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Lorcan Finnegan and Imogen Poots discuss Vivarium with IFTN
26 Mar 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Vivarium releases on all major VOD platforms this Friday, March 27th.
We caught up with Irish director Lorcan Finnegan and lead actor Imogen Poots of the new Sci-Fi thriller Vivarium to find out more about being selected for Critics’ Week at Cannes, taking on challenging characters, and working with Jesse Eisenberg and Jonathan Aris.

Vivarium follows couple, Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg) who find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like suburban neighbourhood named Yonder, when searching for the perfect home. All attempts to escape end in failure, culminating in the discovery of a baby on the pavement outside house number 9 with the instructions ‘raise the child and be released’. Reminiscent of the likes of Get Out and TV’s Black Mirror, Vivarium is as thrillingly provocative as it is wickedly enjoyable and takes you on a trip into an unforgettable suburban Twilight Zone.

Following its world debut in competition as part of Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival (2019) where it picked up the Gan Foundation Award, the film went on to screen at some of the most prestigious film festivals around the world including the Sitges International Film Festival where Imogen Poots was awarded Best Actress and the BFI London Film Festival where it received rave reviews.  Vivarium was the opening film of the recent Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.

Vivarium is a European co-production with Brendan McCarthy and John McDonnell producing for Dublin’s Fantastic Films along with Jean-Yves Roubin of Belgium’s Frakas Productions and Alexander Brøndsted of Denmark’s Pingpong Film.

The film will be released on the following digital platforms in Ireland and the UK next Friday 27th March: iTunes / Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Microsoft Store, PlayStation, Virgin, Google Play, Rakuten, BT, Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player.

IFTN Journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Finnegan and Poots ahead of the film’s release later this week.

IFTN: The film was selected for Critics' Week, where it picked up the Gan Foundation Award. The reviews have been great. What was that experience like and what has the response been since?

Lorcan: “Yes. It was brilliant. It was amazing to have been selected because we submitted it with quite a rough film. There was still blue-screen. There were stands everywhere. The music hadn't been done, the sound hadn’t been mixed, and it wasn't graded. We took our chances and did a submission, but they very quickly got back to say they wanted it.

“I was actually, weirdly going for a walk in the location of my first film, where we shot Without Name when I got the call. I was like, [gasp] ‘Yes, amazing.’ But then we had tons of work to do to try and get the thing finished in time. We only actually finished the film two days before it screened. It had to go to Paris with them to do the subtitles and they had to get it down on the train for the screening.

“It was cool. It was very exciting and my first time in Cannes so it was great to go there with a film in competition.”

IFTN: For your character, Imogen. Gemma undergoes quite a challenging story arc. As an actor, how enjoyable was it to explore such an emotionally diverse script?

Imogen: “Yes. I guess that's the job isn't it, is the character. It was really great to get to go to work with so much nuance and there was real material to get your teeth into. There wasn't just one door to open for each moment. There were a lot of options. Her dilemma was really traumatic, but I also felt really excited by the relevance of certain things she had to go through and confront.”

IFTN: Was that something that attracted you to the script initially?

Imogen: “Yes. Definitely.”

IFTN: You star alongside Jesse Eisenberg, and portray a loving couple who see their relationship severely tested over the course of the film. What was it like working with him and exploring those motifs?

Imogen: “Really great. I've known Jesse for the best part of a decade so it was a real dream to work together on something like this. We haven't done a genre piece together before. You just have no boundaries. [laughs] Really, there isn't with someone who you've known that long. You can totally trust each other. There's nothing you can do that's embarrassing. You shouldn't be afraid of trying anything out on a scene. It was just total love and support and he's just up for anything. He's one of the most easy-going actors I've ever met in my life. He literally has no ego.”

IFTN: Jonathan Aris’ jarring performance, for me, really sets the eerie tone of the film. Was it difficult keeping your composure on set when interacting with him?

Imogen: “Yes. Yes, it was. He's amazing. He's amazing in everything. Did you see Death of Stalin?”

IFTN: I have, yes.

Imogen: “He's great in that too.”

Lorcan: “It was kind of cool though because their character's reactions to him being really weird were kind of supposed to be that way, anyway. You guys were going like ‘What is this guy doing?’ because it was a natural reaction to his weirdness. Every take he did was a little bit different and a little bit weirder so yes, he was great. We were very lucky.”

“I was saying to someone earlier that the trickiest role to cast was actually Jonathan's character, Martin. A lot of people auditioned but they were just playing it too realistically. Even though I was very direct with how he was supposed to play it, but people just thought that that was going to be too strange, or maybe they just didn't get the comedy. I think Jonathan just got it. He just knew what was going to be creepy, but funny.”

