1 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with ‘Pursuit’ writer/director Paul Mercier – ‘Pursuit’ in cinemas on September 18
17 Sep 2015 : Seán Brosnan
‘Pursuit’ is in cinemas on Friday, September 18th
With Galway Film Fleadh favourite ‘Pursuit’ hitting cinemas on September 18th, IFTN chats to writer/director Paul Mercier about bringing the old Irish legend of Diarmuid and Grainne to the big screen.

The film, produced by Anne Gately of An Pointe Productions, makes for a contemporary myth about the pursuit of power, class, love and the chance to start again. Ruth Bradley and Barry Ward star as Gráinne and Diarmuid respectively and the ensemble cast also includes Liam Cunningham, Brendan Gleeson, Owen Roe, David Pearse, Dara Devaney, Dónall Ó Héalaí, Ciarán O’Brien and Emmet Kirwan.

Here, Mercier talks to us about his fresh and darkly funny take on the age old legend, the pursuit of funds for the project and the fantastic cast he assembled.

IFTN: First off, can you tell us a little about what prompted you to look at the age old tale of Diarmuid and Grainne as film material and put your own modern spin on it?

Paul Mercier: ‘Well, I have to say my first experience with the tale of Diarmuid and Grainne was not a positive one as I had to do it for the Leaving Cert [laughs]. But I have been close to the story ever since and I always wanted to tell it in a different way. When I got into theatre, I got the feeling that we weren’t telling our own stories and I think that diminishes our sense of social identity and belonging. It always occurred to me that our own legends and myths never really got a look in and that feeling extended when I got into film.’

‘With Diarmuid and Grainne, I asked myself the questions that if the story was being told today, what would it’s context be? I wanted to use the myth to say something about Ireland today. I always knew there was cinematic potential to the story. I always thought it was like an old road movie except they didn’t have cars back then [laughs]. So, I applied all that to my version. It started out as something of an experiment and then it grew and this is what became of it.’

An element you brought into the story is the layers of dark comedy throughout – there are some moments of genuine laugh out loud comedy here…

‘Yeah there is that. That would be my style but I don’t have a monopoly on Diarmuid and Grainne. I am sure someone could do a completely different take on it and that’s great - long may that continue as it means that the legend is still alive. If we can get this film showing in cinemas around the country– job done. There are lots of people who don’t know the story and it would be great if they could learn the story. For those that do know it – they may not be happy with my version of it and that’s fine – if we are generating discussion about the story then we are happy.’

So can you tell us a little about the pursuit of funds for this film – was it difficult to raise the finance?

‘It was difficult yes but that was producer Anne Gately’s achievement. The budget was €1.8 million and it really came together after the BAI supported the project. We applied to them first and they supported it and then the Irish Film Board came on board and were fantastic too.’

You assembled an enviable cast for this film – actors like Brendan Gleeson, Liam Cunningham, Don Wycherley and Owen Roe not to mention your two leads Ruth Bradley and Barry Ward…

‘They were all fantastic and all believed in the story. Someone like Brendan Gleeson is especially familiar with the story. At one point when he was a teacher, he would have actually taught the story [laughs]. I had worked with a lot of these actors before and had good relationships with them but it was critical that they came on board. They were all very supportive. A lot of these were involved in the Passion Machine Theatre Company (of which Paul is a Founding Member) over the years and I combined those actors with other actors I had worked with in Galway – so you will also see some actors that I would have worked with on the television show ‘Aifric’ as well as other projects. It was great to get that mix.’

Would you be excited at all by the international prospects of ‘Pursuit’ – you have a cast of internationally renowned actors and a fresh, original take on a mythical Irish legend – has there been any international interest yet?

‘Well, not really as we have been concentrating primarily on Ireland. The job we have to do is reach an Irish audience. That was part of the reason the BAI came behind us the way they did – we wanted to create something new and exciting for Irish audiences. The idea of taking an old Irish tale and giving it a modern, cinematic treatment is something new so our main audience is the Irish audience because, as I said before, many Irish people are unfamiliar with this story.’

‘It’s hard to know how this will translate for an international audience. There’s no reason why it can’t sell as people love Irish myths. But because we are an independent company and this film had an all Irish cast and crew, the primary objective was Ireland.’

And I see TV3 are involved in this production too? ‘The Guarantee’ – another film that TV3 backed last year – also had a cinema release before being broadcast on the channel – will ‘Pursuit’ follow a similar path?

‘Not for now. TV3 have been great but this film is on its’ cinematic journey at the moment and that’s what we are concentrating on. The act of getting this film into the cinema alone is an achievement in itself and what we aimed to do. In Ireland, the industry is so small that our backs are always against the wall and hopefully this film can hold its own against the other films. Whether people like it or it has appeal and staying power is another matter!’

At this stage, your own filmography reveals a very eclectic range from ‘Studs’ to ‘Aifric’ and now ‘Pursuit’….

‘I like to do work that I am interested in and that I think are important. I also like doing things that are new and in some cases have been overlooked. In the case of ‘Aifric’ – there was never a teenage drama in the Irish language and there has never been one since. My main reason for doing that show was to put those overlooked stories on the screen and that’s the reason I am doing ‘Pursuit’ also. That was the way I operated in the theatre too – I want to give expression to aspects of our experiences that I feel are ignored.’

On that note then, what is next for you? Are you working on any other projects or are all your efforts concentrating on getting ‘Pursuit’ out there for the minute?

‘At the minute I am concentrating on ‘Pursuit’. There are other projects I am working on – it’s not that I am just not telling you what they are – I never tell anybody what I am working on [laughs]. Too often, a lot of these things fall by the wayside so I don’t say anything!’

‘Pursuit’ hits cinemas on September 18th. Check out the trailer below:

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