Ireland’s most Oscar-nominated director of all time is this week’s guest. He’s got catholicism in his cross-hairs and a fire in his belly that burns fiercely. Lots to learn from this great story-teller.
[00:00:04.20] Jim, thank you so much for making time to be here, I really appreciate it. Saw 'The Secret Scripture' yesterday, it's an incredibly powerful film, but before I tell you how it made me feel I'd love to know what you wanted to put into people, how you wanted people to walk out of it?
Yeah, I suppose - You know, I read the book a couple of times and the script which was written by Johnny Ferguson and the - I liked the story of the pretty woman who is only seen as her beauty and then I started adapting for the Johnny’s story, and I took it more and more towards the kids and the, you know, home and the nuns and the constraints of Catholic Ireland in the forties, you know. And I suppose the weakness that reviewers might find in the movie was what I wanted to get out of it, I wanted a woman to go through the, kind of, Magdalene church experience and be a winner and come out winning in some ??? way.
[00:01:26.17] And did you imagine an emotion that your - You had won if you had triggered a particular emotion in people, I mean, do you play, do you play audiences that way, like, were you, kind of, going 'I want the people in there leaving to feel' -
I don't usually, I think, think of it that way, I'm more thinking of it when in the terms of the story, I suppose I wanted them to feel both angry and a little uplifted that at least she gets - Our life comes to some conclusion at the end.
[00:01:57.27] Yeah, it sure does. I think it's possibly the most romantic film you've ever made.
Probably, I mean, it's very mature women's movie, you know, it's - Sentiments are all kind of like from the women, you know, it's led by two women and they are the main characters, they are more acted upon than acting in the movie. It's difficult when you go back into the past, you know, it's weird, I suppose, in the novel it's a different thing, but in the movie everybody knows the past is the past and there may not be any consequences so the consequences are all in the present day, so I think I had to keep the past, like, moody and elegant and visual, you know?
[00:02:50.29] I loved it, I mean, I am a bit of a softie, but I nearly cried two times in it, like, there was some moments in it, I was just - And they weren't tears of anger, like, they were emotional tears, but it made me really angry as well, it made me really, really angry.
You know, I think the first reaction to it was all a young man and, you know… in America and they're kind of like it's not the kind of movie that may appeal to them, you know. Yeah, I think it's very much like an Irish story and I think men will go too, but I don't think it's soft and I think it has a big power, you know?
[00:03:40.18] Rooney Mara, the only other time I saw her in a film was in 'Star Wars' and I had to see her in this, I was just like 'Wow, magnetic'.
Yeah, she is great in this, yeah, very still.
[00:03:54.29] Magnetic. I absolutely adored her, I was sitting there at the screen yesterday and going 'If I wasn't to talk to Jim Sheridan tomorrow which is such an honor, to go into a cinema and sit down and watch this was not something I would have done, but I was so glad I was there, I was sitting there going 'This is, like, epic', like, I really think it's going to blow a hole through a lot of things, I really think it's -
In what way?
[00:04:15.03] Well, you're taking some pretty big pot-shots there and, like, I think, for example, I see this movie playing on RTÉ 1 on Christmas Day or Stephen's Day in two or three years and I think that's when it's effect is really going to be felt. Like, I think it's going to create a lot of ripples, a lot of ripples and I think you've galvanized a lot of emotions that I think a lot of people don't have a point to rally around necessarily, you know, I really adored it, and the romance is, like, not since 'My Left Foot' have I think I've really seen a love story in one of your films, tender love story.
It's very hard to do love stories because, you know, they're not dramatic - Usually no conflict in them so usually it's very difficult. I think it's very interesting the priests in the story and the whole, his whole position which I realized I had to change from the book, I mean, in the book the priest is kind of like an old guy who is just against her, and -
[00:05:16.17] Oh, there was no ???
Yeah, I just don't get - The danger was of being, yeah, no edge and, you know, would might be inert and maybe we've seen that story, you know, so -
[00:05:33.09] I haven't read all this hoo-ha, I know there is a hoo-ha between you and Sebastian Barry, I know it's there, I haven't actually read the details. What's your take because when you say ('The film' to people?), like, so our kid loves Harry Potter, right, and we made him read every single Harry Potter book before he can see one of the films, because it's like once you see the movie your version of the book is gone so anyone who's ever read a book, like, it's apples and oranges, but what's your take on what's going on because I know there is a hoo-ha, I know there is something going on, what's your take on what's going on with Sebastian and yourself?
You know, I think he may have a point in that there is, you know, it's very different in the book - I think it's very difficult if you're the writer of the book and you don't adapt it yourself, I just think you're never going to be happy. So if he wanted that he should have just adapted it himself like Emma Donoghue who did “Room”.
[00:06:31.01] So the priest guy, Theo James, is that the actor? Like, I see him and I'm, like, 'Star of the future', you know? It's kind of really interesting to have such a good looking baddy and, like, you know, and it's kind of like 'Am I supposed to like this guy or not supposed to like this guy?', but I have no doubt he's going to be a major star; was that the major change, I mean, what else did you change?
