriages which thematically ties into this film because it’s very much about how love prevails and the love story aspect was super important.”
In terms of women’s rights Leder says that she can see a direct line from the Moritz case to the recent #MeToo movement. I wonder if #MeToo has made a lasting impact on Hollywood or if now that the initial fuss has calmed whether things will return to ‘normal’. Leder thinks not. “#MeToo is in its infancy. I think there’s so much more to come and I don’t think it’s ever going back to the way it was… but we’re never going back to the times when people rolled their eyes and let things slide and everybody told themselves stories so that they could get by,” she says.
I ask Leder how she would sell her movie to Irish audiences, who mostly would not have heard of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and suddenly the friendly reserve disappears and is replaced by genuine warmth and enthusiasm. “I just visited Ireland,” she says. “I love it. The Irish people are beyond lovely, beyond sweet and funny. My husband wants to move to Ireland.” It turns out that Leder was in Ireland in May 2018 during the Repeal Referendum. “It was an exciting place to be,” she tells me, “and it was the right result – for women to choose what is happening to their bodies. It was a great time and it was so interesting talking to Irish people about it. This is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been fighting for – equal rights for women, her entire life.”
So is that how she would frame the movie for an Irish audience? “It’s the story of an American woman who changed the world for the better, who was and still is a truth seeker, a woman who changed archaic laws for both women and men, who made the world a more truthful place. I think Irish people will definitely relate to this film as their country is evolving by the day.”
Now that we’re pals I ask Leder what the secret to a long happy relationship is – she and husband Gary Werntz have been married for decades. “It’s respect,” she says firmly, “listening and love. I think listening is a big thing. When you’re in a long term relationship sometimes you stop listening. And being kind is big and obviously honesty is key to all good relationships.” When I ask where she met her husband she replies instantly “I picked him up in a bar.”, then leaves it a beat before roaring laughing and telling me they met in a restaurant and “it was love at first sight. I was 30-ish, (she’s now in her late 60s) we fell in love and had a beautiful daughter and here we are.”
Despite the strides made by women since Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School in 1956, many areas, including the film industry, are still heavily male dominated. I wonder what advice Leder would give to a young woman wanting to become a film director. “It’s much easier to make your own film these days than when I was coming up,” she replies and goes on to say that women should be “passionate, believe in yourself, have perseverance, tell your story and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t tell your story and don’t let anyone tell your story for you. Stand up. Have no fear.”
On the Basis of Sex will be in cinemas nationwide from 22nd February.
Dragon Director fires the imagination
Dean DeBlois, the creator of the How To Train Your Dragon films has been making movie magic for decades writes,
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
17th February 2019
Say the name Dean DeBlois and maybe the resident film buff will instantly know who you are talking about. Conversely, mention How to Train Your Dragon and everyone will know the (now) trilogy of animated films based on the books by Cressida Cowell as they’ve become an ingrained part of childhood since the first film appeared in 2010. Dean DeBlois is the man behind the phenomenon
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World, written, directed and produced by DeBlois is the concluding chapter in the saga of unheroic hero Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. Be warned – there may be blubbing (guilty) as one of the themes in the film is the contradiction at the heart of parenthood – which is essentially you pour all of your love into your children with the express purpose of making them leave you.
I asked DeBlois how he felt saying goodbye to the Berk universe, where the films are set, which is essentially his 'baby'. “It’s cathartic, it’s bittersweet," the filmmaker replies, "because the team that made these films - all 300 of us, have been working alongside one another for a decade of our lives. And now we head off in different directions, and so it’s goodbye to on another as much as it’s good bye to the word of Berk.
“There was an active ambition to tap into something that was universal thematically in each of the instalments," DeBlois elaborates. " The first film (How to Train Your Dragon (2010)) was about the desire to assimilate and the eventual discovery that by being yourself you can change the world around you rather than the opposite.
The second film (How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)) is a crossroads everyone has to face - which is the abandonment of the freedom of childhood, and to take on the more serious consequences of adulthood often without knowing who you are yet.
This third film is about a very universal rite of passage which is gaining that wisdom to let go, despite wanting to cling, despite your love of those you’ve nurtured and protected knowing they need to spread their wings and follow their own destiny. What does that do to you, how do you define yourself in the wake of that?”
Now that all sounds very serious but as anyone who has ever taken an excited child to a How to Train Your Dragon film will tell you, they’re very funny and age is no barrier to enjoying the antics of Hiccup and his band of merry eejits.
DeBlois is a big burly bearded man, not unlike his own creation Stoic the Vast, Hiccup’s father (voiced by Gerard Butler) but without the plaits and Viking helmet. Originally from Canada he learned to draw by copying pictures from comic books in a nearby shop – his family were not well off and there was no money for him to buy them.
The director’s very first job was with Sullivan Bluth Studios in Dublin which he joined in 1990. “I had no Irish connections,” he tells me. “I moved to Dublin without knowing anyone but I made friends that I still have to this day.” I’m not surprised, DeBlois is easy company and likes to laugh. He is very enthusiastic about his four years in Ireland. “It was a wonderful experience. It was my first time living alone, outside of my country, I loved it. I’d never been in a place with so much history. It was an adventurous time.”
DeBlois and I are around the same and as he chats about going straight to the pub after work, heading to the West for the weekend or catching the ferry to Holyhead (I tell him that qualifies him for honorary Irish citizenship and he roars laughing) it all sounds very familiar.
We also share the experience of thinking that those days weren’t all that long ago, when in fact, we’ve both worked with adults who have been born since. “I’ve been working for 30 years in the animation industry which is crazy as time has just blurred by and then I meet people who say “I grew up with your movies.””
I ask him how it feels to know that he via his creations, including Lilo & Stitch and Mulan, that he has been an integral part of creating memories for generations of children. “It’s a bizarre revelation,” he admits “and it only occurred to me last year. People were contacting me through social media who were finishing high school and wanted to get into animation programs saying “your work has been an inspiration to me since I was a little kid.” Growing up, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Ridley Scott were my heroes. They continue to be my heroes and when I compare myself against them I feel inadequate, but, with people being inspired by my films I realised I’m part of the cycle. It’s flattering and nice to know that future storytellers have been inspired by work I’ve been a part of.”
When I say that he’s also been the source of many happy memories for children he looks bashful and says hesitantly “that’s also a nice side effect”
The Hidden World is voiced by an all-star cast including America Ferrera (Astrid), Cate Blanchett (Valka), Kit Harrington (Eret, son of Eret), Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut) and F. Murray Abraham who plays Grimmel, the baddie determined to exterminate the dragons. I wonder if he ever gets star struck?
“The only one time was Cate Blanchett,” he tells me. “I’ve admired her as an actor since seeing Elizabeth (1998), she was so good. And, after living in Ireland, (I think) she is the only non-Irish actor who has nailed the accent with Veronica Guerin (2003). She’s a powerhouse of acting.”
