By David Hennessy
This month sees the release of Good Vibrations, the Terri Hooley biopic directed by Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa and starring Richard Dormer. Credited with discovering The Undertones and often referred to as “The Godfather of Belfast Punk”, Hooley’s story is inspirational and set against the backdrop of a troubled city, is one that illustrates how music and a peaceful but indomitable spirit can see people through even the darkest of days.
Soon after her arrival back from SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas where the film received its north American premiere, The Irish World caught up with Jodie Whittaker who plays Terri’s wife, Ruth. Known for her roles in TV dramas like Marchlands and Accused, Jodie can currently be seen in ITV’s Broadchurch. Her film roles include Attack The Block and Perrier’s Bounty in which she starred alongside Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Liam Cunningham.
Living up to its name, there have been positive reverberations about this new film since it was screened at BFI London Film Festival in October and Jodie has been delighted with its response: “It’s been really exciting because it’s not easy making independent cinema and this is a biopic piece about someone who is such an amazing and vivid character, but he isn’t necessary that well known outside of Belfast. The film is completely universal because it’s a great script, it’s a great central performance by Richard and whether you know Terri or not, the film is so good and so passionate about the world that it is about which is the music scene.”
Good Vibrations has been lauded for showing a different side to Northern Ireland and a troubled era. There have been no shortage of films about the conflict but what is different about Good Vibrations is that it is on no side and is a human story about an extraordinary life in difficult times: “I think because it doesn’t focus on the troubles, it’s obviously a backdrop, it couldn’t realistically not be. Because it doesn’t focus on that, I think it is a really refreshing piece because it’s a celebration of everything that makes Belfast amazing and particularly the music and cultural references and great bands and great artists that have come out of Northern Ireland and to focus a film on that and Terri Hooley who is a great guy and a really fascinating man as well, it’s a brilliant piece and I think it served the story as well.”
Jodie says herself that Terri may not be that well known outside of Belfast so can we take it that the Huddersfield actress wouldn’t have known him before being presented with this script? “Not at all, I was completely under qualified: I’m not from Belfast, my punk knowledge was pretty limited to basically Teenage Kicks but when I read the script, I was so excited because you don’t need to know him, it’s just a fantastic story. The fact that it’s true makes it more amazing.
“Terri’s been such a support because the film needed to have his backing because there would be no point telling it without it and it’s an exposing piece, it shows a section of his life where some things were brilliant but then some things weren’t and it doesn’t shy away from the not so good. I can’t imagine what it is like seeing yourself on screen. Richard Dormer is such a phenomenal actor and his performance is so fantastic that when Terri was on set and Richard was as Terri, it was so bizarre because it was so realistic.”
Indeed, the account pulls no punches capturing a young Terri’s charisma and passion but also how his enthusiasm for his record label Good Vibrations and the bands he was promoting sometimes caused his wife and personal life to suffer. Dormer and Whittaker are perfectly cast as Terri and Ruth. Was Richard easy to have chemistry with? “Oh yeah, he’s phenomenal. He had been attached for a long time and I only flew out about four days before we started shooting. I met him at the read through and just the work that he had done and the kind of support he showed me being an outsider to Belfast and also to this story was amazing. If you don’t have chemistry, it’s obvious on screen. There’s no hiding away from it and you can tell that we did because it’s in the piece.”
With youthful and rebellious themes, team and cast, was it a fun shoot? “I think that’s apparent as well, it was great. Everyone who was part of it was a team player because you need to be on any indie film because you’re not in the lap of luxury when you’re shooting it and so everyone’s there for the end game which is to hopefully be a part of a really great piece. Glenn and Lisa were fantastic at getting the right people involved and the people who were going to throw themselves into it one hundred per cent. It was a really good laugh, a really good fun thing to be a part of. With the slight surrealism that is involved with him seeing different characters and the voiceover and things like that, it needed such energy and passion behind it so I get excited when I see it.”
While she may not have known too much about the punk scene before shooting this picture, she has found herself getting into it (although possibly not yet ready for the spiky hair): “It was funny because Austin was the third time that I’ve seen the film so I kind of could chill out a bit. The first few times I see it are always a bit nerve racking, particularly the second time at the BFI London Film Festival you’re still hoping everyone’s going to like it. When we showed it in Austin, I couldn’t believe I had my foot tapping the whole way through. There’s so much more punk on my iPod now than there was before.”
Was there an added pressure with this role as Ruth was playing a real person as opposed to a fictional character? “In some ways yeah but it depends I suppose on the process. For me, I was looking to meet Ruth and she was lovely to meet me before we started filming but because the piece isn’t necessarily about that character, it wasn’t essential for me like it was for Richard to get the mannerisms or focus on the way she speaks or anything like that. It was more to get the energy of the person and that’s in the script because the writers had spoken to her as well. For me there was a lot less pressure because the piece is about Terri and how people affect Terri and it was just about getting that right. The work with the dialect coach was important but it wasn’t necessarily an imitation that I needed to do.”
For the full interview, see the March 23 edition of The Irish World