Interview: Aidan Gillen on his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’

Aidan Gillen as Aidan in 'Treacle Jr.'

Steven Galvin chats to Aidan Gillen about his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’, currently playing in Irish cinemas.

A middle-aged man, Tom, walks out one day on his wife and baby boy and his seemingly happy life with no explanation. He opts to live on the streets of London. Alone in a park at night he is set upon by a gang of violent thugs, in his bid to escape he accidentally runs into a tree. In A&E Tom meets an extremely happy, fast-talking individual, Aidan, the complete opposite of Tom. Too polite, or too weak to ask him to leave him alone Tom tries to get away from him but to no avail, Aidan sticks to Tom like glue. Tom reluctantly becomes involved in Aidan’s life and he quickly realizes that this child like man clearly has his own problems, except Aidan can’t see them, his shiny optimism blinds him at every turn, even from his ‘girlfriend’ the dangerous and volatile Linda.

How did you prepare for a role that, let’s say, is not the most conventional?

The script was put together by Jamie following a series of workshops with Tom (Fisher, who plays Tom) and Rian (Steele, who plays Linda) and a couple of others involved along the way. He had an idea that he wanted to make a film about somebody who was really optimistic… irrepressibly optimistic. And have that person put together with someone who is the opposite.

A lot of things happened on the way. At one point we were working on a completely different story with a set of completely different characters. It was quite open. Basically the theme was there and that was it.

I had an idea to base my character on someone I know – and it is based on him. I think often when actors are asked to invent a character they are often – not always – based on people they know or a composite of people that they know. In this case I did base it on someone I know because they perfectly fit the bill.

When you say the story was open and that it found itself – is that how Jamie works? I know you two have worked together before?

It is kind of the way he works. I worked with him in 2000 on a film called The Low Down and it was a similar process although by the time I came to it, he’d already been through the workshops stage. I was there at the script stage. What we filmed was pretty much what was there on the script although there were some scenes improvised here and there. When people saw The Low Down a lot of them thought it was all improvised – that’s the feeling that it has. People have said the same about this film. Some of it is but it’s mostly all scripted – maybe 10% improvised.

The openness of what we do is probably a trademark of Jamie’s but once he has the idea that between yourselves you’ve come up with he’ll take it and solidify it. It is a collaborative process up to a point but it’s mostly him.

There’s an interesting dynamic between the two lead characters – a meeting of opposites.

There is that theme of someone who has it all and doesn’t seem to want it and someone who doesn’t have a lot but is happy with that. Essentially the thing is about people looking out for each other. Jamie is quite a humane filmmaker. He’ll always look for the good in people, the humour in painful situations.

 

Tom (left) & Aidan (right)

 

There’s very much a sense of place to the film…

The film was filmed around Camberwell and Walworth Road in South East London – they’re quite neglected places that were pretty much to the forefront of the areas that were being torn up in London a couple of weeks ago. But they are loving portraits of those areas.

Jamie seems to be using these areas in almost a ‘guerilla’ way, which gives it a particular energy.

There wasn’t any money for paying for anywhere – location wise. We didn’t do anything that we didn’t have permission for though. I think the council in the area we shot was quite helpful and gave us permits and stuff. As far as getting to film in shops and cafés and stuff we’d just go in and ask. But stuff was done on the fly. Across the board it was favours, filming in friends’ places. No messing about. The whole thing was shot pretty fast – three and a half weeks.

You mentioned earlier about basing your character on someone you know? I suppose not so much in England, but in Ireland many people will know of that person – Aidan Walshe…

I don’t know of anyone in England who’d know Aidan Walshe. We’re certainly not using it as a kind of selling point but still acknowledge that that is where that character comes from. You know, it’s not his story – but it’s his characteristics. It’s totally Aidan Walshe – and that’s quite obvious. Jamie was also aware of Aidan and was inspired by his way of dealing with the world. I’m not sure if he’s mentioned in the credits for the film. It’s more as an inspirational figure that Jamie wants to give him credit. But it’s not his story. His story would make a very good film. Like Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon and Larry Flynt – all these people are quite different, but it’s how they deal with life. Aidan’s had quite an interesting struggle in his life and has triumphed and I find that interesting and heroic. But we’re not saying this is the the Aidan Walshe  story because it’s not – but I’d be up for doing the Aidan Walshe story if anyone wants to it…

There’s the weird side to all this as well as people who know it’s based on Aidan Walshe may think that everything we say is supposed to relate to Aidan Walshe’s life… and it doesn’t. I did bring Aidan into it. I’ve known him for a long time, since I was 10 and I did put him wide to it. And I’m glad we did it. He’s our hero. We really wanted to get it across that this guy is really up against some shit and by dealing with it in the way he deals with it he comes out the winner, the clever one, the unsullied one if you like. He helps this guy Tom; he’s what brings him back to life.

