26 January 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
‘Mammal’ director Rebecca Daly and actor Barry Keoghan talk to IFTN
01 Apr 2016 : Seán Brosnan
Barry Keoghan as Joe in ‘Mammal’
With ‘Mammal’ in cinemas today, we talk to writer/director Rebecca Daly and lead actor Barry Keoghan who are both nominated for IFTA Awards at next week’s ceremony.

Following on from her very impressive 2011 feature film debut ‘The Other Side of Sleep’, Rebecca Daly (with co-writer and long-term collaborator Glenn Montgomery) again gives us a powerful and morally ambiguous film that is sure to challenge audiences.

‘Mammal’, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, tells the story of Margaret (Rachel Griffiths), a grieving divorcee who develops an intense bond with a homeless teenager (Barry Keoghan) who evokes memories of her dead son. After he moves into her home, their relationship is threatened by his involvement with a gang and the anger of her ex-husband (Michael McElhatton). Margaret however is a different type of mother that we are used to seeing on screen, which provided the initial spark for Daly.

“The original idea of this woman that doesn’t know how to be a mother was Glenn’s”, says Daly. “He came to me with it and it intrigued me because I feel like mothers can’t win in modern society. I really wanted to explore a different kind of mother than what we are used to on film.”

Despite the difficult subject matter, the film has received acclaim with The Irish Times describing it as a “brilliant depiction of unspoken needs and muffled emotions”. IFTA has also taken notice of their work on the film – Keoghan is up for Best Actor while Daly is a Rising Star nominee. Rachel Griffiths is also up for Best International Actress for her performance.

Daly cast Griffiths after meeting the Oscar-nominated actress in LA – with Griffiths excited to play Margaret as she was unlike any other character she had played before. The director’s casting of Keoghan came about after she saw him rehearsing a scene from ‘Magnolia’ in The Factory (now Bow Street), where he played a man in his 60’s telling his wife that he may have abused their daughter.

“He was fantastic in that scene, although he had a bad attitude!”, laughs Daly. “He just has a special quality in that he can make scenes make sense. We did audition other people to be diligent but we always wanted to come back to Barry.”

“She was so impressed that she wanted to cast me as Rachel’s husband in the film”, jokes Keoghan.

Keoghan’s lead role in ‘Mammal’ is coming after a string of highly praised supporting roles in projects such as ‘Love/Hate’ and ‘Traders’. Was the Dublin actor nervous at all when he was told his co-star would be Griffiths?

“I try not to think too much about the names”, says Keoghan whose upcoming films include European art-house film ‘Light Thereafter’ and UK film ‘Trespass Against Us’ – alongside Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson. “What I like to do is say the name to my Nan because she doesn’t know anyone so it makes it less daunting for me! Rachel is so good though – we got on great.”

Despite having two lead characters who endure severe hardship in ‘Mammal’ – the film does not feature a lot of dialogue with Daly instead letting the images and their actions tell the story. Was this element of the film added in the cutting room or was this the plan from the script stage?

“No, the film is pretty much as it was written in the script”, says Daly, who will collaborate with Montgomery again for the upcoming drama ‘Good Favour’. “For me, film is a visual medium – I love telling the story through the images and I think in this film we learn a lot more about their emotional world from their actions.”

This is especially true of Keoghan’s character Joe. When Daly described Joe to Keoghan as a feral animal, he drew inspiration from foxes in relation to his body language.

“Foxes are really good at surviving and the way they move is very much all about survival – which really helped me with Joe. I do that a lot – think of animals in relation to character’s I play. I always end up being a fox though!”

With Daly one of the few female directors working in the industry – an industry that came under fire late last year for purported gender inequality – how has Daly found her rise to the apex of Irish filmmaking?

"I can only talk about my own experiences which have been very positive”, says Daly. "I mean I probably have encountered some issues somewhere along the line because of my gender. But, I have worked with fantastic men and women who don’t give a s**t about my gender and why should they? It doesn’t matter and it’s a boring subject. But, in saying that, it’s still not the norm to have a female director and a female protagonist who is flawed, complex and contradictory. And we need to see more of that.”

After screening at Sundance – where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize – ‘Mammal’ was picked up the Sundance Channel. It also received praise after screening at ADIFF in February. How does Daly think the Irish public will react to the film?

“Well so far, people tend to have very personal responses to it actually. I was approached by a woman after a screening who said that she was so touched by the film as she was abandoned by her mother as a child – so it was nice to hear that this film could affect people so personally.”

‘Mammal’ is in cinemas now.

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