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Production Interviews

IFTN talks to Ethan Hawke and Irish director Aisling Walsh about latest film Maudie
23 Aug 2017 : Esther McCarthy
Q&A host Eithne Shortall with Maudie Director Aisling Walsh and Ethan Hawke
Maudie, the latest film from Irish director Aisling Walsh, is now on theatrical release after being widely praised on the festival circuit. The intimate drama tells the story of the Canadian artist (Sally Hawkins), compelled to paint despite suffering from crippling arthritis, and her unlikely and difficult union with husband Everett (Ethan Hawke).

At a special IFTA screening of the film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema, IFTN spoke to actor Ethan Hawke and director Aisling Walsh about bringing the story of this remarkable woman to the big screen.

Q: Ethan, you’ve said you had “a good feeling” about working with Aisling Walsh from when you first met her. Was there anything about the project in particular that got you on board?

Ethan Hawke: You know, I did my first movie when I was thirteen, I’m 46 now, so that’s 33 years ago, and I’ve gotten a sense of when somebody has something to say, and if they have the intelligence to say it.

I knew the moment I met her that she had a passion and the artistry to make this story. You know, in the wrong hands these kinds of true-life stories can be kind of maudlin, they can not penetrate the way that you want them to. You get a sense from her that she’s a real leader, and that’s what I look for in a good director.

Good directors sometimes are like great sports coaches. It’s about getting other people to play their best. If they can do it with you, they can probably do it with the cinematographer, and the set designer. And when everyone’s doing their best work, generally good things happen.

Q: Did you have any concerns about playing a character who’s not always sympathetic?

Ethan Hawke: It’s kind of like being in a band, everyone has a job to do. Sometimes your job is to play lead guitar. Sometimes it’s to play bass, and my job was different to Sally’s job. I had concerns that I could honour his character correctly. It’s a much more challenging part than I’m normally offered.

When I did one of my first movies, with Jeremy Irons, he said: ‘The important thing about stretching yourself is to make sure you’re just on the edge. You wouldn't be able to succeed if you stretch so far you’re not good at it’. I thought I could do this part, but I didn’t worry about his likability.

Q: Aisling, can you recall first meeting Sally and Ethan and what you feel drew them to the project?

Aisling Walsh: I’d worked with Sally before, about ten years prior to this, and we’d always wanted to try to find something to do together. The night I read that script, I just saw her in that role. I couldn't think of anybody else. I sent her two pictures of Maud and a picture or two of her paintings, and she wrote back and said: ‘Yes, I’ll do it’. Ethan, actually, wasn’t free at the time. Then we had a hiatus for about six months, and when we reconvened, he was free.

We’d sent him the script. His wife read it first, actually, and said: ‘You’ve got to do this film’. He’d always admired Sally’s work and loved her as an actor. I think he thought the role would be a challenge. I met him in a hotel in London, and he agreed to do it.

Q: What was the experience of shooting on location in Newfoundland like? Aisling Walsh: It’s a tough landscape, you know, Connemara is like St John’s on a good day. It’s very tough weather, but there’s a great beauty to it too. It’s very remote, very underpopulated. We were trying to recreate Nova Scotia, which was slightly different, but it was a wonderful place to work in the end.

Q: Does working in a remote location bring an intimacy to the film?

Aisling Walsh: Yes. I like to be away from home, if I can, and just be away from all that stuff that goes on in your normal life. That is always my preference. We were in pre-production out of a school, and the designer John Hand and myself were working out of a classroom. All you’re doing seven days a week is thinking about the film you’re making. That works for me. I like that. And then I like to come back into civilisation. A producer who knows me very well always says: ‘You’re on the re-entry programme’ when I come back! But we edited here, we did all our post-production in Ireland.

Q: You studied art yourself. Is it true you’d been looking for a project involving a painter for a while?

Aisling Walsh: Yes I did. I’d studied painting and maybe in the last ten or fifteen years, got interested in painting again. I thought it might be nice to find a project to make about a female painter. There are so few of them. And that really made sense to me the night I read the script. I thought, actually maybe this is the chance, now I get to make my painting film. Of course, it’s about so much more, but I really identified with that, that struggle to be creative, to make your art, to keep going and have that life as an artist.

Q: Is it heartening to bring this woman’s story to the world?

Aisling Walsh: It’s fantastic. I kind of often wonder what she’d think about it. My journey started with it when I flew to Halifax to see the house (in which Maud and Everett lived). I wanted to see the house on my own, in the gallery where it’s on permanent exhibit with her work. It was a wet day, quite snowy in the wind. And my journey finished with her actually, I went back. The film screened at Halifax after Telluride and Toronto, and I went back on my own the next day to say goodbye to the house. Really that was a kind of a full story, and now her story is in the world and her art is in the world, and I think that’s rather lovely. I’m kind of really proud of that, that people have seen it and responded in the way that they have to her and her work. And also to that relationship and what that’s about. People see part of themselves in the film, and that’s nice. It’s nice when people laugh and cry and cheer during the one movie.

Maudie is currently on release with Sony Pictures

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