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INTERVIEW: John Crowley Talks Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen


The year 2015 probably qualifies as one of the best years in which viewers worldwide get a chance to watch distinguished, amazingly made films with a moving storyline. But more importantly, the performances of certain actors, who I must say I had to add to my “top follow list”. Brooklyn is based on Colm Tóibín’s novel and directed by John Crowley (A Boy, Intermission), who manages to translate the novel into film in such a beautiful and extremely profound way. For many of you this film can be about anything: it can be about love, betrayal, the life of immigrants, about big achievement, and even bigger failure that can cause a wrongly made choice. But one thing I am certain of is this film is about not giving up, being courageous enough and not greedy to turn life down, a life, that could have brought you a long term happiness.

This is why having such a strong plot, and superbly talented cast, Brooklyn had no options but to succeed. However, it would be impossible if John Crowley had not envisioned it the way you see it in Brooklyn. Not only did he capture every scene to deliver at its best, his film manages to take you away from your seat and transform you into a world you will simply love.

During the Toronto International Festival, I had a few minutes with John Crowley to discuss Brooklyn, the film, that most likely will end earning many awards.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you get involved with taking this novel into Brooklyn, a movie?

John Crowley: I was approached about it by the producer. I read and loved the book a few years earlier. It was probably publisheed in 2008 or 2009. I was grieving that it was going to be done by some other director but then got the dream call saying would you like to read the script first. I rang them back two hours later and said, “I got to do this, let me have it.”

MOVIEMOVESME: When did Saoirse came in?

John Crowley: Saoirse came in shortly after that, which is basically once the prehistory of the thing was done with. We made a straight decision, I won’t say obvious but it felt to me that she was the one authentic choice having been a fantastic child actress she could show a few muscles and she was waiting for a script , which was her first authentic Irish performance in her own voice. So it felt like there’s an alignment of timing and the right actress.

MOVIEMOVESME: In regards to the relationship between Saoirse’s character and Emory Cohen’s character, do you believe in chemistry and as a filmmaker how do you develop it?

John Crowley: Absolutely I do and if it’s not there then it’s very very hard to manufacture it. But there was no shortage of chemistry between the two of them, thankfully, and that’s because both of them had never met each other socially before we started the rehearsal process. They are both enormously passionate young actors who absolutely are ambitious about their work and want to get it right. So they were like fizzing with energy which in a sort of way how you contain it rhather than work it out. So it was right there and needed to be brought to the right place. We knew Emory gave an astonishong performance in “Place beyond the pines” and I’d spoken to the director whether it was acting or his behavior and he said, “No No it is acting.” You couldn’t tell it felt so real and I’d thought he’s such a damaged young man. What’s interesting is that a lot of the stuff that he’s done in his career was to walk in place of darkness. I knew he’d be good in this and he got it in the rehearsals and a new avenue opened up and add to his vulnerability. Yes, Saoirse as we know is a major major actress, so there’s no shortage of chemistry between the two.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did she manage to appear without any of the bull**** so many other actresses get caught up in?

John Crowley: Umm, have you met her mother? It’s as simple as that. Her mom Monica is an astonishing woman and that’s the simple answer. Also Saoirse is very smart and very intuitive about the work. A lot of young actresses get confused in a very real way and the industry is geared towards the box office, believe it or not, bigger choices, bigger films, franchisees. And with an actress like Saoirse, once she’s spotted around the point she joined Brooklyn one thing that stood out was quality. Interestingly, next year she’s going to do her first play, Crucible.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about the rehearsal process; how does that work for you?

John Crowley: I had a full week but it’s enough. But you do need to rehearse properly. Some people are scared of rehearsals for films because there is an idea of overhours and I guess that’s true. But when you rehearse for a film you need to lead till the last stage to be completed, like a runner for a marathon. When rehearsing for a play, you need to crack open as early as you can because you’re probably repeating that eight times a week. My approach to text is not necessarily the same as other director’s. Directors like to improvise. In this instance where dialog was wonderfully well written, I would be tough about it and would ask to stop adding thoughts, and younger actors tend to do a lot of that because it makes them feel a bit authentic. My approach is this, when you get emotional lucidity, it will not feel like a filmed play.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about her transformation through the movie because it seems like a classic timepiece of an immigrant story?

John Crowley: I see it in three movements and the way we approached it was emotionally with the actress and visually with the camera. The wide shots are very tight, it’s quite handheld, intimate of the limits the world is showing her in terms of her future. The first wide shot we see is on the road and she begins to go on a tougher descent of course. We had to pull out a bit more from the material which was held to make that drop as low as it could before she hits rock bottom and turns it around. When she comes back to Ireland, we have shot that section in a subtle way, different to the first movement because she’d seen a different world and the world is seeing someone with goldust on her. In Ireland and America, there’s the myth of Kennedy. There’s a feeling that you could go on a boat and wind up as the President of the United States of America. It’s not the same for people emigrating to England. So that has kind of a mythic sense. She’s back and her hair is different, a few nice outfits on her and she’s more creative in a way as a young woman.

MOVIEMOVESME: Some scenes are very breezy, did you do anything differently on those scenes as opposed to the rest of the film?

John Crowley: Not anything different, I was very tough on the actresses about table manners. It’s surprising how table manners have decreased and they were too loosey goosey. Actually, the fun in those scenes is that a bit like in schools, trying to get some laughs without getting caught by the teacher. And they’re all trying to score points over each other across the table under the watchful eye of this dragon aa the end of the table. So it was really trying to get that dynamic right.

MOVIEMOVESME: What’s your interpretation of her choice to attend the wedding but not the funeral?

John Crowley: She couldn’t get back to the funeral in time because it takes at least a week on a boat. There is no way you’d delay a funeral in those days for that long. The body would be removed the night after the death. People would come to the body and pay their respects and the next day the body would be buried. So it’s two days and from when she’s told it’s just not enough time for her to get back there. This is before 1952, so it takes at least 6-7 days.

MOVIEMOVESME: When she goes back and has a big confrontation, it seemed like she was almost in sort of a spider’s den.

John Crowley: You’re absolutely right. When she gets back she’s seduced by the idea of home. Things are different now because she’s glamorous and when she has that confrontation you see her pop her eyes open and she sees very clearly what it would need to make it back there. There was a different degree of liberation that she found in America and create herself.


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