One of the big releases over the course of the Galway Film Fleadh was the Irish movie Cold which was written and directed by one of its stars, Eoin Macken. Despite the warm evenings and the lure of alcohol, the 11pm screening of the movie still played to a packed out screening house, and was followed by a Q&A with the man himself.
As well as Macken, Cold also features performances from his Merlin co-star Tom Hopper (ladies, contain yourselves), film-making legend Mike Figgis, and soon-to-be-as-hot-as-the-sun Jack Reynor. Hopper plays Tom, a mysterious loner whose father has just died, which brings back his long absent brother, Jack (played by Macken). But Jack's return to their small Irish town stirs up some dark memories from some of their neighbours, who'd rather he’d stayed absent. A moody and fantastically acted family drama, this is a hugely thought provoking movie, not least because of some of the avenues the story takes us on.
entertainment.ie managed to get some one-on-one time with the film-maker to discuss his new movie, his career to date, and what he sees coming up next for him on the horizon.
How're you keeping today?
Very good, dude. Very good.
Congratulations on the movie, tell us where the idea for Cold came from.
It actually originated because I was working with Tom [Hopper] on Merlin, and we were having one those random actor-y conversations about what type of part you'd like to play most, and Tom said he wanted to play Lennie from Of Mice & Men, because he gets stereotyped a lot, because he is six foot five and basically built like a tank, and he wanted to play someone a bit more subtle. From that conversation I said "Cool, I'm going to write you a script" and I liked working with Tom, I felt that he was underused in Merlin and a few other things because he's a very good actor. This all coincided with a time when I was reading East Of Eden, which was also written by John Steinbeck, and I ended up writing these two scenes about these two brothers based on myself and Tom, with him playing an Of Mice & Men character in mind. I set it in County Clare because I spent a lot of my childhood there, and it kind of just grew from these two brothers being very isolated, and I was also watching Paris, Texas at the time, which also fed into the script while I was writing it, and things just fleshed out and grew.
Tom Hopper plays your brother in this, but you've worked with him for years on Merlin. Are there any difficulties with acting against someone you're so used to seeing in a particular role?
No, if anything it was more interesting, because I think you get bored doing the same thing and working with the same characters over and over again, that's just not interesting. From my point of view, because I got to see him play someone very, very different, then I would react very, very differently. And what was really interesting was, when we'd finished shooting Cold on the Sunday, we were shooting Merlin on the Monday, and the last few episodes of the series were, bizarrely, the most myself and Tom had interacted together. It was all these scenes with just the two of us, and on the Monday we had these two scenes just the two of us playing Gwaine and Purcell, and they are just so completely different to the characters we had just been playing the day before. And because of that, it was a lot of fun, and suddenly we enjoyed Merlin more than we had been doing, because it keeps things fresh.
The other major cast member of your movie is Jack Reynor. Did you cast him before or after you'd seen What Richard Did, and while working with him, did you know how big a star he would go on to be?
I hadn't seen What Richard Did at the time, but I had seen Dollhouse. I'd worked with Jack on a promo shoot for Cu Chulainn for director Gary Shore, which is the same thing he did for Dracula, and just shoot a two or three minute promo [Shore is now directing a feature-length blockbuster adaptation of Dracula staring Luke Evans on the back of that promo]. I was playing Cu Chulainn and Jack was playing Young Ferdiad, and we kind of knew each other by virtue of a few different things, but I'd never actually seen him act, but I heard about him. And on Cu Chulainn I saw him say one or two lines, and Jack has one of those bizarre things that I don't understand, because I've only seen about two people have it and Jack is one, whereby he doesn't really be doing anything, or doesn't appear to be doing anything, but he's still fascinating to watch, and I thought he was great, and I really liked him. I didn't really realise just how good he was until we actually worked together, and because I really liked him as an actor and because we were friends, I ended up writing this character more for him. And then when I actually saw him on camera I realised he was even better than I thought he was.
Cold was produced almost entirely via crowd funding, how did that work out for you?
Really well. Initially, I produced the first block of filming myself and I realised I couldn't afford to make the second block, so we tried the crowd funding idea. I don't think it would've worked the other way around, because we were able to create a video from that first block of filming that showed what it looked like so far, and so that helped people to fund it because it already looked quite beautiful. Otherwise it would’ve just been me saying "I’m going to make a movie, come finance it", but because we already about 70% of the movie shot, people were able to see basically a trailer of what it looked like, and I think that is what helped the crowd funding. So I might've done it differently, but I think the only way it worked is because we had already started shooting it, so the crowd funding ended up funding about 70% of it, and the rest of it was myself.
Aside from producing the movie, you also wrote, directed and are one of the lead actors in it. Any specific difficulties from that trifecta?
Yeah, you've no time to think, and it can be hard to each of them well, and its only when you've a really good crew around you, people you trust, and the main thing was I trusted the actors I was working with because I knew them. Once we’d already talked about it, I knew they would deliver and do what they were going to do, and I trusted them and their ideas about what they were doing, so I didn't have to watch a scene and go "This isn’t working, we need to discuss…" because I knew what they were going to do, because they are all very, very good. And I think there were a couple of occasions were Tom or Jack or Liam Carney wanted to talk about it and give their input and it would've been better than what I wanted anyway because they knew what they were doing. There's no point in casting somebody and saying "Do it exactly this way", and the same with Eimear [Ennis Graham, cinematographer of the movie, for which she was nominated for the Bingham Ray New Talent Award at the Fleadh] and the rest of the crew, when you've got these talented people, then you can free up that part. The producing part was just getting the people in to do it, and then from that point on, it just became fun and you just let people do their thing, basically.
