Directed by Lisa Mulcahy, Lies We Tell is an Irish psychological thriller based on the novel, Uncle Silas. Set in 1864, it tells the tale of Maud, an orphaned heiress living in an isolated manor who must fight her guardian for her inheritance – and her life. Maud discovers that sometimes you have to go to the dark side because that’s where your predator is.
When writer, Elisabeth Gooch, came to you with Uncle Silas (as the book was called), what did you think?
We met at a writing course and really wanted to do something together, so, when she first gave it to me, I thought, this was a great story and a page turner of a script. I loved Maud’s character – the fact that she’s expecting one thing to happen and it doesn’t; that she’s incredibly naïve; only has her own wits to get her out of this situation and has to find her own power; I found that really intriguing.
Why was it important to you that the character of Maud be played by a newcomer? Did you ever think it was a big risk to take for a such pivotal role in the film?
It’s lovely working with young talent who are new to the world of making films and TV. I think you can tell very quickly whether somebody has talent, regardless of how much or how little they have done. That’s why I was never worried that by going for someone who was inexperienced, I wouldn’t get somebody who was going to be great for the part. A lot of their inexperience is because they are not used to being on set so are not familiar with set language, but none of that matters because I can teach them that.
Also, in Agnes’ case she had training that she could use to help her. I am not there to tell somebody how to act but I am there to enable somebody to feel safe in a space in which they can do something they are really talented in.
The gas thing is that Agnes O’Casey not only got this part, she walked away with a television role as well. How did that happen?
I was working on the BBC series, Ridley Road, when Covid 19 hit and we were two weeks away from shooting when we had to down tools. We had already cast the lead parts in Ridley Road so when I came back to Ireland during the lockdown, I thought, let’s start casting Lies We Tell and see what talent is out there. We saw lots of people and then we saw Aggie and we just liked her from the very start. I really felt that she had a vulnerability and a strength in equal measures so we offered Aggie the role of Maud.
When Ridley Road started filming again we lost our main actress due to a pre lockdown commitment. I told the producers and casting directors of Ridley Road, that I just cast this young girl in a film I’m going to do, and I think we should see her for the show. They did and loved her audition, so they cast her in the series.
What was Agnes’ reaction to the fact that she auditioned for one role and ended up with two?
Ridley Road was a big show – a high end drama. She was coming in and acting with a lot of experienced actors, but, I told Aggie from the very start, “If you have any doubts about your ability to do this job, don’t. You’re here because we know you can do it”. That’s all somebody needs to know – that, the people who have cast them, have complete, 100% faith they can do it. And, she was wonderful in it!
As well as Agnes, I loved Chris Walley’s performance. It was very far from The Young Offenders’ Jock!
One of the scenes I chose for “Edward’s” audition was where he is talking about his father. Most of the actors chose to do it in a comedic way. Not Chris. It was a beautiful audition. He brought so much emotion to that scene that none of the other actors did. He is an absolutely brilliant actor! You wouldn’t know that the guy in this film is the same one in the Young Offenders.
I know you love period dramas, but were you at all daunted when you realised it was being filmed during Covid restrictions and within 20 days?
It’s funny, generally, the time restrictions bother me. I think it’s because I used to be a first AD. It’s a brilliant background to have because I am very able to plan out a day so having a really tight schedule didn’t bother me. The key thing was finding the right location. Somebody told us about Ardgillan Castle. We went to see it and we were absolutely gobsmacked that this place existed and that it was so untouched. To be able to shoot the whole thing there was just extraordinary!
We all tell ourselves lies to get us through things. What are some of the lies you told yourself to get through this shoot?
Because I know the process so well, once we had the location, I never doubted that we wouldn’t complete it or get it made. Also, myself, Elisabeth and Eleanor (DOP) are optimistic people and we were surrounded by so much enthusiasm and good will, so once we got that location I didn’t have any worry.
Interview by Sarina Bellissimo
LIES WE TELL is at Irish cinemas from October 13th