Happy Ever Afters - Interviews with Cast and Crew
Words: John Balfe
The Clarence Hotel in Temple Bar was the scene for a press junket for a new Irish comedy called Happy Ever Afters. It was here that I was scheduled to meet writer/director Stephen Burke and actors Tom Riley and Jade Yourell (who came armed with a brownie for me). Trying to butter me up, Yourell? Well, it worked. Perhaps a slice of wedding cake might have been more appropriate, but the gesture was certainly appreciated.
It's supposed to be the happiest day of your life, but what happens when your wedding day doesn't exactly go to plan? This is the basis for Happy Ever Afters, a new Irish comedy from Stephen Burke. Freddie (Tom Riley) and Maura (Sally Hawkins) are getting married, although not to each other. Freddie is about to marry Sophie (Jade Yourell) for a second time, much to the annoyance of her manipulative parents, while Sally has entered into a marriage-for-money scam with African immigrant Wilson (Ariyon Bakare). Both wedding parties converge on a small seaside hotel for their receptions, but will both marriages see the day out or will the house of cards collapse on the newlyweds, guests and all?
"I was at a wedding where there was a partition dividing two parties", explains Burke when asked where he got the idea for the film. "Initially that's what the script was, it was about two weddings divided by a moveable partition and it would get moved back. In the end that ended up being changed in the script and it ended up just being two wings of a hotel."
Happy Ever Afters isn't your standard Hollywood fare. If this were set in the States it would probably feature Renee Zellweger marrying Matthew McConaughey in an absurdly expensive-looking wedding, but Burke drew his influence from different sources. "I just avoided looking at modern weddings comedies. I looked back to the older ones like The Philadelphia Story, What's Up Doc?, the old screwball, slapstick style. In a way I made an old fashioned film and I don't make any apologies for that. A big thing in screwball comedies is the zany lead actress who comes like a freight train into the life of the uptight guy, who's kind of like the Jack Lemmon character".
That zany lead actress is Sally Hawkins. Hawkins plays Maura, a feisty single mother who not only has her young daughter to contend with but an eviction notice from her home. She has agreed to marry African immigrant Wilson for a sum, which initially seems mutually beneficial for both parties - until the immigration detectives become involved.
Hawkins is best known for her Golden Globe winning performance in Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky. "We auditioned a lot of people for the role that Sally Hawkins ended up playing. It was quite difficult looking for a great actress with funny bones; they're not like apples falling off the trees", explains Burke. "Happy Go Lucky was editing so she hadn't won her Golden Globe or anything at that stage. She did a great audition. She came in and said she loved the script. I have this great memory of when she came in, she was holding the script like it was a nice possession of hers".
All was going well until a few weeks into the shoot when disaster struck. Hawkins broke her collarbone in a particularly animated scene with Tom Riley. "She initially thought she'd pulled a muscle but doctor said it was a green stick break where the bone is still together but fractured. 95% of people with broken collarbones can go back to work in three weeks. Unfortunately she was in the 5% and she was out for nearly 6 months."
During the resulting break in shooting Hawkins star rose considerably due to her Golden Globe, prompting Tom Riley to hatch devious plan to get a golden statue of his own. Is that how it works, you have to injure yourself to get awards? "I spent the whole of the next part of the shoot kicking myself to see what would happen. It's the only way to an Oscar", joked Riley.
Riley has flown over from the UK for the premiere, which was the night before this interview, and an experience he doesn't savour too much. "I just sit there and cringe, looking at my face four hundred times its size on screen. But people seemed to love it. It's nice to be in a premiere with punters because that's how you really get a vibe about how it's going to play. They were laughing and oohing at the right places."
Freddie is the centrepiece of the whole film, the one character who links everyone else together. "He's neurotic. He's a worrier. The guy's at the end of his tether but, at the same time, you don't want to go too Mr Bean. So it's quite a delicate balance."
Burke also gave Riley homework, a list of films to familiarise himself with before shooting began. "Stephen suggested that I take a look at The Apartment, which I love. It's one of my favourite films. It was a chance to go back and re-watch Jack Lemmon. If I can bring even a few percent of what Jack Lemmon can bring to a film, of being simultaneously neurotic and irritating and yet likeable, then I'd be happy. That was what Stephen was looking for and those were his reference points."
While Happy Ever Afters is undeniably fun and light-hearted at its core, it also touches on some serious issues such as immigration, repossession and the idea of being married to the wrong person. "It was difficult", explains Burke. "It was a fine line, particularly in the immigration one. I felt like I was walking a bit of a tightrope. I think it's perfectly okay to treat a serious subject in a comic way as long as you're not trivialising it. You can make a statement as easily in a comic way as in a serious way."
"It's in the script", continues Riley. "Stephen has left some beats where you can play serious, because even in comedy there's a level of serious. Sally and I choose a few moments in the film where we would play not for laughs. I think it's a Mamet quote, where he says 'just play the scene' and if it's well written then it'll work".
Irish stage actress Jade Yourell plays Sophie, Freddie's indecisive bride. "She doesn't really know herself. She's under the thumb of her parents. Sophie doesn't know what she likes or dislikes, every decision she's ever made in her life has been her mother's decision for her. Through the course of this film she just snaps and she stands up for herself".
Normally used to treading the boards at the Gate Theatre, Yourell revelled in the manic character of Sophie and the freedom that Burke gave her to explore the role. "I'm so used to playing pretty ingénues, so this was somebody to go a little bit mental with. And she was funny! Stephen is brilliant. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it from me. He'd come in after a take and give me one note, and that one note would be absolutely succinct and precise and open up everything and change what I was doing. I just found that very clever. It gave me so much confidence."
One of the most memorable parts of the film features Sophie parading through the centre of Dublin in full wedding garb, drawing stares from unsuspecting passers-by, most of whom were completely unaware that this was a film shoot. "That was my favourite part! Do you really want to know what sort of reactions I got?! Can you print it?! Half of it was titillating, no pun intended because the dress was quite revealing!"
"My favourite memory was when we were in the centre of Henry Street. I just remember a tug on my dress and I look down and there was this small little black girl. She asked me if I was a Princess. I looked down and I went 'yeah'. I had to say 'Yes. Yes I am. I am a princess'. There was a part of me going 'oh, you poor little thing' and there was another part of me going 'this is great!' Finally I'm a princess!"
Happy Ever Afters is released on 26th December
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Wednesday 9th December 2009 | Movie
No comments have been posted for this article yet. Be the first!
Log in to leave a comment
The opinions expressed here are those of the viewer and do not reflect those of Entertainment.ie. Entertainment.ie accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for their accuracy of content. Please contact us to report abusive content