Cold is not your first time as a writer/director/actor on a movie, you've done it previously on your movies Christian Blake and The Inside, and both of those were violent thrillers. What attracts you to these darker aspects of storytelling?
I think the dark aspects initially, when you're making films… I think it's much harder to make dramatic films, and much harder to create a film that's engaging, where you're actually properly looking at real characters and subtleties. I think part of the reason why I decided to make those horrors and thrillers is because it's almost easier to go to the extremes and to create fantastical scenarios and to do things that have more action and have more pace and do things that are a little bit possibly unrealistic. Because it's harder, I think, to do subtle dynamics between people and characters, and I wasn't ready to do that. And that's why I ended up creating more visceral, thriller-y type stuff, and also when you're younger, you think that's what's cool, so that's a way of fleshing out visually.
So could you ever see yourself writing, directing and starring in a rom-com?
Yeah, I've made a comedy. The Cookies, it's finished, but I never released it. Tom Hopper is in it, he plays a gay dance coach, and Kevin Ryan who's in Copper. It was a feature, but I cut it down to make a pilot out of it, because about 45 minutes of it is very funny but the rest is crap, and it's almost really, really great. But then because The Inside came out, and I was in Merlin, and I started to make Cold, I just didn’t release it. It's done, it's like a mockumentary (bursts out laughing).
Cold isn't the only film you've got going on at the Fleadh, as you're also in The Callback Queen. What are your memories of working on that?
Well, Graham Cantwell [director] is a very good friend, and I think Graham is very talented, and he wanted to make a rom-com, and I wasn't actually around when he was making the rest of the feature itself. So he was adding on this cameo part, this film with a film, and he asked me would I do it and I said "Sure". I'd do anything for Graham because I think he's great, and the film is actually really good. A rom com is hard to do well, it's easy to make them crap, they're hard to make interesting, but he's made a very interesting, funny film.
When you dipped your toe into the documentary side of film-making, it was with The Fashion Of Modelling (a 2009 documentary about the fashion and modelling world in Ireland, which was directed by Macken). Your own career began in modelling, having worked for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, GQ and you were even the face of Braun for a year. Was it difficult for you to make the transition from modelling to acting?
No, because modelling actually helped me with acting, because I was way too shy and nervous to do acting, and I wouldn't do it. And even when I was 18, 19, 20 in college, I did a couple of plays in the drama society, I didn't want to play the lead, I just wanted two lines, and I didn't want to be there because I didn't like it. And then modelling, because it pays you really well and you get to travel, I was forced to get used to the idea of standing in front of a camera and having six or seven people watching me and that actually allowed me to loosen up from an acting point of view. It also made me watch directing from a photography point of view, because it made me understand more how I felt about things as I looked at them, as opposed to just "This is just me and I'm just going to stand here and model." It made me really think about it, because I didn't enjoy it, I get really uncomfortable and I found it really difficult. But that actually helped me with acting in a massive way.
On top of documentary making, you were also the cinematographer on last year's Stalker and Charlie Casanova the year before that, and you've been an editor, writer, director, and actor. If you had to pick one film job, which would it be and why?
Film journalist. It's a great job.
It is great!
(Laughs) I don't think I have a favourite, I just want to make films, I just want to be creative, and I don't really care what it is, I just want to be involved in making stories. I think there's an ego involved in terms of I want to make my stories, which comes both from writing and directing, and acting and DoP (director of photographer) and producing… From my point of view, I try to see each position as an equally important part of the film making, and I think that's the way it should be to an extent. Every part of it is important; the film comes alive when you edit it, the film comes alive when you write it, the film comes alive when you act it, and the same with the directing. They’re all the most important part at the time and that’s why I enjoy doing it, because you're creating a story and every part is a very integral part of it.
You don't have one favourite part.
No, but I do find writing is that part that gives me the most … (long pause) … peace.
Next up we're going to see you in The Night Shift, a big time NBC show, and the pilot was directed by Pierre Morel, the director of Taken. Tell us a little bit about that.
It's really good, actually. And I'm actually good in it, for once! I don't like watching myself usually, and I'm used to watching myself quite often as I'm making my own movies, and that's been important to me towards being a better actor. Taking away the ego of it and just watching myself critically and saying "Well, that's pretty crap, I can't leave that in". Which can also be difficult because then you start thinking about things too much sometimes, but once you get passed that point and free yourself, it's fine. But on The Night Shift, Pierre has got this incredible visual aspect to him, he does a lot of action stuff, but he's probably the best director I've worked with from an actual acting point of view. He understands all of the subtleties, and that's why it was so enjoyable, and that's why I'm very good in it, because of Pierre. He would tell me to say things a certain way, and I'd be like "No, I'm doing it my way", and he'd say "Just say it this way!" and then it works!
So what's next up for you in terms of writing and directing?
I've written a book, and I want to write the screenplay for that, but I want to get the book out first. It's kind of a Stand By Me piece, which I'm now more open to doing after doing Cold, because it's a similar tone. The other stuff I have… I have a vampire film, I have a thriller like Natural Born Killers, I have a kind of a Blade Runner type script… So I have four or five different genres, I just have to decide which one I want to do next. Basically, whichever one I can actually get money for and make!