I know, I changed an awful lot in the back story, an awful lot. But it's not like you change it deliberately, like 'I'm going to change this', it's the logic of writing it just keeps taking over and you have to compress events and, like, there was some invention, like, there is no story of the pilot in the book, you know?
[00:07:15.10] Oh, right, that's such a big thing in the film, brilliant. And where did you come up with that, or did Johnny come up with that?
I suppose, probably a little bit... I'm not sure, a bit of Yates, you know, you know the poem that he had about the pilot and -
[00:07:33.17] No, which one is that?
'Somewhere in the clouds above' ta-ta-ta, and he dies in the First World War and he's a protestant, I think his country is Kiltartan Cross, his country (something) Kiltartan's poor, those that he fights he does not hate, those - Great ace poem, you know. So it's like- the book, it stretches over a hundred years and there's probably, like, forty stories in there, I mean, there is one big, powerful thing that people probably do miss out of the book, but I didn't actually, think that you could put in the movie where the, all the kids in an orphanage die in a fire, you know. But, like, people, I hope, from Sebastian's point that people go through movie and they like the movie and it inspires them enough to go back and buy the book and read it, that would be good. And, like, the book is there, you know, it's not like we burnt all the books and made the movie.
[00:08:42.04] And you mentioned earlier the stories, so for me, for you, story is paramount, that's what you're serving in the process.
Belief is paramount.
[00:08:52.08] And suspension of disbelief.
Yeah. And I never heard people talking about that in movies, you know, they talk about, like, story, mythology, narrative, documentary, but it's basically a binary system of belief and non-belief. You either believe or you don't, and when the belief system coming off the screen is in conflict with your own belief system, you reject it. So basically now we're getting one belief system from America which is Iron man, Spiderman, Superman, Trump-man. And I think we're in a difficult phase, it's just a different phase where once you digitalise things and you can change not only the words but the actual surface and the images, people start losing trust in actually any statements, you know, everything becomes up for grabs, so it's just about reinforcing, TV now becomes reinforcing belief systems and it's becoming very... it's becoming pulpity (?), you know?
[00:10:16.20] Yeah, well I think what's very scary is the fact that people are engaging less and less with people they disagree with.
Yeah, yeah, yeah; I mean, I would say that goes back, in film, it goes back about a hundred and twenty years so all the places that I - I have this little fascination with movies and the belief system in them and box office and so you can work out, like, there was a box office for every type of movie so Woody Allen was 20 million unless he broke out and did some other movie, and Scorsese was 60 million, and Clint Eastwood was 200 million. The God-fearing individual who sorts out all the problems was always much bigger than the family mafia story, and the family mafia story essentially never played in the Midwest, like Scorsese wouldn't have played that much in any other places that voted for Trump.
[00:11:27.16] Wow, the flyover states.
Yeah, and that's - If you - When you’re distributing movies with the studios, independent movies, they would never play in those places so they haven't been seeing independent movies or English movies or European movies for a hundred years and - So I always was fascinated by the divide in America not be the Civil War made it look like a North-South problem, and it's actually a land-city problem, it's the peasants aren't going back to the land, they are the Irish and the Italians, the Jews and the blacks, and that Northern European landowners own the land and they are the Trumps, the Scots, the Dutch, the English, the Germans who are, basically, the essential of the Republican Party. So the belief system in that society is of individual responsibility as against communal responsibility.
[00:12:25.19] And what box does a Jim Sheridan film fit, like, so you're obviously aware of this so when you're putting something out in the world where are your films?
I'm probably one of the few people that has to be aware of it because Americans live in the fantasy that they live in an unified America and so - But they kind of seem to accept that they don't have to appeal in the Red States if they're making movies in, you know, in New York or LA, but basically, you know, it's, like, because, let's say, like, "In America" would have been, like, a movie about a family and it would have had a very different response in America than in England for an instance, and sometimes you start out, like, thinking about how people like my movie and then you realise that certain people have blind spots and even very intellectual, humane, empathetic people can have big blind spots. And that movie was basically like a family movie, it starts with the American flag out of focus on a digital camera and everybody in America is looking at it and going 'Oh, yeah, that's how you get to New York, you drive', because 80% of them don't have passports.
[00:14:02.23] And "In America" was co-written with your daughter Kirsten and autobiographical, so how much liberties did you take with your own life when you were telling your own story in America?
I made myself my father and made my daughter me.
[00:14:21.22] Wow, I never - I mean, obviously, I assumed that you were you in it, wow.
No, I was my dad and my daughter was me, and the scenes that worked best were scenes that - I remembered once watching the scene where he strung the ball and he loses all the money and my dad had this thing of gambling all the time, and everything depended on the bet, you know, you felt that the future of the world depended on what won the two thirty. And it was very tense because he would give every horse a chance and you would sweat and eventually at the end of the race he'd say 'You sniffed when I said number six', so you couldn't keep still enough not to have an opinion.
[00:15:06.24] And would you have been aware of the implications of him losing these bets as a child?
Oh, yeah, yeah, he would be in bad ??? But in the movie when I'm the - That's the scene that actually happened to me, but I was capable of watching that scene as if I was my father and the emotion was really tense in the scene because I imported into a true scene that happened to me the emotion that I felt with my father.
