Touted widely as the finest Irish film of the year so far and helmed by a director who's about to join forces with the unstoppable Michael Fassbender (Frank), it was with great pleasure that I sat down with both the star and director of What Richard Did, Jack Reynor and Lenny Abrahamson respectively.
Abramhason's third and arguably greatest feature film to date (after Garage and Adam and Paul), for many, What Richard Did will feel like a story based on the assault of Brian Murphy outside the Burlington Hotel twelve years ago. However, so far removed from true events is this film, its script is one that was developed six times over from an original script based on Kevin Power's fictionalised book, Bad Day in Blackrock. Keeping up? "I can put my hand on my heart and say that this is not a film based on real events," says Abrahamson. "I wouldn't like to have had to make a film that was really based on anything, for loads of reasons. First of all you want to be able to imagine the most interesting film you can make, wherever that may lead you; you don't want to be constrained by a set of true facts. What's more, I didn't want to cause any more grief to any more people who have had a real involvement in a case like that."
Regardless of how close or far from a real life story this is, is irrelevant; What Richard Did is a fantastically thought-provoking piece of cinema. It's a slow burner but one that you won't mind holding out for, delivered by an ensemble of actors so well picked, you forget they are acting altogether. Jack Reynor as golden boy rugger bugger turned accidental murderer has the toughest job of all. "He's just so layered and there are so many different dimensions to him," says the soon-to-sky-rocket Reynor. "Even from the start of the film which is quite light, you can still see there's something quite sad about Richard, there's an undercurrent. You see a lot of moments where he's just on his own sitting there thinking and that was something that was really interesting for me. Then there's the going through that whole psychological breakdown that you would go through over those couple of days." Reynor laughs exasperatedly when recalling how challenging certain scenes were to film: "That was something any actor would love to do. It was incredibly intense and so difficult to play." Especially for someone "different in many ways" to the character of Richard. "Yeah Jack, you weren't even into sport!" reveals Lenny. "Jesus man you're not supposed to tell her that, God."
Fictional though it may be, What Richard Did is still a movie with a very real message, no? "The goal for us with the effect that this would have was that people would think about themselves in a different way and think about that society which can be characterised really easily. Like for parents they kind of walk away going 'wow if my kid did something like that how would I deal with it', and for people my age and my peers it's more 'if I did that myself would I have the metal to deal with it,' says Reynor. For Abrahamson however, What Richard Did highlights the issue of all this 'believe and you'll achieve' shtick; "I'd like this movie to show that there is a downside to building up the confidence and self belief of people to the extent that they feel indestructible. There's so much pressure on kids to perform and to be the best they can be and particularly with boys; boys who are the gifted ones get loaded with an awful lot of expectation and self expectation and that's really hard for an 18 year old. I sort of feel that they need to be ok with failing because that's the condition of our lives mostly, and yet what we're trying to do is put that all out of your head - 'be the best that you can', 'believe in yourself and you can have what you want' - which is just total bollocks."
Despite having struck gold twice before, and the fact that the IFI are about to present a retrospective on his work so far ("It's really nice, really brilliant. I just wish my kids were old enough to know that I'm not an idiot", he laughs), Abrahamson remains as typically self-depreciative and humble as you'd expect from an Irishman: "I'm a bit of a pessimist, oh yeah, and I always think the film I'm about to make is going to be a disaster. At least at some point I think that. Delusion is not good, better to be realistic and then surprise yourself if you're lucky." With regard to his current position, one which sees him hailed as Ireland's most promising and interesting filmmakers, one in which he stands between this critically acclaimed feature and the forthcoming Frank, Lenny is one satisfied man.
"Making a film like this I have to say has been really satisfying. You don't know when you're making something if it's going to work, I mean the first two films have worked but people still make bad films. Good filmmakers make bad films; it happens. But it's really satisfying to have made this thing that I'm very proud of and having worked with these people and what's great is that it's had a really strong reaction. As it happens I was going along to make Frank anyway and that also helps because people know I'm about to make a bigger film."
For Abrahamson, What Richard Did will no doubt elevate the Irish director to even greater heights; next of which will be the aforementioned Frank, starring Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson. Frank is an "atmospheric comedy about a guy played by Gleeson who wants to be a musician, practises in his bedroom but is crap and is desperate for something exciting to happen in his life. He gets drawn into the world of this really quite bizarre band who have an unpronounceable name with a lead singer who spends his time inside a globe-like head and that's Fassbender. It's partially a road movie and it's a riff on outsider musicians. It's a lovely study of what it is to want to be creative and discover that you can't do the thing you want to do. It's like an antidote to all those films which say 'dream and it will happen'." That sounds like a very Irish mentality, "It is," smiles the director.
As for his third movie's shining star? "I've just booked a pretty nice studio gig" smiles Reynor to himself as though it hasn't quite sunken in yet, "so I'm going back to New York to start shooting in 10 days. It's a feature film with an amazing studio and there's a couple of major actors in it." Too soon for details? "I'd love to tell you, I'm itching to tell you but I can't. But we'll let you know as soon as I can tell you, totally."
Well a promise is a promise, watch this space.
Read the review of What Richard Did here.
Click here for info on 'Focus on Lenny Abrahamson' at the IFI.