… They both help each other.

But essentially it is Tom’s story. Aidan is kind of a ‘show-off’ role. But it is all about Tom. He’s the straight man if you like. I found his story quite moving. People respond to Tom’s plight – leaving home, tearing up his credit cards, wandering around a park at night. People are terrified for him – that he is at the end of his life. Then his life takes another turn when these ‘wild cards’ enter his life.

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Interview: Gerard Lough – The boogeyman’s gonna get ya…

THE BOOGEYMAN - confession scene

Short film director Gerard Lough is making quite a name for himself these days in horror circles. The Boogeyman, his adaptation of the Stephen King story, has been well received on the festival circuit and continues to garner praise. Film Ireland caught up with Gerard to discuss The Boogeyman and the man behind it.

Can you tell us how The Boogeyman came about?

Like a lot of up-and-coming film directors, being given the reins to a feature film was still something out of my reach. So the next option is do another short film. But I soon realized that this time it needed a commercial edge. Short films are shown on TV once every blue moon and cinema screenings are now a rarity so your film needs something different that’s going to make it stand out from what your contemporaries are doing, let alone stand a chance on the international film festival circuit. I didn’t know any famous actors or trendy bands, but I did remember a documentary I saw about The Shawshank Redemption which mentioned that’s its director, Frank Darabont, had previously made a short film also based on a Stephen King story (1983’s The Woman In The Room). So I quickly deducted that having a film based on a short story by an astoundingly famous author can’t hurt. That said, when I read The Boogeyman (taken from King’s short story anthology Night Shift) I fell in love with it, put the marketing strategy to one side and just became hell bent on bringing it to the screen in a vivid and exciting way.

How did you fund it?

I would like to be able to tell you that it was achieved by donating my body to scientific research but the truth is it came from shooting a couple of weddings and scrimping. So I guess the moral of the story is don’t knock Wedding videos. The money can be used to fund your more artistic efforts and besides you’re still telling a story by way of 150 different camera set-ups which have to be decided upon within seconds, which might explain why none of my films have ever gone behind schedule. My deal with King stipulates that the film cannot be commercially exploited therefore that rules out asking a third party to put in as they will never see a return on their investment. Other organizations associated with the Arts turned us down flat as they saw the project as… too commercial. Catch 22. So myself and my producer had to go it alone.

It’s doing really well on the festival circuit – tell us a bit about its success and screenings to date.

Well to say it had a lot of press would be an understatement. One of my fondest memories was hearing that Ryan Tubridy praised the film on his Radio show after reading an article about it in the Irish Times (cheers, Ryan!). And you can’t help go all silly the first time you see an article about it a well-known film magazine such as SFX.

It’s also fair to say that the reviews have been terrific. The general consensus is that we took the source material seriously, strong performance from lead actor Simon Fogarty, great visuals and as well as being genuinely creepy, it has things to say.

Most importantly of all it has had a strong reaction from audiences at festival screenings. Each time I got the sense that after the film’s opening scene (a painfully difficult reverse zoom that makes my head hurt thinking about even now) that they were expecting a by the numbers gore fest but were now watching something very different than what they expected. And it was fun hearing their theories afterwards about what they think is the true meaning of the film’s rather ambiguous twist ending.

 

Have you been good?

 

How did you originally get into filmmaking?

In retrospect I was lucky enough to do a two-year Diploma course that was much more practical than theory based. It was there I learned to operate a camera, edit, direct, organize, etc. So very early on I learned to be both hands on and self-sufficient. When I was doing an internship at a very good advertising agency in America, I used my spare time and newfound resources to good use and directed my first music video (‘Rachel Hates The Sun’). After that I was up and running.

What’s next for you?

I’d like to do one last short film. Blade Runner is my favorite movie so the project I’m preparing right now is a mix of film noir and science fiction. Besides it’s not like Ireland has produced many Cyberpunk / Neo Noir films, right? I have also just finished a feature-length script version of a short film I made in 2008 called Deviant, which was about serial prowler whose days are numbered. And finally, to bring things full circle back to The Boogeyman, I hope to have my first short story published in the autumn. If none of these projects get off the ground… then I’ll reconsider donating my body for scientific research.