[00:15:33.14] So Hell's Kitchen was actually Sheriff Street?
In ways, yes, it's more like a - You know, I didn't have a kid that I - So the kid is my brother who died so that's how I become - The difficulty with your - You can't write yourself, it's very difficult, and you need probably more than one person to create a character because there is no - It's like in a painting without perspective, everything is flat once you're doing yourself, so in a movie you only have to give it, like, make it two people that you know and you give the person contradictions and edge and, basically, the best characters in movies are, like, characters that are probably six to ten people all put in a pot, turned the heat up for them and put the lid on and let the steam come out, and that's a character, that's Shakespeare, you know?
[00:16:31.28] I'm really intrigued by where you came from; I know you grew up in Sheriff Street but, like, filmmaker, playwright, agitator Jim Sheridan – how the hell did that happen, like, what was it that happened to you as you grew up, who were you exposed to or what were you exposed to, how did you come into being and do the things you did, like, how did that happen?
I think, you know, I suppose growing up I kind of had a very good family, at the same there were probably a lot of, as in every family, problems in the house, I was very Oedipal always fighting my dad and my mom was very strong personality, quiet, and like, when the North blew up we would have had all the people from Bombay Street or whoever was burnt out in their house, so early on, you know, after my brother died my parents started looking after all the -
[00:17:43.00] The refugees from the -
Well, them, yeah, but also the kids in Sheriff Street and bringing them to the basketball, so I had a history of watching people who were social activists and then my grandfather was like a - an IRBI (?), you know, he was in 1916 so was his brother and his brother died, so I think my dad went the opposite, he was very Anglophile and then I went against my dad and, you know, I think it comes from there, it comes from your childhood, you know?
[00:18:21.01] Where did you live, were you on the one of the Avenues?
No, we lived in a place called Abercorn Roadforst (?) which was over on Lower Sheriff Street, I think, and then we moved over to Seville Place -
[00:18:33.29] But the idea of this young fellow coming up and growing in this neighbourhood that has obviously changed so much in your lifetime, but, like, what gave you the power to go "I can make place, I can set up an art centre, I can make movies, I can..." -
Well a lot of it, I think, must have been my dad who started the drama group in the Oriel Hall when I was about fourteen or fifteen, maybe sixteen, after my brother died again he started the drama group. And then me being my Oedipal rage I wanted to take it over from him, so dad has always, kind of, giving me energy and drive, but at the same time sometimes gets me into problems because I will pick fights with a (touretine?) no matter what, and it's almost like once I get into a problem I want to solve it which is sometimes really stupid because sometimes solving it is not engaging, you have to disengage sometimes to solve -
[00:19:41.29] It's such a male thing as well, though, like want to have an impact on the surroundings.
Yeah, yeah, and, like, there was a lot of poor kids and hard times in Sheriff Street, you know?
[00:19:53.02] And your dad, like, him setting of the theatre group, was there - Was that some kind of cathartic process after your brother died or was - Where did that come from, were the seeds for that sown, I mean, it seems like a pretty abstract thing to do.
Yeah, I think he always wanted to be a writer, my dad. I tell this story about a show he did in Castle Avenue in Clontarf where he was - He wrote a play where he was the king on an island and we all had to follow him around singing 'This is my island and the Sun, built to me by father's hand', and all the girls, God bless him, from Sheriff Street and (Seven?) place were in, like, little grass skirts and -
[00:20:44.14] He was creating the reality he wanted.
He was Prospero, it was his version of Prospero on the island, and I remember the end of it more than any other play I was ever in, I think it was something like he pointed out into the audience and said 'Look, look, the ship!' and somebody went 'Meee, meee!' and he said 'No, the ship with sails, we're saved!' That was the big punch line and it sounds terrible, like as if I'm dissing him because it was so innocent and so - But it's so fucking powerful as well, do you know what I mean? And then I remember he got a bus and we went up to Roundwood to do - Do you know, (the peacock?) and I was the guy with one arm and (Callum ?O'Brien?) from RTÉ saw me and I got a TV show called 'Motly(?)' so it all came of fairly quick, you know?
[00:21:48.01] Wow, and, like, what was your perspective, like, when I came to Dublin in '89 Sheriff Street was a no-go zone; like, did you feel you're on the lower end of some ??? system or did you feel you were Top of the Pops, I mean, what was your relation with the rest of Ireland, how did you see things and where you fit into it because confidence didn't seem to be an issue, you didn't seem to be downtrodden or oppressed or -
No, I think confidence - A lot of the strength comes from your mom, you know, bigging you up, you know. And at the same time my dad was very good at maths so then I wanted to be better than him at maths and -
[00:22:28.03] Competitive to the last.
