SWIMMING WITH MEN – Interview with Ronan Daly

Director Oliver Parker brings us a new feel-good comedy about a group of male synchronised swimmers starring Rob Brydon & Jane Horrocks. We caught up with Ronan Daly, who was on set to train the cast to swim but was in so many shots they created a full-on role for him in the film.

When did you first hear about the movie?
The synchronised swimming world is small, and the male synchronised world is even smaller. So, we knew about a documentary called ‘Men who swim’ about a male Swedish team. We also had heard that they were trying to turn this documentary into a feature film & just needed to raise the money. I was surprised when Aquabatix (synchronised swimming agents)  rang up and asked would I be a body double or a demonstrator or something on the film. so I guess you could say I have known about the film for the last six or seven years.

You originally weren’t too keen on taking part?
Synchronised swimming is a hobby.  I love it, but I never thought I would get money out of it. My true priority is the restoration of my house in Longford and building up a life over here. I was slightly resentful at anything that was going to take me away from home. I really really don’t want to go anywhere else because I’m just happy here. It just didn’t register that at this this would be a big film and have such an impact on my life.

How did you end up getting the job in the end?
So when I came back to London on the Wednesday auditions had already taken place on  the Monday; they had spent months looking for middle-aged male synchronised swimmers and there are not a lot of us about,  so they  had already picked someone, so they offered me to be a body double; that is someone to go in front of the camera and just do the positions  and figures they need for the camera shots and that sort of thing. Then someone dropped out. I could do all the dates for filming and training. It was as simple as that . I was in the right place at the right time. Luck

When you first joined the film it was as a demonstrator in the training camp for the stars of the film. What did that entail?
That entailed me getting in the water and showing them what movement and how to position your body to get to the desired figure. It also meant you got into the water and pushed their bodies into this shape. As you can imagine, it was funny. Comedians find humour in everything and this they found hilarious.

Was it tough to train a bunch of actors the art of synchronised swimming?
It was surprisingly easy, actors are used to taking direction, they listened and they did it .They needed to be shown, pushed into position held up in the water etc. What they did was impressive, they were dedicated, they worked hard. I think they found breath control and being underwater difficult, and also not being frightened of the water. When you are upside-down, not breathing and disorientated it’s a hard thing to overcome. They also found egg beating (which is a way of keeping yourself upright in the water) very very challenging, but most people do find that the hardest thing to achieve is a good egg beater.

What was it like working with comedian Rob Brydon?
Rob is a gentleman, he’s very funny, very generous with his time, and very supportive.  I had never been on a film set before and was apprehensive.  He took me to one side and gave me a little pep talk, just relax, be yourself and look at the other actors, ignore the camera and you’ll be fine. He’s a great raconteur and mimic. I just loved all the stories he told.

What did you find most challenging about shooting the film?
For me the most challenging thing about shooting the film was when they did shots on land. I was fine in the water I knew exactly where I was, home, feeling tired, coach  shouting at you telling you to do it again and again. That it is perfectly natural  to me, as they say, I was in my comfort zone. But to be out of the water, put in front of the  camera admittedly, I’m in the background, I was absolutely terrified. That I found most challenging thing about filming.

How much time did you spend in the water?
It was six or seven hours. If they weren’t actually filming we were in the water so they could get the shot prepared and then we were always practicing for the next shot.

It must have been a great bonding experience?
Yes. It was fascinating to see the actors  come together like a synchronised swimming team. To see them plan moves, work out what would look best, what was in their capabilities, how they could improve. Yes just like a real synchro team

The film shows lots of creative underwater scenes. were these scenes difficult to achieve?
They were difficult to achieve and we were very lucky to have Adele and Katie from Aquabatix they worked very hard to put together routines  which could show everybody off to the best of their ability. The underwater sequences were particularly hard because a breath control and your upside down underwater being pushed or pulled by someone and if you’re not used to it it’s very disorientating. There was a lot of practice to overcome the disorientation, to get your lungs ready for holding your breath

What was the director Oliver Parker like onset? Had you seen any of his previous movies?
Ollie Parker is a generous and kind man. I basically had never been in front of film camera before. He was very patient. He acted as if we never did anything wrong. I’m sure we did but he never let on. When we did something he thought was lovely, definitely he told us .All the actors were very encouraging and supportive. It was fascinating for me to watch him work with the other actors, how they built up a scene from seemingly nothing, just a few words on a page. Had I seen any of his other films before, yes. I had but it  had never tweak with me  that Ollie Parker was the director. his other films I really loved, so when the penny drop it became all the more exciting

SWIMMING WITH MEN is at Irish cinemas from July 6th