18 April 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“The journey was immensely coloured,” Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan discusses The Miracle Club
19 Oct 2023 : Luke Shanahan
The Miracle Club
We spoke with director Thaddeus O’Sullivan ahead of the release of his Lourdes-based dramedy The Miracle Club in Irish cinemas.

Dublin-born director Thaddeus O’Sullivan began his career in 1978 with On a Paving Stone Mounted, a mixed-mode experimental feature film about the role of memory in the Irish emigrant experience. Among his most well-known films are the critically acclaimed December Bride, and Irish gangster film Ordinary Decent Criminal. Much like the latter, his latest film The Miracle Club is a Dublin-based film led by Academy Award winners.

The Miracle Club follows three women from the fictional Dublin town of Ballygar, who head on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in search of a miracle. The cast is led by Maggie Smith (Gosford Park), Laura Linney (The Big C), Kathy Bates (Misery) and Agnes O’Casey (Lies We Tell). They are joined by a supporting cast that includes Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Mark O’Halloran (Adam & Paul), and Mark McKenna (Sing Street).

The film is based on the screenplay Pushers Needed by Irish screenwriter Jimmy Smallhorne (2x4, Darklands) and co-written by Joshua D. Maurer (Papillion) and Timothy Prager (Silent Witness). The film's producers include Larry Bass (ShinAwiL), and Chris Curling and Joshua Maurer for Zephyr Films. The Irish/UK co-production was shot on location in Dublin and Wicklow last year.

We caught up with director Thaddeus O’Sullivan to discuss the long journey of getting The Miracle Club to production, the changes the project has undergone over the years, and working with an ensemble of heavy-hitters.

IFTN: The Miracle Club had its premiere at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, and is now playing in Irish cinemas. What's it been like seeing audiences all over the world react to the film?

THADDEUS: “I'm just getting a sense of Irish audiences. And I think there's another layer there that they appreciate, to do with the period and Dublin nostalgia. For older audiences, especially. The Americans really pick out the whole idea of faith and reconciliation and hope. I think most people pick that out of the mood of the film, but particularly Americans, they go for that. They talk less about the idea of motherhood and birth, and that whole element of the story. Everybody picks up the positive notes of it, but Irish audiences are interested in the darker side as well.”

IFTN: As you mentioned there, there’s some heavy subject matter in places but ultimately the film is a mix of comedy and drama. How did you go about finding that balance?

THADDEUS: “We worked hard on it, but I worried even harder about it. It's a tricky balance. The comedy is quite subtle in some places, not everybody gets it. Particularly audiences outside of Ireland, outside of Irishness, tend to miss some of the humour. The transition is gradual, it’s only at the beginning of the third act it begins to get dark. It’s very moderated, and the humour is light. Then the drama begins to blossom or expand, so you're kind of ready for it. That's the theory.”

IFTN: It’s an impressive cast, a number of them are Academy Award winners. What was it like working with such an ensemble?

THADDEUS: “Obviously, with people like that there are very complicated schedules and stuff. It's difficult to get people together into one place. But once we were up and running, I found it remarkably smooth working with the actors.”

“They had done so much thinking, really quite deep thinking, about the characters. There wasn’t much rehearsal time. They had a very deep understanding of the characters and their journey, what they needed help with was a cultural thing. Maggie Smith said to me, at one point, ‘Where's the religious advisor?’ And I said ‘You’re looking at him’.”

“The accents obviously were a big thing. Maggie Smith has done many Irish accents over the years, Laura didn't have to do one, and Kathy we very much focused on. She had a designated dialect coach in the months running up to production, who I've worked with for many, many years. Jimmy’s script is set in Ballyfermot, but we couldn’t do Ballyfermot, so it had to be a moderated Dublin accent of a generalised kind.”

“If you get too specific and too in love with the rhetoric, any of the elaborations that people speak in, I’ve found in the past if you get too much into that, actors fall in love with that because they think that’s where the authenticity lies. But those rhythms are almost impossible for a foreign actor to achieve. So we stuck with keeping the rhythms of the sentences simple enough, not too many flourishes, all this sort of colour. Once they start getting into the colour, they lose it, I find. So we worked hard on that. Kathy couldn’t have worked harder, it was fantastic. She embodied the character in so many other ways, like the costume and the stance, the humour and sheer quality of the acting.”

IFTN: You’ve been attached to this project since 2006. Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates have been attached since 2005. What would you say is the main difference between the film as it is now and the version you read when you signed onto the project?

THADDEUS: “The journey was immensely coloured. Some people came and went. I was first asked by HBO in 2006. So I spoke to them about doing it, and we didn't get very far. They had some legal issues and we never made it. So I went off and did something else. Then it was only about two or three years ago the producer Josh Moore and the writer Tim Prager invited me in to work on a draft.”

“I'd say the Laura Linney strand was the biggest change. It was barely there originally. They were looking for the drama in those early drafts. ‘Where’s the real conflict?’. And that was what developed later.”

IFTN: Do you have any projects in the pipeline following The Miracle Club?

THADDEUS: “Classically, there's a couple of things, but I don't see them happening in the immediate future. I recently directed the first three episodes of Hidden Assets season two. I loved doing that because it means I'm doing things. The development process is not something I like very much, largely because I'm not a writer. I think if I was more of a writer, I would probably relish that time. For me, it’s about being on set.”

“I’m developing more stuff with the team that did Hidden Assets, with Mark O'Halloran.”

The Miracle Club is currently screening in Irish and UK cinemas.

IFTA Q&A Series: Joanne O’Brien on Costume Design
IFTA Q&A Series: Eleanor Bowman on Cinematography
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