Oh, God, you know, I won't believe but - And there was a queue outside, 45, 7 Place was just - Doctor (Ball?) who was a man of huge generosity and actually died assisting his patients, and I got a letter from one of his kids in Australia recently, and he was a big supporter of me and Peter and he used to say we were really smart and we lived next door in 44, and outside 44 there was a big queue of kids, a lot from the flats but some, like Pa Henry from East Wall and I would basically be doing their maths for school, and Pa Henry says I charged, but I don't think I did, but I do know that if I didn't get the sums right so I would get guys coming in and saying 'How many am I getting right tomorrow?' and I’d say 'Four', and they would say 'No, I'll get four slaps for that', and I said 'But you never got one right up to this, It's going to be too obvious that you get all six', and so I'd say 'Okay, okay, you've got five'. And then sometimes I would only let them get four and then they'd drop pencil cases on my head, so I had this nightmare of doing the exercises and then getting punished for not getting them right.
But the best story of all of that was there was a teacher who was a bit - He wasn't the smartest tool in the shed and he basically did the maths through me, so he would look down at the class and say 'The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides', and then he'd draw a line and I just go negative with my head and he'd say to the kids 'Is that right or wrong?' and the kids say 'Yes, sir, it's right', and he'd say 'No, it's not, it's wrong!' and he'd baffle the kids and it was just me and him in a nodding contest. And then the kid in front of me went out sick and we didn't know what was wrong with him and the brother was, like, doing the maths or doing the algebra which was the worst thing, and the kids sitting beside the kid who was missing realised that me and the brother were in cahoots and he kind of looked and then the next thing I remember that the brother came in with a tuning fork and the kid came back who was missing and he had (gun ??? dog) with his nose and seeing that the dog had a cold nose he thought it would be funny to do it twice, but the dog just bit his face and wouldn't take his teeth out so he got the Irish version of plastic surgery which was just stitched up quick and his nose and mouth were really - And he was about (17th?) in the class and the brother got him up to do dou-doo and the tuning fork and he went 'doooou!' and everybody broke out laughing and the brother kept saying 'Louder!' and he was 'dooooo' and the brother was laughing and everybody was laughing and then I was next, or I was two later, and I went up and I got it wrong because I was hearing everybody just off and I got the note wrong and the class fucking erupted, like people were laughing hysterically; and my memory is one guy was out in the aisle holding himself and peeing on the ground and laughter, I don't - To this day since I have never seen the situation, he made me do that note about fourteen times and the laughter kept increasing to the 14th time, and on the 15th everybody stopped, like as if laughter is a muscle that you can overuse and then there is no laughter left, and everybody was just silent.
[00:26:37.25] I'm sensing a bit of a (theme?) in terms of you as the creator of realities, you know, literally, and did you - Are you a master-plan type of person or do you role with stuff, I mean, like, and I'm just wondering at what stage did you, as a kid, see the vision for how your life was going to play out?
Well, I think I always wanted to do drama, you know - Wow, I think when I went to confession was when I, kind of, got into the problem of drama, you know? The impossibility of avoidance of sins became something that really struck me -
[00:27:22.26] But you had to have sins; you couldn't go to confession box with nothing to confess, so you had to have something.
The problem I had was I couldn't get out of the church without sinning again. Like, I couldn't get over the idea that you could have impure thoughts because I would always think of the girls even when I was walking home, so I would be shaking my head to not think of the shape of women or whatever, and I couldn't fucking bear it and I’d go back -
[00:27:46.11] You’d have to go back again.
I would go back and say 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned ??? my last confession', so I stopped believing in the system.
[00:27:56.03] But you would've known which priest to go to or what types of sins and how they reacted to?
No, I wasn't like that.
[00:28:01.05] No? Well, we had a system where we would've known, well, that priest will give you that for that and depending on what kind of mood you're in, if wanted to go back to school.
Maybe a little bit of that, but I was a bit more hardcore, like, I was a bit like - Nah, you know, I'd kind of be in conflict with God, you know what I mean? It's like he fucked it up, we're going to start over again and do it right, that's what theatre is.
[00:28:25.19] And how do you feel about God now, like, have you -
I still feel the same thing, I think it's like a - Isn't that what it basically, essentially is - the invention of a kind of narrative whether it's Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, is just an invention of a narrative of protection.
[00:28:45.22] Sure, it's a bindy (?) narrative as well.
[00:28:48.16] But I feel there is a big gap now, at the moment, like, and that gap is being filled by all sorts of stuff, we have a vacuum, I mean, you grew up in a time when the church was much more powerful than when I grew up, but now, what is our defining narrative, what binds us together?
Hard to know... I think the fact that there are people who are willing to die, be they suicide bombers or hunger strikers or - Not that I quite those two on the same level, but when the death narrative, when the next-life narrative impinges on this life, the danger is that you lose all moral centre and ethical centre fighting the - That seems to me what's happening.
[00:29:45.10] And what's the things that you try and hold on to, like, what's a your core in terms of - if you ever have to try and think about what you feel about something, what are the things that you keep coming back to, what's important to you?
I suppose not messing people over, it's not like - I don't know how abstract that be anymore, you know... I mean, Joyce said a very interesting thing, he said, like, I don't know what book it is or where he says it, but he won't say a prayer for his mother because he is afraid of the chemical reaction in his soul, you know, it's like, you know.
[00:30:32.05] Acid burn.
