27 February 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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“I just think it's a voice that's so funny and criminally underused;” Deadly Cuts director Rachel Carey on the need for more working-class female-led comedies
15 Oct 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Deadly Cuts
As Deadly Cuts targets the top grossing Irish film of 2021, we caught up with writer/director Rachel Carey to find out more about taking the leap to feature film, writing what you know, and tapping into an underused source of comedy.

Starring Angeline Ball (The Commitments, Shameless), Ericka Roe (Herself, Dublin Murders), Lauren Larkin (Love/Hate), Shauna Higgins (Dating Amber, Red Rock), and Victoria Smurfit (Once Upon A Time, Marcella) with Aidan McArdle (Black 47, The Fall) and Pauline McLynn (Father Ted), Deadly Cuts follows the stylists of a Dublin hair salon who become accidental vigilantes as they take on a local gang threatening their community and pushing their area towards opportunistic gentrification.

Written and directed by Rachel Carey, the film is produced by Auveen Lush, Ciara Appelbe and Liz Gill for O’Sullivan Productions with funding from Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) and Virgin Media.  

It has been a gradual process for writer/director Rachel Carey, but her self-belief and hard work has certainly bared fruit with her debut feature earning the biggest opening weekend for an Irish film since The Hole In The Ground in 2019.

The genesis of Deadly Cuts goes back as far as 2016, when Carey first played around with the idea for her debut film. I distinctly remember coming up with the idea because I always knew I wanted to do a comedy feature,” Carey told IFTN. “I knew I wanted to do something with young working-class women because I just think it's a voice that's so funny and criminally underused.”

“I kind of always had that in my head and was making shorts at the time when this idea came into my head about vigilante hairdressers,” Carey explained. “I liked the idea of setting something in a hairdressers because I'm quite familiar with hairdressers.”

“Years ago, I worked as a receptionist in Peter Mark,” Carey told IFTN. “You get an insight there. But more so, I'd go as a client. I'd often go through a small salon for a blow-dry.

“I wouldn't literally be sitting there with my notebooks stealing the things that they say,” Carey joked, “but sometimes some of the things you'd overhear would just be priceless. A lot of it didn't make it in, a lot of it I used for the castings and stuff, but definitely inspired by real life.”

The film is currently being distributed in Irish cinemas nationwide via Wildcard Distribution and Carey hopes that Irish hairdressing get a laugh out of it. “I would love that those salons can come and see it and go, ‘That is what it's like. That's the atmosphere,’" said Carey. “I think everyone's going to get a flavour and hopefully, these little salons will get a little boost in clientele.”

Once the initial idea for the film was established, it was developed into a working title (Cutters), which Carey brought to the Galway Film Fleadh’s pitching contest in 2017. At the event, Cutters was given the opportunity to be showcased to an audience of potential production partners. “The pitching contest is such a brilliant platform to road test an idea in 90 seconds,” said Carey. “People just laughed, and it was far from perfect, but I thought, ‘I have something here. I think this could be really funny.’"

Among those in the crowd was Auveen Lush, the film’s would-be producer, who was intrigued by the idea and approached Carey following the event. “We had a glass of wine, and ultimately she optioned the script - the rest is history,” Carey explained.

Having previously worked as a copywriter in advertising before moving into short film, Carey knew she wanted to direct her script and backed herself by negotiating a ‘first refusal to direct’ clause when signing the option. “I had already done shorts, I knew I wanted to move to feature, and I knew I wanted to do comedy,” Carey told IFTN. “I love to write, but I was writing something to direct for myself because that was where I was at with my career.”

“It's hard enough to find scripts that aren't your own - that are exactly the kind of script you're looking for - written by people that will really click with you,” Carey continued. “So really, it was a case of writing something that I thought I could do well - that I thought was going in the direction I want to go."

Jump forward to March 2021, and Carey’s dark comedy made its world premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival earlier this year when it screened as the Closing Gala of the festival. In addition to that, Carey also picked up the Aer Lingus Discovery Award with the festival judges going as far as to state that the future of Irish filmmaking was “in safe hands”.