DeBlois wrote the character of Valka with Blanchett in mind but never thinking he would be able to sign her up. “I met her at the Oscars in 2011 and told her I’d written a part for her in How to Train Your Dragon 2. Her boys were fans so she heard me out and said “well, I’m not doing anything so send me the script”. To me that was an amazing moment and it all happened in the space of a minute. As glamorous as she is, she’s very down to earth and a real passionate artist at her core.”
As we say our goodbyes DeBlois tells me that as soon as he’s finished publicising The Hidden World he’s heading to Dublin for four days, to catch up with his friends and to visit a couple of the pubs he used to hang out in. It will be nice to have him back, even if it is only for a few days.
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is in cinemas nationwide.
Woman on the Verge of Laughing
Renowned actress Eileen Walsh is not known for her funny bones, but that is about to change writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
07 October 2018
Eileen Walsh is best known for her hard hitting roles in film and television including, most recently, the mother of a dying child in The Children Act, The Magdalene Sisters (2002), and Eden for which she won the Tribeca Film Festival Best Actress Award in 2008 and, of course, the play that launched her career aged just 17, in 1996, Disco Pigs.
Walsh is really pretty in real life and I tell her she looks like Sofie Gråbøl, the actor who played Sarah Lund in The Killing, she laughs and says “Oh my God, I’d love that!” Walsh's name isn't the first that springs to mind when discussing comedy but that's about to change with the new TV show Women on the Verge, co-created by Sharon Horgan.
Two things have led to this new lighter Walsh. “I feel more empowered now. I say no to auditions,” she tells me. “I don’t (necessarily) want to see another show about a kid being raped and murdered. When you have kids you don’t want to put more of that out in the world.”
The second thing that changed was meeting Sharon Horgan who gave her a part in her highly successful show Catastrophe “I love her. I LOVE her,” Walsh says laughing. When I remark that without Horgan there would be few decent roles for women on TV. Walsh responds that it’s not just actors who benefit from Horgan, her partner Clelia Mountford and their company Mermen. “They’re also bringing people forward to write and in every area. Meanwhile when Sharon is not producing she’s acting and she has two girls,” she remarks.
Walsh herself has two girls (Tippy (12) and Ethel (9)) with husband Stuart who she met when Disco Pigs was on an international two-year tour. “We met at the Edinburgh Festival. My hair was incredibly short and needed a cut and Stuart was the barber. We all met our partners on that show Enda (Walsh, (no relation) who wrote Disco Pigs) met Jo (Ellison, Fashion Editor, Financial Times) who was working in the box office. Pat (Kiernan the director) met his missus and Cillian Murphy met his wife.”
Women on the Verge is a show about three single 30-something women whose lives are spinning beyond their control. Walsh plays Alison – the ‘baby hungry’ one. (The other two leads are Nina Sosanya (Marcella, W1A) who plays Katie and Kerry Condon (Three Billboards, Better Call Saul) whose character Laura is busy ruining her career in journalism by sleeping with her boss.) Alison, Walsh explains “is 38, her body clock is going and she thinks she needs to have a baby. She’s going to settle. She gets back with her ex and says “Let’s have a baby,” he’s barely taken his coat off,” she says, her Cork accent becoming stronger. “He’s delighted because he’s mad about her. But he’s had a colourful time while they were broken up and that emerges during the series.”
Speaking of breakups Walsh tells me her departure from Disco Pigs, the ground-breaking play that catapulted Walsh, co-star Cillian Murphy and writer Enda Walsh to stardom two decades ago, was a “bad breakup”. “The film (2001) was cast before I even knew it. I bumped into somebody on the street who said they’d just (auditioned) and I didn’t even know they were casting. My heart was broken.” It's obvious that almost twenty years this still hurts. “It is what it is,” Walsh says pragmatically, “it’s a heartbreak to take something that felt like my baby and not bring it to fruition.” She goes on to say that it was “a hard lesson very early on that you have no power as an actor,” and adds that she got “a lovely agent” soon after who reminded her that “it’s the long game, let it go.”
Despite the heartbreak Walsh remains friends with Enda Walsh, Murphy and Kiernan, “even through that horrible moment, when it all broke up… we belong together… I still see Cillian loads and Enda. I’ve gone back and worked with Pat – we have a shorthand that can’t be taken away.” Besides, the actor says that “People still come up to me and talk to me about the play. Still! And you can’t buy that.”
Walsh also admits that two decades ago she did sometimes “get a bit envious of other people’s careers,” but qualifies, “that’s not healthy.” The idea of envying other people and their lives ties in neatly with one of the main themes of Women on the Verge – comparing your life with someone else’s and coming up short. “We often look at other people and think they’re more sorted than us,” Walsh laughs. I wonder where Walsh the actor and Alison the character connect. “She’s funny and engaging and warm. She has a good heart, she means well, but she’s just desperate. And I think,” Walsh bursts out laughing, “I can be all those things.”
Walsh’s accent becomes more pronounced when talking about her family. The actor is the youngest of five. Her parents had no connection with acting or the theatre yet her eldest sister Catherine is also a successful actor. Walsh tells me that her late father, a labourer, “who earned his money the hard way” thought acting was “the greatest of craic, He’d always ask “what are you earning? Jays, that’s money for old rope!””
Walsh’s father died unexpectedly three years ago. “He was as strong as a horse,” she says explaining the shock and recalls she was rehearsing a play in Newcastle when she got what she calls “the best preparatory message” from her sister Mary. Walsh recollects putting down her grocery shopping and calling her sister back “She just said, “He’s gone smallie, he’s gone.” The actor's ability to convey simple honest pain is such that I choke up. Still for over an hour Walsh made me cry laughing so I’ll be keeping the tissues handy for Women on the Verge.
Women on the Verge starts on RTE 2, Thursday 11 October at 10.30pm
Hello Christopher Robin
Ewan McGregor channels his own magical childhood on screen with help from Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
12 August 2018
Meeting Ewan McGregor is always a pleasure. Despite his A-List status he’s reliably warm, funny, entertaining and enthusiastic. And hip. Achingly hip. If you are even in any doubt about what the most on-trend thing in menswear is check out the Scottish star’s latest outfit.
The last time the actor and I met he was clean-shaven in scarves and skinny jeans. This time, to talk about his new film Christopher Robin, he’s got a neat beard, a beautifully tailored grey jacket and a pair of cropped trousers that would make any normal man in his middle years (he’s 47) look, at best, vaguely ridiculous and, at worst, like Charlie Chaplin. Needless to say McGregor looks like a GQ cover personified.
In the movie McGregor plays the title role of Christopher Robin, the son of the writer AA Milne and the inspiration behind the Winnie the Pooh books. The film is most definitely not an autobiography of the real man who grew up very conflicted about his alter ego and the fame that came with it. This is the fictional character all grown up with a wife name (Hayley Atwell) and a daughter Madeline (name) all of his own. The film is set in the post-War period and Christopher Robin is a workaholic who isn’t giving his wife and daughter the attention they need. His childhood friends from the Hundred Acre Wood – Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger et al intervene to remind him of the things that matter most.
