Ricky Church chats with Lorcan Finnegan and cast of Without Name…
Earlier this week the Irish indie film Without Name premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Flickering Myth got to sit down with the cast and crew of this psychological horror. Without Name tells the story of Eric, a man going through a mid-life crisis as he becomes emotionally distant from his family and colleagues. His works as a land surveyor gets him hired to examine a forest, but it becomes clear that there is more to this forest than simply trees. Paranoia seeps into Eric’s life as he’s unsure of the things he sees and becomes increasingly unhinged.
Joining in the roundtable discussion are director Lorcan Finnegan, who made his directorial feature debut with this film, producer Brunella Cocchiglia, and the main cast of Alan McKenna (Eric), Niamh Algar (Olivia), Eric’s assistant, and James Browne, a gypsy living on his own in the woods. We talked about the themes of the film, the folklore behind many of the Irish woodlands and how each of the cast was able to relate to their troubled characters. You can also read our review here.
Ricky Church: Lorcan, I’ll throw it to you first. This was your first time directing a feature film so what kind of process was that like for you to create this?
Lorcan Finnegan: It was awesome! I’ve directed some commercials, a few shorts and stuff, so this was the same except better because there was nobody asking me to change anything. There was also more time. So the whole process was really enjoyable.
RC: Did you find it difficult filming in the woods at all?
LF: It was wet and soggy, but no. The locations were all sort of chosen to be production friendly at the same time as being visually right for the film.
Brunella Cocchiglia: You did get to wear boots though to make sure you wouldn’t fall.
LF: I did, I had some spectacular boots.
Naihm Algar: Yea, they were really high. You were very warm.
LF: I had knee-high leather boots. There were no problems!
RC: How did you guys feel about that because you guys kind of wore regular shoes and boots?
NA: I was raging! I wanted those boots. I tried!
LF: You had a warm pair of socks.
NA: I did. To be fair, my costume was great because I had big low-alpine boots that were like lined with wool and a big jacket on. But Alan’s costume was quite less. (Laughs)
LF: I actually prefer shooting outdoors. There’s much more space and if you need something a little different – we’re in a national park where its all quite stunning so it offered up everything we needed really quickly. And it had a car park for trucks, catering, all that so it was great.
RC: Alan, you pretty much acted by yourself. What was that like for you, to be alone for the majority of the movie and using your body language to emote?
Alan McKenna: It was kind of easier than I had thought. It was odd because I didn’t really over prep for that. I trusted Lorcan to make that process easier and we chatted a lot and did rehearsals a bit. I didn’t find it was difficult as I think I would’ve if I overthought it. I just kind of went with it and went with the tone and we tried different thing in various scenes. Then it became almost second nature in a way. We knew who we were. It was alright, actually. I quite enjoyed it
LF: We were also having a laugh between takes. Despite the seriousness of it, it was all quite fun.
AK: I think that helps. I think it would have been more difficult if we had done it in an atmosphere that was akin to the storytelling of the film. We were still immersed in it and we couldn’t have a joke or a smile, but it was the opposite off camera. It was that joyous thing of doing something quite heavy and then straight away having some banter.
BC: Alan was a trooper as well which really made it easy for Lorcan to get what he needed. There were certainly challenging scenes and you had to welcome all the variables. It was extremely helpful.
AK: From day one I wanted to work with Lorcan and I loved the script. I always have this thing about saying yes to a job. Certain jobs I have said yes to and regretted it, but this wasn’t one of them. You say yes and you give it your all.
RC: Going off of that, isolation is a huge part of this movie. Each of your characters is isolated in your own way. Like James for example, Gus is voluntarily isolated as opposed to Eric receding into isolation. Can you guys talk to about that, the ways in which your characters are isolated from people?
James Browne: I suppose Gus is the kind of character who just enjoys his own company. One of those people who I suppose you’d be slightly envious of in one way. I had strangely just come back from spending three months in India on my own and about a week after the audition came in the door. So I was kind of experienced in what you would do by choosing to go into isolation. One of the places I was at when I was over there you weren’t allowed to talk. It’s an interesting way to get to know yourself. It’s why he’s so excited when people arrive so that was kind of the bit I found most challenging. He’s voluntarily out there and he knows it, but he’s desperate for people to come over and stay, have tea and a laugh, but don’t be too much of a dick! He’s self-imposed, but different.
RC: How about you, Niahm, because Olivia is a bit of an outsider to Eric’s life. She’s his assistant, but not part of his family. He’s not willing to leave his family for Olivia so she’s kind of isolated in that way. How did you connect with that?
