Since the beginning of cinema, there has been a fashion for performers creating their own work. Film Ireland spoke to various actors working in Ireland about juggling roles in front of and behind the camera.
From Charlie Chaplin’s great silent films, circa 1914, to Orson Welles who co-wrote and directed himself in arguably one of the greatest films of the 20th century, Citizen Kane, actors have turned their hand to directing, and often a whole lot more. When Ben Affleck and Matt Damon did it for themselves and wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting, they went home with the Oscar for best screenplay.
Closer to home we’ve seen the likes of Mark O’Halloran, who wrote himself into Adam & Paul, and Mark Doherty, who wrote and starred in A Film With Me In It, juggle multiple roles.
More recently, a wave of Hollywood pin-ups have taken to directing. Once something actors turned to after a succession of flops or once past their peak (think Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones), this new class of young actor-director, that includes the likes of Ryan Gosling, James Franco and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are doing it for themselves and, by most accounts, are doing it well.
And it’s not just a man’s game. After snagging multiple Golden Globe nominations for her acting, Penny Marshall went on to direct Big, the first film directed by a woman to gross in excess of $100 million at the U.S. box office.
This trend of having a central actor take on multiple positions has its roots in low-budget short filmmaking, where manpower and funds are stretched, and has become the name of the game post-recession Ireland. But despite what you might think, a self-financed short film with a single man or woman at the helm does not always make for a grainy, home-made exercise in egotism.
The Anti-Love Pill (Karl Argue)
The Anti-Love Pill was written, produced, directed by and stars Karl Argue, and is a well-crafted film with slick stylized storytelling. The film stars Argue as a love-sick man in search for the cure for love. We spoke to him about what inspired him to adopt the gung-ho approach of going it alone.
“I fell in love with a film in the late ’90s called Buffalo 66 – it’s an indie classic. In this movie the actor also wrote, directed, produced, designed the costumes and much, much more. I felt I could give it a shot. Plus there weren’t a lot of people around me offering to help, so I had to take the bull by the horns. If I had waited around for all the right conditions, I’d still be waiting.
“I felt I could do and show a lot more. I was frustrated waiting for the phone to ring and when it did it was normally for me to audition for Scumbag Number 2. But I knew I was good enough to play Scumbag Number 1! Actually I didn’t get into this to just play either of those roles. But if I wanted a better role, I was going to have to create it myself.
“If no-one is going to give you the chance you need, you’ve just got to go out there and take it! I spent every last penny I had on this film (well, all the money I earned from a McDonalds ad). As mad as it felt throwing 1000s of Euros at a short film, not knowing if it was going to sink or swim, it felt good going out and doing something, instead of just sitting around leaving my career in someone else’s hands. Even if I did mess it up, I was making movies, I was living the dream. But in the end I was really happy with the process and the end film”.
Normal (Eddie Jackson and Mark McCabe)
Actors Eddie Jackson and Mark McCabe had similar reasons for writing the short Normal. “We wanted to get ourselves out there, by creating our own roles. It was a challenge, but it was one that was really worth doing”. Normal is a heart-warming tale of two very different characters, played by Jackson and McCabe.
Blink (Gavin O’Connor)
Other actors have different motivations for breaking the mould. For the actor Gavin O’Connor, writing and producing Blink was an opportunity to stretch his creative legs. “I have been acting a long time but I have seen a different side of production, which I now have even more respect for than I did before. I learned that if you have a story to tell, you will find a way to tell it, and not to let finance (or lack thereof) stand in the way”.
The Stand-Up (Sean Murphy)
While some use it as an opportunity to experiment, others stick to what they know. The Stand-Up is written and directed by the stand-up comedian Sean Murphy, who also stars as, you guessed it, a stand-up comedian. He told Film Ireland, “I needed a role that suited me, a Jack Lemmon type role, and very few, if any, auditions had that”.
The Stand-Up is a dark comedy that follows the central character as he trudges through the dejecting comedy circuit of Dublin, a strain that eventually leads him to take extreme action. “The final image in the film came to me first and it grew from there. I knew the image contained a certain meaning for me personally, as a cruel comical metaphor and I knew I had to pursue it – I just knew I needed to make it. Then my early collaborator died very suddenly. I felt I had no choice, I needed to see his name on that screen, and that’s why the film is dedicated to him”.
Patsy Dick (Clodagh Downing )
Often actors make their own film as a means of creating something closer to their heart. Clodagh Downing, who wrote, produced and acted in Patsy Dick, told Film Ireland, “I love writing and making films. My mum used to tell us this story and it always put us in good humour no matter what. I wanted to make a film that people would want to see.” Patsy Dick is a moving story about a West Cork boatman who helps an American couple have a child. Downing’s film made the glamourous journey over to this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Whether it be to write themselves into a suitable role, express their own creative vision, or to simply try something new, it seems like the actor turned director/writer/producer is here to stay. In an age of accessible digital hi-definition technology, these modern day Renaissance men (and women) are, rather admirably, staring the recession in the face and making things happen for themselves.
The Anti-Love Pill: http://vimeo.com/70531435#
The Stand-Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qdhi6PE6pA