Charisma on the Stand:
An Interview with Michael Colgan

 By Rada Djurica   



British Cinema

British cinema has always been well represented and well received by the Serbian festival audience at the Belgrade International Film Festival, for the more than 30 years of the festival's existence.

This year included another work directed by Danny Boyle, this time slightly different, made to compete in the great cinema race, the horror film called "28 Days Later" ("Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting," "A Life Less Ordinary," "The Beach.")

Then there was Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People," a dark comedy and feature-length mock documentary about gothic bands from Manchester in the 1980s: Joy Division, New Order and Black Grapes.

Also at the festival was "The Magdalene Sisters," directed by actor Peter Mullan (actor in "Shallow Grave," "Trainspotting"), a story about the Magdalene sisterhood of the Catholic Church.

And finally, there was "This is not a Love Song," directed by Billie Eltringham, with a special guest appearance by the young Irish actor Michael Colgan. Indeed, Michael Colgan, who was a guest of the festival, is not only a talented actor, but also very charismatic. Let's hope that next time he will get to play opposite his celebrity colleague, Ewan McGregor.

Could you talk about the film "This is Not a Love Song?"

The central subject of the film is symbolized by the song "This is Not a Love Song" by Public Image Limited. Even if this is not a love story, it is a story about friendship.

How would you describe the relationship between Spike and Heaton in the film?

They're two characters that need each other. Spike (Colgan) is the young character, insecure and irresponsible, unprepared for adult living. And he needs someone to look after him. Heaton (Kenny Glenaan) is on the other side, and he's weak but needs to feel strong and look after Spike so that he can see himself as strong. So they both need each other. And they end up together in the countryside. This is a story about urban people surviving in the country, to take them from the city context and put them in the countryside.

Why was the crew gathered first and then the script written?

Because this film was kind of an experiment. Film directors and screenwriters are very successful. It is very frustrating to realize that a film done based on your screenplay, at the end of the production, after years and more, is not even near what you wrote. So the idea was, if we cut down the budget, we could do whatever we want and no one will change anything.

You had casting workshops during the script writing. What was that all about?

Simon [Beaufoy] wrote a synopsis and gave us basic information about the story. Kenny and I were working for weeks, trying to set up characters that he invented. We improvised scenes from the synopsis or we suggested something new, working on the characters and story. On the basis of this, the entire screenplay was done. It turns out that Kenny and I had the biggest influence on him, which is very unusual for actors, but a good enough reason that I'm overcome with this film. That's a very unusual system of work, for me, the unique one.

Is working without a script harder or easier for the actors?

Harder, definitely. When you're doing a film or a theatre play, there are two patterns. You know, the characters are put in certain situations that give you the space for research. Or you have a situation where you are introduced and then you do research on your character inside of it. But when you don't have both, you just don't know where to start. We worked for weeks; we had many disagreements and lots of freedom. We have been very honest and open with each other.

This film is an unusual film, isn't it?

It starts as a classic thriller, where two small-time criminals go to a countryside, where one of them, the character that I'm playing, accidentally kills a farmer's daughter. But the film primarily is about the relationship between Spike and Heaton. Which is why the director, Billie, was always saying that this is a love story trapped in the body of a thriller. I agree with her. Between the two of them, there is a great friendship and they depend on each other. Ultimately, they realize that they can't do without each other. But that leads to the unfortunate end of the film.

The critics call your film a very complicated piece of work. Do you agree with that?

That's a compliment because most of the film comes out of our dialogue. It's hard to keep the audience's attention for 90 minutes. That's why we felt great responsibility, we worked very hard. My theatre experience helped me lots. And the things that I learned in drama school in France. I like hard and complicated parts and that's why the work on this film is very special to me. Theatre actors in film can be too theatrical; that way of acting is not good on film. The camera catches everything and that's why some actors look fake. I read once a Robert De Niro statement, and I always remember that when I am thinking about the subject. He said that it is a mistake many actors make to act the feelings, while most of the people in real life are doing everything to hide the emotions.

Tell us something about you.

I'm originally from Northern Ireland and I went to school there. And then I went to London for college, but I didn't study theatre or acting, I studied English literature for three years. And it was only there that I decided that I wanted to study acting professionally. So I went to a theatre school in Paris in a private college which specialized in psychological acting and improvisation and that sort of thing.

And when I left there I went back to Ireland to work with my brother, who's a film director. And I acted in a feature film called "The Eliminator." And there we spent about year; we were also co-producing it. So we spent some time finishing the film and taking that to festivals. And only after that did I move back to London and started to do acting really professionally.

So in the last five years most of what I've done was theatre, probably 70 percent theatre. I've spent a year working in the National Theatre of Ireland, the Abbey Theatre. And I've worked in different theatres in London and all over England. I've done a couple of small parts on television, but this is the first major role I've done. So it's quite different.

What about BBC projects? Would you like to do that?

I've done something for the BBC ("Rebel Heart" and "Sunday").

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