As festival fave A Date For Mad Mary hits our screens, Paul Byrne talks to leads Seána Kerslake and Charleigh Bailey about being in – bejiggers! – a great Irish film.

“I think it’s only really hitting us now,” says Seána Kerslake, when I ask her if all the critical praise and Galway Film Fleadh feting has tasered her career. “Down in Galway, it was like being at a party, with everyone just getting so emotional about the film, but now, as we start talking to people outside that bubble, we realise, okay, that wasn’t just a party. People do really, really love this…”
We’re in the rather groovy Drury Building in Dublin’s city centre, and Seána is sitting beside Charleigh Bailey, the two having first met when they were cast as best friends who are no longer best friends in Darren Thornton’s A Date For Mad Mary. Based on Yasmine Akram’s one-woman show Ten Dates With Mad Mary, Kerslake plays the eponymous troubled soul, fresh out of prison only to discover that her soulmate (played by Bailey) has very much moved on. As the latter gets in a happy lather about her upcoming wedding, Mary finds herself sinking further and further into loneliness and trouble. Her habit for punching a gift horse in the mouth doesn’t help, of course.

Akin to Ken Loach’s Bridesmaids Revisited, director David Thornton and screen co-writer brother Colin debuted Akram’s play as part of the siblings’ Calipo Theatre Company. When it came to bringing this dark and comic coming-of-age tale to the big screen, the brothers pointed Seána and Charleigh in the director of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Loach’s Sweet Sixteen.
“There was a definite sense of what kind of film David and Colin wanted to make, yeah,” says Charleigh, “which was great for us, because we knew going in where we should be going.”
“We had a bunch of movies to check out,” nods Seána. “Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 was another, and Young Adult, with Charlize Theron. There was a sense of making something accessible, and yet, there was also a desire to deliver a few stings in the tail.”
Mission accomplished.

Not having met before, Seána and Charleigh had to tap into that universal feeling of two friends suddenly realising they’ve drifted apart. That one is now tablecloth tops whilst the other is still tracksuits.
“When we met, we just clicked,” says Seána, “which really helped. The tale that’s being told is a very familiar one to anyone over the age of five – so, again, it was easy to go there. All those emotions that come with moving on, the sense of guilt, the sense of losing something, but also the sense that you need to move on…”
“It was great that the play had gone before us too,” adds Charleigh, “because that gave us another insight into the script. There’s so much going on beneath the surface in a story like this, and the more background information you can get, the better.”

Shot over 28 days in Dublin and Drogheda, A Date With Mad Mary works like a dream up on screen. Given that this is a first feature for Charleigh (having landed her breakthrough playing Kelly Alen in TV’s Fair City) and the first lead role for Seana, was it a dream of a shoot. Or a long day’s journey into night?
“I think everyone who worked on the film was on top of their game,” answers Charleigh, “so, that meant it always felt like an easy shoot. Even if the days were quite long. As an actor, it was just this great feeling of making something that you knew it was working.”

“I don’t think you know what you have until after the edit,” says Seána, “but the good feeling was always there. Mainly because the script was great, and David was really on it during the shoot.”
It’s in the small details that a movie such as A Date With Mad Mary really digs deep. The hate-filled banter that can go on between an angry teenage girl, her flirtatious, drunken single mum and good ol’ racist gran in the corner. The fact that such hatred is really just self-hatred hits home here.

“I don’t think you realise all these details as an actor until you watch it,” smiles Seána. “You’re not aware of all these instincts and what they really say underneath the surface. Especially when you’re going through a major change – so much goes on that you only recognise afterwards.”
Ah, when the time you would normally get to bed is now the time you always aim to rise and shine at – that’s a big step in life. Being young Irish actors, that change probably hasn’t kicked in yet. And, being young Irish actors, that change may never kick in.

“I think the life of an actor, when you’re shooting films, is all about getting up before the sun,” laughs Seána, “so, I don’t think there’s much room for a Mad Mary lifestyle with those hours.”
“We’ll have to wait until we make it in Hollywood,” finishes Charleigh. “Then, you know, we’ll just insist on only shooting in the very late afternoon. Because, you know, we’re Irish…”

Interview by Paul Byrne

A Date For Mad Mary hits Irish cinemas Sept 2nd