4 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Peter Mackie Burns discusses Rialto
25 Sep 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Scottish Director Peter Mackie Burns.
We spoke with Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns (Daphne) to find out more about how he got involved with Rialto, his second feature film, working with lead actors Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Tom Glynn-Carney, and the importance of place in storytelling.

Rialto releases in Irish cinemas outside of Dublin on October 2nd and in Dublin on October 10th.

Based on Mark O’Halloran’s play TradeRialto made its world premiere in the Orizzonti strand at the 76th Venice International Film Festival back in September 2019. The film is produced by Alan Maher and John Wallace for Cowtown Pictures, as well as Tristan Goligher and Valentina Brazzini for The Bureau; financed by Screen Ireland, the BFI, and The Bureau, with The Bureau acting as sales agent.

The film follows Dubliner Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who at 46 has a comfortable life: a managerial job in the city’s docks, two healthy teenage children, and a kind, loyal wife in Claire (Monica Dolan). After the death of his father, Colm’s emotional life cracks open. Unable to confide in Claire, Colm finds himself drawn to Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney), a 19-year old who quickly becomes his only solace from the pressures he feels.

Masculinity, familial dysfunction, and the very nature of love come under the microscope in this nuanced and powerfully affecting drama from the director of Daphne and the writer of Adam and Paul and Garage, centred upon a stunning lead performance by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Avengers: Infinity War).

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Peter prior to lockdown to find out more about his experience working on the European co-production.

IFTN: I believe it was Tristan Goligher who introduced you to Mark O’Halloran; how did that first come about exactly?

Peter: I made my first movie with the Bureau, which Tristan produced, and Tristan called me and said he had a script that they we're co-producing with Alan Maher here and it was by a writer called Mark O'Halloran, did I know him? I knew Garage and Adam and Paul of course and I loved his writing so I thought I may as well throw my hat in the ring. I arranged to meet them and that's how it started really.”

IFTN: And was it Marcie films that facilitated that meeting?

Peter: Yes, they're the co-producers. Irish, English co-pro, you know? They had already developed the script. I think Alan at Marcie had it for four or five years, I think they were developing from Mark's play but I didn't know it was a play when I read it. I only discovered it was a play after I read the first draft.”

IFTN: What was it about the script that caught your attention?

Peter: The writing, the quality of the writing, the character Mark wrote upends his own life in a matter of days. It felt so authentic and exciting and the characters were so three dimensional and well-drawn out. I love character movies, you know?

“I was immediately attracted to that, the complex of someone seemingly ordinary on the surface. I loved it.”

IFTN: Something that is apparent in Rialto, as well as your previous film Daphne, is that there is a very strong sense of place between both stories. Is universality something that you look out for in scripts and was that something that caught your attention?

Peter: In my own life, I'm really interested in geography and sociology. So a sense of a place is really important to me. In Daphne, I lived in South London, so I made a film specifically for that area; always with that place in mind.

“I wasn't involved in the writing process of this film but Mark's from here, Mark lives in Rialto, and his sense of place was so strong, that I was just attracted to it. So I came here and I researched. I think I'm interested in how cities work and how people inhabit them. I like to depict cities in a way that they aren't traditionally depicted in movies. So in London, we tended to avoid monuments and in Rialto, I tend to avoid Georgian architecture.

“I try to give a picture beyond what you normally see because that cinematic version already exists, I'm more interested in the people who live in the city, their view of the city. You live in London, you don't really go to West End.

IFTN: Location clearly plays a major role in the film; with the docklands playing almost a character in themselves. Was that strong sense of place and location present prior to development of the project from stage play to film script?

Peter:  “I think there had been scenes in the shop that he works in on the docks too, but when I had the script, the script was set in the docks and I tried to maximize that aspect as I thought it was such a wonderful metaphor for a man whose life is actually contained.  So the visual metaphors of the sea, of the docks, is majorly linked with major sea ports, with commerce, and a late stage of capitalism, but also the more romantic view of the world.

“I also think it had to do with their relationship between port cities and dreams of travel/other lives, and also the gay culture in port cities; Rotterdam, Busan in South Korea. Working in the docks, visually I found it fascinating.”

