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IFTN talks to casting director Maureen Hughes
26 Feb 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Maureen Hughes (right) at the official launch of Bow Street last week with Shimmy Marcus, Paul O’ Connor and Jim Sheridan (cutting the ribbon)
As one of Ireland’s most renowned casting directors – finding actors for films and television shows such as ‘Once’, ‘Six Shooter’, ‘Raw’, ‘Noble’, ‘This Must Be The Place’, ‘Love/Hate’ and ‘Charlie’ – the work of Maureen Hughes has undoubtedly been an integral cog in the rise of Irish screen actors on the international scene over the past 10 years.

A busy month for Maureen has seen her launching the new Bow Street Acting Academy premises (along with Shimmy Marcus and Paul O’Connor) in Smithfield last week, and IFTA are also set to host a 'Casting Screen Talent’ event on March 5th with Hughes exploring the process of casting for the screen.

Here, IFTN talks to Hughes about the evolution of Bow Street, her baptism of fire with ‘The Butcher Boy’ almost 20 years ago and why she found this year’s RTÉ biopic ‘Charlie’ so hard to cast.

IFTN: Jim Sheridan talked about The Factory “evolving” into Bow Street at the launch and looking at some of the young actors that have come through in the last couple of years and some of the upcoming courses and partnerships you have planned, “evolve” seems a very apt word..

Maureen Hughes: ‘Obviously all of this kicked off with The Factory set up by Kirsten Sheridan - Jim’s daughter – as well as John Carney and Lance Daly – brought me in to the Docklands at the very beginning. We started working together to provide a place for actors to come to improve their skills as screen actors and very quickly that evolved into actually making a one year course so actors could come and train as screen actors. This course was doing very well but last February we got news from NAMA that they wanted to redevelop the site so we were pretty much homeless. Kirsten had left for LA, John was working on ‘Begin Again’ and also had ‘Sing Street’ in the pipeline. Shimmy Marcus, Paul O’ Connor and myself decided to keep going and we eventually found a site in Smithfield which was owned by the Bar Council and embarked on six months of negotiations to get it. We have brought the whole spirit and ethos of The Factory down here with us and expanded on it. We re-created the one year Screen Acting Programme. We re-incarnated the Actor’s Studio which runs on Tuesday nights and now we’re moving forward in creating the exciting addition the Young Filmmakers Course which begins on March 7th.’

The fantastic calibre of young actors present at your launch night shows just how respected the work of Bow Street is…

‘I mean, it was kind of a celebration of how quick and how far young Irish actors are rising at the moment. I mean we have people in there like Jack Reynor, Barry Keoghan, Brian Gleeson, Peter Coonan and Sam Keeley who has just returned from shooting ‘Chef’ with Bradley Cooper – Moe Dunford also who has just won a Shooting Star. I think what has happened in this country in the last 10 or 15 years has been kind of extraordinary. The young actors of this country have really exploded on to the international map really.’

And that’s probably in no small part to programmes such as yours?

‘Eh, you’d like to think so [laughs]. I certainly think that various elements that have opened it up though. Casting over the internet means that casting has become far more accessible from any country now. You can self-tape for a job in LA and have it beamed into a studio so I think the internet has definitely opened up the industry in a huge way for Irish actors. Also, I think younger Irish actors are particularly interested in screen acting nowadays. When I started in the Druid Theatre in the 80’s, the mainstay for actors in that period was the theatre. That was what actors aspired to get their work in. Cut to 2015 and Irish actors are no longer happy with just that – it has exploded in terms of the availability of work – particularly in television drama which has really upped its’ game in the last 10 years.’

You got your start in film in 1996 by casting the lead role for Neil Jordan’s adaptation of ‘The Butcher Boy’. The book was seen as unadaptable at the time and certainly the lead role of a murderous, mentally ill 12 year old must have been very difficult to cast. It must have been a baptism of fire for you when finding the fantastic Eamonn Owens for the part?

‘It was and it wasn’t. I was on the road for about six weeks walking in and out of schools all over Ireland trying to find him and then one day he was just there – in all his completeness in the form of a young fella from Killeshandra – and he’s perfect. I was looking at him thinking “oh my God, in the end it is always this easy – he does exist, this great kid exists that captures this mad world that Pat McCabe has written about”. Eamonn was particularly interesting because his parents owned the local supermarket in Killeshandra so he worked there from a very young age and would have seen these characters walk in and out – saw and knew all these people that Pat McCabe wrote about – so I think he had great access into a village.’

