- Film & TV
- 12 May 21
Filmmaker Eoin Macken discusses his dark Dublin teen drama, whose stellar cast includes Anya Taylor-Joy and Dean-Charles Chapman.
Based on the acclaimed 2014 novel by Rob Doyle, Here Are The Young Men is one of the most exciting Irish films of recent years. It focuses on Matthew, Kearney, Jen and Rez, a group of Dublin friends who finish school and embark on a summer of hedonism that spirals dangerously out of control.
Dark, transgressive and bristling with mordant humour, Here Are The Young Men has echoes of such cult movies and novels as Less Than Zero, Trainspotting and Kids, with a soupçon of Ballardian post-modernism also in the mix.
Though stylishly shot, the main appeal is undoubtedly the extraordinary cast, among whom the chief honours are taken by 1917’s Dean-Charles Chapman as the troubled Matthew; Queen’s Gambit superstar Anya Taylor-Joy as the conflicted Jen; and Finn Cole of Peaky Blinders as the Begbie-like psycho Kearney.
For good measure, there is also a memorable soundtrack of throbbing techno courtesy of American composer Ryan Potesta. The film was directed – and co-written with Doyle – by Dubliner Eoin Macken, who recently passed the time in quarantine in Australia by chatting to Hot Press.
Post-quarantine, before commencing work on his latest movie Down Under, Macken says his first activity in the virtually Covid-free country will be “getting drunk with a bunch of strangers in a bar” – thus making your correspondent thoroughly sick with jealousy.
As the man says, we’ll get there. First up, though, it’s time for a debrief on Macken’s cult classic in the making...
PAUL NOLAN: When did you decide you wanted to make the book into a film?
EOIN MACKEN: I wrote a book, and me and Rob were both nominated for an Irish Book Award. I read all the other books that were nominated, like Louise O’Neill’s book, Rob’s book and so on. I thought Rob’s book was brilliant. I was like, ‘I love this’. And then the producer, Richard Bolger, asked me if I wanted to make a film out of my book. And I said, I really don’t – Rob’s written this book that’s so much better.
There were slightly similar themes – we’d both written something around the same time period, but in Rob’s book the characters were older. It was so visceral and the writing was just so evocative. For me, when you read Rob’s book, it was like listening to Joy Division for the first time. I went, ‘I want to make this into a movie. I want to explore these themes and characters, and I want to listen to Chemical Brothers and Joy Division on the soundtrack.’
It’s a very authentic portrayal of Irish youth culture – it felt like we waited a long time for a book like that to arrive.
Yeah, the characters felt very familiar – it felt like you knew somebody like Kearney, somebody like Rez. You identified with it, and that’s why I wanted to make the film, because all these characters felt real. Even though they go through heightened, extreme versions of things, at the same time, these are things that happened in certain circumstances.
I tried to push that even more with the film, to amplify it and create a different cinematic language on top of what Rob had created. I thought that was the most interesting way of doing it. I didn’t just want to make a carbon copy of his words. I wanted to make something different, that expanded upon it, and expanded my ideas of what his characters were.
That’s the idea when you make art – it grows and expands. You write a song and six months later it becomes something different. In making the film, I wanted to bring in all these visual and musical elements, and create this tapestry, whilst hopefully staying true to the feeling of the book.
Was it a difficult film to get made?
Yeah, it was. From the first version of the script, we spent a couple of years going through the process with Screen Ireland, who really were brilliant – and that was important for me as a writer. I wasn’t an easy sell. It’s like, ‘So what happens in this book?’ And you go, ‘Well, it’s a coming of age story, but it’s kind of not. And it’s also really violent and transgressive, but it’s also hip and energetic.’
At the same time, the themes are quite dark. It’s also a hard movie-slash-book to put in a box – you’re going, ‘This isn’t a comedy, this isn’t a drama, this isn’t a straight thriller, this isn’t really a coming of age story.’ For me, anyway, the book feels very much its own thing. Hopefully the film does as well.
You’ve got an amazing cast in the film.
It was people I worked with or people I knew, or we got people through our casting director, Dan Hubbard, or through my agents and so forth. We got people the script and they responded to it really well. I was really specific about what I wanted. Once I met Dean a couple of years ago, I knew straight away he was Matthew, and then I started to build a cast around him.
I just wanted to get people I knew could really bring something to it. People really liked the script – Travis Fimmel really wanted to do it, and so did Anya, Conleth Hill, and so on. People responded to the story.
Did you know Dean?
