FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING
This was the official website for the 2008 crime thriller docu drama, Fifty Dead Men Walking. Directed by Kari Skogland it won the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Award for the Best Screenplay. The content is from the site's 2008 archived pages and other sources.
Rating: R (for strong brutal violence and torture, language and some sexuality)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama
Directed By: Kari Skogland
Written By: Kari Skogland, Nicholas Davies
In Theaters: Sep 10, 2008 Wide
On DVD: Jan 5, 2010
Opening on a beautiful stretch of coastland somewhere in Canada, a dishevelled looking 30 year old Martin McGartland (Jim Sturgess) walks towards his car and checks under the wheels for anything suspicious. He gets in and starts the engine. It appears the routine is going to plan until a gunman appears at the window and fires six bullets into Martin leaving him dying and covered in blood.
A voiceover from Fergus (Ben Kingsley), a stern sounding older British police officer, introduces us to Martin who was an informant for the British Special Branch during the war in Northern Ireland. The story flashes back 11 years to Belfast 1988: Martin is a cheeky 20 year old street hustler flogging garments door to door. Martin and his mate Sean (Kevin Zegers) try to survive in the terribly repressed Catholic community of West Belfast. British police patrols regularly stop and search young Catholics while the IRA punishment squads rule the estates with threats of knee-capping – shooting bullets through the back of knees.
Martin and Sean escape a police check and sprint away through the back alleys of their community. Martin is captured by the Police and is asked if he would like to help as an informant but Martin does not want to grass on his own community. Fergus watches with interest believing Martin has a mind of his own that could be useful on the streets of West Belfast.
Martin is released and meets up again with Sean at Paddy’s warehouse where Sean introduces Martin to an IRA operative called Ray. Martin is a bit concerned Sean and Paddy are so close to an IRA operative. Sean is clearly more enamoured by the life the IRA can offer.
One night Martin sees a teenage lad, Frankie, in the neighbourhood being knee-capped for stealing and he tries to intervene. Ray is the hitter and removes his hood and drags Martin off to meet his superior Micky Adams. Micky acknowledges Martin can’t have grassed on him when taken in by the police and offers Martin a job driving for him. Martin accepts.
Fergus hauls Martin in for interrogation again and wants to offer Martin a car and some cash to provide low level information on any IRA activity. In spite of what has happened to Frankie, Martin isn’t keen to help ‘the peelers’ but he agrees to take the car and Fergus’ number and code name.
Martin goes to visit Frankie with his new car and meets Frankie’s sister, Lara (Natalie Press). He invites her out on a date.
On one of Martin’s first missions for Micky Adams he drives to a hotel out of town and one of his passengers gets out to deliver a package. Martin does not think much of it and takes Lara for a night out with his new earnings. They hit it off and have sex on the rooftop of the Europa Hotel but on their return they witness the aftermath of a massive bomb at the hotel where Martin had driven to earlier on with the passenger and the package. Many soldiers and civilians are killed. Martin is suddenly horribly compromised and tries to call Fergus. He is interrupted but knows that he must try to help stop the killings.
As Martin starts to feed information to Fergus, the IRA missions become hindered. The risks of Martin’s work start mounting up. Fergus wants Martin to inform on Sean, but Martin is reluctant. Martin gets more involved and has to witness the gruesome torture of a suspected ‘tout’ (informant) and is even forced to hold a gun to the tout’s head. Martin is then sworn in as a full volunteer of the IRA and goes on a mission to Scotland with the seductive Grace Sterrin (Rose McGowan).
Martina and Lara’s relationship develops as Lara is pregnant with their child. They soon set up a home together. It becomes apparent that Martin is having more and more difficulty leading the double life as Lara starts to question his activities.
As his double life is becoming more unbearable Fergus offers Martin a new identity if he informs on the plans for an imminent pub bombing where prison guards go drinking after a football match. Martin discovers the date of the planned bombing and passes the information to Fergus. Fergus makes plans for bringing Martin out safely but the Special Branch step in and want to take the pub out when Martin, Sean and Grace are going on a recce the week before. This completely blows Martin’s cover as the SAS storm the pub and he is the only one who could possibly have known the date. Grace is captured. Martin escapes in absolute fear for his life but is soon captured by the IRA and taken to an estate called Broom Park to be tortured.
Fergus learns that Martin was sold out to protect an agent even higher up the organisation. Fergus is consumed with guilt and goes in search of the IRA hideaway where Martin might be held. Martin is tortured for three days and about to be killed when Sean arrives in time to distract the IRA operatives. Martin makes a desperate last effort to save himself and dives through the third floor window. He hits the tarmac but survives as Fergus comes to his rescue. They escape in an ambulance and Fergus has to go against his superiors’ orders to take Martin away and set him up with a new home and identity away from Ireland.
Martin pays one last visit to see Lara and their two young children but he knows they cannot be together.
17 years later Martin is alive to tell this amazing story – and he is still on the run …
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“The wardrobe design is brilliant. Stephanie captured a simple overall look that is period, but holds up in a modern context. One has to pay attention to how a modern audience sees it because sometimes recent period simply looks ‘bad’ when revisited. Stephanie is all about character and she manages to add just the right touch that gives the actors a real sense of who they are. Simple nuance, a coat – the right period jacket, white socks – she pays detailed attention to the character arch so that the wardrobe reflects the changes and growth of the character as we move through the story. The best part is she does it all with such grace, even when the time crunch was sometimes crazy. No matter what, she smiles and that helps make everyone comfortable which is critical for an actor when they are searching for and prepping their character.”
