Actor Aaron Monaghan told David Hennessy about the dark comedy Redemption of a Rogue, which deals with suicide and depression but seeks not to poke fun at such issues.
Philip Docherty’s dark comedy Redemption of a Rogue centres around Jimmy Cullen, a character described as ‘tired of the living and breathing’ but has to return home to face his demons.
When he is seen back in his home town in Cavan, several people say, ‘Is that Jimmy Cullen?’
However, the response is often something like, ‘Couldn’t be, that whore would never show his face around here’.
Even his own brother Damien welcomes Jimmy back with a punch saying he has dreamed of doing it for years. It is clear from the beginning that absolutely nobody is glad to see this prodigal son’s return.
Jimmy and Damien are burying their abusive father when the heavens open and the funeral must be called to a halt in accordance with their father’s wishes to not be buried on a rainy day.
The only problem is it is no quick shower that has descended on Ballylough, more like a biblical flood that seems to be set to go on for forty days and nights.
And until he can lay his father to rest, Jimmy can’t take his own life.
As dark comedies go, you can’t get much blacker.
If you heard of a film about a suicidal character burying his father and dealing with the guilt of being the driver in an accident that left a former girlfriend in a wheelchair, you would not think you were hearing about a comedy.
Lead actor Aaron Monaghan told The Irish World there was a balance to be struck by not looking to make light of these issues but also not give them the serious treatment they have got elsewhere in heavier pieces.
Aaron told us: “In some ways taking on a subject like suicide or something like that, I feel there’s a lot of work happening at the moment that is so heavy on these big dark subjects.
“And in many ways, they’re so over reverent to it, the film or the piece of work might not survive but be anything but a moral tale or a sort of wringing of hands kind of thing.
“We did talk about it.
“I’ll be honest, we didn’t tip toe around it too much.
“I think we felt the public might feel the same way about these things.
“I know Philip expresses himself about the difficulty of life, and the joy of life is in comedy.
“I’m not saying Philip was suicidal or anything like that but I know a lot of this stuff kinda came from a personal place.
“We were very clear on this: It’s just the idea that you can be in a very, very dark place, not to be poking fun at it but not to be too reverent about it either.
“My journey in the film is somebody who goes from a very, very dark place, does not have a purpose in life or a will to live, and very much finds a purpose and finds the will.
“The film is nearly like a fairy tale.
“It’s biblical obviously.
“I think it kind of hits you over the head. It’s not trying to be subtle. It’s not trying to be even handed.
“But I don’t think it’s taking on the idea of suicide or depression in too heavy a way.
“So for me, it was about actually celebrating life, and finding joy in life.
“We did have those chats and as long as we were staying in that territory, I think we felt safe.”
Another actor may have been taken aback by the script’s darkness when he first read it.
But having known writer/ director Philip Docherty since they were teenagers, Aaron had trust in him.
“I was on board long before I read the script to be honest.
“I think we’ve known each other since we were 15 years old.
“He’s just a bit of a genius. We were in youth drama together.
“He grew up to be sort of a writer/director, theatrical afficionado, I don’t know what you call him. A ring master, that’s what I would call him.
“I was obviously an actor.
“He came back to Cavan around the time that I was looking to come back and do some work.
“He was running this incredible venue, an amazing theatre and he had an incredible group of artists.
“Our little town that we grew up in, that had very little going on art-wise when we were teenagers, suddenly blossomed when Philip was running this venue and he kind of led this arts revival.
“We tried on various occasions to find the project to work together and timing wise, it never worked out.
“So a year before the film was shot, he sat me down in his office.
“He said, ‘I’m making this film’. And he told me the beats of the story, piece by piece.
“And he said he hadn’t written the script yet but I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. I’m in’.
“A year later, the script was there.
“And what he pitched me in his office a year beforehand was what ended up on the page beat by beat.
“I know Philip expresses himself very, very well with dark comedy.
“What I loved about the script is it was so Irish. It was unrelentingly funny and it was unapologetically dark and it was so Cavan.
