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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Cinema Review: Treacle Jr

The Master of the Universe explains his plans

DIR/WRI: Jamie Thraves • PRO: Rob Small, Jamie Thraves • DOP: Catherine Derry, Nigel Kinnings • ED: Ross Hallard, Tom Lindsay • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher, Riann Steele

Treacle Jr is director Jamie Thraves’ third feature – a tightly-scripted slice of urban survival. The film opens with Tom (Tom Fisher), an anonymous man seemingly escaping a settled past that weighs heavy upon him. For whatever reasons, he has decided to turn his back on life and finds himself wandering homeless in London. The over exuberant Aidan (Aidan Gillen) enters his life offering him the top bunk in his flat which is for rent. Aidan’s ‘girlfriend’ Linda (Riann Steele) proves to be an explosive ingredient in the mix and the dysfunctional threesome become four with the introduction of ‘Treacle Jr’, a kitten Aidan adopts.

Treacle Jr is a story about how people deal with the lives they are given and how physical escape is often not the ideal option but rather that a certain freedom can be attained by escapism and transcending one’s surroundings and, in Aidan’s case, finding a ‘heaven’ that Tom doesn’t believe in.

The three performances are exemplary: Steele’s street-wise aggressive girlfriend is startlingly fiercesome, while Fisher’s marvellously understated portrayal provides the perfect foil for Gillen’s controlled mania that never tips over into slapstick achieving a perfect level of empathy winning over the viewer’s sympathy and admiration. His infectious optimism in the face of abuse and rejection makes for a moving black comedy that, while unsettling at times, is an uplifting story with a human heart.

For certain Irish audiences, the inspiration for Gilen’s Aidan is obviously Dublin’s own Aidan Walshe, self-confessed Master of the Universe and eccentric music mogul. It’s not a film about his life but rather a character that is inspired by him. Thraves himself has said that ultimately it was Walshe’s optimism that inspired the film.

Steven Galvin

Treacle Jr is released on 26th August 2011

Treacle Jr – Official Website

 

Click here for an exclusive interview with Aidan Gillen

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JDIFF: Treacle Jr

Treacle Jr

Cineworld. 25th February

The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Treacle Jr was introduced to a full house at Cineworld by its director Jamie Thraves on Friday night accompanied by Aidan Gillen, having last worked together in 2000 on The Low Down. Thraves spoke of his desire to maintain complete control of this project and make a film on his own terms, wanting to be “the only executive producer in the room so I could just have battles with myself.’ The only way to do this was through self-funding, so with the help of friends and family (and a re-mortgaged house) Thraves got enough money together to make Treacle Jr.

It’s always a delight in film festivals to discover a work you knew nothing about that proves itself to be a gem, and Treacle Jr certainly is. The film opens with Tom (Tom Fisher), an anonymous man seemingly escaping a settled past that weighs heavy upon him. For whatever reasons, he has decided to turn his back on life and finds himself wandering homeless in London. The over exuberant Aidan (Aidan Gillen) enters his life offering him the top bunk in his flat which is for rent. Aidan’s ‘girlfriend’ Linda (Riann Steele) proves to be an explosive ingredient in the mix and the dysfunctional threesome become four with the introduction of “Treacle Jr’, a kitten Aidan adopts.

Treacle Jr is a story about how people deal with the lives they are given and how physical escape is often not the ideal option but rather that a certain freedom can be attained by escapism and transcending one’s surroundings and, in Aidan’s case, finding a ‘heaven’ that Tom doesn’t believe in.

The three performances are exemplary: Steele’s street-wise aggressive girlfriend is startlingly fiercesome, while Fisher’s marvellously understated portrayal provides the perfect foil for Gillen’s controlled mania that never tips over into slapstick achieving a perfect level of empathy winning over the viewer’s sympathy and admiration. His infectious optimism in the face of abuse and rejection makes for a moving black comedy that, while unsettling at times, is an uplifting story with a human heart.

The character that Aidan plays is inspired by Aidan Walshe – Thraves said that it’s not a film about his life but rather a character that is inspired by him as a character. He added that ultimately it was Walshe’s optimism that inspired the film.

Steven Galvin

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