Today we have actress Emma Eliza Regan on to talk about her work in the new movie Darkness on the Edge of Town. You may remember me getting very excited about this film not so long ago (here) so you can imagine that I was thrilled when I managed to secure time with Emma today! Read on for our chat where we talk about film, dance and how dating a Lord inspired her to take up film journalism…
Hi there, thanks for speaking with me today! How are you?
I been extremely busy, but I am so happy you got in touch and given me the opportunity to talk about the film!
I’ve been excited for Darkness on the Edge of Town for some time now, but I’m curious, is that title actually a Bruce Springsteen reference?
I think that has a doubled edged answer! The director Patrick Ryan is from a very strong musical background, I think most of his friends are from the music industry, and his passion and knowledge for music feeds into his work as both a screenwriter and a film director, so he was initially inspired by the Springsteen title, there was a particular line in there that struck me and I personally drew from it –Everybody’s got a secret, Sonny, Something that they just can’t face, Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it, They carry it with them every step that they take’ .. But even more than that, it was also a very fitting title for the film, as the plot unravels within a small Irish town, and the dark events that transpire on the edge of the most mundane of communities. So I guess it really fitted. I know he also listened to other artists when writing the script (I won’t mention who).
And what can you tell us about the film and in particular your role within it?
I came on board the project early in 2012 after Patrick Ryan had received some press for being awarded the BBC Writersroom Award as well as various other script prizes internationally, so there was already some prestige and regard behind it. The first thing that struck me was the strength of the two young female characters, Cleo and Robin, and the juxtaposition in which they were portrayed as both best friends as well as opposing hero/heroine.. So I was intrigued and knew it was something very original and daring for Irish cinema. The story itself plays out as a Western, yet in a very contemporary Irish setting. I play the heroine, Cleo Callahan, a seventeen year old sharpshooter who seeks revenge after her only sister is found murdered.
[On Degas’ Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers] I wanted to get into the psychological complexity and portray the more human isolation of his work…
– Emma Eliza Regan
I love the idea of a contemporary Western that’s set in Ireland and her landscape. I presume the film is going to make full use of Ireland’s distinctive countryside?
They really chose excellent locations, from remote mountains to worn down houses, to boathouses, Kerry in particular is incredibly mountainous and bleak in parts, we shot some of it in the Black Valley (so called because it was the very last place in Ireland to receive electricity), but it was all so breath taking and incredibly cinematic. It really adds to the tone of the film. I have to mention the D.O.P Tommy Fitzgerald , he really examined the Kerry landscape for months and months before, how the mist fell, how the rocks shadowed, the darkest secluded old houses, and he captured it with such expertise.
Did you watch many Westerns in preparation for the role or was your research based elsewhere?
We were trying to create a unique version of the genre, a unique slant, and Patrick and I shared a really solid vision of how Cleo would be and in that vision I looked more to the actor Takeshi Kitano in Hana-bi for inspiration. The Japanese movie in particular was punctuated by sharp, clinical episodes of violence which was how we had envisioned Cleo’s outbursts. Takeshi Kitano’s performance is very stoic, on a similar wavelength to Ryan Gosling in Only God Forgives, he hardly speaks (there is little dialogue in the film), and his face shows almost no expression, and likewise I wanted Cleo’s performance to be a blank slate that absorbs the events with a very sharp and subtle intensity, and with Cleo the wrong trigger releases her pent-up rage. So, I drew mostly from that style.
I was cast fairly early in pre-production, and I did a huge amount of preparation for Cleo both personally- drawing from my own experiences and getting myself mentally to a very different place, I worked on physicality as I naturally have more of a feminine posture, and she was a sharpshooter tomboy so I knew that she would carry herself in a very solid, tough way, and then added to that we had some intense weekend rehearsals on location with Emma Willis, director Patrick Ryan, and D.O.P Tommy Fitzgerald.
It’s still in production, so I am not sure when we begin shooting, but it’s another very dark and original script from Patrick Ryan which centres on sexual homicide in Dublin. I have a really great work chemistry with Patrick, we are very in tune with each other, and then Brian is honestly one of my favourite actors to be on set with, he is incredibly giving and talented, I have known him from The Factory Actors Studio for a few years, so I am both excited and honoured to be joining up with them again. The whole Lagoon Pictures team have become my close friends after making the film in Kerry, we all got to know each other and learn from one another, so having that tight-knit gel as a production makes the experience all the better …I can see us all being a team, making bigger, better films, as well as being friends for the many years to come. We are growing up together, we share one another’s success and help each other out.
