Interview with Directors and Writer (Cherrybomb Promotion)

published 30 January 2009
written by

Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn and screen writer Daragh Carville sat down to discuss the process of Cherrybomb, the characters, and the actors themselves!

And of course the obvious question, how would they describe Cherrybomb? “It’s the story of two best mates whose friendship is threatened by a beautiful but troubled girl who moves back to town and encourages them to commit a series of increasingly dangerous and illegal deeds in the battle for her affections. Over the course of a crazy weekend, the competition spirals out of control with fatal consequences.” Daragh pipes in that “Cherrybomb is a teen story. A story about two best friends, Malachy and Luke, who are both 16 and have known each other forever. And then suddenly they meet someone new in their lives, a woman who’s come back into town after being away for a long time, and she turns their lives upside down and brings their friendship into question. And between them, the three of them have a series of increasingly wild adventures as the two boys compete for one girl. With hilarious consequences…”

So is it hilarious or fatal? Perhaps it is both. “Yes, Cherrybomb has a dark quality to it, an edgy quality but because it’s about youthful characters – it’s a very contemporary film – it’s got more humour and it’s a pacier story.” Daragh clarifies.

Well then, let’s talk about these characters. Lisa and Glenn gave quick and short descriptions of the characters easily. First up is Michelle. “Michelle is a beautiful 15 year old who has just moved back to Belfast to live with her father, Mal’s boss Crilly. This is a whole new world for father and daughter as it’s been a weekend and holidays situation for years. We soon become aware of troubling undercurrents within the Crilly household, which drive Michelle’s determination to make her mark with Malachy and Luke. They are enthralled by this sophisticated and mysterious stranger, and she she enjoys fanning the flames of their rivalry, but they don’t quite realize how troubled and vulnerable she is.”

And Malachy? “Malachy’s as sensitive, intelligent guy. He has a solid relationship with his parents, keeps it tidy at work anddoes well at school. But he’s got a more subversive streak – his friendship with Luke suggests as much. Until now Malachy’s been content to look on as Luke creates havoc, but we enter the story at a point when Malachy is getting frustrated with being the good guy and trying to keep everybody in his life happy. He needs to become more independent, to find his own voice. The competition to win Michelle becomes the catalyst for this journey, as Malachy steps up and really starts to take risks.”

So what about Luke then? “Luke is charismatic, eccentric; the golden guy with rock-star cool who always gets the girls – but he’s really a neglected boy who needs his friendship with Mal perhaps more than Mal needs him – Malachy’s more like family to him than are his brother and father. So as the competition starts to divide them apart, Luke’s confidence and security are at stake, not to mention the fragile balance of his family life.”

Sounds intense!

Was everyone pleased with the casting choices? Carville pipes up, “Well, it’s strange because they’re never quite how you picture the characters in your mind but very quickly, when you get the right actors, they replace the idea you had in your head. So now when I think of Malachy and Luke, I think of Rupert and Robert and when I think of Michelle, I think of Kimberley, because they’re just perfect for the parts. And similarly with Jimmy Nesbitt and Crilly. So I kind of have to reach back to try and remember – how did I originally envisage the characters? Because ultimately the characters now belong to them, they’re not mine anymore, but I’m delighted, it’s been brilliant watching it come alive.”

What was the rehearsal process like prior to shooting? Were there any concerns about the three leads (none of whom are from Northern Ireland) speaking in Northern Irish accents? Lisa and Glenn were quick to reply, “We had a week of rehearsal with the three leads over in Belfast and worked as intensively as possible on building the emotional journeys of their characters. On a schedule like ours it’s difficult to find much rehearsal time on set, so this prior work proved very valuable. Accent is obviously a major consideration as it’s important that the world feels as authentic as possible, and Northern Irish accents are apparently among the most difficult – but we had invaluable assistance from world-class vocal coach, Brendan Gunn. And in truth we were never really worried about the issue, as from the time of casting it was clear that our leads had the talent and commitment to master the accents quickly.” When asked about the accents as well, Daragh replied, “I think they did brilliantly. Brendan Gunn worked on Middletown and he’s brilliant with actors and they love working with him. It doesn’t massively bother me, to be honest, either, because ultimately I want this film to be seen by everyone in the universe!” He quips with laughter.

What about the cast and the casting process? What were you looking for? “Despite the level of action in the plot, we always saw this as a character driven piece, and so we were looking for young actors who could bring real subtlety, intelligence, humour and truth to the characters – the three lead roles are testing in terms of the emotional range required, and we wanted actors who could draw out the subtext of their characters. We were thrilled with our final cast and also delighted to be able to cast some great actors from Northern Ireland, including Lalor Roddy with whom we’d worked before. And Jimmy Nesbitt is a well-known screen presence, but we feel he really goes somewhere different in this performance, playing a father struggling between following his own desires and the responsibility of being a full-time dad.”

So how did these newcomers get involved in the project? “It began with a short film we made, The 18th Electricity Plan, which was in a few festivals. Michael Casey of Green Park Films saw and liked it, and we met up and decided to work on something together. Then Michael came to us in Spring 2007 with the script of Cherrybomb. We came back with ideas and an approach for the film and were on board from then.”