Steven Galvin

The Boogeyman will be shown at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dun Laoghaire on 9th September.


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Interview with ‘Perrier’s Bounty’ writer Mark O’Rowe

Perrier's Bounty

With the release of Perrier’s Bounty on DVD,  Steven Galvin talks to Mark O’Rowe, the film’s writer, about the genesis of the script, the characters he created, his career to date and his plans for the future.

Mark O’Rowe began his writing in theatre, picking up a number of prizes for his successful play Howie the Rookie in 1999, which first set out his grungy world populated by low-life ‘crims’, foul-mouthed losers and head-the-balls.

 

After that, he came to prominence in Irish cinema circles by penning the well received Intermission, which won him the IFTA Award for Best Screenplay in 2003.

Since then O’Rowe has written Perrier’s Bounty, which, as he explains below, was ‘shelved’ for a few years, and also adapted Jonathan Trigell’s critically acclaimed novel Boy A in 2007.

Film Ireland caught up with him to learn a little bit about the man behind the screenplays.

Could you tell us about the genesis of Perrier’s Bounty, where the screenplay emerged from, how long it took you to put together…

It’s a good few years old now. I wrote it after Intermission. It was an original project. I wrote it for Parallel Films – the people who produced Intermission. So off I went and did the first draft. And then, they were finding it difficult to get it financed and it went on the shelf for a couple of years. So then it was brought off the shelf and was shown around to a few people and it got a lot of interest. And so everything went fairly smooth from there and it came back to me so I could do a couple more drafts. So I suppose it was a five-to-six-year process with five of those years being on the shelf! Well, when I say ‘on the shelf’, I mean from my point of view; obviously there were people involved (Parallel Films) behind the scenes working to get it made. But for me, I didn’t go near it for a time.

 

And do you think those five years would’ve had an effect on the final product… I mean, would it’ve been a different thing had you finished it first time off?

No. It’s pretty much what it was. It’s the same story that was always there. Obviously you’re improving it, rewriting it and stuff. But more or less it’s the same story.

As always with these things, people are going to categorise it. But you’ve got a lot of genres going on in this film– obviously you’ve got your gangster stuff; there’s a road movie in there; there’s a bit of western; and there’s also a rom-com element – all interwoven. Is that something you consciously set out to do?

No…well the main thing I wanted was to do something genre-based, definitely. A movie that had people shooting guns at each other! That was probably as close as it got. As soon as I started writing it, I knew it was going to be funny – a gangster-caper type. Now everything you’ve listed there is correct, but I think they all fall under the main umbrella of gangster comedy. And I wanted to do something set within a specific timeframe… set over 36 hours – a guy trying to beat the clock type of story, with three very clear acts: one which would be night 1; the second would be the following day; and the third that would be the following night; something that was very strictly structured. And then everything came from that. You set it up as a simple familiar story: a guy owes money to a gangster; he has a certain amount of time to pay; and you wind it up throwing in a few other characters and situations and see how it plays out. Well, that sounds easy. It’s not! But that’s kind of the idea.

And was it something you wanted to do because you have a love of that type of film, something you grew up watching, or just something you wanted to tackle?

I don’t know… it becomes what it becomes. I had written Intermission and that was a sprawling, multi-character, multi-story thing, so I wanted to do something that required the discipline of the three-act structure, something that I knew would end up with a big set piece, something that would have the shoot-out, with chases, the love interest; all that kind of stuff. But to flip it on its head, whenever I could… or sort of indulge my own voice within that framework. In terms of stuff that I grew up watching – the same stuff everyone of my generation grew up with – the Scorsese stuff. So I suppose when I was teenager I got off on all that Scorsese stuff and those guys, if you want to make that connection. But the one thing I find quite weary is the Guy Ritchie thing, y’know that if you have a guy with a gun and humour – you’re very much bracketed into that. But I think this film is very much its own beast, even though it would have antecedents in that and Tarantino before that. It’s about doing my own thing.

When you talk about the characters, and obviously there’s a varied lot in the film; the two that stood out for me were the two ‘street philosophers’, – Michael’s father played by Jim Broadbent and Perrier himself played by Brendan Gleeson. Some of the best dialogue the film you’ve put into their mouths. Tell us about these two eccentrics you’ve created.

