18 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Moe Better Blues
26 Jan 2015 : Paul Byrne
Moe Dunford - star of Terry McMahon's 'Patrick's Day'
With his powerhouse performance in Terry McMahon’s award-winning ‘Patrick’s Day’ about to make him a star, Moe Dunford catches his breath long enough to talk with IFTN’s Paul Byrne.

Just as ‘Tigerland’ launched Farrell, ‘Hunger’ Fassbender and ‘Starred Up’ Jack O’Connell, you come out of Terry McMahon’s surprisingly wonderful ‘Patrick’s Day’ wondering, who the feck is Moe Dunford? And why haven’t I seen him before?

Well, there is a good chance you may have spotted Dunford before, on such TV hits as ‘Vikings’, ‘Raw’, or ‘An Crisis’, or, in his 2010 debut screen appearance, ‘The Tudors’. On the big screen, it’s unlikely you would have caught Dunford in writer/director Fiona Graham’s 2011 crime drama ‘The Nixer’, given that, beyond the cast and crew, no one else saw it.

With ‘Patrick’s Day’ already picking up a truckload of awards on the festival circuit - including the Audience Award at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh and the 59th Cork Film Festival, plus the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Woodstock Film Festival and the Finders Series Award at the Directors Guide Of America 2014 - chances are, you’re going to see a lot more of Maurice Ignatius Horatio Bartholomew Margaret Dunford.

We first meet birthday boy Patrick (Dunford) in McMahon’s film as his mother (Kerry Fox) once again takes him from the care home to enjoy his namesake’s big Dublin parade, a family tradition that has been recorded annually on her wall of framed birthday cake moments. Only this time, the 27-going-on-10-year-old (at least, that’s how his mother sees Patrick) gets lost, and as she’s desperately trying to convince a jaded, wise-cracking Garda detective (Philip Jackson) to scour the city, Patrick finds himself back at their hotel, and in the neighbouring room of troubled air hostess Karen (Catherine Walker). Patrick’s mother isn’t about to let another woman take her little boy away though, even if he believes it’s love - and she isn’t afraid to use his schizophrenia against him in the process...

Paul Byrne: Emotional and intense movie - how was it for you? Did you have a stutter for a few days after the shoot?

Moe Dunford: ‘It was sixteen intense days that felt like the same day. We had a fantastic crew. Everybody working hard. There was a feeling on set that we were working on a special story. But we only had a finite time to do it in. I had fun with the crew trying to beat that pressure of time. Sometimes though, things just happened.’

‘The scene where Catherine, me and the dog are lying back watching a plane fly over - the lads had made a make shift miniature 747 which was attached to a stick, they'd stand on a ladder waving it to create the illusion that a plane was flying over-head. It was the closest to bad sci-fi I ever came to working on! But it wasn't working. There was no sun, no shadow, no real reactions. You could feel the stress from near the monitors. Then next thing, the sun came out and they called action, and this big noise comes out of nowhere, blowing my ears off, a real 747 comes right over our head. They call cut and you see Terry's hat flying up in the air and everyone roaring that we got the shot. Moments like that made it fun.’

‘Terry was incredible as director. With all of us. He has a way with people and you trust in him. I trusted in him 100% so wherever the character needed to go, I'd go. I have been around directors and what I can say about Terry is, he treats everyone equally, no matter what role you play in cast or crew. That lifts the spirits of everyone. I learned a lot on Patrick's Day. Things like that made it a joy of a job and it balanced out those days where it's a closed set and you're having a more intense time acting. Day after the wrap I was with my son. Best person to be around. I still had my Groucho Marx glasses and he thought they were the funniest looking thing ever. So I gave them to him and he walked off with them. That was a good way to move on, and I had another job to go onto not long after.’

Terry’s first film, ‘Charlie Casanova’, was a marmite outing, a true divider - so, what convinced you that this young, devilishly handsome writer/director had an award-winning film on his hands this time out?

‘The script. It was the best script I had read, to be honest. It moved me beyond words. Because of how real it was. And how current. It was clear that Terry had a personal insight to the world of psychiatric hospitals and the affect it has on families. The characters all had a sense of longing and Patrick just jumped off the page for me. It wasn't a matter of wanting, I needed to play this part. It provoked me and I think that's something common in his films; there's a metaphor to ‘Patricks Day’ about the state of Ireland right now but it's also a touching story about real people and real relationships. I'd like to keep making movies with Terry for those reasons.’

Patrick Fitzgerald is a troubled but loveable man-child - were there reference points for you? McMurphy without the menace? Gump Gets Humped? Buddy Gets Banged? Sorry, in a particularly punific mood this morning...

‘You are, yeah! He reminds me of a few people I've met, growing up - I couldn't have asked for a better big brother. He's a very caring guy and is one of those people that is always totally himself, no matter what. I admire that about my brother. There are a lot of Patricks out there, brave people struggling with their own issues. Life has its knocks, some get it harder than others. It feels like it's less and less easy for people to just be themselves, without all the nonsense. There's a big pressure out there now for young people with all the media pushing out their brands of what it is to look "normal" or fit in. Patrick is ultimately all love, all heart. He goes from being a boy to a man during the course of the movie, he goes through a lot of obstacles and it takes a lot of courage for him to hold onto what he believes in.’

