Patrick’s Day is the story of a young man with mental health issues who becomes intimate with a suicidal flight attendant. When his obsessive mother finds out she enlists a dysfunctional cop to separate them.
Patrick Townsend sat down with Terry McMahon to talk about his second feature and his desire to capture lightning in a bottle.
Can you tell us about the starting point of the movie.
I wanted to make a film about a schizophrenic. The reason being is that schizophrenia, the reductionist sense of the diagnosis, is about the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality, and I wanted to find a way of thematically exploring that in a dramatic construct. I love characters who have difficulty defining the difference between illusion and reality.
You start off the film with the title stating what the definition of mental illness is [“any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people”]. Was there a particular reason for this?
That’s the Collins English Dictionary definition of mental illness. But the exact same definition could be applied to love. The consequence of your actions and the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality is one of the driving forces of love. So I think it states the theme unintentionally, which is its literal manifestation and then its romantic manifestation.
The film subverts the idea of parental love, with the character played by Kerry Fox. Was that kind of relationship another area you wanted to explore?
I love characters who have the courage to pursue what they think is right, despite the fact that the consequences can be profound. So in the negative and the positive I think it’s a great thing that we respond to the aspiration of a character. And all the characters in the film with no exceptions have an aspiration towards something that might be minute to us but profound to them. Or it might be profound to us but only seems like minute to them. So a mother who’s trying to protect her son, who believes that her love will justify all kinds of aberrations, is in itself the kind of mental illness we’re exploring. And I love the idea of having a character who thinks that, despite all consequences, they must do what they believe is right. On a political level, as a political metaphor, we have a government doing that at the moment, who justify to themselves completely aberrant behavior trying to qualify it as being beneficial to the people when in actuality they’re doing untold damage. So it works as a political metaphor and a human story.
I’m interested in the reception that the film has got from people who suffer from these kinds of mental illnesses. Have people from that community embraced the film?
Well, it’s funny. Before we made it I made sure the script was as freely available as possible to anybody who wanted to read it. We did a lot of research and I spoke to many different groups and many different individuals on both sides of the diagnostic fence. And schizophrenia is such a controversial subject anyway; it’s such an emotive, extreme response. So I met with people who claimed that the film was not representative of their lives and met others who claimed that the film was like their life recorded and summed up. We wanted to make sure we did not cause any unintentional offense to anybody but at the same time we wanted to remain true to an authentic world. What subsequently happened was that I received a staggering amount of letters and emails from people who’ve been so profoundly moved by it and feel empowered by it within the reductionist realm of their diagnosis that it’s actually humbling, really humbling.
Plus we have people like Prof Ivor Browne, one of the great mavericks in Europe, stand not just shoulder to shoulder with the film but actually make these extraordinary declarations about how authentic it is in the realm of his 45 years of experience. We have the amazing Dr Garrett O’Connor from the John Hopkins Institute, former head of the Betty Ford Clinic, making these extraordinary public statements about the film. So it’s working in a way that has even transcended our aspirations.
Can we talk about Moe Dunford. I understand that you had to fight to get him into this role.
Moe is a one-of-a generation talent to be honest with you. But nobody knows that yet. So there are people who understandably and justifiably were saying “we have a couple of well-known named actors who want to play this role, why are you going with an unknown?” I believed that Moe had the capacity to go to a place that no one else could really go to. So in order to justify casting him, I brought him home after the casting. There was a football match on that night and there were a couple of my mates coming around to have a beer. We got Moe drunk and brought him into the sitting room. My daughter had this beautiful dog, a border/collie mix, and the dog jumped all over him and licked his face and gave him such love and he was telling the dog how much he loved her and all that, and I was filming it. I uploaded it to youtube, sent it to the financiers and they cast him that night and were profoundly happy with him in the end.
That’s been pretty much justified… he won the Shooting Star in Berlin.
Yes and he’s won awards in America and he’s been embraced in America. It’s incredible. Heavyweight agents, heavyweight casting directors, heavyweight everyone suddenly want to be a part of him. It worked out for everyone in the end. It’s just one of those things – to take a risk on an unknown entity is a difficult thing. If it doesn’t pay off, you’re in trouble. If it does pay off, everybody’s thrilled.
You need to take that risk though…
Most of the times we don’t though. We just replicate what we feel already works. That’s one of the reasons why repetition becomes tiresome for an audience.
Looking to the future, I understand you have one or two projects down the line.
There’s a hard-core prison drama called Dancehall Bitch and it’s about what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they’re men. It’s dark and aggressive and potentially, I think, a very visceral film, but it’s a genre film, a prison genre film. And I’m excited about the idea of working with Emmet Scanlon again, Moe Dunford again, Catherine Walker again, Michael Lavelle again, the cinematographer, Emer Reynolds again as editor, a small core group of remarkable people who I think could capture something remarkable.
Talking about taking risks, is it important for you in your career to challenge yourself with each film and to create something different?
I don’t really have a career and I don’t really see the world in terms of a career because I’m piss-ass broke, so I don’t know what a career is. But I do know that there are some people who would feel that the next step should be towards some sort of commercial venture, but I don’t know what that means. I just want to be on set with a small core group of people trying to capture lightning in a bottle, whether people like it or not. Something like Charlie Casanova creates such extreme reactions in the negative; something like Patrick’s Day creates such extreme reactions in the positive, but you can’t control either of those things. All you can do is hope that on the day in front of the lens of the camera you capture lightning in a bottle.
Patrick’s Day is in cinemas from 6th February 2015