Last week we had the opportunity to interview Barry Ward and Simone Kirby, the main cast of a beautiful and entertaining film, JIMMY’S HALL, directed by Ken Loach.
In 1921 Jimmy Gralton’s sin was to build a dance hall on a rural crossroads in an Ireland on the brink of Civil War. The Pearse-Connolly Hall was a place where young people could come to learn, to argue, to dream… but above all to dance and have fun. As the hall grew in popularity its socialist and free-spirited reputation brought it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close.
A decade later, at the height of the Depression, Jimmy returns to Co. Leitrim from the US to look after his mother and vows to live the quiet life. The hall stands abandoned and empty, and despite the pleas of the local youngsters, remains shut. However as Jimmy reintegrates into the community and sees the poverty, and growing cultural oppression, the leader and activist within him is stirred. He makes the decision to reopen the hall in the face of what they may bring…
Bijan Tehrani: My first question is that, how were you guys introduced to this story? And how much did you know about it?
Barry Ward: We knew very little. When we auditioned for it, we didn’t know the story and the way Ken Loach worked with you. It covers the story as you shoot..
Bijan: So, how did you actually manage to learn about the characters? Because these are both quite sophisticated characters. One is based on, I believe, a real character, and the other one is based on, just a fiction. So, how did you learn about the characters and played them so well?
Simone Kirby: We did some research. Barry and I first of all, learned to dance together for a couple of months. And then, for two weeks to four weeks before we started filming, we did a lot of research in Leitrim where we filmed. We had history lectures about the political landscape of the time. We did a lot of improvisation with each other in character, and we found out a little bit more about who these people were. We had thirty-ish pages of script before we started, which were all the flash-backs thing from the 1920s. So we knew that much before we started
Bijan: Jimmy’s character is a very interesting character. He’s a revolutionary.
He’s a liberal. He’s a party man, a very sophisticated character with different layers. How did you manage to bring out all these different sides of his character together in your act?
Barry: First of all, the most importantly is, they exist on the page, so, all credit to Paul Laverty. But then, Jimmy, the man didn’t exist in a vacuum. He had relationship with various members of the community and his family, including his enemies, namely the Church, so, the dealing with all of these other fractions that the character becomes three-dimensional and fleshed out. So I guess it’s largely in relation to others. That’s what makes him who he was
Bijan: Did you do any study on the character before you started?
Barry: Yeah, with what little was available. We read everything that was booked, as Simone said. Then we concentrated on the politics of the time and what army was like then. So, then, when you’re familiar with that, it’s how you react to different scenarios and how you play a scene is almost entirely informed by that larger context, which we were able to research.
Bijan: Simone, I think your character appears to be a little bit of more problem for you, because it wasn’t based on someone real from Jimmy’s life. How did you actually create this character and made her believable?
Simone: Well, most of the parts I have played are fictional, so it wasn’t really any more of a challenge than any other job I have had. But, to make her such as believable or real, for me, wasn’t too difficult because my grandmother was living in the west of Ireland on farms in that same time period. So it wasn’t too hard for me to try and imagine a woman like that because I knew them.
Bijan: This conflict with Church is interesting, because the same kind of conflict exist right now around the world in different ways. Therefore, it’s very interesting for people to know that such kind of conflict even existed in Ireland.
Barry: Yeah, you are right. The powers that be and those who tried to exert control over people, come in various shapes and sizes. In Jimmy’s home, they happened to be wearing the garb of the Catholic Church. But they could easily have been military peasants or even just politicians in suits. This kind of the erosion of civil rights are always happening around us, and those that implement them, they just wear different uniforms at different times.
Bijan: How was the working with Ken? How is his style of working? How much freedom he gives to his actors?
Simone: Well, it’s a very different way of working because he would shoot everything in sequence. You don’t have the full script. He tries to make everything as easy and authentic for the actors as possible. So, it’s a different, but better way of working for us. It would be great if more directors did shoot that way.
Bijan: Was there any room for improvisation by you guys during the shoot?
Barry: Yeah, very much so. It’s kind of encouraged. For most scenes we would have the opportunity to improvise a little before the dialogue kicked in and also at the end, which gave a kind of more natural flow to the entire thing, even though in the edit, they probably only use what was scripted. But it makes for, I think, more natural and believable performances.
Bijan: Another aspect of this film is also its location. I believe, it was shot in Ireland on location
Simone: Yeah, it was shot in Leitrim really close to where all the truth story actually happened.
Bijan: How much do you think the location helped you guys to adapt yourselves to the story?
Simone: Well, it’s great. It’s really helpful when you can look around you and see the same sorts of countryside and landscape that the characters would have looked at. There were a lot of scenes where I had to cycle my bike in the night of scenes. It was really, really difficult as it would have been because these country roads aren’t very good. A lot of them are with little lane-ways. For Barry, he got to work on the land, alittle bit in the movie and before the shoot. And when were in the hall, the hall itself was still in the middle of nowhere. It was just country-side. So when you’re in there, you do feel it’s like a lovely little warm cocoon right in the middle of nowhere. It did feel like that too, so the hall became very important for us.
Bijan: I believe the film is very exciting, interesting, and dramatically very entertaining. How are your hopes for the theatrical release of the film in US?
Barry: I think if you said, because of a lot of appealing factors, so, honestly we’re hoping it reaches a wide and receptive audience. I think there’s a lot in there for lots of different people.
Bijan: Some of the nicest scenes in the film are dance scenes. Are you guys professional dancers?
Barry: Yeah, I am
Simone: (laughs) No, he’s not. No, neither of us are professional dancers. But we did train for a couple of months before filming. So we did learn the Shim Sham, the Lindy Hop, the Waltz, the Foxtrot, and the Charleston. We learned all those dances for a couple of months
Bijan: It was very convincing I believe. Really nice
Simone: Thank you