Anna Rose Holmer and Saela Davis knew the actor they chose to play the role of Brian in their complex A24 family drama God’s Creatures had to be believable as both a charismatic charmer and as someone potentially capable of committing. horrible act. charming and charismatic. They chose Normal People and The Lost Daughter star Paul Mescal to take on the “dangerous duality of Brian.”
Set in Ireland, God’s Creatures follows Aileen O’Hara (Emily Watson) as she welcomes home her son, Brian (Paul Mescal) after he’s been away for several years. But when Brian’s former girlfriend Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) accuses him of sexual assault, Aileen’s snap decision to lie for him begins to rip their family apart.
“First and foremost, Paul’s an incredible actor,” co-director Anna Rose Holmer told MovieMaker. “Whoever played Brian was going to be a counterpoint to Emily Watson, and to be able to hold that space, we needed someone with that strength and generosity. But you know, we first meet Brian through Aileen’s eyes, and it’s his charm and charisma, the ease in which he moves through spaces, that we almost want to be rooting for his homecoming, his return. And so we need an actor who could occupy that dangerous duality of Brian, the two sides of charisma, that charm and that entitlement. And so it was, it was a really challenging role. And then for us as creators, we needed someone who we could speak [to] very honestly as a human being someone that we trusted and felt safe with in order to go into some dangerous spaces, you know? Challenging spaces. And we just felt that trust with Paul. And we’re really grateful that he took this challenge on.”
Davis felt it was extremely important not to pass judgment on any of the characters and to leave that up to the audience.
“For us, and then for the actors and Paul specifically, you can’t really judge a character, because once you do that, you kind of are, I think, unable to try to portray them accurately,” Davis said. “It was really about discussing the psychology of what happened in Brian’s past, what happened while he was away in Australia. And really, we wanted to just have this core understanding of his history, and part of that history is violence within his home.”
Part of their research as directors, Davis added, was to research the psychology behind why a person might do what Brian’s character is accused of in God’s Creatures.
“We also did some research in understanding the psychology of these criminals, and also talked a lot about body [and] physicality. We did that with Aisling as well. The two of them kind of had an understanding of what happened that night, although we never see it. But we wanted to talk about the effects of this trauma for both of those characters, and how do they carry themselves after that? What happens, and how do they move through the world?” Davis said.
Holmer stressed that she and Davis wanted to approach discussions of sexual violence on screen in God’s Creatures with as much nuance and respect as possible.
“It was also our intention that, for many who experienced sexual violence, that is coming at the hands of someone they know and very often love. And that is a very hard reality,” Holmer said. “That means approaching it with nuance and complexity and sensibilities. And so it was always about asking questions… broadening the scope of how we were telling this story, because that is actually the most horrifying element of the film, is that, you know, these acts of violence come from people [they] know and love.”
God’s Creatures is now in theaters.
Main Image: Emily Watson and Paul Mescal in God’s Creatures courtesy of A24