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Declan Recks and Barry Ward talk ‘The Truth Commissioner’
26 Feb 2016 : Seán Brosnan
Barry Ward as Michael Madden in 'The Truth Commissioner'
With ‘The Truth Commissioner’ in cinemas today, IFTN sits down with actor Barry Ward and director Declan Recks to talk about the film.

Screening to a packed house and acclaim at ADIFF last week, political thriller ‘The Truth Commissioner’, based on David Park’s lauded novel of the same name, follows the fictional story of Henry Stanfield (Roger Allam), a career diplomat who has just been appointed as Truth Commissioner to Northern Ireland and is investigating the disappearance of a 15 year old boy 20 years earlier. Acting as a catalyst for the events of the film is Michael Madden (played by Barry Ward) who is recalled from his idyllic new life in Boston to help shed light on the boy’s disappearance.

Directed by Declan Recks, the man who has helmed classic works in Ireland such as ‘Pure Mule’ and ‘Eden’, on a budget of “in and around €2m”, the film will also be broadcast on BBC in March.

Speaking to IFTN about why he took the reins of the film, Recks says: “Well, we knew we had Roger Allam attached quite early and I just loved the book when I read it – I think I read it in one sitting. So, we knew if we stuck to the truth of the book that we couldn’t go far wrong.”

For the casting of this film, a process Recks labels as “easy thanks to Eoin O’Callaghan’s script”, the other main characters include Sean McGinley, Conleth Hill, Ian McElihinney and Simone Kirby, with Recks and casting director Louise Kiely drafting in Barry Ward quite late.

Playing a character with one of the more intriguing arcs in the film, Ward says: “He’s in a very powerless situation at the start of this movie and I just like the erosion of that façade during the course of the film to the point where telling the truth is him taking his feeling of power back.”

Balancing a host of morally complex characters within a fast-moving script was described as a “a tricky balancing act” by Recks.

“A lot of it was in the script but we did do a lot of re-working in the edit”, says Recks, whose next film ‘The Flag’ starring Pat Shortt is scheduled to start shooting in early March. “You don’t want to lose track of anybody – the film is complicated in places. There are little bits of information that you need to make sure are released at the right times.”

Ward adds: “The book obviously had a bigger back-story which you just can’t explore in full obviously in film. So, the film obviously had to explore Roger Allam’s character as much as it could but flesh out the other characters too which is difficult to fit into a 90 minute film.”

When IFTN last spoke to Ward last year, he had two films screening at the Galway Film Fleadh (‘Pursuit’ and ‘Blood Cells’) and spoke of how he uses literature (Hamlet in the case of ‘Blood Cells’) to prepare for roles, a luxury he was not afforded in ‘The Truth Commissioner.

“My preparation for this was quite different as I was brought in so late”, laughs Ward, who burst onto the film scene in 2014 as the lead in Ken Loach's 'Jimmy's Hall'. “It was just all about learning the lines on time!”

Recks adds: “I still remember Barry looking at me one day, pointing at a line in the script and saying ‘we are not going to get any further than here today, are we?!’”.

With the film due to broadcast on BBC next month, is Recks excited by the audience figures such a broadcast may deliver?

“The great thing about TV is that you can reach millions instantly and it’s difficult to reach that in the cinema. We shot it very much as a cinema release though, the sound was all for cinema and I think Michael Lavelle did a fantastic job shooting it. So, it’s lovely to see it on a big screen too.”

With the Troubles proving to be an enduring powder-keg in the UK and Ireland, how do Recks and Ward feel ‘The Truth Commissioner’’s themes will be received?

“I think it will definitely get a reaction north of the border”, says Recks. “They have lived through it – I think sometimes in the south we are a little disconnected from it that way – but I think this film is a positive portrayal of these themes definitely so it will be of some benefit to people to see this story."

“I think it will all be good discussion coming from this though”, adds Ward, who was one of the leads in RTÉ’s ‘Rebellion’ which broadcast last month. “This notion of truth and how a situation like this would pan out. I think it’s a good investigation into that without being naïve or shallow or too rosy. Normally, when I read a script and see a really great character like Madden I am just excited to play that character. With this though, I was thinking I was serving a bigger cause which was the movie itself. I always saw Madden and my portrayal of him as a function within a bigger picture.”

‘The Truth Commissioner’ is out now. Check out the trailer below:

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