We’ve all seen versions of that plot endlessly recycled by Hollywood but I doubt we will ever see it done so charmingly. The film is a perfect mixture of smart script and slapstick, schmaltz and sentiment. I’ll be completely honest, I loved every thing about Christopher Robin from the fabulous cameos to the interiors (especially the lampshades) but most of all I was blown away by the familiar characters given life. Christopher Robin’s toys are so real that not suspending disbelief isn’t an option. “Some of the shots of Winnie the Pooh made me think of my little dog Sid,” McGregor tells me. He goes on to say that the relationship Christopher Robin and the famous bear also reminds him of growing up with his Beagle Juno. “She was like my Winnie the Pooh so when I went to the woods I would take her with me or we would knock about together and I spent a lot of my time with her.”
I ask him what breed his current dog Sid is and he eagerly tells me “I did that DNA thing on him. He’s like this big,” he continues indicating with his hands that Sid is a largish small dog, “he’s not tiny (but the results) came back he that he was 75% Chihuahua and 25% Poodle mix,” he laughs. “I thought “that’s not right,” he does look a little bit like a Chihuahua but he’s too big. How would a Chihuahua…” he trails off. It turns out that his co-star Hayley Atwell also had her dog’s DNA tested. I’d never heard of ‘Doggy DNA’ before and ask McGregor if this is a ‘thing’ adding that I recently had my son’s DNA done.
“You did one on your son?” McGregor says slightly surprised and then adds laughing “Just to check…” When I explain that it was for the purposes of finding out his ethnic heritage the actor becomes even more animated. “I’ve done that too, mine was SO plain.” I tell him that I also got my mother’s DNA tested at the same time as my son and they both have similarly dull DNA too. “I don’t think it’s right,” McGregor replies and tells me that a great great Grandfather left Scotland to work as an engineer on the Chilean railway lines, married and settled there. “Their son came back to Scotland but in the DNA there’s no mention of any South American strand at all!”
The return of the prodigal Chilean son was good news for the actor. When he tells me about his childhood growing up in the Perth and Kinross district of Scotland it sounds idyllic and was in his own words “fun, brilliant and magical”. Both McGregor’s parents were teachers; he has one older brother who became a pilot in the RAF (the pair have made three documentaries together about the role of aviation in the second world war). “I had a brilliant childhood,” McGregor says. “I had a similar childhood to Christopher Robin in that I spent a lot of time in the woods. Crieff, where I come from, is a small town built on a hill and above the town is this big woodland me and my friends just spent all of our time up there. I was born in ’71 and it was a very safe town so we had independence as kids from a very young age. As soon as I could ride a bike I was on my bike and off. I’d get my bike in the morning, go and get my best friend and we’d go up into the woods and we’d cycle home at night when it got dark. I couldn’t tell you what we were doing (all day), we were just playing – inventing stuff, we had catapults, we built dens, we just played and it was just amazing. We had the freedom to do that. My kids (he has four daughters aged 7 to 22) have never had that. The idea of letting your kids go off on their own and come home when it’s dark is unheard of now but that was the way it was then.”
The odd time he was indoors McGregor played Gin Rummy with his great-Grandmother, “for money,” he says shocked. Good preparation for his role in this film as there’s a running joke about Gin Rummy but, McGregor confesses that he “looked up the rules recently and she played a very ‘Granny’ version of it.”
The last time I met McGregor he was still married to Eve Mavrakis, mother of his four daughters aged 7 to 22. Theirs was one of those unions that defied Hollywood and both fans and non-fans alike were shocked when the couple split up after twenty-two years of marriage. Allegedly McGregor had fallen for the charms of fellow actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I have been warned, repeatedly, by a phalanx of PR people, not to ask the actor about his personal life but to stick to the film. Christopher Robin struggles with his work/life balance, is such a thing even possible in the acting profession? Can a successful actor ‘do it all’?
“You can’t! That’s a fallacy,” McGregor replies promptly. Then he smiles an adds, “ You can. Of course you can. It’s an internal thing, it’s about being connected even when you’re not there.”
By George! MacKay's No Secret Sharer
From Lost Boy to leading man George MacKay possesses maturity beyond his years and the qualities to be a star, writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
08 July 2018
George MacKay shakes my hand and says “we’ve met before.” I tell him we haven’t and he replies “Really? But you look so familiar to me.” I say that he also looks very familiar and the poor man looks confused for a minute. I can tell he’s thinking that of course I recognise him as I’ve just watched The Secret of Marrowbone in which he stars. But that’s not what I meant.
In the movie MacKay plays Jack Marrowbone, the eldest of four siblings who have to conceal their mother’s death to avoid being separated. When MacKay appeared on screen I was struck with a feeling of ‘knowing’ him. It wasn’t spooky or supernatural (like the film itself) it was just there. I suggest to MacKay that we knew each other in a previous life and he laughs.
At 26 MacKay is typical of the new breed of up and coming actors – madly talented, good-looking and far too sorted for one so young – the drama is firmly kept on-screen. He’s good company, laughs easily and gives thoughtful honest answers to my questions. (Of course this might all be down to our past life connection.)
I ask the screen star about being ‘talent spotted’ aged ten. “More like I was looking a bit lost,” he jokes “it was a search for Lost Boys for Peter Pan (2003)” “I’d never auditioned before so I wasn’t really thinking about work or acting or any of that. But I liked doing the school plays, I liked drama. My Mum told me “you’ve been invited to go along for an audition, don’t get your hopes up at all, because they’re doing this with loads of boys. If you want to, you’ll have a fun day."" The fun day turned into eight months on location in Australia.
MacKay worked steadily throughout his teens in film and television, yet despite an already successful career, he was turned down by both RADA and LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). Again with this odd feeling of familiarity I am outraged on his behalf. MacKay meanwhile is far more accepting (and mature) than I am. “Genuinely I think they’re really hard to get in to,” he explains. “It’s the audition you give on the day and I didn’t give a strong enough audition and that’s that,” he says equably.
“Oh come on, honestly?” I demand.
He admits to disappointment at the time but says “I wasn’t a hundred percent sure that I truly wanted to go. I’m not saying that in hindsight but I thought either way the process would teach me something… and it was a kick up the bum (it) spurred me on to actively learn more on set.”
Whatever our odd connection it’s certainly not enough to get MacKay to spill the beans on his relationship with Saoirse Ronan which began when they starred opposite each other in How I Live Now in 2013. Various publications have described him as Ronan’s ‘first boyfriend’ but he’s never spoken publicly about their (long over) romance. The star quickly changes the subject to his next project, Ned Kelly (which also stars Russell Crowe) which he’s about to begin filming. MacKay plays the infamous Aussie outlaw whose own father came from Co. Tipperary. Almost familiar ground for the young man whose Granny is from Cork and emigrated to Australia where his Dad was born. He tells me he’s recently visited Tipperary as part of his research into the part.
