Oscar-winner Terry George is one of the most important – and creatively successful – film directors in Ireland. Now, with Whole Lotta Sole, he is moving into a new phase of his career.
It’s in the cupboard!” smiles Terry George, acclaimed man of film and Hot Press survivor. He’s talking about that Oscar. After two deserved nominations and an already illustrious career, George scooped his first famous golden statuette in February for The Shore, a perfectly formed, affecting short concerning a reconciliation between two childhood friends. The recognition was deserved, and appreciated, but the awards themselves? Mere baubles. The thrill for Terry is the next project on the horizon. “Obviously an Oscar is a big deal for anyone,” the Belfast son notes. “God, it’s huge... It’s just that there’s a point where you’ve done the tour and everybody’s had their photo taken with it and it’s time to find another job.”
So we move on to that other job. Starring leading US man Brendan Fraser and Irish icon Colm Meaney, Whole Lotta Sole was shot in George’s hometown in spring 2011 and recently had its public unveiling. “It’s a very ‘Belfast’ comedy,” he says, “in the wit and the darkness in the humour of the people. So it was great to take it up there and show it at the Waterfront Hall.”
The landscape of the film is one close to George’s heart, one he has walked personally and mapped out in film. Alongside Jim Sheridan, he spent the ‘90s telling the story of The Troubles. His Troubles. The titles tell it all. Penning In The Name Of The Father. The Boxer. Coupling that with direction for Some Mother’s Son. Examining the still-fresh wounds and making the issues empathetic and cinematic. Even when he strayed from his struggle, his desire to capture conflict never abated, as with the glorious Hotel Rwanda.
But The Shore, which looked on the bright side of strife, and now Whole Lotta Sole, a Belfast heist move and out-and-out comedy, mark a lighter touch for George. A new phase of filmmaking. He chews this idea over. “Yes,” he concludes. “It is. Obviously Jim [Sheridan] and I did three films about The Troubles that spanned the whole course of it from the early days to the ceasefire.
“I have a house in the North and I go back and forth,” says the man who has spent over three decades in New York. “So just seeing the changes in the place, I wanted to document or capture that. It also marked a point where I’d done an awful lot of Hollywood work. I was working with Spike Lee on Inside Man 2 and that wasn’t happening. I’d also done a TV pilot for NBC which ended up not going ahead. So it was a frustrating period where we ended up with a lot of ‘script by committee’ and the whole studio network thing. I just wanted to get away from that.”
He prefers the dominion he’s afforded on smaller projects. “I don’t fit into the ‘action hero remake’ model that’s out there now. Any of the films that Jim and I do need us as directors to be in control and you don’t ever get that. So I’d rather just pick up a scriptwriting job in the US and then stick to the independent stuff in Ireland that I know better.
“I think that’s the way to go. If you have a singular vision, a lot of the time it doesn’t initially make total sense or seem terribly unique to a collective group. Nor does it seem to be commercial. God knows Jim would never have gotten My Left Foot made and I would never have gotten Hotel Rwanda made if we hadn’t bucked the system and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do’. Push it down the road yourself... or up the hill!”
Luckily, he has actors willing to go with him.
“There’s Colm, there’s Brendan Gleeson and there’s Ciaran Hinds. Great actors that get work all the time around the world. But what’s great is that they’ll come back and do the local stuff for way less than they would earn anywhere else. Ciaran did The Shore for free. And to a degree that’s true of Whole Lotta Sole in terms of Brendan Fraser and Colm, they’re not getting a payday out of it but they like the story. That’s what’s great about actors, if you come along with a great story they’ll work hard for you.”
Another help is Ireland’s attitude towards filmmaking. More specifically, the financial backing. “It’s a great set-up,” he nods, “And obviously Hollywood has copped on to it. They have Game Of Thrones going on up there and two or three big-budget films, the likes of Your Highness and City Of Ember. It’s the same in the South. You’ve got the Irish Film Board and the Northern Ireland Screen and between the tax incentives and the development funds, you’ve got something that you don’t get in the States. There’s money there to get a project going, you can say to film companies, ‘look, here’s we’re a quarter in the door’. That’s fantastic.”
On a personal level, northern Ireland still has much to offer George. He looks at the past and present and is pleased. “It’s as easy going from New York to Belfast as it is from New York to LA and I prefer going that way! It helps to ground you and get back to the cultural roots that have made all of us successful, Jim, Neil [Jordan], the actors themselves... We’re all Irish first and foremost. The peace is fantastic. Particularly in the financial climate we’re in. Despite the economic problems, [Peter] Robinson and [Martin] McGuinness are definitely committed to what’s been achieved and are moving forward. I’m very proud. Or rather, glad. Thinking of what came before, no one wants to have to pay that price, but at least most people are genuinely committed to it now. It’s remarkable going to Stormont to see these people working side-by-side, day-by-day.”
So what’s next for George? “I have an entrapment story here in the US that I’m particularly intrigued by,” he reveals. “Another tough independent job. Sometimes they fly quite quickly, sometimes they take years. For me, it’s an interesting premise but for the people putting the money up...” The pitch? “It’s In The Name Of The Father Goes To The Bronx.”