– Kari Skogland, writer / director / producer of FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING
When writer and director Kari Skogland first began considering a film version of Martin McGartland’s autobiographical account of his days as a British informer in Northern Ireland, she realised that the best way to approach the re-telling was to maintain neutrality and offer the audience the opportunity to make up their own minds about McGartland’s actions.
McGartland’s story offered Skogland everything – a spy story, a love story, an internal struggle reflected in the historical conflict – but it was McGartland’s journey from small-time cheeky opportunist to top level informant that inspired Canadian filmmaker Skogland to humanise and analyse the man.
Rather than be a straight biographical account of McGartland’s experiences, Skogland took snapshots from the book and concentrated on the thriller aspects of the story to heighten the intrigue and pose immediate questions to the audience.
The greatest challenge for Skogland was bringing authenticity to a subject she had previously known very little about. Telling the story of a man whose choices in life dictate not only his future, but also all of those who come into contact with him is not a new concept, but to set the story against the complexities of the Troubles added another layer to Skogland’s screenplay that needed to be absolutely accurate and stay true, not only to McGartland’s experiences, but also for many other young men who had found themselves choosing sides during that time.
“I thought I knew something about it and discovered I knew nothing about it. It meant I had to live here for a while to embrace what the cause was, what the fall-out was,” says Skogland. “I’m attracted to reaching into very difficult stories that have the nexus of a political agenda blended with the human cost,” she says when asked what drew her to tackling this subject. “I tend to resonate toward these minutiae human stories inside greater conflict. So for me it was a dream come true to find the material, and then have the universe conspire that not only makes my story relevant, but that I was going to be able to tell it in its most relevant fashion.”
When asked if she feels the time is right now for a story like this to be told she is adamant. “No question,” she says. “Not only because this is happening everywhere in the world, so there is universality to it, but in terms of the specific story we’re telling. New information is emerging every day that just verifies what we’re telling. We have information now that we didn’t have even five years ago. So until now you couldn’t have told this story with the same amount of authenticity.”
“Everybody wanted to tell the story the right way,” says Skogland. “My story tries not to take sides. I don’t politicise it.” Although the backdrop was the IRA conflict during the Troubles, Skogland feels the film’s narrative could have played equally well in any comparative conflict. “It could be Iraq or downtown New York,” she says. “When two sides start to conflict, right and wrong gets very murky. People lose sight of what they’re even fighting for or where they started or where they’re going to end up. And so I guess it sort of asks the question at the end of it. At the end of the day, is it worth it? I think everyone gets to a place where they’re no longer being either truthful or breaking the law.”
The director spent time in and around Belfast before the production began, embedding herself in the local culture and mixing with the locals. “It was a magical time,” she says. “I was embraced by the community and everybody wanted to tell the story the right way, to make sure there was authenticity on both sides.” Skogland brought the cast over early too, to introduce and ‘acclimatise’ them to the area and most importantly the local dialect.
Jim Sturgess had recently finished shooting 21 set in Las Vegas in which he plays a young American. Originally from Surrey, he was determined to master the local accent to enable him to feel he was fully representing the character. “I knew Kevin [Zegers, co-star] was in Belfast a week before I was and then I came and joined him here. And at that point there was nothing planned for us. We didn’t have to go and do rehearsals or anything like that. We literally just lived in Belfast. At that point we just integrated with the people and the community. We just went out and went to pubs and clubs and house parties and stuff like that and stuck with the accent all the time, like a hundred percent.”
“For me, it took about two months before we started,” Zegers remembers. Arriving two months before production began, Zegers spent time with Skogland and immersed himself in the local community. “I got here in September so I was here for six weeks before we started filming. Mostly for the accent because, for me at least, that was the scary bit because I hate it when people can’t do accents properly. It really bothers me quite a lot.”
Over the weeks Zegers’ Belfast accent improved until he knew he’d mastered it. “If I go out to a pub in Belfast now I don’t get a second look. You just carry yourself differently; you speak differently. There’s just a very specific Belfast way. You know based on the way people look at you whether you’re one of them or not. When I got here I was very clearly this American guy who’d come in and they just knew it the second they saw me. It scared the crap out of me and I was really curious to see how I’d respond. Not only getting the accent and all the research done but also to create a character that I was proud of. That’s been the challenge for me.”
Sturgess also worked hard to bring as much authenticity to his character through mastering the strong Belfast accent. “I realise now how important a voice is to a person’s personality because it’s completely changed mine,” he says. “That was one of the most important things for me when I thought, ‘How am I going to come at this? How am I going to tackle it?’ I just had to find this thing that all people from Northern Ireland seem to have which is this incredible love for life, this incredible wit and quirkiness.”
Sturgess and Zegers had previously met at the Toronto Film Festival where Sturgess was starring in Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. “I saw him at a party; I generally don’t do this, but I went up to him and said, ‘I really liked you in this film’, I thought the film was really well done.” When Zegers discovered Sturgess was to play McGartland they bonded the moment Sturgess arrived in Belfast.
“When I found out he was doing it we sort of immediately went out the first night he got here and had this kind of relationship that’s very brotherly,” recalls Zegers. “It wasn’t initially written in the script. It was less a friendship. It adds a sort of lightness to the script that they bicker and fight. So the fact that I found out Jim was doing it, I was even more drawn to it.”
