Catapulted to public notice (and a BAFTA) in 1982 for directing the RTÉ television film ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, Pat O’ Connor has since gone on to direct ten feature films, becoming one of Ireland’s best known and most successful exports in the process.
His first feature film in 1984, ‘Cal’, about an IRA member engulfed in regret over his part in a murder of an RUC man, was nominated for a Palme D’or, while his 1998 film ‘Dancing At Lughnasa’ was nominated for the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
After directing many world-renowned actors such as Oscar-winners Daniel Day Lewis (in ‘Stars And Bars’), Charlize Theron (in ‘Sweet November’), Colin Firth (in ‘Circle Of Friends’), Helen Mirren (in ‘Cal’), Meryl Streep (in ‘Dancing At Lughnasa’), Kevin Kline (in ‘The January Man’), Susan Sarandon (also in ‘The January Man’) and Brenda Fricker (in ‘The Ballroom of Romance’), O’ Connor returns to Mayo (he shot ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ in Ballycroy in 1980/1981) as guest of honour for the launch of Film Mayo, set up to promote Film and Television in County Mayo, on December 1st.
IFTN caught up with Pat briefly ahead of the launch where he talked about his career and how ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ still resonates with him deeply after all these years.
IFTN: Are you looking forward to going to Mayo for the launch of Film Mayo?
Pat O’ Connor: ‘I am! Genuinely! I love Mayo, I used to go on holidays there before I ever made ‘The Ballroom of Romance’. I love the people and I love making film there. There is endless rain but nevertheless it’s a beautiful place.’
You made ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ back in the early 1980’s – over 30 years now – do you think the industry has changed much since?
‘Well, the industry in Ireland I can’t say too much because the last film I made in Ireland was the late nineties. I love making films in Ireland but you have to move around. You have to have the right film to make a film in any place and in Ireland, I made the films that I could make. I know the digitalising that is going on everywhere else is also going on in Ireland so I would say the changes in the Irish film industry are pretty much parallel with the changes everywhere else.’
2012’s ‘Private Peaceful’ (starring Jack O’Connell) was your first film since 2001’s ‘Sweet November’. Are you more selective nowadays when going into a project?
‘Well, I was always kind of a bit picky [laughs] about things like that. I stopped filming for about 10 years. I had kids growing up, my family, and all of that and it’s impossible to be a director with that. You could be away for the best part of a year and it’s not possible to keep coming and going. You don’t have that flexibility of time available. When the kids were smaller, you could bring them with you but not as they got older so I had to take a break from filmmaking.’
You once cast a young Daniel Day Lewis in one of his first leading roles – in the 1988 comedy ‘Stars and Bars’. What can you tell us about working with a young man who later went to win an unprecedented three Best Actor Oscars?
‘Daniel is a terrific man. He is great fun! We have remained friends – we don’t see much of each other but I certainly have a very fond regard for him and I think it’s reciprocated by him – he was terrific to work with. You would be aware even then of how serious he took acting, all the preparation he did, how much he needed to be in character, you would see all that. But those qualities and characteristics probably enhanced even further since then.’
Looking back over the last 30+ years of directing that has seen you direct so many great films and actors, what has been the highlight for you?
‘Well, it’s not over yet [laughs], it’s definitely not over yet! Although that makes me laugh because I was given a Lifetime Achievement Award very generously from somewhere years ago and someone said to me ‘don’t take that or it will be curtains’! Well, it may sound slightly calculated with what’s coming up but I don’t mean it to be – but I would probably pick ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ which in one way was the most important. I have done ten feature films and I suppose all of them have been very important but I would pick ‘The Ballroom of Romance’ because of the quality that we managed to bring to that film. The story was very suited to me at that time. I was still in RTÉ – it was a BBC/RTÉ co-production. But the actual film - what the film was about, where we shot it, meant a great deal to me and probably has had the greatest resonance for me as a filmmaker.’
Finally, what can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on anything at the minute?
‘Yeah, I am working on something. But you know, people say – and they are of course right – that you never talk about something until you are doing it or it’s done. Talking about projects in advance brings all the demons out! But, I might do a film next year in eastern Europe. If all works! If it doesn’t, then too bad because I have been tied up with this for a couple of years. It may happen and if it does I would want to do it very much.’
Film Mayo will officially launch on Monday, December 1st with Pat as the guest of honour. He will take part in a Q&A, along with other special guests. More information can be seen here.