Thursday 24 October 2019

'In Ireland we don’t elect political parties, we elect gangs' - Emmet Kirwan on Dublin Oldschool, homelessness, drugs, and politics

Dublin Oldschool releases in Irish cinemas on June 29

Actor, poet and playwright Emmet Kirwan tackles the thorny issues of homelessness and drugs in his latest film, Dublin Oldschool, based on his play of the same name. Here Emmet and co-star Ian Lloyd Anderson chat to Chris Wasser for about the process of taking it from stage to screen and why he will never enter politics in Ireland.

CW: "It’s four years since Dublin Oldschool premeired at the Dublin Fringe at the Bewley’s Theatre. That night you had two lads - yourselves - some special effects and a small audience. Things have changed.  At what point did somebody say 'let’s make a film'?

EK: [Director] Dave Tynan seen that production, the one that was in Bewleys and which came back a number of times.  A year and a half later at the end of 2015 he said to me, 'Have you thought about making it into a film?'  I was working on other things in between that time. He said, 'Look, I have two producers.  Do you want to meet them?'  I think it was Christmas week adn we went for a pint in the Bernard Shaw which was kind of fitting. They said, 'Within 18 months we have to make it into a movie'.  I was kind of invredulous.  So many projects kind of get mooted but never happen.

Literally 18 months to the day Mike Donnelly and Dave Leahy the producers had us on set.  I never thought it could be a film when I stated writing it, the one in Bewleys. It was always very much something that was spoken word because it traversed Dublin and the galaxy.  So you can throw the kitchen sink into a play when you write it, because there are no rules about what you can do.  As long as its a spoken word you can say whatever you want and do whatever you want.

CW: With the film there is still that sibling dramedy but it's more about Ireland as well and it does have a lot to say about the city that we live in.  How do you still retain the magic of the play while converting to film?

It is a different beast, not totally different - the structure is still there...

ILA: The heart is still there.

EK: [In the play] when he is bringing this world into being he's doing it through spoken word and he's kind of heroic in his own way and you see the character of Jason in another way when you watch the play because there's an athleticism to it and the verbosity of what he saying and then when you strip all that out the camera has to do the job and jason becomes slightly more pathetic, because he doesn't have that kind of thing where he calls himself the hero of the journey.

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Emmet Kirwan and Ian Lloyd Anderson in Dublin Oldschool

It's a piece of entertainment and you owe an audience member a good time.  When you ask them to come out and get a babysitter, or do anything to come to a movie... you feel shit, you feel pissed off sometimes when a movie is crap. Afterwards you're like, 'f*** you, that was my night off!'.  There's a thing from the word go which is always this is a piece of entertainment - we owe people a good time.  This is a comedy which is then juxtaposed with those moments of family drama so it starts off as a family drama that's also a comedy, which most Irish families are!  Marvel movies quip their way through things with serious moments in it, but actually Irish life is like that. People undercut serious emotional moments and familial moments - they don't talk to each other, they slag each other.

CW: For you Ian, in the play you were playing around 30 characters and people were coming away going. 'I love Dave the rave, I love when he was the gardai' - was there any point where you turned around to Emmet and Dave and said, 'where am I gone?'

ILA: No, no, no!  Given the chance I'd only want to play Daniel. The other characters are great craic and they're all fun but Daniel, you can really round out that bit more.  I was always quite attached to that character on stage because there's such an emotional arc with him.  When you can kind of have scenes of such an emotional nature within the play particularly first they're so enjoyable to do particularly opposite a brilliant actor.  You meet each other half way and that doesn't happen all the time. Given the chance it would have been nice to play Dave the Rave or even Lisa on screen - in a crap wig!  But the movie would be a pisstake if I was playing other characters as well.

CW: Were you ever reluctant about it becoming a film?

EM: No, because when I've ever been working on anything I'm working on a multitude of things at the same time.  It was teh same with [short film and play] Heartbreak.  It was a play, it was part of Riot.  And the one thing about Heartbreak it was part of a show but ultimately only 500 people a night can see it.  So if you bring something to a larger audience, when you feel the message within it is important enough to bring to a larger audience, if it had been a straightforward comedy and I didn't think it would make a good film, I would have said, no.  But it wasn't, I think there was something in it as well that I thought it could do well going beyond the realms of just theatre. 

A lot of people have seen the play now but that will never be as large as the amount of people who can see it when it gets made into a film.  I think the story is kind of important for now.  I think in 2014 the homelessness crisis was bad and so was the addiction crsis and instead of them like lessening they've been exacerbated and increased exponentially and they're getting worse as it goes along so this is a four-year-old story that is now actually more prescient being released at this time.  The homelessness rate is gone over 10,000. 

CW: With Heartbreak, Just Saying, your Twitter profile, the Late Late Show interview, would you ever consider a career in politics?  Because people do listen to you and you do make sense.  People like you.

EK: in Ireland we don’t actually elect political parties, we elect gangs, and their first and foremost loyalty is to their gang, not to the constitution or the Oireachtas or the republic or the people who put them in there, it's to the their gang. So if there's an attack on one they'll round the wagons and protect each other and they'll bend their ethics and their morality so as the political make up of the country stands at the moment I wouldn't join any political party that exists in Ireland at this time so I wouldn't go into politics in Ireland, no.

It's important for artists as well not to take photo opportunities with politicians.  You give them cultural sucker by standing on stage with them, getting your photograph taken, you then give them political sucker and you then lend legitimacy to the policies that they put in power, so if this is a politician who has cut the money to a single mother when the child reaches the age of 7 and then I write a play and I go back to my hometown and I put on a play and my mates or anybody from my community says, 'I'm not going to see your bullshit play.  You were in that picture with that politician that means my Mrs or my family are living in a B&B'.  So I think it's incumbent upon actors and poets and artists not to stand separate but don't give them anything of what you have, because that's what they want.  They've no interest in you or your ideas and if anybody ever wanted me to go into politics they'd simply be able to co-opt me or co-opt whatever minute kind of ideas that people would have.  I'd be very wary if anybody wanted to ask me to go into politics.

Dublin Oldschool releases in Irish cinemas on June 29.

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