Steven Galvin chats to Aidan Gillen about his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’, currently playing in Irish cinemas.
A middle-aged man, Tom, walks out one day on his wife and baby boy and his seemingly happy life with no explanation. He opts to live on the streets of London. Alone in a park at night he is set upon by a gang of violent thugs, in his bid to escape he accidentally runs into a tree. In A&E Tom meets an extremely happy, fast-talking individual, Aidan, the complete opposite of Tom. Too polite, or too weak to ask him to leave him alone Tom tries to get away from him but to no avail, Aidan sticks to Tom like glue. Tom reluctantly becomes involved in Aidan’s life and he quickly realizes that this child like man clearly has his own problems, except Aidan can’t see them, his shiny optimism blinds him at every turn, even from his ‘girlfriend’ the dangerous and volatile Linda.
How did you prepare for a role that, let’s say, is not the most conventional?
The script was put together by Jamie following a series of workshops with Tom (Fisher, who plays Tom) and Rian (Steele, who plays Linda) and a couple of others involved along the way. He had an idea that he wanted to make a film about somebody who was really optimistic… irrepressibly optimistic. And have that person put together with someone who is the opposite.
A lot of things happened on the way. At one point we were working on a completely different story with a set of completely different characters. It was quite open. Basically the theme was there and that was it.
I had an idea to base my character on someone I know – and it is based on him. I think often when actors are asked to invent a character they are often – not always – based on people they know or a composite of people that they know. In this case I did base it on someone I know because they perfectly fit the bill.
When you say the story was open and that it found itself – is that how Jamie works? I know you two have worked together before?
It is kind of the way he works. I worked with him in 2000 on a film called The Low Down and it was a similar process although by the time I came to it, he’d already been through the workshops stage. I was there at the script stage. What we filmed was pretty much what was there on the script although there were some scenes improvised here and there. When people saw The Low Down a lot of them thought it was all improvised – that’s the feeling that it has. People have said the same about this film. Some of it is but it’s mostly all scripted – maybe 10% improvised.
The openness of what we do is probably a trademark of Jamie’s but once he has the idea that between yourselves you’ve come up with he’ll take it and solidify it. It is a collaborative process up to a point but it’s mostly him.
There’s an interesting dynamic between the two lead characters – a meeting of opposites.
There is that theme of someone who has it all and doesn’t seem to want it and someone who doesn’t have a lot but is happy with that. Essentially the thing is about people looking out for each other. Jamie is quite a humane filmmaker. He’ll always look for the good in people, the humour in painful situations.
There’s very much a sense of place to the film…
The film was filmed around Camberwell and Walworth Road in South East London – they’re quite neglected places that were pretty much to the forefront of the areas that were being torn up in London a couple of weeks ago. But they are loving portraits of those areas.
Jamie seems to be using these areas in almost a ‘guerilla’ way, which gives it a particular energy.
There wasn’t any money for paying for anywhere – location wise. We didn’t do anything that we didn’t have permission for though. I think the council in the area we shot was quite helpful and gave us permits and stuff. As far as getting to film in shops and cafés and stuff we’d just go in and ask. But stuff was done on the fly. Across the board it was favours, filming in friends’ places. No messing about. The whole thing was shot pretty fast – three and a half weeks.
You mentioned earlier about basing your character on someone you know? I suppose not so much in England, but in Ireland many people will know of that person – Aidan Walshe…
I don’t know of anyone in England who’d know Aidan Walshe. We’re certainly not using it as a kind of selling point but still acknowledge that that is where that character comes from. You know, it’s not his story – but it’s his characteristics. It’s totally Aidan Walshe – and that’s quite obvious. Jamie was also aware of Aidan and was inspired by his way of dealing with the world. I’m not sure if he’s mentioned in the credits for the film. It’s more as an inspirational figure that Jamie wants to give him credit. But it’s not his story. His story would make a very good film. Like Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon and Larry Flynt – all these people are quite different, but it’s how they deal with life. Aidan’s had quite an interesting struggle in his life and has triumphed and I find that interesting and heroic. But we’re not saying this is the the Aidan Walshe story because it’s not – but I’d be up for doing the Aidan Walshe story if anyone wants to it…
There’s the weird side to all this as well as people who know it’s based on Aidan Walshe may think that everything we say is supposed to relate to Aidan Walshe’s life… and it doesn’t. I did bring Aidan into it. I’ve known him for a long time, since I was 10 and I did put him wide to it. And I’m glad we did it. He’s our hero. We really wanted to get it across that this guy is really up against some shit and by dealing with it in the way he deals with it he comes out the winner, the clever one, the unsullied one if you like. He helps this guy Tom; he’s what brings him back to life.
… They both help each other.
But essentially it is Tom’s story. Aidan is kind of a ‘show-off’ role. But it is all about Tom. He’s the straight man if you like. I found his story quite moving. People respond to Tom’s plight – leaving home, tearing up his credit cards, wandering around a park at night. People are terrified for him – that he is at the end of his life. Then his life takes another turn when these ‘wild cards’ enter his life.