Mammal is the story of a woman (Rachel Griffiths) who has lost her son and develops an unorthodox relationship with Joe, a homeless youth (Barry Keoghan). Their tentative trust is threatened by his involvement with a violent gang and the escalation of her ex-husband’s grieving rage.
Paul Farren talks to the film’s director Rebecca Daly and actor Barry Keoghan.
Great performance Barry – really intense. It must have been a big challenge for you.
Barry: It was a great script – not a lot got said and I had to internalise everything. I love doing those roles where you let your actions speak, where one look can mean a thousand words.
Which leads me to the script, how do you write that Rebecca? I mean, you know that old principle ‘if it’s not on the stage it’s not on the page’ – this kind of drama doesn’t come off the page easily.
Rebecca: Actually, our script is quite rich; it is itself a piece of writing. What we are describing a lot is atmosphere, tone and the feel of the thing. I think you get that from the script. It’s true that there’s not a lot of dialogue but film is a visual medium. If you can’t show the thing with the action of the actor then you go to dialogue. To me, I would rather show it first. My characters usually express their emotions through their actions rather than through telling you how they are feeling or having big outbursts.
From an acting perspective what was the approach to the subject matter and getting into that level of intimacy that the role required?
Barry: Rebecca kept it fresh. We didn’t really do rehearsals – we just talked about scenes. We joked on set a lot which made it comfortable.
Where did the kernel of the film come from?
Rebecca: It was actually Glenn Montgomery, the co-writer of the film. It was his idea to make this film about a woman who doesn’t know how to mother – and it came out of that. He started asking me questions in terms of her character, in terms of her circumstances that led her to making that decision… and then how it impacts afterwards on how she lives her life, how she interacts with people, especially, obviously Joe. It was a succession of steps really.
The character Margaret is trying to deal with her tragedy but stay away from it at the same time. Like her function in the charity shop, seems like a subliminal approach to dealing with that.
Rebecca: And she takes in lodgers. She cares for people without having the risk of emotional attachment. She lives in that sort of liminal space. Joe changes that!
How did Barry come to play the role of Joe?
Rebecca: Barry was the first person we saw for the part. We did see a lot of people afterwards because I’m painfully diligent! But really no-one came close to Barry – he just kind of was Joe.
Barry: Joe is from my area. He’s one of the lads. I know him. And there’s bits of him in me. More personality-wise than experience as such. He reminds me of lads I know standing on the canal having a few drinks.
He’s a real city lad.
Barry: Yeh he is, but he’s just a mammy’s boy really!
There is the sense that when he is on his night time attacks with the gang he’s the runt of the litter. He’s probably cleverer than the other guys – not as tough, I suppose he hasn’t been there that long. He’s the bait.
Rebecca: Yeh, he’s the bait. We can empathise with him. He’s involved in some pretty rough things and cruel things as well. But I think, for Joe, it’s all about survival. He’s doing everything to survive; whatever it takes.
I suppose one of the challenges of this piece is its avoidance of types, it’s not simply about good guys and bad guys.
Rebecca: These are the interesting characters. I’m not interested in someone being all good or all bad. Flawed, contradictory, complicated – likeable, unloveable, unlikeable and loveable – that all mixes in people. That’s what people are like.
In that way, you are challenging audience’s opinions of these characters. It seems that is what your work does. And that means asking the audience to go the extra mile and in participating with the film.
Rebecca: If I’m in a room with 5 people I’m interested in the quiet one. I want to find out more about them. I’m drawn to people who have mystery about them – and I think characters in film and films themselves can function like that. And if a film asks you to lean in a bit you can get something very rewarding out of that experience. That’s the cinema I’m interested I’m making as opposed to the type of cinema that jumps out at you. I think if you participate in something more you’ll have a deeper experience.
Mammal is in cinemas from 1st April