Yeah, but, like, you know, for a fellow to say 'To forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race', it's like, that's the kind of fellow, like, if you went for a ??? be kind of thinking, you know, like, you're saying things a bit to serious, but at the same time you need that kind of arrogance, you know?
[00:30:56.12] Yeah, but you've been dragging this rock a lot, you know, at - You've been kicking for a while, but you, obviously, with 'The Secret Scripture', like, there's a power ball of rage of some description you've been carrying around for a long time, well, I would say from watching the movie, like, you know?
You should see some of the scenes we didn't put in. I mean, the scenes I didn't put in is going into the room where the kids are all freezing, the priest goes in and says 'It's cold in here', and then the Eric Bana character finds all the bodies and the sculls in this - but it was too heavy. But I think that's kind of been there, I think probably, you know, like, I was writing this thing Sheriff Street and I put in it that the character does a deal with God that he won't commit a sin anymore if God will save his brother and, of course, God has to let him down.
[00:32:03.18] And that was you?
Yeah, of course that was me, yeah, that was the unconscious that was going on, I think, do you know what I mean?
[00:32:13.06] What age was your brother when he died and what age were you?
I was seventeen, he was ten; and I think - I was very good at praying for the souls in Purgatory, I could see them going up out of the church, leaving Purgatory and going up to Heaven and I just fucking wondered why you should leave the church and go home if you could get more out.
[00:32:34.28] And that would have swiped for ??? to abolish Purgatory not that long ago.
Should have told me. No, you know what I mean, these concepts were so dramatic and insane and - I'm fascinated the way, like, people can be held by narrative, you know?
[00:32:54.02] But it really feels to me like your brother's death was a major turning point for you.
Yeah, it's kind of, you know, the difficulty of it is it was a major turning, but even 'The Secret Scripture' people were saying 'Why did you do it?' and I was like 'Oh, you know, the Church and the good looking woman and the way the Prods were treated in the Ireland', and Fran, my wife, said 'No, you did it because Johnny Ferguson died'.
[00:33:18.04] Oh, God, I didn't know he died.
He died, yeah, Johnny the Writer, yeah, and he had always been wanting me to make the thing and when he died I just said 'I'll do it', and now that I look back that's kind of, like, my brother, you know, it's just the same thing, you know?
[00:33:37.03] And how did you feel when you were making changes in Johnny's script after he was gone, was that difficult for you?
No, ruthless, you know, that's -
[00:33:48.04] The story – you have to serve the story, so sentimentality get me so it's always like story is your shield, your magic weapon, the trumps, any hoo-ha or sentimentality or BS or religion or whatever – story is like, the killer of it all.
Yeah, yeah, story fascinates me, you know?
[00:34:11.15] So what was the first story, like, I'm trying to - I'm still fascinated with this idea of teenage Jim Sheridan, you know, what was it that you saw, was there a movie you saw that 'I can do that, that's me, I can tell those stories'?
Probably, very interesting that you put it that way... I think that moment occurred not to TV, but I remember when I was seven I had a friend called Anto, and Anto was much more practical than me, I was like a (genuine?) and Anto said 'You know it's only six pennies in to see 'Shane', and I was like 'It's eight pennies', he said 'No, the Protestants are showing it in their hall and it's only six pennies in', and I was like 'We can't go to that', and he was like 'Why?', I said 'Because we're contributing to the Protestant Church, they're doing that as a benefit for the church and there's pigeons in that church'. And I always saw the Protestant church with the pigeons in it as weird and pigeons were in it because the roof was gone and I thought, you know 'They are weird, they've got pigeons and everything in that church'. So then they did the benefit and I overcame my moral dilemma and went along and paying my six pennies in and then the horrors, they had the projector in the aisle so you could hear the projector, and that took away the mystique of where this thing came from.
[00:35:42.06] The belief, the bubble.
Yeah, I was like 'Wow, there's how they do it', and it broke down after about ten minutes in and they fixed it with sellotape and rolled it on again, then it broke again and then all the - The man as I remember him, most people who were in - The similarities between the Protestants and the Catholics to me were the caretakers in the churches always either had bad hearts or a lame leg or something, you know, they were guys that couldn't get jobs in the normal (run of?) things, and as I remember it in ??? down there which was Shauna Cases's parish the Protestant man had a limp and he got up on stage and he was like - He got everybody up, all the Prods, and he said 'Don't go home now, we're going to entertain you', you know, and they all turned away from me and - From everybody on stage and they put a black boot polish on their face so when they turned around I was like 'Fucking Hell, this is, like, some witchcraft, this is, like, Hell', and then they did, like, a weird show like a - an old, old, you know, what's that word, I can't remember the word for it, like, but it's a silent play and they cut a guy up with a saw and pulled his heart out which was an alarm clock and it went off and he jumped up and they chased him around the stage like Bruegel, had a Bruegel painting, and then I remember feinting and being carried out of the church.
[00:37:11.17] Is this the same day as the 'Shane' screening?
Yeah, same day as the 'Shane'.
[00:37:14.13] This all happened?