McGartland’s story attracted Sturgess for many reasons. The honesty of the story seems to be foremost on his mind when he talks about the role. “The honesty comes from the situation really and from the city and these people. You can’t get a lot more honest than these people.” What is important to Sturgess is for the audience to understand the reluctance of people to have ended up entering into the escalation of violence that occurred over the 30 years.
From his time spent in Belfast he has spoken at length with many locals who have been at pains to let him know that not everyone was, or is, naturally politically driven, more, that it was a result of circumstance that so many were directly affected by the conflict. “They were just normal people wanting to get on with their lives,” Sturgess remembers. “And like everything, there’s always so many different sides. It’s not just as black and white as that. It was such a murky time and so difficult to know what was right and what was wrong. I think that’s important for my character. He really doesn’t quite know what he’s doing. He doesn’t quite know which way to turn. He believes these people from the IRA are his community and it weighs on his mind. But at the same time, he totally disagrees with parts of it – the violence, the death and torture.”
Sturgess’ early encounters with the Troubles were, like so many across the UK, through the media coverage at the time. “As a kid growing up I remember certain things about IRA bombings and stuff like that, but I never really knew what was going on. So it was definitely an opportunity to dive into that world and find out for myself what happened.”
THE LOOK AND LOCATIONS
The film is set from the late 80s into the early 90s. The production took the crew to a number of locations that had formerly been IRA strongholds, where neighbourhoods had experienced a great deal of turmoil and violence since the beginning of the 70s.
There were natural concerns that the subject matter of the film would stir emotion amongst locals and the production, and Skogland was particularly keen to make sure the actors and crew remained low-key and respectful at all times. But ultimately, news leaked of filming and residents began to suspect that the filmmakers were focusing on a controversial figure.
“We totally relied on being guided by the location scouts who had been well briefed by the production – particularly by Eve Stewart, our brilliant Production Designer, who had gone on ahead to Belfast with the scouts to concentrate on places that creatively offered enough scale and scope to recreate the setting,” says the film’s producer Peter La Terriere. “Our scouts had worked on a number of films shot in and around Belfast before, so they were able to find the perfect position for us to shoot exterior scenes that looked and felt like the late 80s but could also be managed well enough to allow us some freedom.”
One particular area in which the production shot – The Short Strand – was very close to the dividing wall and one would imagine, held raw memories, but La Terriere insists that there was positive co-operation from the locals.
“Although there were a couple of neighbourhoods that were less keen to be involved, the majority of communities greeted us warmly and were incredibly supportive to the crew descending on them. They knew what was going on. They knew we were making a film about McGartland and yet they were still very willing to co-operate.
“Our biggest problem bizarrely was the windows on many of the houses. Because the majority of houses had PVC window frames, we found it very hard to source houses where the original frames were still in situ. On one occasion, we had found the perfect house to shoot the interiors but the double glazing was too prominent in the shots, so the window literally had to be removed and a single pane window put in its place.”
The production also hired a couple of ex-military advisors to help co-ordinate the street scenes where McGartland comes across the soldiers and a chase ensues. Sturgess recalls a specific day shooting in Belfast when he realised news of the film and its storyline finally reached the local community. “We were shooting in some estate in Belfast and there were kids coming up to me saying, ‘My Dad knew a tout’, or ‘His dad used to be an informer’ and they were all just kids aged ten who were completely aware of what a tout is.
“Some guy threw a stone at my head. It just bounced off and I turned around and there was this kid, he must have been 16/17, and he was shouting, ‘Fuckin’ tout … Grass’ and all this. He was only kind of joking, but you could still feel there was a lot of tension and a lot of animosity towards people who really went against their own community and gave the British intelligence information.
“So I’ve been swinging back and forth feeling as guilty as hell about what I’m supposed to be playing and feeling very uncomfortable in these communities. Then I go and speak to people from the other side and they’re telling me that this information saved lives and how important it was. So you start feeling good about yourself. I [was] constantly diving back and forth between these different emotions.
“When Kevin [Zegers] and I were first here, we were integrated with a couple of guys who had connections in the IRA, and they gave me shit just to wind me up. And all good fun, but it does really hit home how real it was for these people.”
Other historical landmarks lent themselves well to the crew. “The Titanic Drawing Rooms were the setting for a key meeting between Fergus and Martin, home of the original Titanic design offices and building yard,” recalls La Terriere. “There was also a period pub called The Front Page in Donegal Street, central Belfast, where we staged the explosion. It was quite small, and having 30 extras, cast and a police raid, all squeezing into this tiny pub was a real challenge for us. Especially as at the same time, we had our special effects guys rigging up explosives to blow the front doors out.”
For the love scene between Sturgess and Press, the roof of the famous Europa Hotal was converted to enable the crew and the actors to position themselves in front of the large illuminated sign. “It was very wet and cold on top of Europa Hotel for the sex scene,” say La Terriere. “And I remember it being extremely windy. Not at all the place one would consider having sex. But on film, it looks fantastic thanks to our brilliant DOP Jonathan Freeman.”
When looking at the overall visual style of the film, Skogland wanted to pepper each scene with subtle references to the characters, the time and place as well as the overt period in which the story was set.
