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“You never know unless you ask, right?”; director Eoin Macken discusses Here Are The Young Men
13 Apr 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Here Are The Young Men
We caught up with multi-talented actor, writer, and director Eoin Macken to find out more about his latest feature film Here Are The Young Men; the process of adapting the novel to screenplay, reimagining Celtic Tiger Ireland on screen, and working with a fantastically exciting cast.

As is the world today, pleasantries and discussions were exchanged virtually with Macken tuning in from a hotel while quarantining in Australia. “Welcome to my world,” he told IFTN. “I'm in Australia, but I could be anywhere. I'm just in my hotel room and haven't left for like 12 days.”

It has been a slow process of release for Here Are The Young Men since its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2020 with cinemas remaining closed for the most part and distribution schedule push backs becoming a regular occurrence. Since then, the film has been selected to close the 28th Raindance Film Festival in the UK.

“We were planning to release much earlier and be in the cinemas, but even now it's one of those ones where you don't know when cinemas are going to open again,” Macken told IFTN.

“If you're going to start releasing and get it released around the world, you have to start somewhere, so you have to go now,” he explained. “Hopefully, we can do cinemas in various places when it opens.”

The film will finally be available to audiences when it releases on digital platforms on April 30th, while a theatrical release date is yet to be confirmed but on the horizon.

Although disruption to the distribution plan for the film has no doubt been frustrating, the silver lining for Macken is that his incredibly exciting multinational cast of young actors, which includes Dean-Charles Chapman (1917), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Finn Cole (Slaughterhouse Rulez), and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street), have only gone from strength to strength in the interim. 

“The flip side, as you say, is in the last 12 to 18 months all the cast, they have all done these massive projects,” Macken agreed. “Ferdia's movie (Coda) was the biggest selling movie in Sundance, Dean's been in an Oscar movie (1917), Anya has been in Queen's Gambit, Finn is on Fast and Furious.”

Having worked with these talented actors, Macken said he wasn’t surprised about the performances they have put in and roles they have attracted since shooting the film. “You just knew that they were all going to do all these great things. It was just a question of would it be before or after the movie came out,” he said. “Just by circumstance, that's what happened.”

“They're all really talented. They've already done cool stuff before we did the movie so you knew that was going to happen,” he added.

Here Are The Young Men is based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Rob Doyle. Set in 2003, the film is a frenetic tale of toxic masculinity, adolescent love, and paranoia that follows a group of Dublin teenagers over one hot, hedonistic summer.

“I wanted to make this movie because I just thought that Rob's writing was so visceral,” Macken told IFTN. “I thought that he created these characters that were really fascinating and really represented the time of Ireland.” 

“He really got to the heart of what was happening in those early 2000s with these young boys,” Macken continued. “There was also a universal theme to what he wrote; it was a very cinematic book that he made. It was pulpy, aggressive, and really made you feel on edge when you were reading.”

When reading the book, Macken, who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Doyle, felt that the music of bands like Joy Division, Chemical Brothers, and Primal Scream were the immediate things that sprang to mind; “that's the kind of music that I have in the movie and what I wanted.”

When I read the book, that was the music that seemed to make sense from the visual language of the film, or from the audio language of the film,” Macken explained.

Macken explained how the dark, yet pertinent undertones of the subject matter led him to a colourful visual aesthetic for the film. “The themes in the film and the book are quite dark, let's be honest… (so) I thought the best way to approach them was to give it a sort of poppy, as much as possible, visual tapestry. 

“I put a lot of colour into it, so it didn't get mired down, and you were able to elevate it and give it a lot of energy so that even though you're dealing with these dark themes, hopefully, it had a bit of edge and energy to pull it through,” Macken explained.

The film follows Matthew (Chapman) and his disaffected friends who have just finished school, and so begin their summer of drink, drugs, and thrill-seeking. Matthew romantically yearns after his friend Jen (Taylor-Joy) and struggles to maintain his increasingly disturbing relationship with the magnetic and sadistic Kearney (Cole). Their precocious friend Rez (Walsh-Peelo) has started to succumb to paranoia and depression, damaging his relationship with his supportive girlfriend Julie (Petticrew). When Matthew witnesses a young girl getting run over, he and his two friends are forcing to grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives: facing the demons inside.

“The important thing to me was first and foremost finding Matthew's character,” Macken told IFTN. “I met Dean and we meet for a coffee and talked about it. He loved the script. The minute that I met Dean, I knew that he was Matthew because he had that certain innocence to him but also had a bit of grit. He's just a really charismatic, charming guy who really understood what Matthew needed to be.”

“Once I found Matthew and I met Finn, the important thing was about making the dynamic believable,” Macken continued. Once I knew Finn and Matthew worked, in my head as characters, that Anya worked opposite Dean, and then Ferdia worked opposite them. It was about creating that dynamic and getting the right actors to fit that world.”

Although the multinational aspect of the leading cast goes unnoticed with Chapman, Cole, and Taylor-Joy’s accents seamlessly slotting in alongside Irishman Walsh-Peelo, Macken stated that he placed the authenticity of the characters as paramount when casting. “They could have been from any country in the world. The most important thing was actually getting the actors that fit these parts,” said Macken.