Yeah, at that day, and so I think I became kind of (mord?) and trying to get over the theatrical thing so the first play I ever did was 'Doctor Faustus' in the Oriel Hall and imagine, like, I was only about nineteen when I directed that and it got to the All-Ireland final which was amazing for - I was probably the oldest in the group.
[00:37:39.23] Heavy play.
I mean, everybody talks about Shakespeare and he is thought to genius, and he does always his last two lines in every scene hit the back of the wall, but every line of Marlowe hits the back of the wall, it's, like, Marlowe is the last great Catholic writer and it's weird, it's great stuff, you know, it's like a -
[00:38:10.13] And those Protestants of the North Wall, that enclave of working class Protestants which a lot of people don't even know exists, and then to see Rose as the Protestant in 'Secret Scripture' which I thought it was an interesting detail, how do you see, kind of, the role of Protestants in Irish society, like, and how does that evolve from you as a kid being freaked out with this performance at the day of 'Shane'?
Well, you know, they didn't have that much impact and they were the poor ones with pigeons in the church, but you could always feel that they once were well off. I think I'd just go for any minority, you know what I mean, it's like I'd be supportive of any minority in a situation and that would extend to the Gay Sweatshop and all of that stuff, you know? I don't know where that attitude comes from really, you know, it's an odd attitude.
[00:39:12.08] Like, you know, Rose was an outsider in so many ways, you know, because she was gorgeous as much as Protestant and without her family and, for me, it said a lot about, kind of, the role of beauty in women and attraction and Instagram and, you know, there's a lot of modern things there in terms of a woman's role in society and how women are treated and commodified and packaged and - Like, Rose didn't bring any of this on herself, she didn't want the attention she got in the film.
No, that's the weird thing in the - that's the weird thing in the movie, you know, it's a - I think the scene that was most interesting was just the first scene where the priest didn't (harm Itany/litany as an old collar?) and that's a very interesting scene, it's kind of like if you take something out of the scene and it's a mystery, it gives it the same relief or the same texture or the same dimension as perspective in painting, you know, so you're watching the scene and you're going 'There's something fucking weird here', but you don't know what it is.
[00:40:27.10] There's an ominous feeling, yeah.
[00:40:29.05] Which kind of goes back to 'Shane' in a way as well, where the camera is and all that other stuff.
Well, again things that people - You know, you can talk about technological advances, you know, and when 'Shane' was shown in that theatre it would've been 24 frames a second, and once you saw the splice that the guys were splicing you realised that between every frame there was a little space so you think 'Why don't they see that space? How come it's unified when it's projected?' and then you realise that's trump lie, that's fool in your eye, but in essence, the other dark space is there, so all 24 projections had about ten minutes of darkness or five to ten minutes of darkness in every movie and they found out that if they put - I'm looking at the word 'fire' - If they put fire in those frames people would run out of the theatre, and if they put popcorn they'd all go out and buy popcorn at the interval.
[00:41:44.13] They actually did this?
Oh, they did these experiments, yeah, so it was subliminal, and if it was a fly watching that movie he would see all the darkness because his eyes - Because his heart is beating faster his vision is slower, his vision is more sharp than a human which is why he can fly away when you try to hit him with a, you know, with a paper, so what going digital has done has taken the trance-like situation out of the movies.
[00:42:13.20] What do you think of virtual reality as a concept?
Terrible. I mean, great, but I'm stuck at digital, you know, and changing the surface with CGI and all that and I'm like 'Oh!', I don't - I mean, it's good, you know, if you want to be an animator or do fantasy stuff or, you know. And I'm sure it's great for really expressive people visually which is what I don't think I'm that, you know, I don't think - That's the early - You know, I work in - I think I work in the emotional area.
[00:42:57.04] Where do you think you sit on the optimism scale? The show is called 'Born Optimistic', by the way.
I don't know, not bad, you know, I'm fairly optimistic. I think you have to be in ways. It's funny, you know, I suppose every entrepreneur who gets rich is very optimistic, you know?
[00:43:26.05] Are you referring to yourself as an entrepreneur who got rich?
No, I'm just referring to people I know, they're all optimistic, you know, even to the point where they - You know, like, we had a huge property collapse and everybody was fucking optimistic, you know, and I'm not saying that you have to be pessimistic, but you can't be too optimistic.
[00:43:48.04] Yeah, where does realism come in?
Nowhere, that doesn't exist I don't think, do you?
[00:43:55.08] Well, God, that's a rabbit hole, you know, that really is a rabbit hole, you know, you could - Elon Musk and all these guys think we're living in a simulation, you know, so I try not to go there, you know, daily life is kind of packed enough with stuff to be dealing with, you already get the chance to zoom out, but if you -
I remembered, it was - One of the recent things I was involved in was a company called 'Relativity' and Ryan who ran it was, like, would draw on tablecloths or little napkins in Caen and Hollywood the theory of relativity and how algorithms could predict movies and most of it was nuts, but he raised billions.
[00:44:43.03] That's that whole Netflix idea that’s based on what you're going to watch that you'll watch something else similar and all that stuff.
