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Features & Interviews

IFTN Talks with 'Cellar Door' Actress Karen Hassan
25 Jan 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Karen Hasan in 'Cellar Door'.
IFTN caught up with Irish actress Karen Hassan to find out more about the filming process, taking on such a challenging role and working with director Viko Nikci on the chilling and thought-provoking mystery thriller.

‘Cellar Door’ releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, January 25th.

Winner of Best Irish First Feature at the 2018 Galway Film Fleadh, ‘Cellar Door’ tells the story of young love to tortured loss and back again. The story follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), a fighter inside and out - as she searches for her son while in the grip of the Church. With a unique point of view on a familiar trauma, Cellar Door cuts deep into the character’s subjective experience - an exploration of love regained and loss relived with the burning question throughout- “What’s The Last Thing You Remember!”

Born in Northern Ireland, Hassan’s most recent credits include Amy Huberman’s RTÉ comedy series ‘Finding Joy’ and BBC Two’s flagship TV movie ‘Doing Money’ where she appeared as ‘DC Rachel Miskelly' alongside Irish actor Allan Leech. Karen has also collaborated with The Comedy Unit and the BBC playing boss 'Lisa McCoy' in their newest comedy series 'Soft Boarder Patrol', exposing the hilarious consequences of the boarder change between the UK and the EU post Brexit. Other credits include BBC’s 'The Fall', History’s 'Vikings', Channel 4’s 'Suspects', Lionsgate’s 'The Royals' and Channel 4’s 'Hollyoaks'.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Hassan earlier this week.

How did you first get involved in the project and what were your initial thoughts reading the script?

“When I first got the script through I had a real connection with it. I initially did a self-tape and sent it off. After meeting with Viko and hearing his vision for the film I knew it was going to be a really special project. I had a strange connection with Aidie as a character and I was ready to take on a really challenging part like this. Thankfully it went my way and it was fantastic playing a firebrand like AIDIE.”

The film follows quite a dark and complex narrative. How did you go about approaching this and what level of preparation did you undertake for the role itself.

“As soon as I was signed onto the project I threw everything I had into preparing for the role. When you play a character that is so heavily featured in the film you have to be able to hit the ground running. But with playing a character that goes on such an emotional and complex journey there’s just so many layers I had to consider in order to do it justice. Equally the film itself plays with time and memories and the narrative jumps from place to place in increasingly rapid shots. Filming something out of sequence that is already written out of sequence really meant that I needed to know every bit of the script before I stepped foot on the set. Even with all of the prep, when it came to the filming, it was so fast paced and dreamlike thinking back on it now. I think I just got my head down till I reached the finish mark.“

Can you give me a bit of insight into working with Viko and how that dynamic worked on set?

“From the very first day I signed on (2 months prior to shoot day) a lot of discussions about the project were had between myself, Viko and Rob Flood (the cinematographer). It was great as an actress to be consulted in those early days. When it came to filming however, we all took our perspective roles. I had no idea what was being filmed, which allowed me to become completely immersed in the character. It was unlike any set I’ve ever been on before. There were no clapperboards, there were hidden microphones, no checks, and continuity could simply be forgotten about. I had to unlearn a lot. Often it was just myself, Rob and Viko (hidden somewhere out of eyeline) on the set. My focus remained on AIDIE and the other characters/ actors and creating what I felt was true to her story.“

You are almost in every scene throughout the film, how intense was that for you and was that something you were very conscious of going into this project?

“It was extremely intense. I had to break it down into small sections because if I thought about it in its entirety it probably would have been overwhelming. In some scenes I’m even playing opposite myself. As I said this film was unconventional and played with time shifts and untruths. It was a huge puzzle and we played one piece at a time. I would love to do something like this again. Completely immersive. I pushed myself harder than I knew I could but - would I do it again? Absolutely. Also I should mention our amazing cast and how much I was honoured to get to act opposite people like Catherine Walker, Mark o Halloran and Leah McNamara and everyone else involved. Even though this film was personally a huge undertaking, it really was a wonderful team all pushing for the same goal.” 

What is next for you in 2019?

“Myself and my writing partner finished our first screen play this year. A hard hitting female led drama. It’s an historical piece based on a true story with elements of magic and darkness. It’s at the pitching stage so I’ll keep u posted on that front. We’re just about to launch ourselves into a new project which we’ve wanted to write for some time. So that’s next on the agenda for 2019.”

‘Cellar Door’ releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, January 25th.

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