We just got back from the famed SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas where our feature Charlie Casanova was the first non-American film in six years to be selected for the Narrative Feature Competition and the first Irish film ever selected. We now move onto the European première in Paris for The European International Film Festival then to Krakow for the Off Camera + International Film Festival then to the Indie Spirit Film Festival in Colorado and more from there. Over the course of countless television and written interviews in Texas the 27 Q&A below is a distillation relating to the writing and production of the film.

    27 Q&A on CHARLIE CASANOVA /Terry McMahon

    Describe your movie in a sentence.

    A ruling class sociopath kills a working class girl in a hit-and-run and uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate.

    Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

    Not just my first film in SXSW, Charlie Casanova is my first film anywhere. SXSW will be the world premiere and I will indeed be attending all three screenings.

    Could you give me a little look into your background.

    From a small town in Ireland and estranged from my family for some time, as a teenager, for about a year, I lived alone in a series of abandoned buildings. I had been young enough for words like ‘fear’ and ‘loneliness’ to be little more than abstractions, but, now, usually around four a.m. their meaning started to become less abstract. To drown out the tricks the night played I’d tune into the late night music of a small battery operated radio. That’s where I first heard the Andante from Mozart’s Concerto No.21. The transformative high of art hit and I was an instant addict. Fitting all I owned into a bag, I hitched a lift to the city and, too young to get welfare, I got a job working in a fish and chip takeaway, which was enough to pay the deposit on a single-room lodging. The hours were long and the pay was crap but those late night engagements with nocturnal creatures of Dublin gave a darker, more compelling drive to the four a.m. fears and I knew I was drawn to those outsider stories. Buying a hand-held tape recorder, I began secretly taping the conversations of a group of hobos I ended up hanging with. Not having completed secondary school, leaving three years before completion, I carried the chip on the shoulder that comes with an incomplete education and kept this new desire to write a secret but it was with these people that the hack seeds of aspiration were sown. Dangerous and sometimes mad, they were also occasionally noble beyond measure, incredibly protective of me, and, beyond their broken souls and bodies, they had more humanity than the dismissive multitudes could imagine. They’re all dead now but the shadow of their dark, comically twisted danger and insatiable drive to get to the extreme humanity of every endeavor would permeate throughout all my future writing.

    No longer selling fish and chips and old enough to get welfare at eighteen, I signed on the dole the very day of my eighteenth birthday and spiraled fast down into a world of isolation rediscovering the loneliness that hangs around like cancer and the people who are so afraid of contagion they unconsciously smell it off you. I used to walk around Saint Stephens’s Green Park in Dublin from early in the morning, making sure never to sit down in case anyone spotted my shame at having nowhere to go. I’d collect butts of cigarettes at Connolly Train Station because people tended to light up for a final quick drag of a smoke before stamping on the butt and catching their train. Watching lovers embrace their hello or plant their farewell kisses I’d roll my own cigarettes from the collected butts and smoke away an empty stomach. Because they had heat and you could walk around for some time with apparent purpose without attracting the security guard, music stores and bookstores became cathedrals of sanctuary and the books originally picked up to evade the knowing eye of staff who were beginning to recognize the freeloader in me soon became more than mere evasions. On welfare day I’d buy food, deluding myself into believing there was enough until the next week then decide which cut-price books I could buy. Books were drugs, I was hooked and life became half fiction. I remember reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and relating so profoundly to Raskolnikov I feared I might murder my landlady. Thankfully that feeling went away but the loneliness didn’t. I remember trying to engage the woman who worked in the welfare office in polite conversation and, when she gave no response, realizing I literally hadn’t spoken to another person since her the previous week. I saw an advertisement for Dublin Youth Theatre, a free group of young actors and directors who met weekly. Barely capable of coherent speech, I feared I would vanish into nothingness if I didn’t somehow reach out to something, so I turned up for the audition; and, after standing in line, wailing in my head “you can’t walk away,” my turn came and, as I stumbled into that room, it may have been only two in the afternoon, but that old four a.m. fear ripped through me like an old lover who you know you shouldn’t see yet can’t help being excited by.