Was the writer involved in bringing the two directors, Lisa and Glenn on board? Daragh says, “To some degree. We looked around at various people who we thought might bring something to the story and Glenn and Lisa were really the ideal people because they’ve got a youthful energy to them and an amazing visual style. Myself and the producers were really impressed by the short film they’d made and we’d met on and off, so it just seemed to be a kind of good coming together of people.” Did he at any time want to direct it himself? “No,” he answers quickly. “It’s crossed my mind occasionally because all writers want to maintain a degree of control and you always know a way that you want it to be done. But actually I love the process of collaboration; I love working with actors and I love somebody else coming in with their vision and doing something that I hadn’t thought of and then I can take credit for it and think that that’s what I wanted all along!”

Ok, so when did you write Cherrybomb, how did it come to fruition? Surprisingly Darah answers, “Well, I’d been working on the script ever since the previous film I did, Middletown, which I finished three years ago, so it’s been quite a while. ”

What did the directors think of the script? “We were immediately excited by what felt like a fresh and truthful portrayal of the friendship between these two boys – with all the banter, spark, affection and rivalry that entails. The story takes place at a moment when that friendship is being tested by events and circumstances in the wider world – families, responsibility, decisions about the future. Michelle’s arrival is the catalyst for accelerating the changes in the boys’ lives. In other words, played out through the events of one weekend is a rites of passage story, in which the paths of the characters’ futures are decided and discovered. The universality of the coming of age tale really appealed to us. ”

So what was the inspiration for Cherrybomb? “We wanted to make a teen movie. We wanted to make a film about young people because it felt like that film hadn’t been made in Northern Ireland, or indeed in Ireland. So starting from that, I quickly developed the characters of Malachy and Luke and Michelle and then they started to take over. But I did pull lots of experiences from not only my own life but the lives of friends and people all over the shop, so there’s a grain of truth in it.”

Were there any specific references, influences or approaches to the visual style of the film? The answer gives insight to the contemporary feel to the movie. “Several, and not all from cinema. From the earliest stage of our involvement in Cherrybomb, we started collecting visual references, mostly photographs, that influenced every aspect of the production. We love the work of a photographer called William Eggleston whose pictures find beauty and striking displays of colour in ordinary scenes and we have tried to limit and control our use of colour throughout the film to give it as much visual impact as possible. Of course having a leisure centre as one of our main locations was great, as it is a very graphic and potentially surreal environment visually. Other people that have inspired us are Ryan McGinley, a young New York based photographer, and Hedi Slimane, both of whom have taken some amazing studies of teenagers. Graphic designer and filmmaker Mike Mills has been an influence as are the films of the French New Wave.”

And did they want to set out and be different from other stories that had come out of Northern Ireland? Daragh is once again quick to answer, “Yes. The fact that it’s a movie about young people, I thought that that story hadn’t been told; the story of people who grew up after the whole Troubles and ceasefire period and for whom that world has no real relevance. And they’re trying to find their way in a whole new world that’s been built up around them. I think that there are all sorts of new stories to tell about Belfast, lots of stories that haven’t been explored before.”

It is actually a generic story that could be set anywhere – it’s young people… “Exactly!” He exclaims. “It feels to me that it’s connected to the way that Northern Ireland is changing and kind of building a new identity for itself but absolutely its story that could be anywhere and certainly it doesn’t trade in the usual Protestants and Catholics.”

Cherrybomb is a story set in Northern Ireland but ‘the Troubles’ are nowhere to seen – how important is this? The two directors point out, “It was always important to us to tell a story about a different Northern Ireland than the version people are accustomed to seeing on film. A story that reflects the contemporary world. This film is about young people, and to teenagers here today, the troubles are a world from the history books. Naturally their reality is shaped to some extent by the fallout from that recent history, and that’s what we wanted to talk about – Northern Ireland trying to redefine and reinvent itself. Like our characters, this country can be seen as going through a stage of adolescence post-troubles: trying to work out what shape it’s going to take next, rushing to redefine itself. The story to some extent questions whether the version of the future that’s taking shape is the best one possible – whether it really answers people’s needs and desires. Also, in the rush to move forward, what do we lose? What’s necessary to leave behind, what is sacrificed in choosing a new future? In that sense, the world chimes perfectly with the characters’ coming of age story.”

Are they happy with the final product of the film? Daragh says, “I’m delighted with it.” He also adds a little insight on a favorite scene, ” I watched some of it last week and was just really taken with the stuff they’d shot in the Lifeboat, the bar/club sequences, which are so authentic and true and atmospheric. Very often movies get those things wrong, when you see a club scene or disco, it all looks a bit embarrassing, and this feels just very real.”

Will there be lasting memories and impressions of making Cherrybomb? Lisa and Glenn answer, “As it was our first feature there was a certain amount of trepidation as we approached the shoot date; anxiety never entirely disappears as there is always a schedule to wrestle with whilst trying to get everything on film that you want. But we were – not quite surprised – but certainly delighted by how much fun it all was – we really enjoyed the whole experience and the many adventures it entailed. Working with such a lovely cast and crew, we were probably spoiled. We’ll also always appreciate being given the chance to take this on – the producers showed a lot of faith in us which made it a pleasure. “

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