“We had several visual themes running through the picture,” explains Skogland. “For example: the door theme. We have pivotal moments with Martin closing one door and moving to a next stage symbolically as well as physically. Scenes are even played at doors – one love scene is half in/half out, symbolising his state with his girlfriend and family. We also had a touch of red in almost every scene, somewhere you'll see a rose or a sign or something. It represented the blood and every meaning of it – the blood of lineage, spilled blood.
“All these ideas are really for us to have things to focus the production design on and Eve Stewart and her team were amazing at building in these themes in subtle ways. Eve has an amazing eye, and to keep the period true, she scoured garage and estate sales. Her sense of design is wonderful and eclectic without ever drawing attention. She paints every scene so our colour and design pallet is integrated in a painterly fashion and laid out for me to see. It is a terrific way to work because it comes from an emotional place which is of course what every scene is ultimately expressing.”
Renowned Casting Director John Hubbard was brought in to help the producers secure the best possible cast for the budget. Skogland began the process by bringing Kingsley to the table.
“Kari came to us with Sir Ben, which was an enormous help in getting other potential cast on board,” says producer La Terriere. “Jim Sturgess had just done Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and he had a relatively small part in Justin Chadwick’s THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and would have been risky had it not been for Sony talking him up about the upcoming 21. The timing was perfect and FIFTY DED MEN WALKING then moved forward very quickly with him and Kevin Zegers on board.”
Skogland recalls the genesis of the casting process. “Sir Ben was my first choice, he has all the qualities I was looking for in the character,” she says. “When we met and chatted about the role and life and the Troubles, he completely got who this man was, and wasn't. Sir Ben is particularly strong at playing the nuance, which was so important to how this character would operate. He had to telegraph volumes with a look and it was brilliant to watch him work and layer with each scene.”
The director is equally complimentary about Sturgess. “Jim was absolutely terrific to work with – we were blessed. He is naturally likeable and that was critical for this character because he was going to have to walk a line between going against community, family and doing the right thing.
“He is also fantastic with accents and once he set foot in Northern Ireland, he never dropped it. Even the locals embraced him thinking the accent was pure. In fact, I only heard his natural British accent months later,” she laughs. “Jim really took the time to understand the complexities of the character and how many different ways he is pulled until finally he makes the ultimate sacrifice – his future. This arc had to be layered throughout his performance and he always made it seem so effortless no matter what depths he had to go to. Jim also had terrific sense and ideas about the character and the story, which I always look for in an actor.”
There was also a healthy fluidity to the script. Skogland continued to draw on inspirational moments during pre-production in Belfast to enhance the authenticity. “There’ll be a scene all written and she’ll come flying in all excited saying, “I was in this pub speaking to this guy the other day and he told me this great story. We’ve got to stick it in the movie,” Sturgess recalls. “So as much as it’s a story about Martin McGartland, it’s also stories of the people, tales from the pub or whatever. She’s very approachable, very giving.”
Sturgess is openly excited when he talks about working with Oscar-winner Kingsley, “I never know what to expect. I never try to judge anybody before we meet. But he’s just been unbelievable for me. He’s so encouraging. He’s also concerned about how I see it. He’s always up for trying something new. Or he’s always up for trying whatever suggestions happen. And he’s an absolute perfectionist. But at the same time understands that it’s a game, it’s fun.
“It’s guys at playtime. You can see he gets such a kick out of doing it. And he’s been doing it for years. And he’s still got that look in his eye like he’s having the best time of his life. We did a scene where I was in the back of an ambulance and I’m just strapped down and he’s there with his gun and he’s was just shooting out of the back looking like he was having the best time ever. [He’s] so in tune with his character, so in tune with the story, so in tune with the whole thing …”
And in a perfect Belfast accent he adds, “Hats off in a major way.”
Kingsley is equally flattering of Sturgess’s performance. “Can’t stand him … Irritating,” says Kingsley, on the rare occasion when he’s unable to maintain a straight face. “No, he’s absolutely delightful,” he beams. “He’s very special. He seems to be devoid of narcissism, which is very healthy and he’s a great role model for his peers too, who, because of celebrity, are very susceptible when they’re young actors. They can become very susceptible to the cult of celebrity, which is terribly important now, but meaningless. Jim has a very healthy ego and a very healthy self-worth. He’s completely un-narcissistic and therefore we can react to one another.”
When questioned about the difficulties a violent and shocking film poses for an actor, Sturgess is mindful of the film portraying acts of violence that were everyday occurrences during the Troubles. “It’s difficult because I’ve never been in a lot of these situations. I’ve never experienced anything quite as traumatic as what these people saw and went through. What was good about meeting all these people very early on was that I was able to see it from their point of view. These people who we very much befriended, I would think, ‘I can’t believe you would do that. You’re such a lovely guy. You were actually in that room and these things happened.’ It was unbelievable that these people were able to bring such acts of violence into their lives for the sake of a cause in which they genuinely believed. It’s heartbreaking actually.”
On his transformation back to 80s Belfast, Sturgess laughs when discussing his costume. “I never thought I’d be rocking a moustache, but here I am. White socks, slip-on shoes and a moustache. That’s what it’s all about. It was funny because I had to do a photo shoot halfway through doing this film and I was like, ‘Oh no’. It was a big photo shoot and I’ve got the moustache. And I turned up thinking, ‘They’re going to want me to get rid of it, or they’re going to airbrush it out or they’re going to do something.’ I turned up and all these European fashion guys were all rocking the moustache. So I was like, ‘OK. I’m in safe hands.’
