MovieMaker Exclusive: Interview with Charlie Casanova Writer/Director Terry McMahon
On this gloomy October day in Los Angeles, we only thought it fitting to share the very Irish, very mordant conversation of Terry McMahon, a moviemaker-actor whose debut feature Charlie Casanova made an indie flurry back in 2011. McMahon is currently wrapping up work on Patrick’s Day, slated for a March 2014 release.
A nominee for Best Film at the 2012 Irish Film & Television Awards, Charlie Casanova made its way through the festival circuit, an official selection of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the European International Film Festival, and SXSW (the first Irish film ever to screen at that festival). McMahon brings to life the twisted and morally corrupt character of Charlie Casanova, a self-centered and heartless man who decides to leave his morality in the hands of a deck of playing cards. He uses the cards throughout the film in order to decide his next course of action, rather than taking responsibility for what he does. Casanova is played by Irish actor Emmett Scanlan, whose performance as the egotistical sociopath is flawless (fans of Irish soap operas might recognize Scanlan from the series Hollyoaks).
Evelina Jarosz sat down with the (characteristically uncensored) Terry McMahon to pick his brooding mind about the making of his first feature, his thoughts on moviemaking, and prospects for the future.
Evelina Jarosz (MM): How has the way you grew up affected your writing and the stories you choose to tell in your films?
TM: From a working class background, I witnessed from very early on how the poor get fucked by the State and by themselves.
MM: You’ve led quite a life and experienced many things from early on. One experience I’m curious about is when you were homeless for a while as a young man. What did you learn about society during your time as a homeless youth?
TM: Loneliness is a cancer and people fear it is contagious so they keep far away.
MM: How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
TM: The great Roger Corman opened a small film studio in Galway and after going to an open call for actor I ended up playing central roles in a few of those movies. They weren’t exactly masterpieces, but were a joy to work on.
MM: How did you begin to make Charlie Casanova?
TM: Wrote on Facebook, “Intending to make no budget dark satire Charlie Casanova. Need cast, crew and a lot of balls. Any takers? This is sincere so bullshitters fuck off in advance.” Less than two weeks later we were shooting.
MM: It’s wonderful that so many people responded in such a positive way and wanted to jump on board. What surprised you the most during filming?
TM: The sublime generosity of people.
MM: One of the people to jump on board was Emmett Scanlan. How did you and Emmett (who plays Charlie) meet?
TM: Emmett was brought in to read on another script of mine, The Dancehall Bitch, and his powerful talent and personality rendered it love at first fight.
MM: Will you be working with Emmett Scanlan on more projects in the future?
TM: Always. He just filmed a cameo in Patrick’s Day (his new project) and almost stole the show.
MM: Why did you feel so strongly about tackling this type of subject matter in Charlie Casanova?
TM: The most mediocre minds of a generation sank Ireland into debt and despair and I was too cowardly to pick up a gun so I picked up a camera instead.
MM: What was the most difficult part about making the film?
TM: Not having the price of breakfast in my arse pocket.
MM: I bet that must have been frustrating. What has changed for you and your work since the success of Charlie Casanova, and what are you filming at the moment?
TM: Charlie Casanova may have been distributed by Studio Canal in UK and Irish cinemas but, in the financial sense of the word, it was not a success. However, it proved I could helm a movie and set in motion the film we just completed principal photography on, Patrick’s Day, which was made for a substantially higher budget with established actors. Patrick’s Day is about a mentally ill young man who becomes intimate with an older suicidal air-hostess. However, his obsessive mother enlists a dysfunctional cop to separate them. We got the great Kerry Fox (An Angel At My Table) and Philip Jackson (Scum) for two of the leads and they may very well have given the performances of their lives. I can still barely afford breakfast but at least we’re making magic.
MM: How has the response regarding Charlie Casanova affected you?
TM: The lies stung but when you’re attacking a system of corrupt mediocrity it’s naive to think they won’t fight back with everything they have.
MM: Are you pleased that the film has started such a discussion amongst its viewers?
TM: Of course, that was the function of the film.
MM: Do you find it fascinating that people reacted very strongly towards the film in both positive and negative ways?
TM: The extremity of reaction was borderline insane, both for and against but it was enlivening to see a tiny film could still have the power to evoke national debate in a lazy media.
MM: Which country’s reaction to the film surprised you the most?
TM: We were the first Irish film ever selected for competition at SXSW in Texas then we went on to Edinburgh Film Festival and several more, picking up a few awards along the way, but the concerted campaign by a coterie of Irish and, by extension English critics to malign the film and depict the makers as liars was something to behold.
MM: How will you, along with the cast and crew celebrate the achievement of your film being released to audiences in America?
TM: We’ll raise a glass of 18-year-old whiskey.
MM: What has been a highlight for you during the release of Charlie Casanova in other countries?
TM: Standing ovations and fistfights.
MM: What are your thoughts about the film industry today?
TM: YouTube has killed the attention span of the current generation and everything is changing at such profound speed it’s impossible to know if cinema as we know it will exist in ten or twenty years time but at least the revolution in technology means more people will get to tell their stories. Question is, will anybody give a damn enough to hear them?
Charlie Casanova is available on DVD in the U.S. MM
To subscribe to MovieMaker Magazine, click here.