19 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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“A decade of very minimal wins and huge frustrations” Writer-director Tony Kelly discusses The Hurler: A Campion’s Tale
26 Sep 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Tony Kelly in The Hurler: A Campion's Tale
We caught up with writer-director and lead actor Tony Kelly, ahead of The Hurler: A Campion’s Tale releasing in Irish cinemas.

Tony Kelly is the writer-director and leading actor of The Hurler: A Campion’s Tale, an upcoming hurling comedy set and filmed in Waterford.  The film features a host of recognisable comedic talent and Irish sporting figures, such as Marty Morrissey, Mario Rosenstock, and David McSavage.

The Hurler: A Campion’s Tale follows Gar Campion (Tony Kelly), a hurler infamous for his off-the-field antics. After his ban from hurling, Gar turns his attention to managing Ireland’s worst-ever hurling team in Waterford.

The cast also includes Elva Trill (Jurassic World: Dominion), Jon Kenny (The Banshees of Inisherin), John Morton (Dead Still), and Sophie Vavasseur (Resident Evil: Apocalypse). The film began life as web series The Hurler, for which Kelly received an award from LA Web Fest for his comedic portrayal of Gar Campion. Kelly also adapted Gar’s story for the stage, writing and starring in a one man show of the same name.

Writer-director Tony Kelly sat down with us to discuss the journey from web series to feature film, working with a comedic ensemble, and filming in his native Waterford.

IFTN: The Hurler: A Campion's Tale is based on your award-winning web series and one-man show. How has the project evolved as you adapted it into a feature film?

TONY: “The web series is a completely different animal to what the film became. There are no recurring characters other than Gar. Looking back on it now, it served as a place to workshop and grow Gar as a character. Getting some acknowledgement for it in the form of an award in Hollywood also gave me the confidence to keep going.”

“The play was actually a response to the frustration of the stop/start nature of trying to make the movie. I had bites and nibbles of development deals over the years to turn it into a sitcom, but it always fell apart. After doing some independent films as a lead actor, I had advanced in making the Hurler as a film with some bigger companies, but ultimately kept meeting roadblocks.”

“It was that frustration that saw me turn my screenplay (that I completed at the beginning of 2018) into the one man show. The test run of the show closed on March 7th 2020. What happened a week later stopped the tour of the show, but also made me sit down and rewrite the screenplay into what eventually became the film as it is now.”

IFTN: The film features many recognisable faces from the Irish comedy scene. What was it like working with such a talented ensemble?

TONY: “One thing I’ve learned as a jobbing actor over the years is that a film (or TV show or play) is only as good as its cast. A great script can be let down by a weak cast. So, it was majorly important to me to get the best cast possible for this.”

“Obviously working with absolute legends like Jon Kenny was a dream come true for me. Working with comedic geniuses like Mario Rosenstock, Karl Spain, and David McSavage was incredibly easy, because my script is already better coming out of their mouths. Then they bring their own ideas and improvs that elevate the entire thing even further. It’s like being spoiled. Then you add people like Elva Trill and Sophie Vavasseur to that, and I get to raise my game to their level.”

“The supporting cast may not be household names, but are all seasoned pros and a lot of people I’ve worked with in the past that I knew I could trust. I truly believe there couldn’t be a stronger ensemble cast for a comedy film.”

IFTN: The Hurler is set and filmed in Waterford. How did you find filming on location there?

TONY: “Well I’m a proud Waterford man through and through, born and bred. So there is a huge sense of pride for me, not only to make a film in Waterford, but to have Waterford as a character in the film. I believe it’s the first theatrically released feature film to be shot in Waterford since Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.”

“We often get talked about as the ‘forgotten city’ and I wanted to show the film industry what a beautiful canvas Waterford City and county has to offer. It looks absolutely gorgeous on camera. The Waterford business community and Waterford public were so generous with their time and helping us get this film over the line. Be it providing meals for cast and crew, hotels, giving time as extras, hurleys, jerseys, you name it, the people of Waterford stepped up for The Hurler.”

IFTN: What was your most memorable on-set experience?

TONY: “I’m laughing already at this. It would have to be the day we had Marty Morrissey on set. It was the 2nd last day of the principal shoot, an intense 3 week shoot.”

“We were shooting some dressing room scenes in a hurling club in the morning, and it was on sound-man Naoise’s birthday. Everyone was quite jovial as it was going to be a fun afternoon, I had brought cakes and stuff for the day that was in it.”

“What ended up happening was everyone was too loose. I was panicking, trying to learn big chunks of dialogue, direct our main cast and hurler extras, and also rush to our next location to meet Marty and Waterford hurling legend, John Mullane.”

“Marty ended up ringing to say he was running ‘a little late’. He ended up being almost 4 hours late, and in all my running and racing around the set, I got a concussion by banging my head off a skylight in the hurling dressing rooms.”

“I have barely any recollection of that day and of the massive amounts of fun we had when Marty arrived. Only I could make a hurling movie and get a concussion from a feckin’ window in the dressing room!”

IFTN: You have previously described this film as “the culmination of over ten years of blood, sweat, tears, laughs, rejections, and near misses”. What advice would you have for anyone planning to take on a project like this?

TONY: “Yeah that about sums it up. A decade of very minimal wins and huge frustrations as well. But the biggest piece of ‘advice’, if I can even call it that, would be just don’t give up. I refused to. It’s how I am in my life with everything. I refuse to quit. If you have something you want to do, and something you truly believe in, you can make it happen. You just have to work harder than everyone else and never stop believing that your hard work will pay off.”

“I had every type of ‘almost’ you could have with this project, and it opened crazy, random doors you wouldn’t even believe. It was always ‘almost’ and ‘if only’ but I knew if I took charge myself and kept going it would eventually be where we are now: Irish cinemas.”

IFTN: What’s next for you after The Hurler?

TONY: “I’m auditioning just like any actor at the moment for any of the few productions that are being made. As a writer/director I have a lot of potential next projects waiting to go. I would like to write and direct another feature that’s completely different to the Hurler, but I also don’t think this is the end of Gar’s story either. Continuing Gar’s story is something I’d love to do after we finally get this film out in the world.”

The Hurler: A Campion’s Tale releases in Irish cinemas from October 6th.

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