The Runway Interview with Ian Power Jamie Kearns

Interviews | 08 Jun 2011 | 0 comments

Getting Irish films off the ground is tough, even when they're all about flying. Paul Byrne talks to the young star and the director of The Runway.

A little like the crashlanded Martin B26 Marauder at the centre of his film, when it came to The Runway, young Irish filmmaker Ian Power spent two years waiting for permission to take off.

He'd done the festivals, both here and abroad. He'd gotten the pats on the back. The rosettes. The firm handshakes. But it's taken two years to get this little tale about a Cuban pilot marooned in deepest, darkest Cork off the ground.

"It's never easy," says Power, who had previously delivered three award-winning shorts, "especially for a small Irish film with no big stars. But we were determined not to just have it get a token release in the IFI for a week. It was Jim Sheridan who said that we really had to get it out there, get it in front of people..."

And that's just what's happening, Power sitting in Dublin's members club The Residence alongside his leading actor, 11-year old Jamie Kierans, to discuss what is a big-screen debut for each of them.

"It's amazing," smiles the 11-year old Kierans, as he gets stuck into his bap (mum having gotten the mustard removed), "just to have made a feature film. Me?! I always wanted to, always, but, I just never thought it would actually happen..."

The plot sees young Paco (Kierans) running wild with his traveller best friend Frogs (John Carpenter), both busy finishing off their space phone when the latter's family is moved on in the middle of the night. Alone, watching the skies, Paco witnesses a spectacular plane crash, and is soon bringing the surviving pilot, Ernesto (Mexican star Demian Bichir, who took the role of Fidel Castro in Soderbergh's Che biopic), home to meet his somewhat shocked single mum (Kerry Condon).

Spotting an opportunity for some good tourist publicity, the town rallies around Ernesto, promising to have his plane repaired and up in the air before he knows it.

PAUL BYRNE: Were there certain movies you felt were reference points here - Whistle Down The Wind, E.T., the Ealing comedies, Bill Forsyth...

IAN POWER: Yeah, all of those, really, but especially Whistle Down The Wind. People spot the E.T. reference straight away - we've even included the space phone at the start to signal that one - but there were others, such as Whistle Down The Wind, which were important to us...

JAMIE KIERANS: We each got a copy of E.T. as a present before we started shooting, so that was definitely in our minds. But there were lots of other movies we watched too, like The Goonies. Which wasn't exactly hard work...

In Whistle Down The Wind, the kids believe they've got Jesus in the barnyard; here, it's Jose in the barnyard. Or, more importantly, the absent father Paco has been learning Spanish nightly for...

IP: There were definitely layers to this that we wanted to work into the plot, but, at the same time, have fun with the very idea of a small Irish town trying to communicate with this foreign guy who has literally fallen from the sky. That's when the Ealing thing kicks in, where you've got a village that lives by its own particular rules.

And to help that Ealing feeling along, you've got such Irish comic stalwarts as Mark O'Doherty (resplendent in sideburns and white vest as the town's Wolfman Jack), Donncha Crowley (sporting his best Ken Dodd hair) as the opportunistic local councillor Carmody, and veteran John Kavanagh as the town mechanic...

IP: Really blessed with the cast, and having such people just upped our game really. Having Kerry Condon as the mum just brought new dimensions to the characters, and it inspired us to make her more complex, more believable. We didn't want to have her just as the single mum who needs to be saved. She's got her own mind.

JK: There were all inspired by me, of course. I have that kind of effect...

How did a first-time director get such a fine cast?

IP: It was the script that lured most of them in. When we managed to attract Damien to the role of Ernesto, that gave us a strong playing hand when it came to casting the rest of the film. Ultimately, it's always down to luck. It's not like we have any real power, and there are no favours we can call in. Luck, and a good script...

And for you, Jamie, did you chase down this role?

IP: I really wanted it, yeah. I've wanted to become an actor ever since I was really little, watching a Johnny Depp movie with my nana. Afterwards, I just rolled on the floor and shouted, "Nana, I'm going to be a movie star! I'm going to be in the movies!". And then, when I found out that I was actually going to be in something that was going to be on the big screen, I was delighted. I tell you, when I was on the train home, I was texting and texting. I was nuts!

And what convinced you, Ian, that Jamie was the little acting dynamo for you? Jamie's mum gave you a thousand quid, right?

JK: Two thousand!

IP: Yeah, two thousand. It's just an instinctive feeling. You can't dwell on it too much, or you'll double-guess your instincts, and lose out on a natural. And Jamie is a natural. This is a movie about having faith in your instincts, so, I just knew with Jamie...

You've just finished Terry George's Whole Lotta Soul, with Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney. So, it's the actor's life for you, Jamie?

JK: Oh, absolutely. I want to do this forever. The cool thing, by starting so young, I'll be really good by the time I become an adult.

And if it doesn't work out, sure, I can always play for Man United instead...

The Runway hits Irish cinemas June 10th


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