So, with everything you have cast after that which includes Oscar-winning shorts (‘Six Shooter’), acclaimed musical dramas (‘Once’) and national phenomenon’s (‘Love/Hate’) – do you always take the same approach of taking your time and meticulously searching until you get it right?

‘Pretty much. People ask how you train to be a casting director but you don’t really train – everything is based on instinct in this business – for me anyway it’s always based on instinct. Is it how you saw the role when you read the script? So, yes I would be inclined to keep going until I found the person that matched my instinct.’

And there is obviously the old director’s adage that directing is 95% casting…

‘Getting the cast right is absolutely pivotal – whether its’ ‘True Detective’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Love/Hate’ – I think a show or a film – even a potentially great film or series - will struggle if the casting is wrong. If you have the right cast, a project can absolutely fly…’

You cast ‘Love/Hate’ which obviously ended up with over a million people watching it in Ireland, was there much pressure on you when casting actors that would have such a big spotlight thrown on them?

‘There’s always pressure but I mean you get a script as good as ‘Love/Hate’ and you think “oh my God! I hope we get the right people, I hope I find them, I hope that they’re there”. The script of ‘Love/Hate’ was so bloody good so we did take our time with it – we worked slowly and we reviewed a lot of the work we did. We spent our time getting it right and I hope we did get it right! Stuart Carolan (the creator) himself was very involved in the casting – which is unusual because in other scenarios the writer wouldn’t be as involved. But he was involved from a very early stage and it was really important to match whatever it was he was looking for.’

You just mentioned there when casting for ‘Love/Hate’ that you hoped the actors were “there” for the show, so what do you do if they’re not “there”?

‘Keep looking! They will eventually turn up [laughs]. It was a bit like looking for Eamonn. Neil Jordan would ring me every week and ask “have you found anyone yet” and I would feel a pain at the pit of my stomach and say no. Then one day he was just there so you just have to keep looking.’

Over the past 20 years then, what do you think was the most difficult project for you to provide casting for?

‘I found ‘Charlie’ difficult actually. It was the first time I had worked on a biopic where you are replicating actual people – and in some instances some people who are still alive. I found it tricky to cast because you wanted to get the spirit of the man or woman but its’ not always easy to match the look. I thought we’d be killed if we didn’t at least get an approximation of the look. While it was very obvious to all of us that Aiden Gillen was the perfect actor to play the role of Charlie Haughey – he was in fact too young, he was extremely slim and he was boyish looking. Aiden himself took on the role and felt the huge responsibility of it and I think did very well. But I found the whole project very difficult to cast I have to say.’

And what actors do you feel most proud of over the past 20 years to have uncovered and slotted into the right role?

‘I suppose Eamonn Owens for me because he was my first [laughs]. And because he was so bloody good! But there have been extraordinary actors since then and I think it would be unfair to single any of them out beyond that because I do think a lot of them would have come to the fore anyway. But there was something really exciting about finding an 11 year old boy in Killeshandra in the middle of the country who never really acted before and putting him in the lead role of a huge film by Neil Jordan and that for me is probably still my most exciting moment.’

So, what do you have coming up in the future then? You provided the casting for the feature film ‘Traders’ starring Killian Scott and John Bradley?

‘Yes, ‘Traders’ will be coming out later this year and I am currently working on a production of ‘Once: The Musical’ with Landmark Productions and we are right in the middle of casting that at the moment.’

So, for any actors reading I am sure they would love to hear any kernels of wisdom from you for any future auditions or casting calls they may have?

‘It’s all about keeping at it. I am not advocating that people have to train but I think it’s important to know that once you come into acting you have to keep at it. It’s a very hard profession – it’s a lot of rejection. I don’t know any other profession where you are assessed so much – constantly assessed as to whether you are right for the role or wrong for the role. Certainly in my job I am not assessed very much to see if I am good, bad or indifferent. But actors are so I think you have to be very secure in yourself when entering into acting. And keep your oar in - in terms of training - to keep your acting muscles flexed so to speak. At the end of the day I suppose the cliché “to thine own self be true” is the one by which we should all live in this business. All you have is your instinct so you should mind that.’

For more information about Bow Street and their programmes, visit: bowstreet.ie/.

IFTA will host the ‘Casting Screen Talent’ event with Maureen Hughes on Thursday, March 5th. More information on the event can be found here.




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