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Craig Fitzsimons talks to David Gleeson, director of Cowboys & Angels, another exciting addition to the growning canon of unapologetically youthful and exuberent contemporary Irish movies
Craig Fitzsimons, 28 Jul 2004
If any proof were needed to confirm the massive improvement in Irish-made feature films over the last five years or so, it arrived last year when Moviehouse overheard a couple of perfectly ordinary bus passengers, not native film-industry types, actively and excitedly discussing how much they’d enjoyed Intermission. No longer does the spectre of parish priests, potato blights and sexual repression stalk every movie the nation produces: we now have a thriving line (Goldfish Memory, Accelerator, Spin the Bottle) in 21st-century, urban, youthful, colourful cinema.
And when the invite pops through one’s mailbox for the latest Irish release, it’s now possible to genuinely look forward to enjoying it, rather than sharpening the quill for a diplomatic, euphemism-laced review. The nation’s newest offering, Cowboys & Angels, is a thoroughly lively, buzzy and eventful sequence of adventures, starring Michael Legge (Angela’s Ashes, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?) as Shane, a pleasant but nerdy 20-year-old who starts running wild as a wildebeest the minute he moves out of mammy’s house and starts sharing a flat with Vincent (Allen Leech), a visibly gay fashion student.
“It’s a buddy movie, basically,” explains writer-director David Gleeson, “it’s The Odd Couple, really, or Grumpy Young Men.”
While some actors are blessed with the gift of appearing to stay the same age forever, Cowboys & Angels’ excellent lead actor Michael Legge actually seems to age in reverse as the years pass, looking even younger now than he did in 2000’s Harold Smith.
“He’s just got one of these faces, he’ll definitely be asked for ID in pubs for another fifteen years” agrees Gleeson. “We actually had a difficult time getting him, to be honest, he’d initially thought the film was too similar to Harold Smith and we had to go off and rewrite the script. We were devastated, and we even offered it to Edward Furlong actually, but then he dropped out. Thank God, in retrospect, he’s a good actor but it wouldn’t have worked. Part of the intention was to find the next big thing before the next big thing actually broke - make them famous with our movie - and the casting director came back with an ecstatic report on this guy, Allen Leech, who she said was literally going to be the next James Dean, so there was only ever one candidate for the role of Vincent. The girls love Michael too, though, if you have a look into cyberspace.
“Amy Shiels, who plays Gemma, had actually had a much more extensive role in Veronica Guerin (as a strung-out teen junkie/whore) than the one that everyone saw, a lot of it was cut. But as soon as I saw her in the interview I thought God, she’s really beautiful, stunningly attractive, and she could act. It’s now being released across the States in September, and I think that’ll be really good for all their profiles. The offers are flooding in for Allen, and Michael’s already established with a substantial body of work.”
Though the film’s Limerick setting could just as easily be Cork or Galway, it has attracted much sniffy comment, and Gleeson notes (wearily, but with amusement) that half his interviewers have felt the need to ask him about ‘the violence in Limerick’, and his views on same. “It’s not a Limerick story, it isn’t even specifically Irish – it’s a film about young people, it would work in any city. That said, I knew the town and the life extremely well, when I first left school I lived in various flats and went out to those pubs, so it’s slightly autobiographical. And Limerick in the film looks as it is, like any other modern, vibrant city, full of colour rather than the whole grey depressing Angela’s Ashes thing.”
As that remark hints, Gleeson is understandably withering towards the ‘buggered by priests for one potato a day’ stereotype that Irish-made films, more than any other, have served to perpetrate: “Irish films have always been drab colours, tricolours, mist and bog, and no-one in their right mind would have wanted to watch them. The Ireland that I grew up in, the Ireland that I know, is nothing like that – it’s full of young people, full of colour and full of music, none of which were ever properly represented in film. It has been in all the other art forms, Irish culture has produced good, positive, accurate reflections of what we are, in music, in art, poetry, literature, sport, no problem.
“But in cinema, nothing yet, and when we did it just wasn’t the country I knew. I’ve never been abused by the Catholic church - I’m aware of what went on, but all my experiences of growing up Catholic were very positive in that it was a binding force in the community and I don’t have any hang-ups about it. I didn’t know anyone who was in the IRA, and I even saw the sun shine once or twice. But I do know people who’ve been refused entry to a nightclub, who’s tried to get off with a girl at a party, who’s smoked a joint or popped the odd pill. Hopefully, this is for them”
Cowboys & Angels opens nationwide on July 23rd