A music-mad 16-year-old outcast forms an unlikely friendship with his dashing new roommate in ‘Handsome Devil’, a funny and observant coming-of-age tale from Irish novelist and filmmaker John Butler (The Stag) who will attend our Mid-Week Gala at the Queen’s Film Theatre on Wednesday 5th April.
Q: What inspired this story? Did you have any similar experiences or know any characters like this in your school days?
A: I went to a fee-paying, rugby playing all-boys school and found it… tricky. I was gay, and I loved sport and found it hard to reconcile what I thought were two incompatible aspects of myself. They’re not, of course, but it felt that way to me. It’s a story that sprang from that difficulty, but it’s very much set in the here-and-now, and is just as relevant in 2017. I mean, in the Republic we have marriage equality and hopefully that’s coming down the line in Northern Ireland too, but there’s still no “out” premiership soccer player of rugby union player in 2017. Weird..!
Q: With references to The Housemartins, Big Star, The Undertones and Prefab Sprout, the music for the film tells a story in its own right. How did you put these songs together?
A: Ned – the main character – labours under the impression that the past was a better place in every way (he’s as pretentious as I was as a kid). So the music reflects that state of mind. In terms of getting the songs, I had to do a lot of begging, via letter, to some incredibly talented artists, who, thankfully, bought into the idea of the film.
Q: How did you cast the roles? The characters grow and reveal new sides of themselves through the film – was that a challenge to capture?
A: Casting is 99% of the job, really. As with the headmaster part and Michael McElhatton, the part of Mr. Sherry was written for Andrew Scott and I was delighted to get both of them. Moe Dunford was a revelation, as were Nick Galitzine and Fionn O’Shea, neither of whom I knew until the put themselves on tape. And I’m always keen to give the characters on the fringes as much depth as possible, and I was lucky with some of those who agreed to do it – Amy Huberman, Ardal O’Hanlon, Hugh O’Conor, and so on.
Q: Do you feel you approach film differently as a novelist? Is a strong script and structure important to you from the get go?
A: Yep, I’m hugely committed to the script. i don’t think you can make a film that works without a script that works. As a novelist you’re just swimming frantically in one direction, hoping the shore will appear before you run out of breath. With a film, you’re writing a kind of blueprint. Both are scary, though!