Have you seen Don McKellar?

5 Questions with Brian Gleeson, Emma Eliza Regan and Patrick Ryan of Darkness on the Edge of Town

We first about Patrick Ryan’s film Darkness on the Edge of Town at this year’s Slamdance festival. We didn’t know much about the film other than its title, but it just blew us away. This is the very essence of an independent film, but thanks to the work of Ryan and cinematographer Tommy FItzgerald, as well as some explosive acting, especially from Emma Eliza Regan as Cleo Callaghan and Brian Gleeson as Virgil O’Reilly, it feels like a big-budget feature.

We spoke to Patrick and Emma by phone from Slamdance, and to Brian in the green room of the TIFF Bell Lightbox during the Toronto Irish Film Festival, where Brian attended, and brothers Rory and Domnhall were in the audience as guests. Emma and Brian spoke extremely highly of Patrick and the film is a must-see, especially for fans of gritty family dramas.

Scene Creek: Did you allow for improvisation on set?

Patrick Ryan: I generally don’t like to rehearse so we didn’t do a lot of rehearsals. In terms of improvisation there was hardly any. We made sure that everyone was on the same page. You have to be, when you’re doing it at this rate. We shot three weeks, with a lot of moving around so…also, when you’re doing an independent film, you don’t want the days running sixteen hours, you kind of want to start when you’re going to, end when you’re going to, and keep everyone happy. Civil. That’s what we aim for, we try to run as professionally as possible, and as quickly as possible.

Scene Creek: Did you take the character with you?

Emma Eliza Regan: No, like for me, in terms of playing Cleo, I was kind of able to separate it from myself and shake it off like it so I was able to remain focused for the few weeks. I’m always very focused on set. I want to give a good performance. That’s my personal experience. You gotta have fun, and that wasn’t me. The guys around here can attest that all the roles are considerably dark. You need to be very truthful for the character and to stay very focused and to carry that performance through. Often the scripts that are compelling and interesting, and have got a dash of soul to them often inspire me in new directions, you know, deal with darker issues, it’s human in many ways. That’s where it gets interesting, and that’s where you challenge yourself as an actor, challenge yourself as a person. I don’t like to be fake.

Scene Creek: What did you learn from Patrick’s filmmaking approach?

Emma Eliza Regan: Patrick was extremely focused so I learnt a huge amount during the process from the initial casting to the shoot—he is a both a fantastic writer and director, and he was very clear in his vision for both the character, the way in which he wanted her portrayed and the style of the film from the start, in everything from the visuals to performance, so it was very easy to go in one clear direction on the shoot in that way, the whole team and crew were very collaborative together as we were working on a low budget we all had to pull together. He was on of the first directors I worked with who was interested in pushing the boundaries of what an Irish film could achieve with tackling a genre, and giving it a very international feel, and he wasn’t restrictive in his vision for the film on an international stage, which was very refreshing and we all were in safe hands.

Scene Creek: What did you get out of the experience of working on this film?

Brian Gleeson: Patrick’s best friend is also the cinematographer. They went to film school together. A lot of the guys that worked on the film, they’re in the same class. Once they left I think Patrick had a few offers from people for the script, and he said “no, I want to make it myself”. And they’re also familiar with the Irish countryside and Kerry. They grew up there, and it was a real passion project for them, and it just goes to show, you don’t need that much money when you have that kind of passion. So I’m delighted, and especially for him. Like it’s going to do wonders for him.

Scene Creek: What did it for you?

Brian Gleeson: I originally just responded to the script and you never know how films turn out. We can do stuff and think it’s great, it could turn out to be muck, you know. But with this, Patrick wrote this and was directing as well, thought I was in good hands. We’re hoping to work together again, he’s got a new film, in Dublin. He sent me the script and it’s really great. It’s a great calling card to do the first film yourself. You hear of guys in film development who get stuck for years and years and years, the only way you learn and get better is by doing it yourself.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is available for downloading in the U.S. and Canada from bit.ly/DarkiTunes. The Canadian premiere is at the inaugural St. Lawrence Film Festival in Brockville, Ontario.