30 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
In My Room: IFTN talks to ‘Room’ director Lenny Abrahamson
12 Jan 2016 : Paul Byrne
Lenny Abrahamson directing Jacob Tremblay in ‘Room’
One of the most important directors coming out of Ireland right now, Lenny Abrahamson hits a career peak with the awards-magnet ‘Room’. Paul Byrne talks to the Dublin-born director about confined spaces, smiling faces and winning races.

“It’s not something you can let yourself think about too much. It’s great if it happens, and it’s fine if it doesn’t - winning an award doesn’t change the film you make. Having said that, it does change how many people go and see the film you make.”

Lenny Abrahamson knows that the awards season is about to be good to him. With his leading actress having already picked up a Golden Globe, ‘Room’ looks set to be the Irish filmmaker’s first true international hit. And deservedly so.

Adapted from Dublin-born, New York-based author Emma Donoghue’s eponymous 2010 novel, ‘Room’ tells the tale of 26-year-old Joy, abducted seven years ago and now living in a squalid, sealed-up garden shed with her five-year-old son, Jack. Keen to keep her son safe from his father, Old Nick, Joy feels Jack is now old enough to help her make a fresh escape plan. From there, Donoghue takes the modern-day young girl kidnap tale well beyond the obvious horror and into far more intriguing waters.

Back in 2010, Abrahamson and his regular producing partner Ed Guiney had been scouring new books, hoping to find something for the man who had just made ‘Adam & Paul’ (2004), ‘Garage’ (2007) and the TV series ‘Prosperity’ (2008) to adapt, when they hit upon Donoghue’s book on the New York Times bestsellers list. Famously, Abrahamson wrote Donoghue a five-page letter, detailing his intentions should he get to direct her novel, and slowly, cautiously, a beautiful collaboration was born. That Donoghue wanted to write the screenplay was a red flag for Abrahamson and Guiney, but it was clear early on that the novelist knew just how cinema worked.

“I ended up spending a lot of time with Emma,” nods Abrahamson, “and it was initially cautious, on both sides. But it became very apparent to me that Emma knew that cinema was a different kind of beast to books, and her screenplay was just wonderful. It reiterated the fact that ‘Room’ was not a crime story, but a parent-child story...”

In the end, Abrahamson and Donoghue spent two years getting Room ready to roll, with no money changing hands or no contracts signed during those 24 months. Harvey Weinstein would not approve.

“I like the fact that we just trusted each other,” smiles Abrahamson. “This was a true collaboration, and neither of us wanted to make a bad film. Not that anyone ever sets out to make a bad film, but here we were, with this wonderful novel. We just wanted to make sure that we made a wonderful film out of it.”

Luckily, they did, ‘Room’ receiving some of the best reviews of any Abrahamson film since that towering debut, ‘Adam & Paul’. Currently, on American film review aggregate site rottentomatoes.com, Room’s thumbs up rating is at 97%. Which is nice.

“It’s very nice,” laughs Abrahamson when I read out the figure to him. “A strong critical response can make all the difference to a film like this, because it’s neither a big-budget affair with a big, big star in the middle of it all or a much-loved franchise. So, you’re relying on good word-of-mouth, and part of that is getting good reviews. So, the people who like film will go. And tell their friends, who kind of like film...”

Lenny Abrahamson has been reaching right down to a lot of those people who kind of like film, thanks to lots of good reviews and good word-of-mouth. By the time 2012’s ‘What Richard Did’ hit our screens, he and Donoghue were circling Room, the latter finding her trust in this relative Irish unknown filmmaker deepening. When the wacked-out-loaded ‘Frank’ (2014) rocked into cinemas, dancing like a loon to its own particular beat, it was clear that Abrahamson was willing to take risks too.

So, given just how much of a glittering career this Dublin boy is having, would Abrahamson have any advice for young Irish filmmakers starting out?

“Other than making the films that you want to make, not really,” he laughs. “The fact that there are so many different voices, so many different ideas, all making their own particular music, their own particular vision, that’s incredibly exciting. Over the last few years, Ireland has produced some wonderful films - and, thankfully, people have been going to see them. That’s the road forward for the Irish film industry - make good films. It’s that simple.”

Next up for Abrahamson is the Hugh Laurie-led psychological thriller series ‘Chance’ for Hulu, whilst an adaptation of Laird Hunt’s Civil War novel ‘Neverhome’ is also in the works.

So, is this steady rise up through the ranks a cunning plan on Abrahamson’s part, or is it all just one great big crapshoot?

“Oh, I think it’s a sly mix of both. Sometimes, it’s a cunning plan that works out, and sometimes it’s just a crapshoot that works out. When it comes to art, and commerce, there’s always going to be a risk factor. Otherwise, you know, it wouldn’t be thrilling...”

‘Room’ hits Irish screens Friday January 15th. Check out the trailer below:

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