Marrowbone is a horror/thriller and has some pretty scary moments. Not only does Jack have to keep his mother’s death a secret but the house where he and his three younger siblings are holed up is all creaks and shadows. If that wasn’t enough their ill mother took her family there, from England, to protect them from their father, whose crimes are eventually revealed.
I wonder what scares George? There’s a long pause before he replies “Genuinely scared… I think I’m not around things that frighten me that much. The seriousness of the emotion of fear…. I get nervous about a bunch of stuff, even just talking about (the film)... I think genuine fear is pretty powerful." He goes on to say he tries not to give any space to things that scare him. "I think it’s quite a natural response to (avoid what causes genuine fear) as much as possible. So what scares me is probably the stuff I can’t control. I’m trying to be as honest as possible," he continues, "I could sit here and say (he puts on a 'luvvy' voice) “well certain projects scare me”" and makes me roar laughing, "but actual genuine fear that the characters go through, I think that’s pretty rare and it takes something bigger, outside of yourself, to actually experience that.”
Marrowbone is set in the United States but it was filmed in Spain and MacKay cannot say enough good things about the location - Asturias which certainly looks stunning on film. "It’s a beautiful part of the world, very untapped, the food is an amazing, the Spanish culture was great and I think genuinely the Spanish culture, and that passionate familial vibe, really played into how we made the film."
I wonder if there are similarities between himself and Jack Marrowbone? “I’m an elder brother. I want to care and do right. There’s probably a slightly controlling element. I’m quite careful about where I put myself and I think Jack is very conscious about protecting himself and those he loves”
Despite the duty to family, fighting off the ghosts of the past and living in what may be a haunted house Jack also has a romantic storyline as he falls in love with Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Would MacKay embrace being a romantic leading man? “Yeah, why not,” he says “it’s all about the story. You serve the story, Marrowbone is a good story with a strong message and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
The actor goes on to explain that how the audience sees him is out of his control. “Your job is to be done in the doing but how it’s taken by other people, you can’t really control. You can assume you’re playing this type of role and it will be taken like that and there is some level of accuracy (but) it’s not too healthy to have your mind on the end result. It’s got to be about the end result of the story rather than how people receive (it). So much of it is out of your hands. I’d be wary of claiming any credit for any reaction that comes afterwards.”
My goodness, so young, so serious, so sensible. I ask if he had any fun making the film. He tells me that the entire cast and crew would wind down on a Friday evening with a massive water fight in the sea. I’m mighty glad to hear it too.
The Secret of Marrowbone is in cinemas nationwide.
Sam Claflin is cast Adrift in paradise
The actor battled both homesickness and seasickness to portray the man behind the real-life story, writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
24 June 2018
I meet Sam Claflin in a ridiculously swanky two storey suite in one of London’s fancier hotels. “Welcome to my humble abode,” the actor greets me grinning.
Claflin lives in London, but not here; the extravagant surroundings are strictly for business purposes, and, although we’re meeting to talk about his new film Adrift we spend a few minutes taking in the bling and wondering who, exactly, might want a Baby Grand in their lodgings.
At 31 Claflin appears to have it all, a stellar career having worked consistently since he left Drama School, a happy family life with Laura Haddock his wife of 5 years and their two small children. He is ridiculously handsome in person despite having a "rough night" with his five-month-old teething daughter.
While Claflin certainly doesn’t look out of place in the pricey surroundings, as befits someone who starred in three Hunger Games movies and A Pirates of the Caribbean episode, he still thinks of himself as an ordinary boy from Norwich who went to a “rough’ school” - "it wasn’t a Wednesday if someone didn’t turn up drunk."
Growing up in Norfolk Claflin “didn’t know that acting was a profession. It was never on my list of dream jobs.” Yet for all of his international success in the acting industry Claflin, the third of four boys, is still very proud of his home town. "It’s a beautiful city… and I love going home to visit my Mum and Dad," but, he confesses, that from as early as he can remember he wanted to live in London. And to play football. A teacher steered him towards acting and after leaving school he managed to get a place at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).
Adrift is based on a true story by American Tami Oldham played by Shailene Woodley, (Big Little Lies, Divergent). Claflin plays Tami’s English fiancé Richard Sharp. The movie unfolds as a dual narrative with one strand following the beginnings of the couple’s relationship and the lead up to them sailing a luxury yacht, the Hazana, from Tahiti to California. The film is set in 1983 and the young couple’s voyage is interrupted by Hurricane Raymond.
The second narrative follows the events after the Hurricane.
Adrift is essentially a two-hander and both actors put in strong performances. Much of the filming took place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean near Fiji which looks stunning on film. “We’d all meet about 5 am and watch the sunrise, shoot for 12 hours, the sun would set and then we’d all go back (to land). It was pretty amazing,” Claflin reveals.
The actor had to learn how to sail in order to play Richard and tells me he enjoyed it immensely. However, on the the first day of filming at sea Claflin experienced severe seasickness. “I was so badly sick that first day that it really panicked me thinking “oh shit, is this going to be me every day”?”.
Claflin wasn't the only one. "The whole unit when we set out that first day was so happy. Everyone was “oh I can’t believe this is a day at work – we’re on a yacht in Fiji" and then everyone was so sick.” I was able to throw up and keep going but a lot of the crew, especially the crew below the decks, they were sick for ten hours."
However hideous that sounds it wasn’t the worst thing Claflin experienced on the three-month shoot “The toughest challenge I had to overcome on Adrift was (being separated from his wife and child). We didn’t know that was going to be the case when I agreed to do the job. Originally my wife and my little boy were due to come out to Fiji but as my wife was pregnant with our second and because of Zika Virus (which was rare in Fiji but not unknown) we just didn’t want to take risks."
"We tried to FaceTime," he continues, "and I’d break down regularly. Once when someone said to my son “Daddy’s here” he ran to the door (looking for me),” Claflin adds whilst getting visibly upset at the memory.
Has Claflin ever experienced anything in his own life similar to being on a 44-foot yacht in the middle of a hurricane? He says not but tells me about a car accident he had in LA a few years ago. “No one was hurt,” he states immediately and downplays what sounds like a frankly petrifying experience.
“I did the full 360. I can remember everything being in slow motion and I remember my car coming into oncoming traffic and then hitting a power box and that going alight. Despite everything happening really quickly, everything happened really slowly,” he goes on. “I’m sure people who have been in accidents know (that feeling). My life didn’t flash in front of my eyes, I was OK, the other driver was OK.” Claflin tells me that he initially tried calling 999 for the police and laughingly says “I don’t understand why emergency services have to be different in different countries,” but then adds quietly, “It was terrifying, that’s the closest I’ve ever been to fearing for my life.”