Deadly Cuts has also already taken the leap to the international stage with a screening at the Seattle International Film Festival, as well as, its international distribution rights being picked up by Los Angeles-based Myraid Pictures.

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Though you won’t find Piglinstown on the map of Dublin, Carey strived for the film to feel authentic to the communities on which it was based. “As I was writing it, I went to more and more areas like Finglas and Ballymun and got to know more little local hairdressers that might be experiencing the same kind of issues that you see in Deadly Cuts,” Carey explained.

“They all have a feel, and they all have an atmosphere. It was important to me throughout that time that I kept that in my head and that I was able to capture that,” Carey continued. “It wasn't just a visual thing, it was about getting that warmth and buzzy energy, which you always get in those salons. I always wanted to be true to that.”

Ball leads the cast as the proud owner of the Piglinstown hairdressers, someone Carey said was always in mind to take on the pivotal role. “Angeline is just a stunning, very glamorous, she's from Cabra. I could always see her in it for sure. I was so thrilled when she agreed to do it,” Carey told IFTN. “That was really a crucial role for me. We needed to find somebody who could do authentic Dub, had that glam, and that grit to them.”

The director admitted she was initially concerned about finding the right actors for the younger supporting characters. I was a bit worried because I had worked in advertising, where you cast a lot and you get to know everyone around,” Carey explained. “I'd seen Shauna in a few things, but I didn't know Lauren and Ericka.”

However, her mind was put at ease when casting agent Ali Coffey showed her some self-tapes of the upcoming actors and had them audition for the roles. “When Ericka, Lauren, and Shauna got in the room and were just reading the scripts out, I was just laughing straight away because I thought, ‘This is exactly what they're supposed to sound like,’ said Carey.

“It was amazing,” said Carey, when asked what it was like seeing her written characters come to life. “I would just sit there, I'd have to remember that I was supposed to be working with them because I just loved listening to it, and the girls brought so much to the role straight away and to the delivery, such natural comedic actresses.”

Although the film is a dark comedy, Deadly Cuts playfully tackles topics of political greed, gang violence, and the subtle influence of the matriarchy in working-class communities.

The criminal gang responsible for terrorising Piglinstown is led by Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson) who brought a menacing intensity to the set, according to Carey. He came on set and Jesus, we were all exhausted after the days where we'd shoot him because he just gave it everything and he was genuinely so powerful and so scary,” Carey recounted. “He's just excellent, he's an excellent actor, a great guy to work with. I think he gave the role real menace.”

“We reached out to him, and I actually had a chat with him about how it was going to be straight, and it wasn't a pantomime villain - that was important to Ian,” Carey explained. “Writing Deano was hard, it took a few rounds because you're trying to hit the right tone for a black comedy, which is tricky.”

“I remember in early iterations, Deano and the gang were almost cartoonish and idiotic, but I knew Deano had to get worse,” added Carey. “He had to be genuinely scary and genuinely awful for the girls to get to the point they do, for the audience to get behind that, and for us to know there was a real threat.”

As well as Deano’s gang, the Piglinstown community is also faced with political corruption and opportunistic gentrification, presented in the form of Cllr. Darren Flynn (Aidan McArdle), who wants to repurpose the local businesses for property development.

“I wanted to introduce the counselor and what was really going on, the shady brown envelope plans, which as we all know, are constantly going on in Dublin,” Carey explained. “People just don't have a chance. Middle-class and upper-class people can't battle against that, let alone working-class areas.”

When all hope seems lost, it is the matriarchy of Piglinstown that steps up to the plate to overcome the adversity facing the local community, something Carey believes is a theme throughout history. “I think historically, women tend to get written out of the headlines, but they solve a lot of problems, and they bear a lot of the brunt,” said Carey. “There's definitely matriarchal structures, especially in working-class areas - they tend to hold things together.”

“It's why it was important for me to have the ‘aul wans’ in the film - Mrs. Quinn and Stacey's nanny and Maisie,” Carey continued. “They are such an integral part of working-class communities, the nannies, the older women who mind the kids who keep people in line, who know everything that's going on in communities.”

“Stacey says, ‘Don't piss off the aul wans. It's the first rule in Piglinstown.’”

Deadly Cuts is currently on release in Irish cinemas nationwide.

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