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.