I wonder if he shares his character’s thirst for adventure and thrill-seeking? “No,” he replies immediately, “I’m a father of two, I’m the one who says “no you can’t do that, no we shouldn’t be doing this”.” The star goes on to clarify that he’s open to ‘adventure’ in his career but “at the same time, because of the wild unpredictable nature of what I do, I have to not be so adventurous in the rest of my life. That’s the harsh reality of being a father and an actor, it’s quite a difficult thing to juggle. I find it difficult enough to keep my kids in a routine when my life is all over the place. It’s great that my wife is very understanding as she’s in the industry and she has those days too. We’re blessed that we have two beautiful kids and we have the life we have because we work for it.”
I read somewhere that he wanted to be a ‘Cool Dad’? He guffaws, “There’s no such thing as a Cool Dad. I bought a pair of sandals yesterday and my wife said “Seriously! Seriously?” He then goes on to try to convince me of the practicality of sandals over flip-flops.
The movie star is also a big fan of our capital city. “I love Dublin, genuinely,” he says, recalling the six weeks he spent in Ireland filming Love Rosie (2014) based on the Cecelia Ahearn novel. He adds that he’s visiting soon for a “Stag Do” before quickly adding that “but it’s not the strippers sort! The Dads and Uncles are coming, it’s not all about getting absolutely bladdered.” He goes on to tell me that he rarely drinks beer anymore “it makes me bloated,” he says roaring laughing at himself. “I’m getting old!”
With two young children under the age of three and a relentless schedule of filming around the world I'm not surprised he feels old at times, but aging he certainly aint. Despite the sandals.
Adrift opens in cinemas nationwide on 29th June.
Billy Gets to Grips with Craic & Chemistry
From upstaging Cinderella to starring in On Chesil Beach actor Billy Howle is no longer 'up and coming' writes
Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
20 May 2018
On paper Billy Howle, who co-stars with Saoirse Ronan in On Chesil Beach, the big screen adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, could come across as a ‘luvvie’ who takes himself far too seriously but in the flesh he’s a very engaging young man. Howle is well aware of how he can sometimes be perceived and tells me that Saoirse Ronan, who he has previously worked with, in the film adaptation of The Seagull, had “pulled me up on that, she put me through the ringer sometimes and it was just good craic. And,” he adds, “she taught me the word ‘craic’.”
I read that he’d called Ronan “very Irish” and ask him what he meant by that. I must have had my intimidating face on as Howle looked a bit nervous and hesitant about answering. “Well she’s funny, very funny, has a very dry sense of humour which I enjoy.” In several interviews Howle has said that he and Ronan share a special chemistry. When I ask him to explain what he means he replies “I don’t particularly like that word (chemistry) – it’s to do with presenting your co-worker (another actor) with a gift and saying ‘there you go, unwrap that,’ and then hopefully they give you something in return and if they do I call that good chemistry.”
See, this is the kind of statement that sounds pure luvvie on paper but Howle is chatty and quick to laugh. It’s a blazing hot day and we’re both suffering badly from hay fever. He tells he wishes we were doing the interview outside of the pub across the road. Just then a waiter brings a fancy drink in a tall glass with lots of ice and Howle laughs “it’s just iced coffee, it looks like an espresso martini or something. I’m not getting hammered!”
In On Chesil Beach he plays Edward, a very bright young man, who falls in love with Florence (Ronan) equally smart and an extremely talented musician. The film begins with the couple on their wedding day in the early 60s, about to consummate their relationship, a series of flashbacks tells both their individual stories and that of their relationship. The pair come from very different backgrounds – Edward lives in a cluttered home in Henley on Thames were his father Leonard (Adrian Scarborough) is a teacher and his mother (Anne Marie Duff) is severely mentally ill after a terrible accident. Florence, by contrast, comes from a rich and pristine household. Her mother Marjorie (Emily Watson) is a raging snob who thinks a school teacher’s son beneath her daughter. Father Geoffrey (Samuel West) is a terrible human being.
Ronan was cast first and Howle endured a long delay between his initial audition and the call-back which took place in New York where Ronan was appearing in The Crucible on Broadway. “I paid for the flight to New York myself,” he tells me, “that’s how much I wanted the job. To be honest it paid off!” he concludes laughing. The flight over was full of familiar faces – actors he recognised “because we’re always auditioning for the same things.” One actor, who he refuses to name, was reading the original novel, “I thought that was quite funny.”
On Chesil Beach is a wonderful film and beautifully shot. The climactic scenes take place on the beach itself which is a long thin rocky strip of land between two bodies of water in Dorset. “It’s one of those strange natural phenomena,” the actor tells me, “It really is one of those terribly beautiful places.”
Howle has appeared in several ‘period’ pieces including the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution. I ask him what he thinks about audience's apparently insatibale appetite for period drama “I think people are fascinated by nostalgia. I think stories are to do with the political landscape of the time and the reason why people become interested in stories from the past is that they find it comforting.”
On Chesil Beach is not comforting nostalgia, it’s a bleak look at how respectability stifled people and how women’s sexuality was reduced to ‘wifely duty’. It is a fascinating study of how two people fail to communicate either physically or verbally. The film is heart-breaking, not least because the audience can see that the two main characters love each other but are victims of the repressed times they live in and their own personal history.
Howle realised he wanted to be an actor at the age of eight while playing Cinderella’s dog in pantomime at the Oxford Playhouse. He has me in stitches as he tells me about the performance that made him realise that he had “power” whilst on stage. “My job was to console Cinderella dressed in this ludicrous dog outfit with a big papier mache bone, instead I was stood at the side of the stage… got distracted and was mucking around with bone while Cinderella was sobbing her heart out. The audience started roaring with laughter,” Howle tells me. “Realising I had that level of power, I was fascinated, I could change the story just by making a small adjustment to my performance, inverted commas,” he laughs and goes on to elaborate, “I don’t think my thought processes at that time were quite that sophisticated but that’s when I caught the (acting) bug.”
The Howle family moved from Oxford to Scarborough when the actor was ten and he tells me that the film locations around the Cotswolds and Oxford included many places that he hasn’t been since. “There was one day we drove past the house I’d lived in as a child and I ask the driver to stop to I could see it. That was quite amazing.” I’d recently returned from a tour of my childhood homes and we chat for a while about how the places associated with childhood exert a life exert a lifelong influence on adults. “That’s actually part of my process when I approach a script,” Howle tells me. “When I approach a character my first port of call is geography. The first thing I think about is not just the places themselves but even the size of the house they grew up in, how big was the garden? Was the garden a happy place were people were welcomed?”
Howle has shared the screen with many of the luminaries of the industry but says he doesn’t get star struck. “You earn your stripes but there’s only so long you can be ‘up and coming’” he tells me, “I think it would get in the way if I was star struck.” See, that sounds a bit arsey on paper but the reality is very different.
On Chesil Beach is in cinemas nationwide.
De Knight's Tale in a Monster World
Steven S De Knight built his career around cult TV shows. Now he's taking his vision to the big screen writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
18 March 2018
“I love all movies it doesn’t matter what the genre is as long as it’s a great story and great characters,” Steven S. DeKnight, tells me when we meet in London to discuss his directorial debut Pacific Rim Uprising which stars John Boyega.
