Carmen Bryce braved the undead to catch a few words with Geraldine McAlinden, who stars in Portrait of a Zombie, which opened the Underground Cinema Film Festival on Thursday. It was the film’s Dublin premiere.
You’re very new to the acting world. Is this your first feature film?
No, I was lucky enough to have a part in Anton directed by Graham Cantwell in 2008 and I also have a small part in Meeting on the Stairs, directed by Lorna Fitzsimons and was screened at this year’s Underground Festival. Portrait of a Zombie is my biggest role to date and I’m delighted to be part of a film that there’s such a buzz around. I only gave up my day job as a lawyer this week to commit myself more to acting, which is scary but exciting at the same time.
Tell us a little about your part in Portrait of a Zombie.
I play Lizzy Murphy, the mother of a family living in an estate in Finglas, Dublin. Lizzy is the mother of three children and her eldest, Billy, was turned into a zombie during a zombie invasion of Ireland. Instead of ‘getting rid of him’ the family decide to look after him, keeping him upstairs, chained up with a muzzle. The neighbours aren’t happy; they see Billy as a threat, a danger to the whole community. The local gangsters aren’t happy, and they’re the ones who are having to clear up the whole zombie mess as there’s no real presence of police or army. The family have invited an American documentarian and a film crew to film their situation. The plot thickens and by the end of the film, we see just how far a mother’s love is willing to go.
So it’s a horror?
The film is really a family drama with layers of social commentary. There is also a lot of black comedy thrown in. It’s Dawn of the Dead meets Shaun of the Dead.
What attracted you to the role?
I got the script on a Saturday morning and I was asked to be at the audition at 4pm that day. By the time I was half way down the second page I knew I really wanted to be in the film. I loved the black comedy and the twist to the traditional zombie film. It’s a really smart script and it was a pleasure to be in it. There was such a great cast to play alongside and working together from morning ‘til night, shooting some pretty intense scenes , on a really tight budget, meant that we were really close by the end of filming. The film was three years in the making. The director Bing Bailey went back to it a few times, to tweak, improve and build on it so you’d get new scenes to film every time he did.
What is the social commentary behind the film?
Billy could represent any person in society that the neighbours wouldn’t want around – a drug user for example, or a paedophile. I wouldn’t be a horror fan at all, Dr Who scares me! I’m told though that traditionally zombie movies represent society’s deterioration, whether it’s mass consumerism or slack morals. They have taken their eye off the ball and now they’re going to pay for it. There is an element of that in the film too.
How challenging was it to play the loving mother of a flesh-eating zombie?
In a way it was very challenging because Billy is very far gone, he’s a monster, and yet I’m playing a woman who only sees her darling son in front of her. On the other hand, it wasn’t challenging because if acting is reacting, then the talented Patrick Murphy – who plays Billy – was a dream to act alongside. Even as a mother who recognises her son in the zombie, there is still fear in the back of her mind.
Do Independent films struggle in Ireland?
I think they can struggle as they don’t have the budgets for marketing. On the other hand, word of mouth works very well in Ireland. This can create interest – friends coming to see it and passing on their own review works wonder. There is a lot of media support for independent films in Ireland which goes a long way on a very small budget. Festivals like Underground are brilliant at boosting interest in Independent films too. Somebody might go along to a festival such as Underground and want to go to more where they’ll be exposed to a variety of indies. What we’re trying to push as well is the idea of showing short Independent films before mainstream films in cinemas instead of a conveyor belt of ads for blockbusters and other big budget films. They used to do this a lot more, I don’t know where it went. It gets the message out to a wider audience.
The Underground Cinema Film Festival (UCFF) in Dun Laoghaire celebrates the best of Irish Independent Cinema screening a selection of some of the best short and feature films made by Irish independent filmmakers. The festival takes place 13th-16th September.