Yeah, yeah, that works, but you can't predict one-off movies going out, you know? And I think Netflix has a limit, you know, where people say Netflix can predict it, they only predicted once or twice and that's because there was probably a huge whole, like, people wanted to see women in prison, yeah, okay, but I don't know that there's that many areas that are -
[00:45:15.02] How many nuances there are.
Yeah, and I don't mind seeing women in prison either. Joke.
[00:45:23.07] I'm very curious about 'Apollo House', this show gets listened to in the States as well so can you explain Apollo House to somebody for that phrase doesn't mean anything.
Well, it was just this idea of being proactive in the housing situation and taking a non-violent action on behalf of the most oppressed or most disadvantaged people, the homeless, and it was kind of a dangerous thing to do, you know, I think it could have went wrong, but we decided to do it and -
[00:46:07.18] Take over a building?
[00:46:10.03] But you, like yourself and Glenn Hansard, actually, this wasn't a celebrity endorsement, you were actually stuck in there going to the meetings, meeting the politicians, like, you got heavily involved.
Yeah, it was fascinating, you know, Ireland is a very small country on many levels, you know. I remember back in the day when I was doing 'The Gay Sweatshop' and I was running the project and I was the chairman, the worst chairman in the history of any organisation because I could never have a vote, and I remember our grant being withdrawn and James White from International Gallery telling me that it couldn't be withdrawn and that charity ??? he had done something unconstitutional and that we would get the money back and he said 'I don't like what you're doing, I never liked you and I don't like your approach', but he was actually a really upstanding civil servant and I just thought 'Wow, we're so close to top levers of power', and when I was sitting in the room with Simon Coveney, as much as other people were angry with him over the housing thing, and I was thinking 'Yeah, but we're also in the room with the minister responsible for it', and it's fascinating, you know, it's like what gives us the authority to be there and I think what gives us the authority to be there was a groundswell of an opinion that there before the Grace of God (go)?? and fear, and an Irish thing that goes all the way back to Evictions and the famine and it just touched the nerve.
[00:47:50.23] And what did you learn from it?
It's like, did you ever see the movie 'Sullivan's Travels' where Sullivan goes, you know, he's fed up making the little comedies that he makes and he goes off to make the great movie to win the Oscar, and he gets so beaten down on the road that he comes back and makes the comedies, you know. I think you just learn, you know, it was very interesting to meet all the people in there, you know, like the homeless themselves because they ran the gamut, you know, and you begin to think that it's actually the people who don't say anything, that are quiet and disadvantaged and, you know, probably sleeping on couches and all, but it's amazing how easy it is to end up on the side of the road, you know?
[00:48:46.13] Has it changed anything about how you roll?
Yeah, like, I do think that I - I mean, I'm pissed off that - I think most of the people in there were pissed off on some level personal that fed into Apollo House, you know, like, I always see similarities in stories, you know, not to equate because I'm not really that political, but when the Tzar's family got killed, I always saw old Lenin yet his brother was hung by the Tzar so the whole fucking revolution was like a revenge toward him, you know?
[00:49:29.26] Wow, payback.
And a lot of the times he did say the very - I think it was Lenin who said about Ireland, he said 'The misfortune of the Irish was they rose too soon', I always loved this quotes, when the revolt of the European proletariat had not yet matured.
[00:49:51.21] Wow, analytical.
The various springs and harmonies of rebellion, and not so harmoniously built that they merge into one of their own accord, without reverses and defeats. Then he goes on, he says 'I said this in 1904, today it is still true', and I'm always fascinated by that kind of like analysis, you know, that, like - And I think that - It's not that I'm for socialism that much or anything, but I do think that basically the clothes came off capitalism, you know. It was exposed as a rigged game by the banking collapse and the bailouts, you know, and intrinsically, you know, we had, like, the (trike?) and that was kind of like the three-ways men coming and we - Probably it was a good bit of shame in Ireland and they were, like, advising us to reform certain things which never got reformed, the main one being the legal system which I 100% believe is a rigged system in Ireland. I find it very difficult to have any respect for it, I think it abuses people, I think it tells you 'Don't come into court because you're not going to get justice', and I think it's (eligible?) even when you do go in and you win, you didn't get, you didn't win. And maybe that's universally true of a legal system that it has to act as a break on, kind of, civic anarchy, but because it's a system that's kind of colonial, you know, you got the judge and you got the, what's that called, barristers, you know, and whatever, and they're all looking at the judge and you don't see the visual interaction between them.
[00:52:02.12] Like you with the teacher in the class.
Yeah, exactly, so that's the game and they can be saying 'My client is a very upstanding man, Your Honour, not like he's a fucking turding little bastard', so you don't know what's going.
[00:52:16.05] It's always on the record is what counts, but back to Apollo House, I'm really curious what was the conversation like between yourself and Fran before that happened, like, because for me Apollo House is putting yourself out in a limb far more than releasing a movie, it’s like, it was outside of your comfort zone, were you nervous?
