Wednesday 19 June 2019

Meet rising star Irish movie producer Juliette Bonass

Having worked with the likes of Amy Huberman and Jack Reynor, movie producer Juliette Bonass is being touted as the Irish film industry's rising star. We discover a rare case of the nice girl finishing first

Movie producer Juliette Bonass
Movie producer Juliette Bonass
Filmmaker Juliette Bonass (left) at the Tribecca Film festival in 2011

Maggie Armstrong

If we learned anything from the disastrous Sony Pictures leak, it was that film producers can be vicious, grasping and intolerant. The words "Angelina Jolie is a minimally talented, spoilt brat" still fizzle from those hacked emails - the secret grievances of a rank of people miserably under-appreciated for what they do, in a world where the director is king, the actor queen. A stereotype was confirmed last December: producers are combustible.

Why is it, then, that Juliette Bonass, Ireland's hottest movie producer right now, is so softly spoken, polite and timid?

"Thanks for contacting me," she says as she joins me. That's a first. She chooses the less comfortable seat at our table. To drink, she has cups of milky tea. (Can we mention what a nice name Juliette Bonass has? She believes Bonass to be French. Juliette was just a name her mum liked.)

Juliette, despite her quiet nature, has swarmed into the public eye of late. She made her feature film debut this year with two films now in cinemas, Get Up and Go and Glassland, which she co-produced. It's those Irish films that scooped her a nomination from the Irish Film Board and European Film Promotion to go to Cannes last week, one of 20 producers in the world picked for the four-day 'Producers on the Move' programme at the world's most exclusive film festival.

We meet the day before she goes. Do you know what you're going to wear? "No!" she says. "I have to do some washing when I go home. I should think about that, really." She carries a shopping bag from Costume, a very nice boutique indeed, though her oversized clutch bag is H&M. She has ivory skin and enquiring green eyes, and pre-Raphaelite curls pulled back out of sight. Once the designers get hold of her to show off their clothes, she's toast.

Born December 21, 1982 - "a December baby, everyone always gets me 2-in-1s which I hate!" - Juliette grew up in a rock 'n' roll family in Bray alongside two older sisters, Nikki (a well-known model) and Lee.

Her dad, Brendan Bonass, was a guitarist in a band called Stepaside. They wore flares and handlebar moustaches. "Back in the day, it was a big deal. It was kind of rocky poppy. I used to go to all their gigs growing up. It was great, I loved it." Her mum, Maggie worked as a graphic designer and in advertising. "My mum would work really hard as well to try and support us, to try and balance it out. She's fantastic. I don't think he could have done it without her."

Juliette went to Loreto in Dalkey, moving to the Institute of Education on Leeson Street for fifth and sixth year.

When it came to filling out her CAO form, Juliette put one thing down: Media Arts in DIT, ticking none of the other boxes. Juliette has always been quietly obsessive about film. She used to videotape the Dave Fanning movie show. When she rented a video, her favourite part was watching the extras. "Just to see the magic of how they made the film, the tricks they used."

Surprisingly, her favourite films are 1980s and 1990s cult classics. Pretty in Pink, Pretty Woman, Kramer vs Kramer, Muriel's Wedding - the last a harbinger of her career, as Toni Collette was to come over from Sydney to play a destitute alcoholic in Glassland.

In DIT, Juliette met a group of like-minded friends who she has collaborated with these past 10 years, one of them Ireland's rising movie star Domhnall Gleeson who remains a close friend. "I've worked with him before," she says. "And done a couple of shorts with him, and comedy sketches with him for charity." Isn't he doing great? "Amazing, yeah. He's very successful, I'm very happy for him."

She describes Domhnall as "really hard working. He was working as an actor even when we were in fourth year. He was concentrating on his studies even while he was working, so fair play to him."

What kind of mischief did the class of 2005 get up to? "We all used to go out. If you don't go out in college, you're a bit of a bore," she smirks. "The usual, student nights and so on."

At 32, Juliette is working with everyone who is anyone: Jack Reynor, Peter Coonan, Killian Scott, Amy Huberman, Hugh O'Conor and Gleesons Brendan, Brian and Domhnall.

Asked who she admires most, she mentions none of these names, but two hard-working Irish producers making quality work, both previous Cannes 'Producers on the Move', Rebecca O'Flanagan and Katie Holly.

But what draws her to the work isn't the celebrity, it's the story and the storyteller.

She line produced The Savage Eye and you can just picture her on street corners, messing and giggling and switching to a straight face when required. "David has so much energy and really makes people laugh. I think that he's a very interesting man, a very layered, complex individual. A lot of what he does comes straight from his heart.

"He's a very odd individual, in some way I connect with that. In some way, I trust odd people more, because I know that there's something really interesting and creative about them." She adds: "He has a spark that can go one way or the other, so you have to be careful sometimes!"

What does Juliette think about the casting of Hollywood stars in the lead in Irish films? Considering Element Pictures' next film, The Lobster, starring Rachel Weisz opposite Colin Farrell (which won the Jury Prize at Cannes last week), one might start to think no Irish actress is good enough to play the lead.

"Having a star does help sell the film internationally," says Juliette. "The first thing an audience member says when something comes out in the cinema is 'what's the story about?', and then 'who's in it?'."

She is currently at post-production stage with A Day for Mad Mary. "We shot the film in Drogheda. It's a bittersweet comedy about a girl called Mary, who returns to her home town of Drogheda after a spell in prison, but everything has kind of changed in the town, as it does."

It stars "up-and-coming Norma Sheehan and Denise McCormick".

It looks like Ireland's unsung filmmaker is finally being sung. How good does it feel to at last gain recognition for a talent that has passed over the heads of the public these ten years?

Juliette answers with trademark modesty, and in simple deference to the way the business works:

"It's not like being an actor. An actor has to sell the movie. It's nice to get the recognition, but it's really not necessary..."

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