Maze is based on the true story of the 1983 mass breakout of 38 IRA prisoners from HMP Maze high-security prison in Northern Ireland. As Larry Marley (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), the chief architect of the escape, schemes his way towards pulling off this feat, he comes into contact with prison warder, Gordon Close (Barry Ward). Initially Larry and Gordon are confirmed enemies, born on opposite sides of Northern Ireland’s political divide, but when Larry realises that Gordon may be unwittingly useful for his escape plan, a slow seduction begins. Larry intends to use and manipulate Gordon in order to get closer to his goal but what follows is a tense, and intriguing drama in which an unlikely relationship is forged between two enemies that will have far reaching consequences for both of them.
Gemma Creagh caught up with Barry Ward ahead of the film’s release on DVD.
How did you get involved with Maze.
I had worked with Jane Doolan, the producer and we made an Italian film together [L’accabadora (2015)] in Cagliari, Sardinia in Italian. It was around that time she said her husband Stephen Burke had a script and that there would be something in it for me. At that stage, I think they had me in mind for one of the inmates. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor was already attached. As time went by, availability issues and production issues rose and then, while talking to Stephen and Jane, they said that they wanted me to play Gordon, the warden, in the film opposite Tom, who plays a Republican prisoner. It’s a really brilliant part and I was thrilled to do it – plus Jane and Stephen being friends made it all the more sweeter.
Gordon is a real meaty character with maybe some views the people don’t agree with. But you really empathize with the pressure he’s under. It’s very easy to vilify a prison guard but you brought so much to the role to create a three-dimensional character. How did you approach him as a character.
I think that on the page it was really obvious immediately that the warden was a really a terrific part – really meaty as you say. And the fact that traditionally prison-breakout movies involve the escapee as the hero and the warden as a one-dimensional baddy whereas this film put a twist on that made it really interesting. It’s really appealing for anybody reading it and particularly the role of Gordon. So in the approach most of it was on the page and it was hard to go wrong. My own research on it was about the context of the time – the North in the ’70s and early ’80s. I was reading a lot of books on that time, which was really at the height of it all. It made for really grim but terrific reading. The wardens had a bad reputation – and probably well founded. They were legitimate targets and they were being murdered during that period. It was a highly dangerous job and required great courage to see it through and to do it. I was thinking of Gordon as quite simply as a jobsworth… but he really took pride in what he was doing and deemed it a very important job. It was something of a vocation or a mission that he got up and out everyday. And he wasn’t going to cow down to anyone in the face of threats. He believed what he was doing was right – and that he was on the right side of the war.
Whatever side the character is on, whatever the politics, they are coming from a similar mindset, I think. I read a lot about not only the historical context of the time but also the professional context of being a prison warden. They wasn’t that much to go on but there were more studies more recently – particularly in the States – on the effects of that profession on the mental well-being of wardens. It makes for harsh reading. It’s an extremely challenging job and leads to all sorts of social and personal problems. I had all that in mind… but as an actor approaching your character you have to trust that the research you’ve done is there and will be present during a scene but you kind of have to park it at the door and just concentrate on the scene in hand, what the character’s individual objectives are and what obstacles they are faced with. Both Tom and my characters were so well drawn that it was kind of easy – and a joy – to play. Plus me and Tom get on brilliantly and were bouncing ideas of each other. So when action is shouted you draw on all the work you’ve done and hopefully get the scene.
Produced by Jane Doolan and Brendan J Byrne, Maze is released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK on the 15th January (EST) and 22nd January (DVD), and was financed by The Irish Film Board, RTE, BAI, Film Vast, Windmill Lane, Cork regional funding and Irish tax incentives for the film industry.