Tribeca Talks — Richard vs. His Demons: In Conversation with Lenny Abrahamson and Jack Reynor on Their New Film ‘What Richard Did’
Richard (Jack Reynor) was on top of the world — 18-years-old, handsome, charming, and chivalrous, a posse of devoted friends and rugby mates by his side, he leisurely passes the summer before university amid a flurry of parties, flirtation and fun in the beautiful Irish countryside. That is, until Richard does something (hence the movie title) that collapses the ground under his feet like a shifting tectonic plate, forcing the golden boy to confront the harsh reality conjured by one senseless action.
What Richard Did — which made its United States premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival — is Lenny Abrahamson’s third tour as a feature-film director, behind Adam and Paul (2004) and Garage (2007). Abrahamson has won several awards for his cinematic contributions, and continues his tradition of excellence in this drama, through a refined palette of superb pacing and tension-building, as well as intimate close-up shots that suck viewers into the story like a high-powered vacuum. Film-newcomer Reynor complements Abrahamson’s muscle behind the camera with a dazzling, emotional performance in the flick’s lead role, one that’s sure to earn him plenty of accolades — not to mention a slew of new film credits. (Michael Bay certainly seemed to take note of the novice, casting Reynor in the upcoming Transformers sequel.)
GALO was able to talk to the Irish duo in an exclusive round-table discussion one afternoon during the Tribeca Film Festival, encompassing the film’s adolescent naturalism, the inability to accept failure, and how even while improvising, actors can retain a measure of control.
What follows is an edited excerpt from the interview, containing questions posed by GALO along with a handful of representatives from other media outlets.
Q: Were you a fan of Kevin Power’s book Bad Day in Blackrock [the film’s source material] from the start or did somebody bring it you?
Lenny Abrahamson: Somebody brought it to me, a producer of the film who I’ve worked with a lot, on pretty much everything I’ve done. He read the book, Malcolm Campbell, who’s the writer, read the book, and Jack, you had independently read the book, hadn’t you?
Jack Reynor: I had, I had indeed. I read the book in school; it was on the school curriculum. So I knew it and I knew what the material was, and I was incredibly excited about it from the moment I heard it was even going to be made into a film. And then when they told me Lenny was doing it, I was like, “I have to get this one.”
Q: Were some of your mates like the characters in the film?
JR: Yeah, I mean I went to school in a really similar society and setting to that, and I’d grown up outside of Dublin in the countryside, so I had a kind of outsider’s perspective on it, which was great. It meant that I could be really objective when I went in and started to workshop the role.
GALO: How close did the script stick to the original source material?
LA: It’s very different. In the book, there are multiple frames and you hang with different characters through the book. And the Richard character is different; the Lara character [Roisin Murphy] is different. But there was enough similarity and enough essential resonance between the two that it really is an adaptation of the book, but a very, very loose one.
Q: On a similar type note though, this film really deals with that age range a lot truer than many films out there. Is that something that came from the book or is it a generality for what you were trying to portray?
LA: What happened was I read the book once and then I left it so that I wouldn’t be constantly going back to it. What we did, which allowed us to keep that truthfulness, was that we cast very early. We cast nearly a year before we shot the film, and then we workshopped with the cast through that year on and off, which allowed them to get close to each other and also allowed Malcolm and myself to learn the language of those people. We weren’t [improvising] or anything like that, we were just talking. We were really shamelessly stealing the factual themes from these peoples’ lives so we could then infuse them into the film. That for me, that kind of sense of authenticity, is the most important thing in the film. Films have the capacity to bring you into another world. Mostly it’s a sort of confection of another world. I wanted an audience to feel that they were spending time with real teenagers who were having conversations.
Q: A lot of scenes felt very natural, and it felt like you were eavesdropping in on conversations. In those types of scenes, did you deviate away from the script?
JR: Yeah, we did. What we did was interesting. In order to make those scenes feel as natural as possible, we knew that it would have to be to some extent improvised, but in a very controlled setting. What we did was, we had these conversation topics that we would run through. Like we’d go, “Alright, we’re going to do the school topic.” And the lads and I would sit down and we’d go straight into it and start [improvising] that day at school in a way that we’d all done a lot of times before and recognized and knew how to pass the ball really fast. And that’s why those scenes come across as naturally as they did. It was a great way to do it, because you can get so messy with improv.
LA: What happens in improv generally, and you see it an awful lot in films, is when you say, “Off you go,” people will run to the most immediately safe areas. It’s like “conflict” or “ridicule” or the strong ones that people know how to play. So I think in order for improv to work, you’ve really got to know what the scene’s supposed to be doing and it needs to be very, very rehearsed. It sounds contradictory, but you can rehearse improv once you know, as Jack said, there are these link ideas, and you know how to get from here to here but you don’t know what the words are.
(Interview continued on next page)