Tuesday 21 May 2019

Lenny Abrahamson

Lenny Abrahamson, 41, is a film director. He grew up in Rathfarnham and now lives in Rathmines with his Polish girlfriend, Monika, and his two dogs, Bingo and Tess

I don't think I have a lifestyle but my life is one of two things. I'm either shooting or I'm not. For the past couple of years, I've been busy making a film, Garage, and a four-part drama series for RTE, Prosperity. When I'm shooting, I'm up at six in the morning. Getting up at that time doesn't get any easier and I'm not a morning person.

I usually shower the night before, lay out all my clothes on the floor, so then I just fall into them, clean my teeth, stumble out the door, get into my car and go wherever it is that we're shooting. You have breakfast on set.

When I'm shooting, it averages out at a 16-hour day. You have two deadlines everyday -- lunch and wrap. We shot quite a lot of Prosperity on Marlborough Street which is full of junkies and crazed alcoholics. It's a bit like the Thriller video.

When you're shooting on locations like that, you're usually unbelievably stressed, trying to get stuff while people are shouting and revving car engines, or then it starts to lash rain or there's a plane and you have to stop. Unless you're making a really big film, you can't close the street. As soon as you start working on the street, all these people start to gravitate towards you. You've got crowds of the most broken, most violent and crazy people. One day we shot in Wolfe Tone Park. A guy came up to us. He discovered that I made Adam and Paul and that film has a big reputation on the street. He wanted an autograph and the only thing he had for me to sign was his dole card. There was something so tragic about that.

It's very important to have a good relationship with the crew and cast because you want to get the best out of them. They'll work really hard for you if they like you. Some directors do a lot of shouting but I try to keep myself really calm -- whether that's faking it or for real -- and just make the actors feel safe and comfortable. I try to be appreciative of their work.

When you're shooting, there's terrible pressure and you never switch off. Every day is like the day before an exam; it's relentless. But you'll never get back to that location, you'll never go back to that scene again -- so if you fuck it up, then that fuck-up will be written in stone.

When I'm working, it's an all-consuming thing. I wake my girlfriend up to say hello and I leave before she's got out of bed. It's a wonderful relationship from her point of view. But on the other hand, when I'm physically filming, she doesn't want to talk to me because I get into this mode where I know exactly what I want and anything that isn't the way I want, it has to change there and then.

It's very hard to switch that off. She'll come out and I'll say, "Don't wear that, it doesn't suit that." I'm never like that, but on set, when wardrobe comes out, you say, "Change that for the blue ... and get those things moved."

I think I was drawn to this career because I'm naturally very lazy and undisciplined. That comes out when I'm not being beaten over the head with a deadline or schedule. Then I revert to a never-grew-up student who gets up at 10 and potters around the house. I'm always working but I just work in different ways.

If I'm not shooting or doing post-production, I'm preparing something else or developing an idea. I'm not good at time off. I can deal with the pressure of making a film and deadlines and I don't mind dangerous situations, but if somebody told me that I had a couple of weeks off to enjoy myself, that would freak me out. I wouldn't know what to do. I can have a great night out if I'm not expecting to go out, but if it's New Year's Eve and you're supposed to have a brilliant time, I can't enjoy it.

In the afternoons, I take the dogs out to Dodder Park. Because I've been walking there for 10 years, I know the other dog people, so we chat about our dogs. It's definitely a child-substitute thing. I know the dogs' names but I can never remember the people's names.

I come from an unusual background in that I come from a Jewish family. Both sides came from Eastern Europe -- my father's side at the turn of the last century and my mother's side in the 1930s. I knew my grandfather from Poland and the first thing that I ever shot on film was a little interview with him when I was 18. I wanted to get all his stories.

My grandfather, on my mother's side, was a Kosher butcher on Clanbrassil Street. I remember being brought there as a child. He used to come out and give me hugs with his apron on. I was utterly freaked out. I was a very sensitive middle-class Irish boy.

I did my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 -- where I read a portion of the Old Testament in a synagogue as an officially grown-up member of the community -- but I wonder about calling myself Jewish now.

I'm conflicted about it, in the sense that I'm an atheist with a Jewish background. There were no rashers in our house, but plenty of them as soon as I left home. And there are definite aspects of myself which fit well with the stereotype of the third-generation Jewish kid.

There was quite a strong focus on academic success in my family and that was something I was involved in, going to college. Yet I'm not a doctor or a dentist.

The stereotype of a Jewish family is that they're good at business, but in our house selling stuff wasn't seen as respectable. My father loves music and has a great interest in ideas and literature. There's a definite sense of humour which is identifiable as Jewish. For example, I'm really interested in vaudeville.

I go to the cinema a lot. My taste is split between serious art-house films or really crass stuff, like the Farrelly brothers' films. What I hate is the stuff in between. My idea of hell is to have to sit through The Piano.

I often cook in the evenings. I find it very relaxing. My girlfriend cooks a lot of Polish food which is quite like the traditional Jewish meals which my mother used to make. I go to bed really late, even if I'm shooting a film.

My dreams are really peculiar. When people say, "I had a wonderful dream last night," I always envy them. I don't have wish-fulfilment dreams.

'Prosperity' is on RTE Two at 9.30pm on Mondays until September 24.

'Garage' is released in cinemas nationwide on October 5

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