PIXIE – Behind the scenes with writer Preston Thompson

Once upon a time in the west… of Ireland, there lived a young woman intent on starting a new life in San Francisco. Meet Pixie (Olivia Cooke), the step-daughter of rural gangster Dermot (Colm Meaney). After her on-off boyfriend ends up with a bullet in his head after a heist, drugs end up in the hands of her two friends Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack). Spotting a business opportunity, the trio hit the road in an attempt to sell the drugs. However, they’re being pursued by ‘deadly gangster priest’ Hector (Alec Baldwin) who wants his merchandise back. Pixie also has some revelations of her own relating to her late mother…

We caught up with writer Preston Thompson to chat about the movie that is now showing in Irish cinemas… 

What was it like seeing Alec Baldwin acting out lines that you wrote?
To hear Alec Baldwin say the words that you’ve written is just kind of amazing. I can’t say enough good things about him and his charisma and his charm and just how good he is. And when he comes on set you’re like woah, which is really nice, but we’ve been lucky with all the actors in this film. Everyone has just been amazing.


When you were writing Alec’s Irish priest character, did you have anything particular in mind for that role?
I was trying to think of Irish actors the time, and then I saw Alex at a party, and he nicely asked, ‘have you written anything for me?’. And I just took my chance and said ‘well, there’s this drug dealer, gangster priest in Ireland you could come and play, that would be great’. And he said ‘send me the script, I’d love to read it. And as soon as I saw it, I was I couldn’t imagine anyone else in it. That was two and a half years ago and for him to have said yes. And then to have continued supporting it; trying to get a film off the ground is so difficult and it’s, so great that he was so supportive of it, and then just seeing him show up here a couple days ago was fantastic. And then watching yesterday & today, it’s been total joy.


Was it hard to get the film off the ground?
It’s always hard. I have not that much experience… I have written scripts, lots of scripts, it’s just independent films are really hard to get off the ground and get support, with this size of film we needed a distributor before we shot it. And so Paramount doing it has been amazing. But it’s always a squeeze. When you’re writing it, you’re doing draft after draft after draft, then you hear good news and then you’re setback, then you hear good news again. It just gets very nerve wracking. But then when you show up and there’s 100 people working on it and theres props that you’ve described in the script that are actually there, it’s just the best feeling in the world showing up and seeing it all.


As a writer, how do you feel about actors improvising?
We always hope for good improvisers. We’ve been very lucky with all the actors on this, they’ve been fantastic. Chris Walley, I mean, for instance, he came in and he said, I’ve got a couple ideas on couple lines. And I think they’re the two funniest lines in the movie, so I’m happy to give it to him.

Then Dylan Moran, he came to me and said “Okay, this line… I’m not sure about, how about this joke’. And I’m like ok, say that and then we go to the rehearsal but goes back to the original line and I said, ‘No, no, no no. You say your one’ and he goes “what was my one?” *laughs*

I think a lot of this desire to write a film set in Ireland is that I love the Irish actors so much and so that’s been completely surreal seeing Colm, Dylan, Pat Shortt, Chris Walley. I mean it’s been unbelievable to work with them and Darryl McCormack was just biggest find ever. I mean, he’s so funny and carries such presence.


So where did the inspiration for the story of ‘Pixie’ come from?
The inspiration came from writer’s block. *Laughs* I made my first film and it’s funny as a writer, when you finish school you start writing immediately but you just don’t develop up enough projects, so I made my first film and I thought ‘what the f*** am I going to write next’.

I got a job writing for a director that I greatly admired. And in the end that film was my first experience at how tough independent filmmaking is, this was a really great director and I was convinced the film was going to happen, and it fell apart.

Then me and my dad, who is the director on this film went on a road trip down the west coast of Ireland, and I just thought was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. And I’d always liked the idea of doing a Western, but with a background Irish greens.

So I started thinking about an idea there. I really spent time thinking about the film that I would most like to watch. What are the things that I love and focused on that. I then pitched the idea to my dad, but he just asked ‘why are you doing that? It doesn’t sound great’. And that set me back about three months and I didn’t have anything else so I thought I’ve got to write it. So I sent him the first draft, he said, ‘Oh, I want to direct that’. Anyway, I played hard to get for about a day and I was like, yes!