“It's that the characters felt as universal as possible even though they were Irish. For me, as an Irish actor, I often end up doing an American or British accent, so I wasn't worried about, ‘Oh, this has to be a specific person.’ I was focused on, ‘Who's the best actor that makes sense for this movie?’ It was about creating that group.”

The actors were cast six months prior to the shoot with Walsh-Peelo the only member to join the cast closer to production getting underway. “With Finn, Dean, and Anya, we had a bit more time to work on the characters in advance, but we had very little time rehearsal wise; just a few days,” Macken told IFTN. “We had a small window to get everyone in the same period of time to shoot together and we knew we had this great cast. 

“Even with Travis (Fimmel) coming in and Conleth (Hill), Ralph (Ineson), and Emmett (Scanlon), it was like ‘the only way we can get all these people in this movie is if we do it now’, so our time frame was limited for rehearsal,” Macken continued, “… but then you get these really talented people, and once we talked through, and I knew who these people were going to be, I was able to just manipulate the characters to suit them as actors, so they were able to just embody what they were doing.”

As the story unfolds, the lines between fact and fiction begin to overlap as the friends attempt to come to terms with what they experienced in their own way. This becomes particularly visceral when Kearney (Cole) decides to emigrate to America. Macken approached the portrayal of these transitions with diegetic scenes that blend aspects of Kearney’s transition into the background of Matthew’s (Chapman) struggle in Ireland.

I wanted to get that idea of what Kearney was going through when he went to America, and create this sort of metaphor for his time being in America, and also for what was actually going on in his head,” Macken explained. “His kind of journey, when he goes abroad, is also his journey mentally in terms of what he's experiencing. He does go down this weird path in his head and creates this whole fabricated world. The best way to do that for me was to ask, ‘how do I do this visually that makes it become interesting?’”

This fictional world of Kearney’s is portrayed through a US talk show set with Travis Fimmel featuring as the enabling host. “(The talk show) was a symbolic metaphor for what he's seeing in his head and everything that he's being influenced by, from a media point of view and a social point of view and everything,” Macken continued. “It all marries into this crazy kind of world that he creates. It's like this fabrication in his head. I thought that was the most interesting way for me, from a cinematic point of view, to justify and explain his journey.”

This influx of toxic masculinity and sociopathic tendencies in Kearney’s life begins to bleed into Matthew’s world, with Macken’s diegetic visuals representing the psychological effect being reeked on Matthew’s mind. “That's the thing. You see that Matthew is actually starting to go down the same way that Kearney is. A slower, more gradual experience,” Macken explains. 

“There's almost that mirror image of the two of them being on flip sides of the coin,” he continued. “Almost they end up coming together and, in the end, you’re not sure if he is going to flip and become like Kearney and be influenced by the same things.”

Separate to the dream-like world created by Kearney, the real-world scenes are set in early noughties, Celtic Tiger Ireland, which brings its own challenges. Macken credits the costume designer for delivering the authentic feel to the film. 

“The most important thing was the costume,” said Macken. “Aisling (Wallace) did the costume. Once you got the costume right for the characters, then they automatically felt they're more set in that time.”

“Similar with Michael (Moynihan), who did our production design,” said Macken. “He just created this really cool world, like building the classroom or getting the right bus and all the corridors, or even in the nightclub. He was brilliant.”

“The way James (Mather) shot it. That's why I wanted to give it that color palette,” Macken continued, “(it) was to make it feel a bit grittier and feel more like neon-type thing that felt like the late '90s, early ‘00s. It was all the costume and the production design then allowed it to. Then the music obviously amplifies that. You got music that's got that pulpy feel to it.”

Irish producers Edwina Casey & Richard Bolger of Hail Mary Pictures (Cardboard Gangsters) and Union Entertainment Group’s Noah C Haeussner (Arctic) produced the film with Foton Pictures. 

“The movie only happens because of Richard and Edwina,” Macken told IFTN. “I think that Richard Bolger basically dragged this movie through sheer force of will. Screen Ireland were brilliant, but it took us a while to get through the development with them and the only reason that really happened is because Richie and Edwina worked really hard.”

“Richie was the one who came to me in the first place and was like, ‘Let's make a movie.’ He wanted me to adapt my book and I was like, ‘Cool.’ He goes, ‘What are we going to make?’ I was like, ‘We need to make Rob Doyle's book.’ He loved it too from the get-go. Me and Richie have been making this movie for a couple of years, he's brilliant, he really is, he's a force of nature as you know,” Macken continued.

Here Are The Young Men shot on location across Dublin and Macken tells us that the locations were a mix of scenic spots and areas that pertained to his own knowledge of Dublin. “It was a little bit of both,” Macken told IFTN. 

“It was trying to find the right places that fit the visual appeal and the mood, I also wanted to shoot in places I knew; I shot in Belvedere College it's where I went to school and we shot in the streets close by where I knew the areas, and we shot on a beach in Howth,” Macken continued. 

“I shot in places, which I just knew and then you know the atmosphere because you've been in those streets so often. Some places were places I kind of knew and you already know in your head this is where we're going to film this. Some places like the church, I just went in and asked, I went to mass and then was like, ‘Can I film a movie here?’” [laughs] 

“You never know unless you ask, right?”

Here Are The Young Men is available on digital platforms on April 30th.

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