NA: I suppose taking it as a study of his and his family dynamic. She’s trying to create this isolated effect by going down to this unknown place hoping that this situation will bring them closer together, but by doing that its actually pulling them apart. She finds her demons in the isolation and she wants to get away from that.
AK: I just think he wasn’t very good with people. He had an adverse relationship with isolation and he enjoyed. It’s weird actually. I was thinking about it and when you do something as an actor you always take a little bit of you into it, obviously sometimes more of you, but I actually really like being on my own so I think it was that times ten. You kind of go to that place where you’re more productive in a way. I think he needed to be alone in order to work out what was next. I don’t think he got the answer he wanted, but that’s what he needed. I think that would have happened to Eric if he didn’t leave the city, I think he was going to retreat more and more into his own world anyway. He was at that stage and I think that’s what was interesting about the script and Lorcan’s take as well. In this social media world where everyone is connected all the time, to have a character that’s actually doing the opposite is really interesting.
BC: That comes from our writer as well, Garret Shanley. He likes to be alone to think and an uncomfortable silence.
NA: I think Olivia is the polar opposite. What she finds when she goes down there is that she just need noise. She doesn’t like the silence.
RC: Yeah, she’s all for that shroom trip!
NA: Yeah, she’s all for that, isn’t she! She’s just like ‘fuck work’!
JB: Well, who wouldn’t be?
RC: This movie also had a bit on an environmental message just with communing with nature, being one with nature, so why did you decide to make that a central theme of the movie?
LF: I’ve always found nature to be quite hypnotic, seductive, dangerous and interesting. There is also a bit of a backstory where there’s a lot of stuff going on politically and culturally in the background that fed itself into the story and themes. Like fracking, you know, fracking for gas, that was going on and there were a lot of protests about that. That was actually what it was going to be about in the beginning, but we thought it was too obvious, and the government was talking about selling the forestry in order to pay back the IMF money from during the recession.
There were all those kind of things in the background and Garret and I are sort of nature lovers. Without being too hippie or environmental about it, there’s also the faeries. In Irish folklore the faerie live in the woods and fields. They’re not these kind of flappy winged little things. They’re more like a spirit. They can exist in these forests and a lot of them were being chopped down. It was like the Glenn of the Downs, which was an ancient kind of druid spot and now it’s a child’s motorway.
BC: People were living in that forest for years trying to protect it.
LF: That was kind of what you’re character was like, James.
BC: And Olivia woke up to that when you were tripping and lost touch with the world. In that scene you’re waking up to a world without humans and think its time to listen to what the tress are telling us.
JB: I read in a book that if you take a bunch of magic mushrooms, you’ll be connected to the environment. Irish ones are quite, quite strong and we’ve been taking them for thousands and thousands of years as a way to connect with the idea of the faeries. They’re not light in Ireland, you don’t mess with them. That’s the idea really and these faeries are protectors and farmers would not cut down faerie ring trees because no good would come of it. They’d steal your babies, turn your insides into sand. It’s pretty cool and an old part of Ireland, really. Much like the Native Americans here, Ireland has a history that is quite primitive as well, but we don’t know much about it anymore.
BC: You know where we filmed that pub scene in that little town? There was a unit base nearby and in fact in the fields outside the town hall where we were set up was a faerie tree with a fence around it. We were there the final few days of shooting and there were walls and portcullis protecting it from humans and signs that said ‘don’t touch this’.
RC: That’s pretty cool! Now, one of the things I really liked about the movie was how it relies on ‘show, don’t tell’. You have so little dialogue between the actors and the first 15 minutes are pretty much silent. How important was that to you to as a director and was it difficult for any of you to rely on your body language, facial expressions, stuff like that, to get what the character felt across without actually vocalizing it?
NA: We did a few days rehearsals beforehand to gather where the characters were, but there was more dialogue in the script. There was kind of a narrative to be read almost monotonously.
LF: Yeah, there was voiceover from the book that Eric’s reading, but the script is one thing and the film is another. You need words on the page to describe the scene and give you the feeling and atmosphere whereas you can take all that and use visual language to tell the same story. I storyboarded the whole film and Eric is pretty much always shot on his own in singles. I think there’s only one or two shots with you guys where you’re having dinner and then Alan starts being a dickhead and its back to singles again. Or something through the window where Eric has shadows of all the branches on him and Olivia doesn’t to show him being swept away. Things like that just work on a subconscious level.
I think for a film like this especially, it’s all about tone and atmosphere. You kind of need to understand what’s happening. Like the way you understand a dream, you kind of have a sense of a narrative and what the characters are feeling, obviously through body language and facial expressions and everything, but also through visual language and piecing it together.