“When I walked in it was brilliant because we were looking at all these pictures and these photographs and I was really starting to get into it. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to look. And thank God, the brilliant people from costume and make up were just totally open and very excited and just really wanted to get it right. We all did. I walked into costume and said, ‘just give me the worst jumper you’ve got with the nastiest design on it.’ And then I saw these black shoes and just sitting there amongst all these trainers with these horrible gold buckles on the front. I was like, ‘They’re mine.’ We were trying on outfits and it wasn’t until we put on the white socks with the black slip-on shoes and suddenly, it all made sense.”
Zegers explains a bit of background to Sean, his character, “Sean is Martin McGartland’s good mate. They’ve been mates since they were young kids. Sean basically introduces Martin to ‘The Cause’, the IRA. Sean was really the first one to get involved in it. He is Martin’s “in” to the IRA. I’m his good mate but headed in the wrong direction.”
In order for Skogland to feel that Martin and Sean’s story would weave effectively throughout the film underpinning much of the protagonist’s decisions (or indecisions), she felt it was important to lighten Sean’s character compared to McGartland’s account in the book.
“Originally in the book, Sean’s kind of a sinister character,” explains Zegers. “I hadn’t done that and Kari [the director] and I decided quite early on that unless he’s sort of likeable and you understand that Martin and [he] have been good mates for a long time, it doesn’t really sell the appeal of Sean. I think everyone in the film is very flawed and very honest and I think that’s what makes the story work.”
Zegers and Skogland had worked previously together on THE STONE ANGEL and had spoken about her idea for FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING. Zegers was flattered when offered the opportunity of working with the director again in the future but, like many young actors, wasn’t convinced she would ever call.
“You hear that all the time as an actor and you’re like, ‘OK. That’s fine. Good on you.’ And you know it’ll never happen. But she called me a few months ago and said, ‘It’s going to get made and I’d still really like you to do it.’”
Skogland was keen that Zegers embedded himself in the spirit of Belfast to enable him to really feel that he became accustomed to the particular voice of the region. “Kevin arrived weeks before we shot and absorbed the community and the spirit of the people and the place. It was critical because he grew up in Canada so his familiarity with the nuance of this particular place and time was limited – he really hunkered down and did his research.”
Zegers remained concerned about his character’s profile. The complexity lay in representing a character that was prepared to commit violent acts but ultimately retain subsistence and remain human. To tone down the aggressive elements of the book, Zegers and Skogland agreed that Sean would be more closely modelled on the new friends they’d met during pre-production, men who Zegers saw as living normal lives despite a complicated and turbulent past.
“They’re now living their normal lives and they’re good fathers, husbands and sons. It’s not that [Sean] is mean. It’s not that he just wants to go out and kill as many people as possible. He just believes in what he’s doing and there’s no question about that. It’s a very solid line with him. I think that’s what appealing for Martin about Sean, in that he has one very solid goal.”
When Natalie Press explains her character Lara, she is quick to agree that there’s very little time between her first encounter with Martin and their relationship beginning. “She’s taken by him immediately,” she says. “Her relationship with Martin is based on this kind of girly desire and very intense attraction. She’s got great self-esteem. As we follow her story we’re meant to feel that she’s perhaps cheated in some way by life and by this love affair.”
When asked about the story and what attracted her to it, the script is key, “I was blown away by it and thought it was beautifully written. I loved the story and all the questions that the story raised. As an actor, with a subject like this, there’s a lot of room for the character to have their own freewill and for it to be ambiguous. My character has moments where she has to wonder what her man is doing and she has moments where she wants to find out what makes him tick and where he is in the whole conflict that they’ve been born into. Lara is a happy-go-lucky, deep spirited, free-thinking girl who is on fire with lust for this guy, but she’s playing it cool and she’s tough and she’s not going to let it show and yet she does really fancy him. Then when she’s more deeply in love, she has to do more soul-searching. She’s a young mother, so she’s having to look out for her kids and she’s looking out for her relationship.
The experience as a whole affected Press, which she describes as “extraordinary”. We’ve been introduced to some amazing people. People who were in prison, people who fought in the IRA, community workers. I think if you’re born into a conflict and it’s on your Doorstep, do you join in and become a violent person? Or do you just sit and watch? The question is then raised – are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?”
On her experience of filming in Belfast, Press is very complimentary. “I’ve loved being in Belfast. I think it’s quite a magical place and therefore I’ve had quite a magical time,” she says. “I’ve met so many extraordinary women; lots of really strong women – many who have been in prison, women who have fought for the IRA … They are extremely philosophical people, but also very ordinary, down-to-earth fun people. It really has been a very enriching experience in my life as an actress.”
It’s not the first time Press has portrayed a mother. She was the leading role in Andrea Arnold’s Oscar-winning short film WASP for which she was also acclaimed for her portrayal of a single mum battling against her economic and psychological struggle of bringing up children alone.
“One of the things I’m focusing on in the work is that I’m a young mother and I have to look after my babies and my family. These women that I’m meeting and hanging out with here just have to get by,” she explains. “They’ve always had to just get by, really. There are women I’ve met who’ve been responsible for taking care of the wives of prisoners. These women had to hide the pain of their children’s problems from their man inside [prison]. They’ve had to deal with the day-to-day upkeep of their lives. So I’ve been drawing on that and using it all and being inspired all the time.