    Sitting in a coffee shop afterwards, trembling with adrenaline, one of the others who had auditioned invited himself to join me and, as I blanched with social inadequacies, he effortlessly strut his stuff, with me in awe of him. He told me about a full time course he had just started which was free if you were on welfare and suggested I should get a couple of monologues together and see if I could get a late application. He knocked back his coffee, told me what a pleasure it was meeting me and left me with the bill. I don’t think I said more than a single sentence the entire time but he was so shit cool I didn’t care. Next day I went to the head of the course and, after the audition, he offered me a place, to begin the following afternoon. I didn’t sleep that night, picked up my welfare that next morning, and turned up at the school to be told the other students were at lunch in the local bar and I should join them. Paralyzed by shyness, I loitered outside the bar for ten minutes. Head down, I went to the end of the bar, ordered two drinks, and discreetly listened in on the confident conversations of my fellow students. I downed both drinks and bolted out of the bar. They were experts on every facet of acting, throwing about phrases on Stanislavsky and Chekov like inaccessible confetti. The full sum of my knowledge on acting was the certainty that Montgomery Clift and Lee Marvin pissed all over cinemas vacuous slew of new pretty boys but Chekov? And who the hell was Stanislavsky? It took me two weeks to learn how to make just pronouncing his name sound casual. I was in over my head and loving the drowning. Movies now joined books as co-addictions and, with the local video rental store doing a five-film deal, that same relentless junkie chasing every impossible high now gorged on everything cinematic. Guilty as charged then, worse than ever now, and long may it continue.

    Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

    My only thought was, when I grow up I want to be anywhere other than here.

    CHARLIE is your first major writing/directing project (at least according to IMDB), what was your background in the film industry prior to this?

    Having acted in and written, conveyer-belt style, for dodgy soap opera, along with occasional acting forays in hugely enjoyable to work on but equally dodgy Roger Corman movies, daily life was supplemented by commissioned screenplays that got green lit then never got made. One too many of those and, with no money, I had to find a way make my own movie.

    What were your primary inspirations for this story?

    Two similar incidents happened in Dublin around the same time that provoked my own evaluation of the class system in Ireland. There was a gang attack outside a nightclub in Dublin where a kid, Brian Murphy, got killed. When we hear of phrases like “gang attack” in Ireland we equate it with bad haircuts, tracksuits and working class accents. Brian Murphy was beaten to death by four educated Blackrock (the elite college in Ireland) students whose fathers were connected. The standard laws that apply to the aforementioned working class were suddenly open to obscene manipulation and Brian Murphy’s death became a footnote in the lives of his protected killers. The second attack was on Grafton Street. A rural Librarian was beaten into a coma by two middle tennis players whose position in society and father’s wallets bought them out of a conviction. Always fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men and the obscene machinations of many of those in power these two events were the seeds of the idea to create a dangerously pathetic modern Walter Mitty whose deluded deal with fate makes him a sociopathic God.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: CHARLIE CASANOVA Q&A (part 1) plus TRAILER started by Terry McMahon View original post
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Jason Butler's Avatar
      Jason Butler -
      Great stuff Terry. Really good article and interview. Looking forward to seeing the film. Best of luck with the other festivals.
    1. Maeve McGrath's Avatar
      Maeve McGrath -
      Fantastic article....so inspirational....Well done.
    1. Irish Video's Avatar
      Irish Video -
      Good luck with it, looks promising.
    1. John McC's Avatar
      John McC -
      Captivating read Terry, thanks for the write up.
    1. Paddy Slattery's Avatar
      Paddy Slattery -
      Inspirational article. Looking forward to seeing the film!
    1. @PP£€'s Avatar
      @PP£€ -
      Congrats on the film! Hope it will get released nationwide.
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