It was, I didn't have much time because Dean Scurry called me up and I'd met him at the gig at Damien Dempsey and we got on and, you know, he's from Ballymun and, basically, like, the one thing I did say which everybody misquote - Simon Coveney and the beautiful people from McVerry Trust and, you know, Focus and - who do a great job and, like, I have nothing against them, I was trying to help them, you know, I said 'Look, all the people on this side of the table except for me are more less from the north', you know, they're all from Ballymun and wherever and, you know. I now live on the south side, but this is going back to the north side and I kind of felt like that, you know, it was like, I didn't - Basically they had decided to take this action and the night before we were to go to the TPO and talk and somebody had a speech written, Terry McMahon and I was like 'I'm not doing that speech', because I didn't want to do anything very, very out there because I thought the action was going to be so divisive or so much bigger than (mords?) so I was just trying to play it down and say, you know, trying to make it positive, but, you know, I think it did me good to do the Apollo House.
[00:54:03.29] You still have such a fire in your belly and I'm trying to pick away where that's at, like, there doesn't seem to be any taking the foot off the accelerator at all in terms of passion levels and I'm not just talking about Apollo House.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I think that's true, I think that - I do think that the Irish suffered, like, on many levels great injustice, you know, having to live beside the biggest colonial power of the last, like, couple of thousand years, you know. And there's a sense, like, I always had the sense of 'In the Name of the Father' that, at least, the anger was out and explicit, you know, and people will deal with you when they see your anger explicit, what people don't like is covert anger.
[00:54:57.15] Well, I'm glad you mentioned 'In the Name of the Father' because in many ways 'The Secret Scripture' is like, they're very parallel movies in some respects.
Yeah, my mate ??? Carmody always says to me 'You're always doing movies about fellas and people in prison, you know, and people locked up', I don't know why that is.
[00:55:20.09] You have this fighting thing.
Yeah, yeah, I don't lock the doors in myself, I never lock doors; don't know why that is, I need an escape route.
[00:55:31.22] What are you trying to escape from, (Darkey?) Dublin, Sheriff Street.
I don't know, probably the room, whatever the room is.
[00:55:40.16] And one thing that always intrigues me, you know, making a movie is such an involved, time-consuming, lengthy process, a big chunk of your life, three to five years, whatever – so what's next, what's the next chunk that you're willing to dedicate time to?
I have a few things, you know. I'm very fascinated by the IRA escape out of Long Kesh in '83, after the hunger strike, and the idea that, you know, the hunger strike led to Sands, led to him being elected, led to Kieran Doherty, I think, and one another being elected, and so the politicization of violence occurred and then the escape was an escape that was almost impossible to do, was impossible to do, and yet they had to get guns in and then they couldn't use the guns, so it's like a manifestation of moving from ultra-violence to armalite and the ballot box to peace, the escape itself is that journey.
[00:56:58.09] Are you going to do it as a heist movie?
Yeah, it's going to be like a normal escape movie I think.
[00:57:04.11] Brilliant, I love those.
But it's very difficult to do because - I mean, the short that I just did is also the same story which is people don't shoot the gun and that's much more difficult to do than shooting because shooting is like, a simple dramatic action, you know, and I don't know, I find it difficult to be violent in movies, you know, I don't know why.
[00:57:36.06] And just finish off on the story and your importance of the story, you know, we spoke earlier about religion as a narrative that binds so I'm really curious as to what do you feel has replaced Catholicism as your narrative, your personal narrative; is there anything else you turned to, is there anything else you seek guidance from or?
I think probably, you know, go back to, you know, just Greek theatre and, you know, I think probably the movies themselves are, like, a way of, kind of, trying to change yourself, you know. It's like a - I think 'In the Name of the Father' is, kind of, just getting the nonviolent father and making him the hero, you know, and that each - That's why I wanted the positive outcome in 'The Secret Scripture' because I was tired of the women going through all these institutions and at the end, you know, they get fucked over again and the movie is about how they got messed around and there's never a victory. Look, even if there wasn't a victory which there probably wasn't, the movie is only worthwhile if there is because you have the positive for the negative to change, you can't illustrate the negative and constantly show it and expect change, you know?
[00:59:08.26] Well, I feel it's a timeless, powerful movie that really stands shoulder to shoulder with your best work and there is zero doubt about that and I think, with the pass of time, people are going to look back on this movie as one of your greats, I've no doubts about it all. I've been trying to prise Jim Sheridan the man away from Jim Sheridan the storyteller and I've realised there is no difference, they're completely intertwined, completely lovely.
Thank you, when you ask me about, you know, if you take even the Jesus story of 'This is my body, this is my blood', this is an illustration of two lies neither of which are true, and they're metaphors, right? So the bread is his body and the blood is the wine and then he says 'Do this in memory of me', which is reinforcing advertising and if you look behind it, it's kind of, that is the end of sacrifice, of human sacrifice or animal sacrifice, and it's kind of like 'Don't look at that, look at this'. So a lot of the time I think you have to say to people, alright you know what, great religious people say to people 'Look at this, don't look at that', and civilization is very thin ice.
[01:00:31.29] Well, you've done a lot of 'Look at this', and hopefully people keep looking and the BBC are beating our door down because they're next, Jim Sheridan, thank you, thank you so much, it was brilliant, thanks.