“There are moments when Lara is weak and there are moments when I want people to be cross with her and think, ‘Why didn’t you know what he was doing? Why didn’t you talk to him about it?’ So there’s plenty of room for … the audience to have their own thought process during and after. I hope they will.”
Press feels a great sense of responsibility in portraying her character with a keen truth. “I think part of the responsibility is to understand that as a human being, everybody is so complicated and everybody is innocent and everyone is guilty.”
When asked what it is like with a director who is still an emerging force, Kingsley gives a thoughtful and lateral response, “I did a very successful film called SEXY BEAST and that was with a first time director. I recently did a film with Josh Peck and Mary Kate Olson [THE WACKNESS] with a young director called Jonathan Levine – maybe his second or third film. It’s very good to be with people when they’re making their first steps. However, let me remind you … every actor on a set is very bravely taking his first steps in a new character. So, all of us are taking baby steps. That’s why filming is so beautiful: it equates everything. Suddenly there are no experienced or inexperienced actors. I’ve never played this character before, therefore we’re all coming to something fresh, and that makes it a very democratic level playing field.”
Does he think Skogland is brave to tackle this subject? “I think it’s the duty of the filmmaker now to be brave – to hold that mirror up to people and say, ‘Do you really see what you’re doing?’ The advertisers will tell you you’re doing one thing and the man who wants to sell you a car will tell you you’re doing another thing. The magazine that tells you if you change your hair colour you’ll change your life is telling you another thing, but how about occasionally a real mirror to look in to show you what you’re really doing? Or what you’re really colluding with? Or what you’re really ignoring. It is brave – yes.”
Kingsley admires Skogland’s ‘motherly’ approach to her cast, but is quick to validate the perception. “She’s extremely affectionate towards her actors. She’s very caring. Although she’ll probably shudder to hear me say this, she has a very developed maternal streak and is therefore guiding her story, the philosophy behind her story, and also guiding all of us to keep within the corridors of our narrative function.
“Like a mosaic, you put all the separate colours together and we’ll form this wonderful picture, but that contribution has to remain consistent. I find her immensely encouraging, and clear in what she wants and what she can see from the film,” he concludes.
On the politics of the film and the questions Skogland’s film throws up Kingsley suggests that there may be a humanitarian message woven throughout. “Perhaps the whole film contains a plea for non-violent conflict resolution,” he offers. “That we have to find ways of resolving our conflicts through dialogue, through negotiation, through understanding the other, through give and take. So I guess the film is a cry to people to examine the terrible situations that can develop in countries that are forcefully divided politically like Ireland, India and Pakistan, former Yugoslavia, the Israeli territories and the Palestinian territories; everywhere we see an imposed division; we see terrible violence and chaos.”
Skogland is currently one of only a handful of female directors making thrillers in this mould. “It’s interesting,” she says. “In fact I don’t think you could even count them on one hand.” But she’s very comfortable with the genre. “Directing action is a blast because it’s a Rubik’s Cube and it’s very particular, specific and it’s an organisational thing, which is perhaps a female mode; I don’t know – a right brain, left brain thing …”
“But what I like to bring to it – and this is what he [Kingsley] might be referring to in terms of the maternal aspect – is the emotion that goes with that. I don’t look for tough guys to be tough. I look for humans to be in extraordinary situations. That’s what action ultimately is. So in those extraordinary situations some people are brave and some people aren’t. I find it uninteresting to see a movie that’s full of nothing but brave people. I like seeing people doing extraordinary things and the unlikeliest person coming apart when they shouldn’t, or staying strong when they should. I tend to look for the human side of anybody in any situation.”
But does it feel good to be doing what she’s doing in delivering this film to international cinema audiences? Skogland laughs. “It feels lonely. No, it feels great. If I can charge forth and open some doors for other women directors coming up the pipeline, then great. I’m happy to be there.”
ABOUT THE CAST
JIM STURGESS – Martin McGartland
Jim Sturgess will next star in Wayne Kramer's CROSSING OVER opposite Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd and Sean Penn. CROSSING OVER is a multi-character drama about immigrants of different nationalities struggling to achieve legal status in Los Angeles. The film addresses the issue from the point of view of the immigrants, as well as the immigration authorities tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. CROSSING OVER will be released by The Weinstein Company in the US on 27th February 2009.
Sturgess recently wrapped production on Philip Ridley’s HEARTLESS opposite Timothy Spall and Clemence Posey. The story centres on a young man (Sturgess) who is tricked into a deal with a demon and then fights to save his soul.
This Spring Sturgess will star in Kari Skogland's independent film, FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING, starring opposite Sir Ben Kingsley in a role that garnered the actor a nomination for the 2009 Vancouver Film Critics Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Candadian Film. FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING is based on Martin McGartland's shocking real life story of a young lad (Sturgess) from West Belfast in the late 1980s who is recruited by the British Police to spy on the IRA. He works his way up the ranks as a volunteer for the IRA while feeding information to the British police; until one day he is exposed, captured and tortured. FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and won Best Feature Film at the Vancouver Film Festival. The film also won the 2009 Vancouver Film Critics Award for the Best British Columbia Film. The film will be released in the UK on 10th April 2009.