What is it like to work alongside your dad?
It’s fantastic in the sense that, I’ve got other projects with people where you can give some give some notes on the script, and they will dress it up a bit. But with my dad, I’ll rewrite a scene and he’ll just go ‘that’s sh*t’. *laughs*

But no, my dad’s really lovely. On a personal note, he started off directing documentaries in Ireland, actually. And then he became a producer, and he’s always been wanting to go back to directing films. He co-directed the ‘St Trinians’ movies, and this is the first movie he’s directed by himself. And it’s been incredibly touching, watching it because he’s always said it’s what he wants to do, and what he wants to get back to, to just seeing him do it. He’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him and he has a real vision for it and he’s great with the actors. And so that’s been lovely. And it’s also nice to have, you know, you can tell me to shut up, which I’m sure he enjoys.


It’s good that you have that sort of rapport…
Yeah, I didn’t think of myself as a writer for so long. So I was never very precious about criticism. So I quite often when I’m in those meetings where people are being delicate about it, I’m like… “just tell me what the f** is wrong with it and then I can try to address it. I can tell you if I agree or disagree”. I actually love that blood nature of it. But I’ve learned that you can’t transfer that into meetings with non familiar relationships today.


Can you tell us about the character of Pixie and why she’s called Pixie, apart from it just being a cool name?
Yeah, well first of all, I thought it was great name and a good title, but I’m really interested in people who reference a manic pixie dream girl online, and I took the connotations of that where we have this exciting character who ends up being a vessel for change for the male characters. All these men in the film have these various deficiencies and you know, she’s the one who’s going to bring them to their arc. And then about halfway through the movie, you go, ‘Oh no, she’s taking over’. And so I’d like setting up that expectation and then flipping it on its head and we really realize it’s her f**king movie. And these people are facilitating her journey and where she wants to go to, so that was kind of where that came from.


When you were writing about Irish priests. Did you go back and look at any Irish movies or TV shows like ‘Father Ted’, for example?
I love ‘Father Ted’. I loved ‘Father Ted’ as a kid. And obviously ‘Calvary’, I thought was a fantastic movie. I’ve always loved Irish films, ‘The Guard’ I thought was fantastic. And obviously ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Intermission’, those films. I really wanted to get the tone right and wanted to get the humour right and wanted to get the dialect right and so I’d watch endless interviews with people like Colm basically. I’d watch endlessly just to try to pick up their rhythm of speech I would just listen, listen, listen. And that’s why I was I was actually most nervous going out to those guys and for them to have said yes to the script and wanted to do the script and in a couple cases, thinking that it was written actually by an Irishman. I made one f**kup, which I’m upset about. I didn’t realize ‘Garda’ was plural, I so nearly got away with it. *laughs* I really worked hard on the script and did loads and loads of drafts and really researched it. But you never know until they read it, what they’re going to say.


Did you come back to Ireland after your road trip when you were writing the script?
I did come back about 18 months ago, when I had written the first few drafts and then wanted to come back after I’d gotten the story in the rough place that I liked to add little bits. So I spent time in Sligo and went down the coast again, and I love Clonakilty, which isn’t actually in the movie, I just think it’s the coolest town and all these small towns like Westport, all those things those places down there so picturesque and charming. All that landscape is so good for a road trip movie.


How has the Irish weather effected the shoot?
It’s f***ing nerve racking…. on our first day our crew went through two pairs of waterproofs while also getting sunburnt *laughs* We had a big beach scene and there was a moment where we just couldn’t work for three hours because it’s raining. I was amazed by my father’s composure in that moment, because if I was directing I would be pulling my hair out, but the crew are all completely used to the way the day works and you can’t predict the weather, but it makes it all more exciting.


Would you be interested in going into the directors role sometime in the future?
Yes, that was definitely a big thing, obviously aside from his vision and that we like the same films that was a big plus for me, it’s getting me to actually be allowed on set all the time and really see it happening. I’m meant to direct a film next year. And so I really just wanted to treat this as much of a learning experience as possible. So yeah, I’m definitely looking to direct in the future, fingers crossed.

PIXIE is now showing in Irish cinemas nationwide!