Perfectly cast for success
It is easy to understand why actress Emma Eliza Regan and director Randal Plunkett are taking the film world by storm, says Alison O'Riordan
Ayoung ballet dancer turned actress and a director who hails from one of the oldest families in Ireland are fast becoming the artistic couple of the moment as they set about making their mark on the Irish film industry.
Rapidly rising actress Emma Eliza Regan, a native of Connemara, is a quietly spoken, strikingly beautiful figure who would not seem out of place in 19th-Century Ireland.
Her boyfriend Randal Plunkett, the 21st Lord of Dunsany, is a handsome award-winning director who has inherited a title synonymous with esteemed artistic talent that goes back generations.
Both separately and as a partnership, the couple are setting the film world alight, starring in and making films that will soon come to fruition, and with several other projects in the pipeline.
"Originally I went to study ballet and contemporary dance with Cork City Ballet but when I got my first audition with the Abbey Theatre for The Plough and the Stars, I moved to Dublin. I never made a conscious decision to abandon ballet but I was always interested in stories and it was the circles I was moving in, with a lot of artists, actors and writers so I started auditioning for roles," says the 23-year-old who has three international feature films and a new television drama under her belt.
The dark-haired Emma Eliza, whose only formal training in acting was a Rada summer workshop in London, made her debut in the acting world as a dying 14-year-old in the Wayne Jordan production of The Plough and the Stars in 2010. In the process she went down to six stone.
"Going to full-time acting college was never something I was going to do as I was working as a dancer for Macnas in Galway and doing a lot of contemporary dance in London. After being cast in the Abbey, I did a lot of voice training but my dance training stood to me. This girl I was playing dies in the third act as she is in the final stages of TB. I met the historians and read a lot of journals on the tenements where living conditions were so bad. I suppose it's just in my nature to get very into character," recalls Emma Eliza.
Her membership of Mensa, the high IQ society, is not something Emma likes to divulge; she's much more at ease elaborating on the dark roles she takes on in movies.
"My teachers in school made me do aptitude tests but ... I think it's how you use your intelligence, I know smart people that sit around all day and others who are really good workers."
She was in Cannes in May to promote two projects she worked on last year -- Jack Taylor: The Sorrows, a two-part murder drama which will be out on TV3 this autumn, and Love Eternal, an Irish Dutch Japanese co-production which was shot in Luxembourg -- she says film festivals are her ideal holiday, aimlessly floating from screening to screening is where she feels most as ease.
"Cannes was amazing, really good energy, you would be in a cafe or on the street, meeting film-makers. One of my films, Death of a Superhero, is doing the rounds at the film festivals and was picked up in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York so it will soon get a release."
Emma Eliza spends a lot of time in the creative space known as The Factory, on Barrow Street in the heart of Dublin's Grand Canal Dock, a place for film-makers and directors to exchange ideas and support each other in the realisation of their vision.
"I have been working with writer and director Kirsten Sheridan and have been based in The Factory in a studio where a gang of us meet around twice a week and do a lot of scenes. It's very work-focused and its aim is to get Irish actors working on screen together."
She is notoriously private, and her tight-knit circle of young acting friends at The Factory include Brian and Domhnall Gleeson, Eva Jane Gaffney, Hugh O'Conor, Love/Hate stars Peter Coonan and Stephen Jones, Shimmy Marcus, Lance Daly, Irish model Amber Jean Rowan and her boyfriend Jack Reynor.
Unlike his actress girlfriend, 29-year-old Randal Plunkett is more comfortable behind the camera. "There was a moment of acting but I decided I felt a lot more comfortable telling the story rather than living the story," says the charismatic aristocrat.
Born in America, Randal, who came to live in Ireland in 1992, has wanted to be a director since he was five.
"I was living in America when I was very young, in a big, vacant apartment building in New York. My parents worked so hard during the day so I spent a lot of time on my own. I would wait for them to return and they would take me to the video rentals across the street. They would always rent the most amazing European films, particularly French, so from a very early age I was watching very artistic French films," reflects the young man who had international schooling .
Upon moving to Ireland, he grew up in the lush surroundings of Dunsany Castle, near the Hill of Tara in Co Meath, from where he now runs Dunsany Productions.
While Randal was a student studying sociology in Oxford, a lecturer discovered that the future film-maker knew a lot more about cinema than sociology. She convinced him to pursue cinema instead.
Randal, who recently won Best Drama award for his short film Walt in the LIT film festival, first encountered Emma, who has gone on to be his muse, earlier this year when he saw various clips of her acting. He wanted to cast her in one of his pilots.
"Emma had a particular look which I liked. I had seen her film Death of a Superhero ... so I sent her an email explaining what it was I was doing, on the off-chance that she might give my script a look. I got an email back saying she was interested but I had to hassle her on emails until she agreed to meet me. When we met I could see there was a creative spark because she was the first actress that came to me with her own ideas."
Instantly Emma got the part and their film Out There was born. A short film which is part of a bigger story, it was shot over three days in Dunsany Castle. The project is expected to be premiered internationally later this year.
Soon after their first meeting earlier this year, Emma and Randal's friendship blossomed into a relationship. Visibly besotted with each other, they prefer to keep their romance under wraps, except to close friends, and focus on the working part of their relationship rather than the romantic element.
Like his partner, Randal's party days are long behind him and he has become very work-focused.
"When we are looking for inspiration to make a film, we go to an art gallery, we are not pub-going, night-club people, which is why we get on so well. We get a lot of inspiration from paintings. Everything we do is to do with perfecting our art," says Randal.
His great grandfather was a noted writer and playwright who was a contemporary of William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory during the literary revival and his father Edward Carlos Plunkett, who died last year was a figure held in high esteem in international artistic circles as a painter and designer.
Randal's dream is to be a great film-maker but more so he would like to tell great stories. "We have some great talent in Ireland and now is the time when there is going to be a new revival in acting. Emma is going to be one of the stars."
With 650 acres of forestry on his doorstep in Co Meath, Randal has no need to go elsewhere to shoot his movies.
"I have this wonderful, wild place to make romantic and horror movies in the woods, so I tell stories of what I have around me. It's beautiful and wild with a hint of danger. Like children exploring, Emma and I are still discovering new things -- we go out with a camera and there are all these old nooks and corners, a film at every turn and we go there to be inspired."
Very in tune with each other, Emma and Randal share the same vision for a new generation of dramatic cinema.
"It's very difficult to find someone who you can create things with, without it becoming one sided and with Emma and I there is a sort of balance when we work together. Caravaggio needed his paint brush and Emma is my paint brush," he adds.
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