Director of A Date for Mad Mary, Darren Thornton, sat with Louis Chilton to discuss the making of his excellent film. We thank him for his time.
How did your film come about?
I directed a stage show with a girl called Yasmin Akram, who wrote the original play, which toured for about a year. It was called 10 dates for Mad Mary. The play was more focused on the different dates she went on, leading up to her best friend’s wedding. We really fell in love with the characters and felt that audiences were responding to Mary. At the same time me and Colin, my brother, we were working on a different script that we couldn’t figure out the ending for, so as an exercise for ourselves, we said ‘let’s try and adapt this’, and see if we can get to the end of it. Even that would be an achievement. And so we did it and it worked. Yasmine really liked it. We showed it to a company called Element Pictures. And three years later, here we are. Took a bit of time to get it made.
Leaving the screening, I kind of instinctively assumed it was directed by a woman. It’s got quite a kind of, feminine feel.
It gets that a lot. It’s very feminine, yeah. A lot of my favourite filmmakers right now, people like Jill Soloway, from Transparent and Afternoon Delight and Lisa Cholodenko who made The Kids are All Right and Olive Ketteridge… I’m interested in stories with that point of view. I did a TV series that was very male-heavy. One of the first things I co-wrote and directed was a TV show from the point of view of four guys. And then I did a short film about a young boy. I mean, the play was obviously already written by Yasmine, a woman. But I’m glad there’s a kind of feminine sensitivity to the film.
How did you cast the film?
My girlfriend’s a casting director and she casts, which is useful. I know a lot of actors from theatre, and also from the work that she does, looking over her shoulder when she’s looking at tape for other films. So I had a sense of who’s out there. She brought in Seána [Kerslake], and Seána was just great. I saw a picture of her and thought she looks totally wrong, she’s way too beautiful, but then when I met with her, her voice and her persona are completely at odds with her beauty. And that’s something that’s really fascinating, something that draws you in. And then with the supporting cast we basically tested people next to her, found people that had chemistry.
“It’s not supposed to be provocative”
Do you think you’ll have a big appeal outside of Ireland?
I hope so. It’s so hard now to make a film compete anywhere, even in Ireland. We opened in Ireland last month and Bridget Jones opens the week after you and you’re like [head in hands], whatever chance we had… You go from playing in Cineworld and places like that and suddenly you get bumped because Bridget Jones is now on like… nine screens. So it’s hard everywhere for these films to get any sort of theatrical run. From an audience point of view I do think it’s a film that translates, that travels. The first outing we had was played to a Czech Republic audience. And they loved it, really responded to it. Was it just because it was a film festival audience, will it be different with a mainstream audience? I don’t know. It does seem like people connect emotionally to it.
For a festival that has plenty of overtly LGBT-themed films, A Date for Mad Mary seems to kind of, deliberately downplay this aspect.
We did not want it to be a quote unquote “gay love story”. First and foremost it was a coming-of-age story. And we wanted it, the relationship to, was just… with a girl. That’s that. It’s not supposed to be provocative. I don’t think it is. It just made sense, and it doesn’t fucking matter. It could just as easily have been a guy. In this instance, it made sense emotionally to be a girl. So I guess we felt we want the audience to be mature enough to go ‘oh, fine’. I think it was to be surprising a bit as well.