IFTN: Staying on cast, can you tell me a bit about bring that together and what exactly you were looking for; because when it's such a small cast, I imagine it's so important that everyone really holds their own?

Lorcan: “Yes, totally. I just needed two amazing actors. [laughs] and I got them. Yay! Imogen came on board first and that was brilliant. We chatted a lot and we talked about movies, and art, and photography, and books, and everything, and we're totally on the same vibe. She's like a really smart person and very creative.”

“Then when we came to cast, who was going to play alongside her, Tom's character, we discussed who could work, who would be good and Jesse's name kept coming up. ‘Yes, let's get the script to him,’ because Imogen knew him, she was able to just like go, ‘Okay, I'll attach it up here, beep, and send it.’

“He read it really quickly. I think Imogen’s instinct that he would respond to material was totally right, and he did, and he really liked it. We met in New York, and he and I hung out, walking around Manhattan for five hours, and talking, and messing around with his baby. Then he said yes, and then we were able to set a date, which was also very, very lucky that the timing worked because actors are always busy. Both Jessie and Imogen had availability at the time and It was all just a little bit of alchemy.”

IFTN: With the film itself, the structure is reminiscent of a Groundhog Day style, but it really keeps your attention and it doesn't get repetitive. How did you approach getting that marriage of holding the audience's attention throughout?

Lorcan: “I think things keep changing. A certain amount of repetition is required for the story. That's part of the horror of it. But with everything, things keep on changing for them. They learn a little bit more or come up against a new challenge, or there's a new threat. I think that's what keeps the audience engaged with this level of anxiety and not really knowing what's going to happen.”

IFTN: I've heard you speak before about how you had intended to have a bigger set and that you then had to limit it. It’s a very ambitious film, but when it was being written, did you try and tailor it to fit a budget or did you just go for it?

Lorcan: “Myself and the screenwriter, Garrett Shanley, initially thought, ‘Oh, this would be a good idea for a low budget film,’ but unfortunately, our imaginations end up taking over, and then it's like, there's no point, it's actually not very conducive to creativity when you're trying to go, ‘Oh, we can't do that because we won't be able to do it.’ I'd always say, ‘ah, we’ll figure out a way.’ There are always ways of doing things and we had to change a few things based on the budget towards the end. We pulled out two scenes. There are certain things that the set wouldn't allow happen. We just have to stay light on our feet creatively and adapt.”

IFTN: Was it your first time filming in Ireland, Imogen. And how did you enjoy your experience?

Imogen: “It wasn't, no. I've done a few things here now, actually. Most recently, we did the Jimi Hendrix biopic with Andre 3000. That was about four years ago. So sometimes you run into the same crew again, makeup and hair and all of that. I’ve popped back and forth to Dublin quite a few times. I love filmmaking here, it's the best. I have all my spots where I immediately gravitate towards.”

IFTN: Was it quite a tight turnaround or did you get a chance to chill out with the crew and go for a few pints?

Lorcan: “I certainly didn't.”

[laughter]

Imogen: “I think actually, day one you (Lorcan) came over and you're like, ‘Everything's cool, but we've got to rearrange the entire lighting plan.’ I was just like, ‘OK, I'm going to go get food and hang out.’ It's a totally different experience for the director.”

[laughter]

Lorcan: “Yes, we lost half a day because the power went.”

Imogen: “In Belgium, not in Ireland.”

IFTN: It is important to mention that.

Lorcan: “Yeah, exactly, all the exterior shots, the Yondor stuff, was shot in a warehouse in Belgium. Then all the interiors are shot in Ardmore, Wicklow. There's very little on location in Ireland apart from the school and driving to the place. That's about it.”

IFTN: With the style of Yonder itself, I loved how it really added to the whole jarring nature of it; the false background, the sky and the clouds, and everything else. Can you tell me a bit about why you chose to go for that aesthetic?

Lorcan: “Yes, it was even described in the script as being reminiscent of Magritte's painting Empire of Light. The place, with these fluffy clouds, and just pushing the homogeneity of the place. The idea was to look at the type of life that really does exist, but turn the dial on it to amplify it and make it really weird, so that you could see the absurdity of it. It's as if, thematically people are being sold this dream. I want them to feel like they're living inside a catalog that had been Photoshopped, a bit like what you'd see in the estate agent's window.”

Vivarium releases online across all major digital platforms this Friday, March 27th.




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