NA: We knew going in what our characters were about and what their relationship dynamic was and for Eric and Olivia who are going into a brand new space. We’re just reactive to that and plus the locations were so amazing and the crew was very hands off and it was a really chill environment. You could just envision your character and sit in the scene.
AK: I think it’s far more satisfying to convey thoughts and emotions without words rather than do bad dialogue. Not that Garret had written bad dialogue, but you curse when you have to say too much or it’s not very well written or exposition. It’s actually quite freeing to know this is the scene and this is what we’re trying to get across. To me I found that very refreshing.
LF: Also thematically Eric can’t communicate with his family or anybody. It’s much better for everybody to say very little because they’re not really communicating at all.
JB: Whereas Gus is just non-stop! That’s kind of cool and his own escape in away because he is that different. Maybe that’s all the magic mushrooms.
RC: You kind of brought up again filming in the woods. What exactly was that experience like, especially at night? Were there any moments that legitimately creeped you or the crew out?
LF: When I first went to scout that place I saw lots of forests, but needed one where you can’t see out of. Also that place had a very special vibe. When I walked in I twisted my ankle and it was pretty sore! I was like ‘Okay, better not wreck this place and damage the environment’. It was a national park as well.
RC: Which park was it?
LF: Glendalough Park, which is Gaelic for Valley of Two Lakes. It was two huge lakes and then hectares of wild forestry. It’s all deciduous with old trees.
BC: We also shot in Massey Woods though which is the Hell Fire Club.
LF: The wilds were kind of freaky, even up there in Massey Woods when I went up to scout because then I was all on my own just getting a vibe for the place and the trees were all like (makes creaking sound). It was like they were speaking to each other. It was cool.
NA: Plus it was really easy to get lost in it. Like we had ADs that would bring us from unit base to set, but we were always like ‘are we sure we’re going the right way?’ You just kind of see this smoke and noise in the distance. As things began to change in the movie, I could relate to this because I got lost already!
JB: And that’s an interesting thing we’re all talking about. The pixies and faeries that we were talking about earlier, those are their stories, that’s what they represent. These places are like that. They’re frightening and have a very strong energy. You do get lost easily and if you fall over you break your ankle. They’re alive in their own way which makes them very unique.
LF: And the cottage locations, it was two places where we shot the exterior and interior, but the exterior had a crazy storm when we there. The shots of trees blowing around, it actually doesn’t look that crazy. It looks nice, but it doesn’t look as dangerous as it actually was with the lashing rain. That night was crazy, it was unbelievable, but it was great though to be out in that! Especially if that’s what you’re trying to tell a story about. You have to get amongst it.
AK: It would have been harder to shoot some of those scenes without having nature against us. It made it easier, didn’t it? It felt you were in it for real. There was no faking it.
RC: One last question I want to ask is about the title itself. It plays a bit on two fronts because Eric is in the limbo state where he’s trying to discover who he is and wants to be. Lorcan and Alan, can you both speak about Eric’s identity crisis and how it relates to the title?
LF: Yeah, there was a line from Devoy, the old man, when he woke up where he explains a place without words or people and says “I was in a place without name.” It read well, but it was too much and we didn’t need it. It was this idea of this place that is in a limbo between two worlds, like a parallel universe or something, and I always find it interesting if a character is going through a crisis, whether it’s a mid-life crisis or identity crisis, their psyche has a little crack in it that allows the supernatural in. Like when he’s in the car park and he sees the crack in the ground and the weed going through, it’s going to happen. It’s only a matter of time for him to end up in a place without name or becomes nameless. It has a certain poetic justice to it.
AK: Yeah, exactly. I suppose Without Name works for me as well because there is no name for what he’s going through. It’s unclassifiable. We did have a scene with a doctor and it was a really nice scene, but we didn’t need it, but it’s almost in that scene he couldn’t describe what was happening or why or it was. That was a really helpful scene to have read and worked on for me as a character. Even when he tries to talk about it, it makes no sense.
LF: Eric is constantly trying to describe things and categorize things, but the bars can’t be measured and some things can’t be labelled. That’s one of the themes as well.
BC: The Irish translation of ‘without name’, which is explained in the film, is ‘gan ainm’. Gan ainm, spelt slightly differently, also translates as ‘without soul’ so it was quite apt for Eric to be without name for the forest and without soul because he was lost.
Thank you again to Lorcan Finnegan, Brunella Cocchiglia, Alan McKenna, Niahm Algar and James Browne for speaking to Flickering Myth. You can read our review of Without Name here and watch the trailer here. Check back for more news about this film later.