"It Starts With the Script..."
When choosing his roles, Cillian is adamant about the strength of the story. "It always has to start with the script," he insists, "no matter who the director is. If it's a shite script, they're only going to make it mediocre, you know, no matter how good they are." (Radio Free Entertainment) Fortunately for us fans, some exceedingly rich stories have found their way to Cillian, and in his hands the characters have come alive.
Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe
Shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1998, and called "a virtuoso piece of literature" by the Village Voice in 2005, Patrick McCabe's novel is often seen as a companion piece to his 1992 novel The Butcher Boy. "I was in love with the book before I ever became an actor," confessed Cillian (IN Newsweekly), and it's easy to understand why. The tale of Patrick "Pussy" Braden (as she was named in the novel) is a breathtaking adventure from start to finish, chronicling Pussy's escape from an abusive home in a conservative rural border town to the glam wonderland of 1970s London. Pussy is an unlikely—and often unlikeable—heroine. But as shocked as you are by her behaviour, you can't help but find yourself rooting for this relentlessly unique character. You might even find yourself falling in love with her, too.
Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh
The first thing you notice in Disco Pigs is the language. It slams against your ear unexpectedly, English but not, a forceful clash of a plaintive childhood thrust up against the realities of the adult world. Combining Cork's unique dialect with the baby talk and animal noises favoured by Pig and Runt, Enda Walsh (a Dublin native who has been called "more Corkonian than the Corkonians themselves") perfectly captures the protective cocoon that the two youths have built around themselves. Cillian himself said, "I didn't really understand it [the language of the play] but it's like any of those things, once you start reading it, like Clockwork Orange or any of those things, once you start getting into it you start getting hooked and it takes you in and you want to understand it." (Rattlebag interview on RTE, 27 August 2003)
First staged at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork in September 1996, Disco Pigs went on to feature at the Dublin Theatre Festival and then had its U.K. premiere at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh the following year. It received the Stewart Parker Award and the George Devine Award in 1997. Walsh also wrote the screenplay for the 2001 film by the same name.
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Johannes Vermeer's masterwork "Girl With a Pearl Earring" has long been revered as one of the finest examples of Dutch painting from the mid-1600s. Sometimes referred to as the "Mona Lisa of the North," the work has inspired significant speculation in the art world on everything from the painting's obscurity until 1882 to the pigments used in its production to the changes rendered in the work over time. One of the most intriguing questions is the identity of the model that Vermeer depicts wearing a distinctive turban and expensive pearl earring.
Tracy Chevalier attempts to answer this latter question in her 1999 novel. She presents the subject of Vermeer's masterwork as Griet, a housemaid in the Vermeer household who captures the attention of the artist—and the ire of his wife. Chevalier masterfully weaves historical detail of 17th century with the captivating story of the life behind this mysterious painting.
The Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge
Now widely regarded as his masterpiece, the first production of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World incited public protests and even rioting in Dublin, ostensibly in response to the immoral behaviour exhibited on stage—women appearing in their nightshifts!—and the play's amoral nature: the comedy centres around the faux hero's murder of his father.
Like most of Synge's plays, it is set in the west of Ireland, and builds upon the language and customs of the rural population. But the fanciful world that ignites Christy Mahon's transformation from murderer to local hero has proved its appeal to audiences around the world. "Christy is just a brilliantly written character and this is very close to being a perfect play," commented Cillian. (Sunday World)
Garry Hynes directed Playboy in 1975 as one of the first productions of the acclaimed Druid Theatre Company. "And as I worked on it," she said in a 2005 interview, "I began to think, this is really just a wonderful, extraordinary play, not at all the dusty old text we learned at school." In 2004, Druid revisited the production as part of an ambitious 18-month project to produce all seven of Synge plays. Hynes directed Playboy again (with Cillian in the starring role), first at Dublin's Gaity Theatre and then traversing (in reverse) the road that Christy Mahon journeyed through the west of Ireland.
Adrian Frazier's Playboys of the Western World looks at various productions of the play, with a focus on the Druid performances. About Hynes' direction, Cillian said, "[Garry Hynes’] depth of knowledge on Synge, this play and the environment it’s set in is second to none." (Sunday Independent)
Sunshine by Alex Garland
Alex Garland's first novel The Beach was brought to the big screen by director Danny Boyle. Garland's original screenplay for 28 Days Later... reunited him with Boyle, and the film brought Cillian to an international audience for the first time. With Sunshine, the three have teamed up again for what many are calling the first real sci-fi epic seen for a long, long time. Boyle said that Garland's script was what inspired him to do a science fiction film: "I thought it was brilliant. What a great starting point: eight astronauts strapped to the back of this massive bomb, behind a shield, flying towards the sun. Fantastic. I'd go and watch that." (The Guardian) Cillian concurred: "I'm a huge fan of Alex's writing in general and when I read the script it was the best thing I've read in a long, long time. That was part of the reason I was so anxious to do it."(SFX Magazine)
Garland himself said, "It's a sci-fi script ... about a spaceship on a mission to the sun. As they get closer to the sun, the crew start getting increasingly fucked up. It's basically about man facing the inevitability of eventual extinction." Garland said, "So it's the same stuff I always do. Genre. Written with affection for previous books, comics, and films. All wrapped up in stoner 'philosophy'." (MichelleYeoh.info) Now you can read for yourself what attracted them all to the idea of eight people on an ill-fated mission to save the earth by re-igniting the sun.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Paul Laverty
When Ken Loach set out to capture the harrowing events surrounding the birth of the Republic of Ireland, he enlisted Scottish scriptwriter Paul Laverty to pen the tale. The two had previously collaborated on several films including Carla's Song, My Name is Joe, and Sweet Sixteen. Although much has been made of Loach's method, which involves a gradual revelation of the story to the actors, Cillian is quick to point out that there is a very strong script: "Paul Laverty probably doesn't get enough mention as the screenwriter for all of Ken's recent films, but the writing makes it work, not so much the actors. People confuse it with Mike Leigh's style, in which actors co-create the screenplay, but it's Ken and Paul who make the system brilliant." (The Australian)
Curious to compare Laverty's original script with what ended up on the screen? Get your hands on a copy of The Wind That Shakes the Barley and find out. In addition to the script, this volume also contains chapters that provide historical background, Irish film history, notes from the filmmakers, and production stills.