I would be interested to hear what it was like working on Flower of the Gutter compared to a more typical film shoot…
Flower of The Gutter was a four screen video instillation. Sara Hibbert and I were commissioned by Intel for their Remastered exhibition curated by Jotta. At the time I was very into Impressionist painters, and I was inspired by the particular painting Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers by Edgar Degas – my video performance across four screens gave various versions of the perceived performance. On one level, the painting shows this beautiful and ethereal classical dancer, but if you look closer at Degas work there is this very dark undertone and treacherous feel. That darker element creeping was where I wanted to explore- I wanted to get into the psychological complexity and portray the more human isolation of his work, so the other three videos simultaneously show the dancer’s internal breakdown. It was installed at One Marylebone, an 18th Century church in London. For me, I always felt one screen wasn’t enough because stories are too layered, so I guess creating a dance instillation gave me that license to get away with my ideas. In hindsight, I realise that project was personally symbolic, because the four screens could be seem as my four different minds of whether I should be an actress ,dancer, writer or an artist- all of my focus’s jumbled together!
In the end I guess it is all about communication… it is not simply about technique or entertainment; in the end it’s about meaning and character…
– Emma Eliza Regan
As a complete novice to dancing but having done a small amount of acting myself (particularly physical acting in Commedia dell’arte), I would imagine that there is some crossover between the two disciplines regarding communicating via movement and expression. Am I on the right track or are they very different practices?
Yes, of course dancing and acting lend themselves to one another. Ballet was a great base for me, it is similar to classic theatre, it enabled me to empathize with characters. In order for me to have performed various choreography I had to emote with my body, and had no language as expression. With my acting work, I always have either text or cameras to help me in portraying my character. Most of the great ballets such as Swan Lake and La Bayadere share the same emotional depth of Shakespeare; dance however was also very demanding in ideals of beauty, grace and technique as well as character development.
In ballet, French choreographer Marius Petipa stands out as a choreographer who went further, his work like all great film directors is filled with the turmoil and transcendent, the possibilities of the human condition; the inevitable consequences of both duty and selfishness, hope and despair, love and loss. Similar to a film director, he brought stories to the stage through his characters, and had them reveal their inner lives to the audience, through the medium of classical ballet. Artists like Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Cunningham and George Balanchine all also contributed to the way dance can express various themes in the same way as a film or a play. In the end I guess it is all about communication, in whatever way I express it, it is not simply about technique or entertainment; in the end it’s about meaning and character.
You’re involved in the arts in several different ways as I understand it, primarily through dancing, acting and writing journalism; which of these brings you the most joy on a daily basis?
I love the arts, but I am an actress first and foremost. I have been writing poetry for years but I don’t show it to anyone. I began some published journalism for various reasons, but part of it was my own unusual way of dealing with my own profile. When I went to Cannes Film Festival in 2013, I started to suddenly get a lot of press, and in many ways I was uncomfortable in the way I was being portrayed- I had worked so hard as an actress in my own right, so I wasn’t willing to play up to this misconception of me as this young ‘babe’ with an aristocratic prince on her arm hanging out as a socialite, in designer clothes in the South Of France. Of course, dating the director and saying in such an exclusive place, I could see their point of view, and I could totally understand the slant they had, but it was still completely false and so far from what I am about and I wanted to have my own voice published and give the reality behind the perceived glamour. Therefore, I got an opportunity with Ireland’s biggest broadcaster RTE to write a daily blog about my Cannes experience, and I used that opportunity to be able to portray what I was actually about, and I discussed my red carpet and festival experiences, I critiqued the great films I saw and gave some inside stories on the film industry society parties I attended and the people I met, and for whatever reason it became popular and began trending, so I guess it went from there. I know people can have certain perceptions of my lifestyle, but I am the very first to lift the lid on the reality and the hard work behind all the perception of ‘glamour’.
I don’t really know, I am just honestly very interested in artists and directors, and I like to discuss the world around me and I am curious, always trying to educate myself and see more work. As an actress, I contribute in certain creative ways- it always depends on the director or the project, but when it is appropriate I might give my opinion on certain lines of dialogue, or add another dimension to the character, or suggest a gesture, so I bring my own experiences to the table when it is suitable but I try not to interfere. At the end of the day, you need to be free to collaborate but also trust the director.
And do you have anything else which you would like us to keep our eyes open for?
I am currently based in London, I recently signed to Sainou talent agency and Above and Beyond management, so I have been focusing on getting off the ground over this side of the water and meeting some casting directors here. I am now part of a very exciting ‘The Young, The Bold and The Beautiful’ emerging collective of talent, besides that, I been writing my own project, I just finished another draft, so that is what is keeping me up late at night for the last while. I’m also just finished a fashion collaboration (and fashion film) with Irish award winning designer Alice Halliday, we just had some of the collection published in HI Magazine, as well as promoting the upcoming releases and festival screenings of two feature films Darkness On The Edge Of Town and Get Up & Go.
Thank you very much to Emma for sitting down with me today, I hope you all enjoyed it. Be sure to leave your comments in the box below!