IFTN: The project sees you teaming up with cinematographer Adam Scarth once again, with who you made Daphne. How beneficial is it having someone that you have such an established short hand with whenever you're coming onto a new project?

Peter: It's great. I really like working with Adam because I think the things he's very good at doing, I'm not so good at doing and vice versa, so we seem to be a good fit for each other.

“But we work in maybe a slightly unusual way, I've come to realize when speaking to other people, as we decide the lens plot and everything to do with visual language of the film; so the lenses we're going to use, when to use them, and how we use them in both of the films we have worked on. Something that tends not to change, once we make a plan; we stick to it rigidly.”

“So in Daphne, we worked with two lenses for 90% of the films a 40mm and a 70mm. With Rialto, we looked at a lens plot from the first to the third act, which we spoke about both length and camera angle, sorry to get technical there! That's about as technical as I get, but we like the camera to tell a story.”

“Like every director does, we worked out a vocabulary, a language for the camera to tell the story, which is why I like working with him and spending a bit of time doing that.

IFTN: Would you have your locations scouted and locked in before you decide your lens?

Peter: No. Even before.”

IFTN: Can that lead to unforeseen difficulties?

Peter: Occasionally, but we try to work out the visual language first and then find locations.

“The only problem is you can never have a lens too big. You can always have a lens too small.”

IFTN: The two Toms deliver excellent performances in the film. Can you tell me about how they got involved?

Peter: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is an extraordinary actor, I saw him like everyone in Love/Hate years ago and I worked with him in Daphne, so I cast him in a small role as a chef in Daphne.”

He had five/six scenes in that movie and I thought he was quite terrific. I wanted to work with him on something and then when Rialto came up, I thought if Tom could put on a bit of weight, because he's a great actor, if he can transform himself. Look older, look heavier; I thought it would be a great role to inhabit.

“Whereas, Tom (Glynn-Carney) was brought to my attention by producer Tristan Gallagher, who had seen him in Sam Mendes’ play in London. We met him and he auditioned; I think it was the best audition I had ever seen. Mark and I agreed as soon as we saw him. He blew us all away, it was extraordinary and he was nothing like I was expecting because I had seen him in Dunkirk.

“I was surprised that he's from Salford. His Dublin accent was very convincing, whereas he had quite a posh accent in Dunkirk, which was pretty convincing too. So I put them to work together and they had great chemistry. Both are excellent actors. It was a joy; I didn't have to work too hard because when you're working with two great actors and a script Mark himself had written with lots of character we just got to work.

“I don’t rehearse much I never really did so when the actors came on board I work with them more individually on their characters and when we started shooting, we tried to shoot quickly and we tried shooting in sequence because it is a character film so if the actors know who they are then it mean that directors and producers tend to know too. It was a joy to work with, an absolute joy, I think people often say that they become friend so I would love to work with both of them again.”

IFTN: Something that struck me during the film was the energy from Tom Glynn-Carney performance. Whenever he came on the screen it was difficult to take your eyes off what he was doing.

Peter: “Yes, a crackling…”

“One thing was really interesting was that together their energy was really strong. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor is such a smart actor and such an instinctive one; both of them are. He knew that if one took this register and the other took that register it would work. I was so happy with their performances.”

IFTN: It is a terrific performance by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. Did having an established shorthand with Tom help bring out the best in his performance and how did you tailor your dynamic and approach for this project?

Peter: I tend to shoot my way of working how the actor, the individual actor likes to work rather than one technique.

“So I find out how the actors like to work. I was lucky with Tom because I had a head start having worked with him before and we got on so, it was just layering on top of what we had established before. He is such an instinctive actor because he had a background in theatre. His work is extremely detailed and that's the thing for any director, if the work is detailed, it shows.

“It's my job if he does it to capture it for the audience. Not that I need to work hard to tell Tom what to do, it's a journey together, its push and pull. I don't have the answers; it's like a conversation with the actor and the character. It's a collaborative medium.”

Click here to read more of our interview series.

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