Playwright Mark O’Rowe makes his big-screen directorial debut with He tells PAUL WHITINGTON about the intricacies of infidelity films and actor Cillian Murphy’s ‘interesting process’
‘My big fear was that I’d be overwhelmed by the pressure of it all, but in fact it was the opposite — I loved it.” Mark O’Rowe is talking about The Delinquent Season, his feature film directorial debut, which was built on his own script and stars Cillian Murphy, Eva Birthistle, Catherine Walker and Andrew Scott as two apparently happy couples whose lives disastrously collide.
It’s a dense, thought-provoking film, in which Murphy’s character Jim is putting up with the presence of his wife’s maritally challenged friend Yvonne (Walker) in his home when a spark flies between them, they fall in love and all hell breaks loose. What drew O’Rowe to this particular subject?
“I like infidelity movies,” he says. “There aren’t a huge amount of them but I do like them, and David Lean’s Brief Encounter, for instance, is one of the best, because there’s a kind of love triangle at play there, no one is bad, no one is really at fault. But what I find with a lot of contemporary stories about infidelity is that usually someone is the bad guy, or the circumstance is untenable for the character, so it kind of lets them off the hook in terms of having the affair.
“In this film, I wanted them not to have an excuse to do it, so I could explore that thing of, why does anyone fall for anyone else? It’s just something that happens, you can’t say well it’s because he has blue eyes, and because he made me laugh: there’s plenty of people who can do that. There’s something happens, some electrical charge between you, so I just didn’t want to give anyone an easy way out.
“I was also interested in the idea that if you’re in a marriage, you’re living in a particular house, with a particular person, or group of people, and then when you break up or an infidelity happens or whatever, everybody’s life has to take on a new shape. I was interested in all of that.”
O’Rowe’s film unfolds by increments and is careful to reserve judgment on its characters, all of whom could claim to have their reasons for acting as they did. “It’s too easy if you can put the blame on somebody,” he says, “and I think if you find a way of sharing the blame as it were, or being forgiving of everyone, then it’s easier for viewers to identify with the characters, and recognise themselves in them.
“I look at the four of them, and their reactions to certain things, and I think, I do that, and I do that. They’re all a little bit me.”
His characters also seem like people you might know. “I just wrote them the way I kind of felt people spoke. I mean if you were to compare this film to say a Woody Allen movie dealing with the same situation, those characters would be incredibly articulate about how they’re feeling, but they would still run into the same problems that my characters ran into. So that even with great articulacy, there’s still a deeper level of communication, emotional or whatever, that we’re not quite capable of.”
In The Delinquent Season, O’Rowe’s characters misunderstand each other so disastrously that he seems to be suggesting that we’re all unknowable to each other.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it? You know the older I get, the more I think life is a game of self-deception, or not looking at things that you shouldn’t be looking at, like the idea of death, even down to the idea of helping someone. We all want to be generous people but there’s a line we won’t cross, and if that act of generosity begins to create problems beyond which we’re prepared to go, well then we don’t. So it’s like there’s this limit to everything, we’d all like to think the best of ourselves, but unfortunately we’ll only go so far.
“We can know each other in a way, we can know each other in moments, but it’s kind of sad that we’re all locked inside our own heads and our own hearts as well.”
Directing a film seems to have been a hugely positive experience for Mark.
“I loved it,” he says. “I remember before I directed a play for the first time in 2007, I’d been complaining to my wife saying that even when people direct your work well, it changes, it’s not yours any more. So I said I need to try it once, and if it’s not for me, I’ll continue to moan, but I just won’t have that thing of wanting to do it.
“So I really enjoyed directing for theatre, but then the film thing was another thing altogether — the big fear with a film is that you’ve a limited period of time to get the shots you need. But the way it works, and the thing I really liked about it, is that actually you’re never thinking about the film
I’d been complaining to my wife saying that even when people direct your work well, it changes, it’s not yours any more. So I said I need to try it once, and if it’s not for me, I’ll just continue to moan
as a whole, you’re only thinking about getting through the bit you’re doing now. You always have to be told what’s next because you’ve been so focused on this bit that everything else is kind of a whirl. And once you get your shot, you move on. It’s a real comedown after you shoot it, and even though you’re exhausted while you’re doing it, you don’t realise that until it ends. I don’t have another script yet, but I’m dying to do it again, I’d love to.”
A cast of The Delinquent Season’s calibre must have made life a little easier for him. “They’re all brilliant actors,” he agrees, “so they didn’t need a hell of a lot of guidance or direction.
The Delinquent Season