“It was like a love letter to small town Ireland.
“The only scary part was whether or not that would be captured in the film and the next scary part was whether what we achieved on camera would make it into the edit and onto the screen.
“And on both counts, it very much did.”
There may be comic relief for the viewers but was it hard for Aaron to stay inside the head of such a depressed character day after day? “To a certain degree, yes.
“I think it was so clear to me when he pitched the film to me and then with what ended up on the page: You have to be in a very certain frame of mind to contemplate those dark thoughts and to have lived that life.
“But as you very often find when you’re living in these small towns when you’re looking around you’re kind of going, ‘People are mad’.
“And when you’re in a mindset like that you do sometimes feel like you’re the only sane one.
“I think that’s very much the character of the film.
“The conditions in which we shot weren’t ideal, they were very challenging. They were very tough so in a bizarre way, that just kind of kept my head in that one place the whole time.
“I’m a very patient person but it was an ordeal to shoot the film.
“I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time.
“The character’s trying to just about hold on.
“He’s just waiting to get through all the various things that he has to get through and he has to have patience.
“So it was very easy to get into that mindset.
“We shot it in record time. I think we shot it in 21 days or 23 days. We barely slept and I was getting wet every day.
“I don’t know how I didn’t die of pneumonia.
“That kind of kept me in that mind frame.
“The way I approached it was that this guy is the straight guy, everybody else around him is hilariously funny.
“So I approached it as I’m playing the straight man and everybody around me is the funny, mad character.
“All I had to do was play it straight, pretty much monitonal throughout the film.”
It is Masha, played Aisling O’Mara, who is Jimmy’s salvation. She is as much an outsider in the town as Jimmy and is getting arrested when we first see her in the film. Realising he plans to kill himself when it stops raining, she says she hopes it never stops raining.
The rain doesn’t stop falling for the duration of the film but was there ever days when they wanted it to rain and it wouldn’t? “Actually when we started the film, it was snowing.
“It didn’t actually rain a huge amount and yet 80% of film takes place when it’s raining.
“They made this film on a budget of €45,000. They said they would blow the entire budget on day two if they got a rain machine so they got the crew to make not one but three rain machine so we were never short of rain.
“This amazing crew, we called them ‘the waterboys’ built this system and it’s incredible what they did so it never really bothered us that it didn’t rain.”
Aaron’s on screen credits include Love/Hate, Maze, ’71, Vikings, The Foreigner and Assassin’s Creed but it is where he is usually seen in supporting roles.
His onstage work has seen him do much with both the Abbey and Druid Theatre companies.
He won an Obie Award for his role as Cripple Billy in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.
His other acclaimed roles include Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the title role in William Shakespeare’s Richard III, and Lopakhin in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, all Druid productions.
Did he enjoy being a leading man on screen for a change? “It was great.
“It’s fun doing supporting parts in TV and film. I like the freedom of not having to hold the whole film up or a whole TV series up and being able to go in and out.
“I find theatre a lot more difficult. I would be playing leading parts in theatre and that requires a huge amount of stamina.
“You’re doing it night after night, three shows a day or you’re touring all over the world.
“So the amount of energy, the amount of stamina that it takes up- I always sort of find that that’s where the difficulty is.
“I was looking for something that would challenge me on film just for my own my own sense of like, ‘Can you do it? Can you hang a performance together from start to finish and lead it?’
“I think I had been on the look out for something like that.
“A few roles and opportunities have come up in the last couple of years to do that. I never quite felt right about them, the timing didn’t work out.
“There was just something about this that I went, ‘This absolutely feels right’.
“And I really enjoyed doing it. I felt like I proved something to myself that I didn’t know needed proving.
“I really did have a ball. I want to do a lot more.
“I’m so proud of the film.
“I hope people in London enjoy it.”
Redemption of a Rogue plays at Genesis Cinema, Mile End at 5.30pm on Sunday 21 November.
For more information, go to irishfilmfestivallondon.com.