We had the same agent, and we met for a coffee a couple of years ago when he was still in Game Of Thrones. He was like, ‘I love this’. I just knew he was perfect for it. And then I met Finn and I knew he was perfect for it as well. They were both on board about 18 months before we made the movie. And then we continued to build with Anya, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and so on.
It’s amazing the way Dean and Anya could so authentically portray Irish teenagers. How was it for them working on the accents?
Here’s the thing – for me, first and foremost, I just wanted to get the best actors to play the parts. I wanted to make it as universal as possible with the themes. And I had to be to be totally fair – I didn’t think it was fair of me as an actor to get cast as a British or American person, and then not be okay with casting someone to play Irish. And the thing is, the two of them are so talented – Anya just did the Irish accent like that, and Dean was brilliant at it.
So I was just like, ‘I’m going to get you a voice coach and you’ll work on it.’ And for me, there’s so many different kind of nationalities in Ireland anyway, I was like, ‘If one of these accents isn’t working, we’ll just manipulate it to make it work.’ The most important thing for is that the characters are believable. Also, when you get really talented people, you’ve just got to trust that they’re going to be able to do it.
Some of the scenes are shot in Belvedere College – what was your take on the characters’ class background?
I actually went to Belvedere College, and I remember when I was growing up, I found the class structure really strange. I used to find it uncomfortable. I found that going to Belvedere was an odd experience sometimes, because when I went, it was a private school, but they’d just opened it up to a lot of scholarships. I think it used to be more of a closed shop, as it were, and then they opened it up. So it was a far more open school at the time, but you had those class divisions.
I always found that a bit uncomfortable. But I also realised then that, for all these characters, they’re all in that middle/lower socio-economic world, but that’s the kind of world where you’re not quite sure where you fit sometimes. That’s what I wanted for Matthew’s character: he was very directly in the middle and he was uncertain as to where he really was.
I think that’s what it was like for a lot of guys and girls in Dublin in that time period, and probably still is now. Also, when you’re younger, you’re trying to figure out where you fit from a socio-economic perspective. And that does influence the kind of choices you make and what you do to an extent.
Over the past year, Anya has become one of the biggest stars in the world on the back of The Queens Gambit.
I met Anya when I did short film with her. Straight away I was like, ‘This girl’s amazing.’ That was when she’d just done Morgan and she was about to do a bunch of other things. I was just like, ‘She’s incredibly talented.’ You just know with some people. When I met Dean for the first time, I went, ‘Dean is going to do some amazing stuff.’ Same with Ferdia. You knew Anya was going to win awards and do stuff, because she’s very good.
It was very much we had a moment in time, whereby we had a small window to to make the movie that summer. Myself and Richie really pushed hard to make it, because it happened that everyone was available, and that would never happen ever again. We just worked tooth and nail to make sure we could shoot it, because this was a very talented group of actors.
Lola Petticrew who’s also fantastic was available too, so we had to do it.
Has Anya seen the finished film?
Yeah, everyone loves it. The most frustrating thing is that we were supposed to close Raindance in November. We didn’t do so many festivals because they weren’t in person, and we were waiting and waiting. And to not be able to sit down and watch it together in a cinema is very frustrating, because you have WhatsApp chats and it’s not the same. We were all going to be together for Raindance and that got postponed, and then we went, ‘Well, maybe Irish cinemas will be open in May.’ And of course that didn’t happen. But it is what it is.
To me, the movie has a Gen X sensibility – it’s quite nihilistic and ironic. It feels a bit like Kids, A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting put in a blender.
Well, they’re the kind of movies I grew up with in the ‘90s when I first got introduced to cinema. I was watching stuff like La Haine, Romper Stomper, Trainspotting, Natural Born Killers, early Refn movies. And then there’s Spring Breakers, Requiem For A Dream, Larry Clark stuff, Gasper Noe films – they were the influences from a visual and tonal point of view. That was the kind of movie I wanted to make.
You listened to the soundtracks and you just got carried away by it. Visually, it was the same. I wanted to make the kind of movie that I grew up watching. That’s why there’s a certain retro feel to it as well, cos I wanted to bring that out.
Where do you think this film stands in relation to Normal People? You could say it’s a dark photo negative of it.
I hadn’t thought about that! I’ve no idea. If it does, then cool, cos I really enjoyed Normal People. Paul Mescal was brilliant in it. I just wanted to make a film that I wanted to watch. I got a kick out of putting the music in it, and I also wanted to do something that was representative of the feelings I had around that time. I wanted to stay as true as possible to Rob’s book, and I also wanted to leave people with a residual feeling of thinking about something – thinking about the moral choices, and also seeing their own childhoods and the people they grew up with.
Here Are The Young Men is available now on iTunes, Volta and the usual platforms.
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