Caragh Carville Interview
What made you want to become a writer?

I always knew I wanted to do something creative. As a kid growing up in Armagh I was always drawing and making up stories and I loved films and comics and TV. And then when I went to secondary school I was very lucky to encounter an inspirational English teacher, Paul McAvinchey, who kind of gave you permission to think that being a writer or an artist was possible. He’d organize trips to the theatre and invite writers to the school, people like Heaney and Muldoon.

Around the same time, I fell in with a group of friends who were all highly creative and many of whom have gone on to work in the arts too. The writer Terry Cafolla is one my oldest friends. We were in the same class at school. As was the actor John Paul Connolly. The film director Brian Kirk was a year ahead of us and the theatre director Conall Morrison a year ahead of him. Seamus McGarvey, who has gone on to be one of the world’s leading cinematographers, went to another school in town but he was around. It was an amazingly creative environment, when I look back on it, Armagh at that time. So all of that was very inspirational. By the time I left for university I’d pretty much made my mind up that I was going to write. As Beckett said of himself at that age, I had ‘nothing to say but the itch to make’. That’s about right.

Your background is in theatre and Cherrybomb is your second feature film: which do you prefer, theatre or film, and why?

I love both. Many of my favourite writers – Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, David Mamet – work or worked in both theatre and film and that’s what I’d like to keep doing, moving from one form to the other. There are differences of course. Screenwriting is a highly technical kind of writing really, with lots of fairly rigid rules and parameters: just simple stuff about how long a scene should last, for instance. Theatre is much freer in that respect. Every play makes its own rules. Which is both good and bad. It can be great to have that freedom and openness but it can also lead you into a certain kind of indulgence. I actually really like having clearly set parameters to work within. It sounds like a contradiction but I find it liberating, in the way that the imagination of a poet can be liberated by having to work within a formal scheme like a sonnet. A blank page – or a blank stage – is a much scarier prospect. So I’ve enjoyed that technical aspect of screenwriting. But now I’m itching to get back to writing for the stage. So as I say, I love both.

Cherrybomb is about disaffected youth and the battle between two friends for the affections of a girl. Where did the idea come from? Is any of it based on personal experience?

No, it’s not autobiographical, or no moreso than anything anyone writes. I mean you’re always going to draw on your own experience and your own perspective to some degree. But it doesn’t draw on any specific incidents from my life or anything like that. The idea started, believe it or not, with me thinking about ‘sin’. About what sin might mean in a post-religious age. So I developed a story about teenagers who set out on a competition to out-sin one another. But the idea of sin itself is a totally alien one for kids growing up now, so we ditched that and just focused on the characters and their journeys. But that was the start of it. The screenplay grew out of that.

How long was the film in development? What do you find the most challenging aspect of the script to screen process?

My first film, Middletown, came out in 2007 and Cherrybomb was already underway at that stage, in one form or another. I think I’d written a first draft. So from initial idea to finished film probably took, I don’t know, four years? And that in itself is one of the most challenging aspects of the process: the length of time it all takes. Not the writing itself, though I always go through a lot of drafts, working very closely with the director and producer. It’s the length of time it takes to raise the money to make the thing, the number of hoops you’ve got to jump through. That can be very taxing because you have to try and keep your levels of energy and excitement and commitment up through all of that, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many set-backs you have along the way. It takes a lot of stamina.

What advice would you give to upcoming screenwriters?

As Yeats said: ‘learn your trade’. Write and keep writing. Seek out the best people to work with. Learn how to use critical notes to help you improve your writing. Word hard, write and rewrite. And don’t give up.

What did it mean getting Rupert Grint onboard? Who did you have in mind as Malachy when you wrote it?

I never write with specific actors in mind. During the writing process itself you always need to focus on the character, not on the person who might be playing that character. But then, when the script is finished, or is in pretty good shape at least, then you get into one of my favorite parts of the process: fantasy casting. I love that bit, where you throw names around and dream of who you might get. And Rupert was one of those names.

I didn’t actually think we’d get him but he came in to read and it was clear very quickly that he was perfect for the part. He’s a terrific actor and there’s something very warm and winning and accessible about him that was just ideal for Malachy. Now I genuinely can’t think of anyone else in that part. He nailed it.

So that’s the first thing to say: he was the best actor for the part. But the other thing he brought to Cherrybomb – and I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for this – is this huge fan-base of people who have grown up with him, through the Potter movies. And because this was Rupert’s first ‘adult’ film and it has a certain edge to it there was a huge amount of interest. And that translated itself into all this support for the film online and we had Rupert fans travelling to see it at festivals all over the world and organizing petitions to have it released in their countries and what have you. All of that has been brilliant and, as I say, totally unexpected.

So ultimately it would be true to say that Rupert’s given the film a profile it wouldn’t otherwise have had. He’s a star: that’s what stars do.

The end look of the film is very stylized, how much of that was in the script and how much was that to do with the Directors input and decisions made during pre-production?

The directors, Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa, brought a huge amount to the project. Not just in terms of visual style and energy but also in practical script terms. The Leisureplex setting, for instance, was their suggestion. That wasn’t there in earlier drafts: Malachy used to work in a supermarket.

The story was already pretty much in place when Glenn and Lisa came on board, but they brought in a whole new raft of ideas. So then it was about us all sitting down and working out a shared vision of the film. It was a very collaborative process: it always is. It has to be. But yes, a lot of the feel of the film, those stylized aspects you mention, are down to Glenn and Lisa. They did a great job.

What is your favourite scene in the film and why?

My favourite scene is the one outside the Leisureplex when Malachy and Luke meet Michelle properly for the first time and there’s the business with swapping phone numbers. And it’s a very personal thing: I remember writing that scene and the feeling, which rarely happens, of it just clicking into place. A lot of the time you rewrite scenes six, seven times but with that one it wrote itself really quickly and I didn’t have to do anything else to it. The scene just sang. And it’s one of those scenes that just feels very ‘me’. My voice as a writer. So I’m very fond of it. Added to which, the guys shot it beautifully and the performances are lovely. So that’s my favourite.

Who is your writing hero and why?

If I had to choose just one it would probably be Pinter. As I’ve mentioned, he worked – brilliantly – in both theatre and film. Plays like The Caretaker and The Homecoming and movies like The Servant. I love his language and I love the power and menace and mystery that lies behind it. I love the shifts and exchanges that he engineers between characters. And I admire him greatly as a man, as a citizen of the world. I was lucky enough to meet him twice and I have some books signed by him. They’re among my most treasured possessions.

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