The movie itself, a follow up to Pacific Rim (2013), is testament to De Knight's statement.
In bald terms both films are about giant robots, Jaegers, designed to fight Kaiju, giant monsters from the deep. (Don't worry if you haven't seen the first one as viewers are quickly and succinctly brought up to speed)
It’s a genre that could all too easily become spectacle and indeed there are plenty of Godzilla moments, but the film is great entertainment even if ‘Monster’ films generally leave you cold.
“Coming from television, for me, character and story are so important,” de Knight elaborates, “You can have the most spectacular visual effects ever created but, if you don’t have characters that are fun and engaging and have an emotional connection, then none of the other stuff really matters.”
Despite working steadily and successfully as a writer and director in television (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Spartacus) since the early 90s, DeKnight still exudes gratitude and enthusiasm about his career. His own story too is like a traditional Hollywood tale – the ‘overnight success’ after years of painstaking persistence in the face of rejection after rejection.
De Knight comes from the small town of Millville, New Jersey, which developed around a glass factory where both his parents worked. “It was so small we didn’t even have a movie theatre. I had to ride my bicycle a half hour to the next town to see movies. The area I grew up in, even as a kid, it wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. I felt like Luke Skywalker – if there’s a bright part in the Galaxy I’m the furthest away from it," he laughs, "and I just I found so much comfort and inspiration in movies, comic books and TV shows.”
The young De Knight was fascinated by the technical aspects of film-making but in Southern New Jersey there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for him to learn more. In high school he began acting and “fell in love with it,”. Deciding he wanted to pursue a career in acting De Knight got a place in the University of California in Santa Cruz.
His parents, the director tells me, were extremely supportive of him but could not afford to send him to college and the prospective actor had to work and take out loans to pay his own way. When he graduated De Knight decided to change course “I felt like I was a good actor but I wasn’t a great actor and I didn’t feel like I would ever be a truly great actor and,” he adds “I’m not 6' 5" and I’m not ruggedly handsome.”
De Knight is a good looking man, even if he won’t say so himself. But then I’m biased as we found ourselves agreeing on so much – especially that NYPD Blue was one of the best television shows ever televised.
When his degree was finished De Knight did a graduate Playwright program and then a further year learning screenwriting with the intention of writing feature films for a living. “I thought maybe six months to a year and then I’ll be writing features. I could not get arrested! It took me almost seven years before I got a break. Every day I would go to work and every night I would write, churning out one script after another that nobody wanted to read."
Finally, he got a job writing for the MTV teen sex comedy Undressed. While there he wrote a spec script based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer one of his two favourite TV shows. “Imagine how different my career might have been if I’d picked NYPD Blue,” he laughs. The script led to a meeting with Joss Whedon the creator of Buffy and Angel who asked him to write an episode of the show.
“The heavens parted,” he says looking happy and excited still. While his episode was being made Whedon asked him to join Buffy full time. “I’ll never forget it. I practically burst into tears I was so happy. It was like a dream come true, like winning the lottery and for me it was really the start of my career. I wouldn’t be sitting here right now without (Whedon's) belief in me and giving me the opportunities he gave me. He gave me my first chance to direct on Angel, an amazing learning process.”
Despite his extremely successful TV career De Knight still felt anxious about directing his first feature film telling me he was a ‘huge fan’ of Pacific Rim which was directed by Guillermo del Toro, one of his idols. “I’ve seen all his films, seen the DVDs, watched the special commentaries, I’ve all the books about the making of his movies… so (stepping into his shoes) was incredibly daunting. Not only was it my first feature but a huge, huge complicated franchise movie.”
Idris Elba starred in the first film as Striker Pentecost and the plot of Pacific Rim Uprising centres around his son Jake. “Trying to cast the son of Idris Elba – who is so magnificent…,” was no easy task. When John Boyega was suggested de Knight was sceptical. “I love him but I thought because he’s in Star Wars he wouldn’t be interested in doing another huge franchise.”
One thing that stands out in this movie is the amount of women in the cast. Is that deliberate I ask. “Absolutely. I’m from the Joss Whedon camp, I cut my teeth on Buffy and I’ve always loved strong female characters. I love writing for women... I think the old days of purely male dominated action movie is fading. And rightly so."
Pacific Rim Uprising is in cinemas from 23rd March.
Angelic Asa's journey to stardom
Aged just 20, Asa Butterfield is already as seasoned pro and in new word drama Journey's End it shows,
writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
4 February 2018
There was a time when the words words “child star” were synonymous with the word “rehab.” When I say this to Asa Butterfield the 20-year-old star of Journey’s End he chuckles. Butterfield, in his own words, has been acting more than half his life, having started working at nine. To date, he is probably best known for his role in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) but his current film, Journey's End will change that.
To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever met a more composed and relaxed twenty-year-old. At one point during our meeting to chat about his role as the teenage Second Lieutenant Raleigh, he lay across the sofa he was sitting on, before swiftly returning to the sitting position – a hint of a blush on his face.
When I ask him if he thinks children in film are treated better these days (given the way they were often treated in the past it’s no wonder so many of them ended up with addiction issues) he replies “I only know of my experience growing up as an actor living in London - which I think is very very different to being an actor growing up in LA. I think the ‘Showbiz Razzmatazz’ that goes on in LA is damaging, especially to young people. There’s lots of pressure, and trying to imitate or replicate people who aren’t necessarily the best role models.”
The young actor goes on to tell me that he stayed in the same school throughout his career, right up to A-Levels and he never experienced any backlash from other pupils. "I was quite lucky because I know it does happen – jealousy is a real thing but I knew a lot of my friends before it all took off and it didn’t really affect how I behaved or how people behaved around me.”
It probably helped that when he was a child Butterfield wasn’t desperate to get into acting. At seven he joined the Young Actors’ Theatre in Islington because his older brother was a member. “Even when I started doing auditions I wasn’t that bothered. It was fun but there were other things I was more interested in. I wanted to dig up dinosaurs. Digging up dinosaurs was it for a long time,” he says laughing.
Today he’s wearing thick black Joe 90-style spectacles and has his hair in a quiff – classic Geek Chic. But behind the glasses he still looks impossibly young. When I tell him that while I was watching Journey’s End I had the urge to put my fist through the screen he looks slightly alarmed before I explain that I wanted to reach in and pull his youthful character Raleigh out.
“He’s a child, he’s too young to be out there,” I say and Butterfield nods his agreement. Out there is the dirty trenches of Aisne over four days in World War I. Raleigh is a young man of 18, just out of Public School, who thinks war will be a jolly adventure. His uncle is a General and he uses his pull to get posted to the battalion of his older school chum, and idol, Captain Stanhope (Sam Clafin), who is also in love with Raleigh’s sister.
The film is based on the play of the same name written by R.C. Sheriff about his own experiences as an officer in what was then The Great War. When the play debuted in 1929, events were still fresh. Conversely, Butterfield tells me he knew little about the conflict before he got the role. The actor was shocked by the conditions, which the director Saul Dibb replicated on set, and the fact that some of the soldiers were indeed little more than children.
