In Irish director Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death of a Superhero, teenager Donald’s creativity, active imagination and innate talent combine to make him a highly talented comic book artist. His future would be bright were it not for one thing: Donald, 15, is dying of leukemia.
With a cast that includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually) as Donald, a non-mocap Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as his unconventional psychologist and Michael McElhatton (“Game of Thrones”) and Sharon Horgan (BBC’s “Pulling”) as his struggling-to-cope parents, Fitzgibbon has managed to direct a film about a teen with cancer that manages to be inspiring but not melodramatic, sad and poignant but not unrelentingly grim. “I was not interested in making a ‘cancer movie,'” he has stated. “I always said that this film should be moving, not depressing. I was interested in a love story with time running out.”
In addition to having its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, running April 18th to the 29th in lower Manhattan, Death of a Superhero is one of four films acquired by Tribeca Films for VOD release during the festival. So while the film’s first stateside theatrical screening doesn’t take place until Friday, April 27th, anyone with a TV or an Internet connection can catch the film on cable, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and more starting tomorrow, April 17th.
Fitzgibbon took the time to chat about what initially drew him to the script (written by Anthony McCarten, who penned the award-winning novel on which it is based) and how he crafted his own approach to the material.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): What about Anthony McCarten’s story drew you to Death of a Superhero?
Ian Fitzgibbon (IF): I was very struck by the idea of a young teenager who had more integrity and courage than the adults around him. Here was somebody who was prepared to face the ultimate truth.
MM: What really ties this movie together, I think, are the animated sequences, which give the audience a window into Donald’s emotional state even when he’s not communicating with his friends and family. As someone who’s never worked with animation before, how did you approach that aspect of the film?
IF: The animation was a fascinating process. Initially, when I became attached to the movie, the animation served a different purpose. It was more about the boy’s growth as an artist. It was a metaphor for his emotional development. I was much more interested in it as a way of expressing something much more personal. The idea of it exploring the boy’s innermost sexual fantasies and his fear of death through the animation was much more interesting to me.
MM: Did you have a hand in the screenwriting process? Particularly in reworking the script to be set in Ireland?
IF: Mark Doherty [co-star of Fitzgibbon’s feature directorial debut, 2008’s A Film with Me in It] and I did an extensive re-write on the script. We set the story where we lived, which is a very particular and small part of south county Dublin. I have two teenage children, so I felt confident that this was a world we could describe with a degree of truthfulness. I really enjoyed collaborating with Mark. It took us six weeks of intensive writing, but we got there.
MM: Prior to directing your first feature, you had a successful career as an actor. What was it that made you take the leap from acting to directing? Is acting something you’re still interested in doing?
IF: The obvious answer is I got bored and frustrated with the life of an actor. I wanted to try something that might be beyond my reach. Something I was a little afraid of and [that] therefore excited me. But I always take a cameo in my movies. In Death Of A Superhero I play a shrink. So maybe I haven’t quite turned my back on acting.
MM: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
IF: I’m doing a lot of TV at the moment. I’m posting a series for the BBC and I’m about to start shooting another series of “Threesome” for Comedy Central in London.