Well here’s how it happened… I suppose as I developed the script, Michael, the Cillian Murphy character, became the straight man to all these comedians. So in a way, from my point of view, Cillain had the most difficult performance. He’s the one who’s on the verge of losing his mind, but he’s the one we have to identify with. He’s the one who has to keep the film grounded while everyone around him has fun playing half-crazed lunatics. So you’ve got Jodie being suicidal and desperate to get back with this guy, you’ve got Jim thinking he’s going to die the next time he sleeps and Brendan being… here’s the thing though – they’re not really ‘philosophers’: Jim just believes he’s going to die. Simple as that. Any monologues he gets are stories, the knowledge that he has that which other people don’t, which is that he has met the Grim Reaper. And the thing about Brendan is that he’s convinced that he’s a very modern, liberal kind of guy, who is accepting of his men… of everything. Yet he protests slightly too much about being ‘hep to all that shit’, as he puts it. With him, it’s pretty much about this psychopath with very little or little or no empathy trying to come across as quite sensitive and sympathetic to his men and ideas of liberality. But the fact is he’s just a psychopath.

It’s clear from your writing that your characters are very much defined by their dialogue; is that something you bring from your theatre background or is it something that you engage with in your writing?

Yes. It started off from my writing for theatre. In theatre, you often start with someone just talking. It starts with words. Not words to describe an action but words that come out as dialogue from a character’s mouth. That character would say something and you get a clue to who they are, and the next step might be in the plot. So Perrier’s Bounty literally started off with Michael waking up to these two guys saying, ‘you have four hours to get this money to Perrier’. And then it’s a case of ‘so where will we go next’? I keep it going with dialogue. I think the fact that you take that route hopefully means that you get a lot of good supporting characters because they have to make their impact in the couple of minutes they’re on screen. Then you can leave them behind; bring them back or maybe not. But they have to stamp themselves in some way. And for me that’s through dialogue. It’s more than just writing Goon 1 and Goon 2.

You’re giving them existence outside of one particular scene…

Absolutely. And this makes it more interesting because these characters have a life of their own. It gives you a lot of freedom to come up with original takes on what’s happening, because you’re kind of making it up as you go along and you don’t know everything that’s going to happen – but of course in the long term you know where it’s all going to end.

This is your third screenplay on top of your theatre output. Perhaps you could talk about your evolution as a writer.

Well I did my Leaving Cert and that was as far and my education went. I had a few different jobs. I loved movies and literature but I was never going to get a job writing. My big love was film, but there was no way then in the ’80s in Tallaght… even if you could write a script, who would you give it to? Whereas I started to think that if I could write a play, at worst I could put it on myself… in a shed in front of people I knew! It seemed more ‘doable’. So that’s how I started writing. It seemed easier to get something out there. And that led to my career as a playwright. I remember the first time I really felt I could do something was when someone gave me a book of David Mamet plays and reading Sexual Perversion in Chicago. I read the dialogue and was amazed by it – it was just two people talking. So I started to imitate him and to get into the rhythms of that kind of speech, with people overlapping and interrupting and the poetic quality of it. Even though it was very scathing, realistic dialogue – that gave me the encouragement to write and I started to write scenes around dialogue. Earlier you asked about dialogue it my work – and there it is propelling my career! I suppose I learnt that I had to tell a story as well, try to plot something, which you kind of have to do!

And so what about the future. What are you working on at the moment? Any future screenplays coming up?

I’m working on a play at the moment. But I have a new screenplay – an adaptation of a book called Broken by Daniel Clay. I finished that quite recently and BBC films are going to be doing that next year 2011. Even though it’s not my own work, like with Boy A, you end up getting just as involved.

Finally then Mark, when you speak of your own work – how involved, if at all, were you in the production of your screenplay Perrier’s Bounty. Did you work at all with Ian Fitzgibbon (director) or is it a case of ‘my work here is done’?

You’ve got to hand it over y’know. They shot a lot of it in London and a lot of it here. I have a job. I wouldn’t be paid to be hanging around the set. Of course I was out at the set a couple of times and as any writer will tell you: it’s incredibly boring! You arrive at 10.30 thinking this is going to be the most exciting day of my life, and by lunchtime you’re trying to find someone to give you a lift home! I had a bit of involvement in the editing room at the end to give my opinion on various things – some of which they took; some of which they didn’t. But I was very happy with the job Ian did and very happy with the cast. I think it’s a good job. The photography is good, the editing, the pace, and the tone in general. Yeah, I think it all came out well.

Grand. Well Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and congratulations on Perrier’s Bounty. All the best for the future.

Cheers. Thanks.

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