Did you feel the need to research Patrick’s condition, to get a handle on schizophrenia?

‘It was always important that we be as respectful as possible to those diagnosed, however, Patrick has been told he can't love because of his condition. So he fights against his condition defining who he is once he falls in love. He finds something real to fight for. That's what was more important for me to play.’

Kerry Fox as the over-protective hippy mother - half granola, half Cruella - works beautifully here, determined to keep Patrick a mummy’s boy, no matter what it takes. Did you guys discuss the Oedipus complexities, the apron ties that bind?

‘We talked about her own kids. It was obvious from the start that as a mother she'd do anything for them. Off camera she couldn't be further away from that overbearing mother. She's hilarious, and she brought a lot of that fun to the set. Anytime people got bogged down with some problem or practical hitch, Kerry would come up with the solution with ease and put us so-called mad Irish to shame. Must be the Kiwi way.

‘Kerry came on board having a great understanding of the story, and showed great empathy, having played a similar character to Patrick in Jane Campion's ‘An Angel At My Table’ so brilliantly. She looked out for me. What she did as Maura certain people would think unforgivable, yet the way Kerry plays her, you feel for her greatly at the same time. I'm in awe of her really.’

The sexual awakening with Catherine Walker’s drowning air hostess - caught, like so many air hostesses, between a pool party and a nervous breakdown - is handled beautifully too, shot like a glorious lost weekend. Much preparation, or did you guys just let the doomed love flow...?

‘What have air hostesses ever done to you before, eh? There's a great line Terry wrote when Patrick tells her he's schizophrenic. Karen just responds with, "Aren't we all?” Karen blows Patricks mind with that one line and he's hooked from then on in. We didn't have a lot of time, no preparation really, but we jumped in. So it was fairly mad! But we had fun getting to know each other. Catherine was just beautiful, so in the moment, and it was very easy to fall for her as Karen. She brought so much to the role. We would check in with each other, you know. Unless Terry threw us a curve ball and he gave her one direction and me another, and we didn’t know what the hell the other person was thinking. That drove her mad! Ha. She was amazing to work with, and I hope to again.’

‘All those shots from Patrick's POV, where you can't tell what is real or not - that's all the work of our cinematographer Michael Lavelle. He went to great lengths to make sure those shots worked, going in and out of focus as if the viewer's sense of memory is being toyed with. For those intimate scenes, Michael would be wearing my clothes as Patrick and be bending backwards on a bed holding a big bastard of a camera looking up at Catherine and I'd be behind him sitting in my underpants trying to hold him up. That and, of course, our A.D John Burns, blasting out ‘Let's Get It On’, made it more like it was Michael and myself letting our doomed love flow! Ha. I was delighted for my friend when he won the Haskell Wexler award at Woodstock. He did super work.’

Nothing like an ambiguous ending to get minds racing during the closing credits - do you have your own personal reading on what’s really going on as we hit that closing high...?

‘I do yeah, but I'll keep that to myself. Let people make up their own mind.’

‘Patrick’s Day’ has been a huge hit on the festival circuit, and has been receiving some glowing reviews where’er it goes. Have you felt a change in the weather? Do doors open that little bit quicker for you now?

‘The response from the people who've seen the film, and for it to have connected with them in the way that it has done, has been amazing. Getting the Shooting Star award at The Berlinale is a great opportunity also. Rebecca Roper, the casting director, and Terry were fighting to get me cast in the beginning, so it feels good now to be representing Ireland two years later on the back of ‘Patrick’s Day’. I've got agents in the UK and U.S., so, I’ve been having meetings, and all that entails. I'm still knocking on doors.’

This does feel like your star-making moment though - like Fassbender doing ‘Hunger’, Farrell doing ‘Tigerland’, O’Connell doing ‘Starred Up’ - or am I being a little too Hollywood, reading it like that?

‘They were passionate about their projects, and I'm passionate about mine.’

You made your on-screen debut in 2010, playing Richard Leland in ‘The Tudors’, and you’ve worked steadily ever since. Any game-plan involved? Are you aiming for a certain kind of career, a particular goal?

‘I want to work with good filmmakers and tell stories worth telling. I want to keep learning. If I can land a decent movie or TV show and continue to make independent movies here in Ireland, that's my goal.’

You have Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy’s ‘Traders’, alongside Killian Scott and Peter O’Meara, due out this year. Anything else you can tell us about?

‘I'm shooting the first bit of footage for a new movie in Ireland in February. I've got ‘Vikings’ season 4, which I'm starting in April. I’m looking forward to working with Terry and the gang again on a new project. It's called the ‘Dancehall Bitch’, and it's a prison movie.

The change from Maurice to Moe - Actors Guide overlap, or did you just want a cooler sounding name?

‘Moe just stuck. I went in to audition for something and they were expecting a young wan in a skirt. So much for cooler...’

Finally, anything else you want to share with the group?

‘No, that'll do. Thank you.’

‘Patrick’s Day’ hits Irish screens February 6th with Moe Dunford set to receive a Shooting Star Award at the Berlin Film Festival on February 7th.

Bloomsday Film Fest: Director Martin Turk and Line Producer Jeremiah Cullinane discuss Kino Volta
Actors Hannah and Emily Dargan discuss The Watched
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