Sturgess is currently in production on Peter Weir's THE WAY BACK starring opposite Colin Farrell and Ed Harris. THE WAY BACK is a fact-based story of a group of soldiers who engineered a gruelling escape from a Siberian gulag in 1942.
Sturgess was last seen starring in Robert Luketic's box office hit 21, opposite Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey. 21 is loosely inspired by five MIT students who were trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings. 21 was released by Sony Pictures on 28th March 2008 and was #1 at the US box office for its first two weekends of release. Internationally, 21 opened at #1 in the UK, Russia, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Iceland, Greece, grossing over $150 million worldwide.
Sturgess also starred in Justin Chadwick's, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL opposite Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana and Natalie Portman. The film follows two ferociously ambitious sisters, Mary (Johansson) and Anne (Portman) Boleyn, rivaling for the bed and heart of the 16th Century English King Henry VIII (Bana). Sturgess plays George Boleyn, Mary and Anne's brother. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL was released by Sony Pictures on 29th February 2008.
In 2007, Sturgess starred in Julie Taymor's musical, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE opposite Evan Rachel Wood. Utilizing classic Beatles songs, the story centres on an American girl (Wood) and her relationship with a British boy (Sturgess) set against the backdrop of the social upheaval of the 1960s. Wearing the iconic shaped circular eyeglass frames which are still identified with John Lennon was a perfect wardrobe/ art direction touch. Round glasses have always been a favorite pick by movie stars, but they originate in the early 20th century when they were the only shape that was available for eyeglass frames.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was released by Revolution Studios and Sony Pictures and was nominated for a 2008 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and the soundtrack was nominated for a 2008 Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
SIR BEN KINGSLEY – Fergus
After earning an Academy Award, two Golden Globes and two BAFTA Awards for his riveting portrayal of Indian social leader Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Ben Kingsley continues to bring unequalled detail and nuance to each role. In 1984, Kingsley was awarded the Padma Sri by Indira Gandhi and the government of India. Kingsley went on to earn three additional Oscar nominations for BUGSY (1991), SEXY BEAST (2000) and HOUSE OF SAND & FOG (2003), his roles have been as diverse as his talents, from a sturdy vice president in DAVE to the scheming Fagin in OLIVER TWIST. Since being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the New Year’s Eve Honours List 2001, Kingsley has continued to earn honours as a truly international star.
Two films screened last year at the Sundance Film Festival give further perspective to his work: The Audience Award winning THE WACKNESS, in which he plays a drug-addled psychiatrist opposite Josh Peck, Famke Janssen, Olivia Thirlby and Mary-Kate Olsen; and the crime thriller TRANSSIBERIAN, as a mysterious traveler opposite Woody Harrelson, Eduardo Noriega and Thomas Kretschmann. He stars opposite Penelope Cruz in the sexually charged ELEGY which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, for which he was nominated for the London Film Critics Award for Best Actor.
Kingsley verified his comedic chops opposite Mike Meyers, Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake in Paramount’s THE LOVE GURU, which opened last summer. Two other completed films include FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING, a thriller set against the dangerous backdrop of 1980s Ireland, and the more light-hearted crime comedy WAR, INC. Kingsley completed production on Martin Scorsese’s 1950s drama SHUTTER ISLAND, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams last summer and recently completed filming Jerry Bruckheimer’s PRINCE OF PERSIA, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton.
Steeped in British theatre, Kingsley marked the beginning of his professional acting career with his acceptance by the Royal Shakespeare Company in l967. From roles in A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM, THE TEMPEST, Brutus in JULIUS CEASAR and the title roles in OTHELLO and HAMLET, among others, his more recent and diverse stage roles include those in THE COUNTRY WIFE, THE CHERRY ORCHARD, A BETROTHAL and WAITING FOR GODOT.
Kingsley’s film career began in l972 with the thriller FEAR IS THE KEY, but his first major role came a decade later in the epic GANDHI, directed by Richard Attenborough. He followed this Oscar-winning performance with such early films as BETRAYAL, TURTLE DIARY, HAREM, PASCALI’S ISLAND, WITHOUT A CLUE (as Dr. Watson to Michael Caine’s Sherlock Holmes) and THE CHILDREN opposite Kim Novak. During the ‘90s Kingsley distinguished himself through such roles as Mayer Lansky in BUGSY, SNEAKERS, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER and DAVE. In 1994 he was nominated for a BAFTA Award for his memorable supporting role as Itzhak Stern in Steven Spielberg’s seven-time Oscar winner SCHINDLER’S LIST.
During the past decade, Sir Ben Kingsley has remained a coveted and ubiquitous talent. Beginning with such films as RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? and an Oscar-nominated role as a brutal gangster in SEXY BEAST, he received his most recent Oscar nomination in 2004 for his performance as a proud Iranian emigrant in the highly acclaimed HOUSE OF SAND & FOG. Among his films in the last several years are Roman Polanski’s OLIVER TWIST, the crime drama LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, John Dahl’s YOU KILL ME and the Roman Empire saga THE LAST LEGION.
KEVIN ZEGERS – Sean
Kevin Zegers has been acting since he was six years old, and also has a successful career in modelling. He worked throughout his childhood in a variety of roles including LIFE WITH MIKEY alongside Michael J Fox, starring in animation AIR BUD, and making appearances in large profile TV shows including THE X-FILES.