“Some of the people going in would be 14 or 15 years old and they’d lie about their age," he says. "They thought they were going off to serve their country (like) my character in the film.”
He goes on to tell me about the set, “It was pretty real, quite an extensive network of trenches. We ended up knowing our way around – as you would. It was full of mud, in the middle of November, it was rainy. It was grey, (and) literally the mud in the trenches stank.”
The plot of Journey's End focuses on the experiences of the Officers in their claustrophobic dugout within the trench network.
Butterfield and Clafin are joined by Paul Bettany – heart-breaking as Capt. Osborn and Stephen Graham as Second Lieutenant Trotter, a man determined to be jovial in the face of so much fear and misery.
Stanhope is having a breakdown and is reliant on alcohol to dull reality. His personality and his rage dominate the tiny space the officers occupy. The exuberant Raleigh doesn’t understand why his old friend is not happy to see him.
Clafin is superb at expressing all of the complications Raleigh’s arrival bring without having to utter a word. Trotter takes Raleigh under his wing (despite them being the same rank) and shows him how to be an officer. The young man’s child-like delight at seeing the weapons and being allowed let off a flare are heart-rending.
All of the cast are excellent and Butterfield is full of praise for his co-stars, “I really adored working with and learning from (them) – just being in a very close knit creative team. This was the first film I’ve done where I really felt a sort of maturity, the cohesiveness between all of these men, I really felt a part of that. I really valued that. We got close, formed those bonds, I think you really see that in the film.”
The officers, with the exception of Hibbert (Tom Sturridge), are all trying to do their best for the men under their command despite knowing that the odds are no longer in their favour.
The commitment of the officers and the naiveté of Raleigh are in sharp contrast to the cynicism of the generals, who put men’s lives at risk in order not to delay their (fancy) dinners and are willing to sacrifice men for strategies that they know won’t work.
Butterfield has been nominated for more awards than some actors twice his age but he hasn’t allowed it to go to his head. I very much doubt we are going to be reading about the young man's high-jinx antics in the tabloids any time soon.
“I’m quite content with what I’ve got. I’d be perfectly happy doing independent films and enjoying the more relaxed lifestyle. Going to all the big parties and showing your face in places, that’s not really why I’m an actor. I love acting.”
Butterfield already has an impressive CV and given his obvious talent, and despite his best efforts to remain low-key, his will soon be a very well known name.
Journey's End is in cinemas nationwide now.
Park takes Bronze to come up with movie Gold
Oscar-winning animator Nick Park features the Bronze Age in Early Man and finds plenty to laugh at, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
21 January 2018
“What if Cave Men were to put down their clubs and play football?” This was the question that inspired Nick Park’s latest endeavour Early Man. I met the diminutive director, writer and all round creative genius, at the Aardman Animation Studios in Bristol while they were finishing production on the film. Park and his team gave me a glimpse of the intense creative process that lies behind ‘stop-motion’ animation and let me tell you, it’s a process that requires saint-levels of patience to complete.
For the uninitiated ‘stop-motion’ animation is where puppets are manipulated frame-by-frame to create the illusion of movement. The process is meticulous, time-consuming and expensive. On the day I visited Aardman Studio there were 34 active sets, each filming specific scenes for Early Man. Park’s metier is ‘Claymation’ (where the figures are made of ‘clay’ – plasticine (or what we called ‘mala’ when I was in primary school.)
I’ve been a massive fan of Park’s ‘Claymation’ work since the 1990 ‘Creature Comforts’ advert campaign for Heat Electric (Google it, it more than stands the test of time), through the various Wallace & Gromit films and Shaun the Sheep outings. (In fact, my home houses several incarnations of Shaun and at least one Gromit.)
Park is almost sixty, (although he looks significantly younger) and tells me his desire to make films and create characters goes back to his childhood. “It’s what I always dreamed of as a kid. I’d seen a documentary about Disney on the TV, and how it all started with this mouse drawing. ‘That’s what I want to do, I want to create characters that people know,’ I started making films at 12, it’s all I’ve ever done really since.”
Early Man centres around the Stone Age Tribe who come into contact with the ‘modern world’ - the Bronze Age and attempt to beat them at their own game which in this instance is football. The three main protagonists of this new Aardman world are Dug, a young Cave Man, his sidekick/pet Hognob (a wild boar) and Goona, a young woman fighting the innate sexism of her own ‘tribe’ the Bronze Age people.
Park knows that Dug and Hognob will inevitably draw Wallace and Gromit comparisons. “We tried consciously to avoid being Wallace and Gromit again, but there are overlaps of course, you see Hognob reacting a bit like Gromit because it’s in my genes,” the director says laughing. Park himself does the voiceover work on Hognob, “I just go into a Scooby Doo” he explains before making a series of high pitched sounds. “I love Hognob,” he continues laughing, “he’s comedy gold. Every time you see him it will be funny. Hopefully!”
The director goes on to say that he does think “the relationship (between Dug and Hognob) is different” from that of their predecessors Wallace and Gromit. “Dug is obviously a lot younger and he’s not an ‘ideas guy’ like Wallace and I think Hognob is more of a pet than Gromit.”
The rest of the voiceovers are provided by a fairly starry array of performers with Eddie Redmayne as Dug, Tom Hiddleston as Lord Nooth, the Bronze Age Baddie and Maisie Williams as Goona. The rest of the cast includes the highly distinctive voices of Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, Rob Brydon and Miriam Margolyes.
The final characters as they arrive on screen are very much a marriage of Park’s original ideas and the voices provided by the actors. “We need the voices before we can animate,” Park says. “We let the actor’s performance influence what we do – they act out everything – for timing, the gestures etc.” Park uses Tom Hiddleston as an example. “The way he pronounces words we manipulated Nooth’s mouth accordingly. It would (look) different if the voice was done by a different actor.”
Park confides that he enjoys the casting process of his films. “It’s very exciting. I look out for people all the time on radio, TV, films… in terms of what would be a fit.” Although Park has met Tom Hiddleston before it was the actor’s performance on The Graham Norton Show that grabbed his attention. “I was after an actor who could do a good accent and he was doing impressions of Robert de Nero and others. I thought, “he’d be worth a look,” and he was great. He’s very clever. He does a fantastic Donald Trump and Boris Johnston.”
The Tribe all speak with distinctive Northern English accents – like Wallace & Gromit, while the Bronze Age baddies all have heavily accented French or Italian accents. Despite the film being five years in the making does Park worry that Early Man will be seen as pro-Brexit statement. “We’ve tried to steer round this,” Park admits. “I don’t want to be flying the flag for the sort of nationalism that’s anti-European.” (Park’s wife is from Monaghan and the couple spend a lot of time in Ireland.)
Surprisingly, given the theme of the movie, the director says he is not a football fan. “Being a non-football fan I can have a more objective view as an outsider… we made sure that the story works for non-football fans. I don’t support any team but I did do a lot of research over the past five years.” Park wants to reassure all other non-football fans that Early Man is “a comedy caper with plenty of slapstick.”
As Early Man is set in prehistoric times comparisons to the cartoon The Flintstones are inevitable. “I grew up with The Flintstones,” Park says, “and wondered if Early Man is a British Flintstones…” On balance he thinks not. Visual gags and puns have long been a part of Park’s work and Early Man is no different. I was particularly taken with the Zebra Crossing in the Bronze Age town and the Carbon Dating Agency.
As ‘stop-motion’ animation is such a long process there is generally a great deal of anticipation surrounding each new Aardman Animation film and I wonder if the hype puts extra pressure on to the director. “If you think about it too much there is pressure,” he responds, “and I guess I am sort of aware of it, (because) obviously it’s important that it’s successful. But really, we just focus on the creative – that’s it’s what we want to make and it’s funny and hopefully it will fly out there and go down well.”
Having done ‘Claymation’ for almost half a century I wonder if Park is ever tempted to try a different kind of animation. “I’m interested,” he admits “and we are using digital effects in Early Man, things that you can’t do with clay, but I feel like I’m a clay man myself. For me a lot of the humour and charm comes out of it (clay) and it sets us apart from everything else that is out there. It’s not just a matter of choosing technique; I feel like a lot of the humanity and the nuance of the character animation comes form the technique of handling it and being in touch with it in every frame.”
Early Man opened in cinemas nationwide on 26th January.
Molly Bloom. Top of her Game Again
The real Molly Bloom is so much more than the 'Poker Princess' who ran the Hollywood card game, writes Anne Marie Scanlon
The Sunday Independent
17 December 2017
“Kindness is my favourite word,” Molly Bloom tells me. Judging from her story as portrayed in Molly’s Game (based on her memoir of the same name) it seems as if she hasn’t experienced a lot of it to date.
Molly Bloom is her real name, (there's a very funny scene in the movie when Molly (Jessica Chastain) explains to Chris O’Dowd’s drunken Irish American character that she is not Irish, he’s confusing her with the character from Ulysses).
While the 'game' (poker) is pervasive throughout the film that's not what it's about - it's really Molly's story. Bloom, the eldest of three over-achieving siblings, pushed hard by their father (Kevin Costner), was destined for great things – the Olympics and Harvard Law School, when a fluke accident on the ski slopes derailed all her plans.
The young woman decided to defer Harvard for a year, moved to LA, and took a job with a hot shot Hollywood type. He runs a weekly poker game (always all male) that includes famous actors, Hollywood insiders, the powerful and the very rich - the 'buy-in' is $10,000.
Bloom tells me that she never had any interest in poker or gambling “I was interested in playing the room. I was interested in how they functioned and how I could build a business out of it."
Bloom did everything right, consulted a lawyer, paid her taxes and was making millions. Then of course, in the Hollywood tradition, it all went very bad. Molly found herself on the wrong side of both the Mob and the FBI.
Leaving aside that the plot is true and everything the audience sees actually happened, Molly’s Game is a fantastic film in it’s own right. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and makes his directorial debut. The cast is first rate with Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer, Michael Cera as the Machiavellian Player X and Jessica Chastain being pretty much flawless as Molly, who she portrays as driven, steely, and reserved sometimes to the point of coldness.
The real life Bloom is somewhat different; she’s measured in her speech, she pauses a lot, searching for the best answer, but she’s unflinchingly honest about herself and exudes a vulnerability that her movie alter-ego only touches on at times. Despite the film revealing her drug and alcohol addiction, her difficult relationship with her father and her crossing the line into illegality Bloom tells me that she ignored Sorkin’s advice to see the film privately before coming to the premier in Toronto.
“I’m sitting in this theatre with 2000 people going ‘what the hell was I thinking? This was such a terrible idea'. I couldn’t breathe, I was so emotional and tense but, halfway into the opening scene, I just relaxed and I’m watching this movie, like I’m watching any movie. I’m so entertained, it’s taking me outside of myself despite all the massive personal baggage I’m bringing. I think that’s a huge testament to the film. It blew me away. Jessica nailed it, she’s extraordinary."
Bloom is now sober for the second time. She tells me that being indicted by the US Federal Government derailed her first recovery. Movie Molly doesn’t appear to have any social or romantic life but Bloom tells me she did have boyfriends and went out but “really it was all about the game.”
Was that an addiction? Bloom agrees it was. Was it an addiction to power? “Money, greed, power, yeah, all of those things,” she replies. Isn't that the American Dream? “It sure is and I feel lucky that I know the shortcomings of that. I know no matter how much money I made, no matter how much power I had there was an existential emptiness and it wasn’t really until I (embraced) the 12 Step Program (of AA) that I started finally filling that hole”.
Both film Molly and real life Bloom share an old-fashioned decency that you don’t come across much these days. Bloom was offered millions to name names and dish the dirt on those who attended her weekly poker game but she refused. There were already some names in the public domain and those are referenced in the book. Sorkin decided to use amalgam characters in the movie. My advice – don’t google until you’ve seen the film as knowing the names of these people will only distract you and spoil the ending.
The film is much like Bloom herself, funny, clever and quick-witted. I bring up the laugh out loud scene where a Jersey goombah, straight out of The Sopranos, orders an Appletini in order to fit in at a chichi bar. “Oh my god,” she laughs remembering, “that really happened.” When I reply "of course it did, you couldn’t make that up," she lets out a guffaw.
What happened next wasn’t a bit funny. I ask Bloom who treated her worse – the FBI or the Mob and she replies ‘the Mob’ without a moment’s hesitation. Bloom’s treatment at the hands of the FBI was heavy-handed and, to my mind, unfair. She was indicted with 33 others including alleged Russian mafia figures for, amongst other things, money laundering. I wonder if the Federal Government were harder on her than her co-defendants because she’s a woman. Bloom replies that she can’t answer that because she doesn’t know how each of the others experienced the event.
We start chatting about women in Hollywood and #MeToo. "The truth is, the year that I was a cocktail waitress and working for the game, there were some uncomfortable moments – nothing like these women that have come out bravely and discussed in detail, nothing like that, that’s a horror show," Bloom tells me before going on to add, "the way that I was perceived and treated changed dramatically. When I was a cocktail waitress I got hit on and I was treated like an object a lot. When I became the operator, manager and financier of this Game I didn’t get treated like that any more. I became the bank, I was someone who collected money from them, or paid them, or extended credit to them so it was a whole different dynamic."
I remark that the total reversal in the way she was treated by powerful men, being respected, must have been extremely seductive in itself, never mind the money she made. “I LOVED (it)," Bloom replies honestly, "I was sick of feeling powerless." The indictment left Bloom with nothing, facing the ultimate loss of power - jail. With Molly's Game, she has, once again, taken back control.
Molly's Game is in cinemas from 1st January 2018. Molly's Game was re-released in paperback this weekend.
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.