Since then his acting career has continued to flourish, with notable performances in the 2004 remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD alongside Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Mekhi Pfeifer, and putting in a powerful performance in 2005’s TRANSAMERICA alongside Felicity Huffman, for which Kevin won the Chophard Award (Male Revelation) at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
Since then Zegers has taken the lead in Hollywood romantic comedy IT’S A BOY GIRL THING and THE NARROWS, as well as taking roles in a variety of feature films including THE JANE AUSTIN BOOK CLUB, NORMAL and GARDENS OF THE NIGHT.
Zegers worked once before with Kari Skogland on THE STONE ANGEL, alongside Ellen Page.
NATALIE PRESS - Lara
Natalie Press’ first lead role was in the critically acclaimed short film WASP, directed by Andrea Arnold, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2005. Later the same year Press starred in the BAFTA award-winning MY SUMMER OF LOVE for which she was nominated for a European Film Award for Best European Actress as well as a British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.
A year later Press starred in Josh Appignanesi’s feature film SONG OF SONGS, winning a commendation for Best British Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She collaborated again with the same director on EX MEMORIA produced by Academy award-winner Mia Bays. The film was nominated for Best UK Short at the British Independent Film Awards. Also in 2006 Press appeared in Andrea Arnold’s next feature RED ROAD, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. Natalie’s other short film appearances include INSEPERABLE opposite Benedict Cumberbatch and THE UNDERTAKER alongside Rhys Ifans.
After her first television appearance in HOLBY CITY in 2001 Press has gone on to play key roles in the BBC’s acclaimed serialisation of Dickens’ BLEAK HOUSE as Caddy Turveydrop and in MR HARVEY LIGHTS A CANDLE opposite Timothy Spall. She is currently filming THE SEA CHANGE with Janet McTeer and will soon be appearing in Peter Greenaway’s NIGHTWATCHING.
ROSE McGOWAN – Grace
Rose McGowan had never uttered a word of English until the age of 10. Born and raised as a child in Italy, McGowan grew up surrounded by a large family in Florence and was as far away from the world of acting as one could be. It wasn’t until her family moved to the United States, that she decided to make the move to Los Angeles to pursue acting.
Although many of McGowan’s fans may recognize her from her more commercial hits, her first starring role was actually in an independent role. After a fortuitous meeting with Gregg Araki in Los Angeles, he decided to cast her as Amy Blue in his black comedy THE DOOM GENERATION. Her portrayal of the troubled teen brought her to the attention of critics everywhere, and she was nominated for Best Debut Performance at the Independent Spirit Awards in 1996.
McGowan followed up THE DOOM GENERATION with a variety of films, most notably Wes Craven’s horror blockbuster SCREAM. Starring alongside, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and Matthew Lillard, McGowan played Tatum Riley in the teen flick. In 1998, she appeared in the independent film SOUTHIE which won Best Picture at the 2000 Seattle Film Festival. Then, in 1999 she co-starred in the comedy JAWBREAKER as teen Courtney Shane and her performance earned her a nomination for Best Villain at the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.
In 2001, McGowan replaced Shannon Dougherty on the popular television series CHARMED as the long lost Halliwell sister Paige. She starred opposite Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs until the show ended in 2006. For her role as Paige, she won the 2005 Family Television Award for “favorite sister.” Recently, she starred opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the television mini-series ELVIS playing Ann-Margaret and in THE BLACK DAHLIA alongside Hilary Swank, Josh Hartnett, and Scarlett Johansson and was the star of both Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF and Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERRORmuch combined horror film GRINDHOUSE which was released by The Weinstein Company. She is currently working on a highly anticipated 5 episode arc on the hit shoe NIP/TUCK.
ABOUT THE CREW
Kari Skogland – Director / Writer / Producer
Kari Skogland has just completed FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING (starring Sir Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Kevin Zegers, Natalie Press, Rose McGowan), her most recent film as writer/director/producer. It premiered at a Gala at the Toronto International Film Festival 2008. Skogland’s previous film, an adaptation of the best selling book THE STONE ANGEL, starring Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Page, Kevin Zegers, Dylan Baker and Cole Hauser, (Vivendi) premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2007.
Skogland was named by Hollywood Reporter as one of its ‘Ten Directors to Watch’ for her debut as writer-director of LIBERTY STANDS STILL. Skogland’s career began in Canada by directing award winning commercials and music videos. She then moved into television where she started with the enormously successful and multi-award winning series TRADERS (nominated for 9 Geminis including Best Director and won Best Series). WHITE LIES, a movie for CBC, was nominated for several Geminis and an International Emmy and won a Tout Ecran.
Her films THE SIZE OF WATERMELONS starring Donal Logue and Paul Rudd, MEN WITH GUNS starring Donal Logue and Callum Keith Rennie, LIBERTY STANDS STILL (written by Skogland as well) starring Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino, have all screened and won awards at major festivals in Canada (Toronto FF, Montreal FF), the US (Slamdance, Chicago, Houston, USA, New York, Cinequest, Seattle) and around the world. Most recently SKogland is nominated for a DGC award as Best Director and for Best Picture for THE STONE ANGEL, and a WGC award for best screenplay. She was also nominated a for a DGC best director and a Gemini for her work on The 11th HOUR-CTV and for her film CHICKS WITH STICKS and won the DGC Best Director for her work on the mini-series TERMINAL CITY. Skogland was the honoured director at the 2008 Female Eye Film Festival.