Grappling with feelings of being unwanted and displaced in the world is a powerful experience that many young adults contend with as they search for their rightful place in their family. The eponymous protagonist of the upcoming Irish psychological thriller, ‘Rose Plays Julie,’ who’s played by Ann Skelly, is embarking on a meaningful journey of self-discovery as she confronts her fear that she was abandoned by her birth parents when she was born.
As she transitions into adulthood, Rose, whose name is listed as Julie on her birth certificate, becomes increasingly determined to find the reason why she was given up for adoption as an infant. She’s driven by a need to find out if she was ever really wanted and loved by her parents, particularly her birth mother.
Film Movement will distribute ‘Rose Plays Julie’ in select Virtual Theaters across the U.S. on March 19. The drama world premiered at the London Film Festival, and then had its US Premiere at the Hamptons Film Festival, in 2019. It then went on to screen virtually at this month’s Greenwich International Film Festival (GIFF) during their Social Impact Film Showcase.
The movie was written, directed and produced by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. The duo’s latest feature comes after they previously worked together on several other projects, including the 2016 documentary, ‘Further Beyond,’ the 2013 drama, ‘Mister John,’ and the 2008 drama, ‘Helen. In addition to Skelly, the filmmaker’s new thriller stars Orla Brady and Aiden Gillen as Rose’s birth parents.
‘Rose Plays Julie’ follows the title character, a young student who begins to question her identity while she’s studying veterinary science at university. As an only child, she has enjoyed a loving relationship with her adoptive parents. However, for as long as Rose can remember she has wanted to know who her biological parents are and the facts of her true identity. After years trying to trace her birth mother, Ellen (Brady), Rose has found her name and phone number.
When Rose then does make contact with Ellen, it quickly becomes clear to the young woman that her birth mother doesn’t wish to have any contact with her. Rose is shattered by the news, but a deepened sense of rejection compels her to keep pursuing the relationship.
Rose travels from Dublin to London in an effort to confront her birth mother, who’s deeply disturbed when the young woman turns up unannounced. Rose’s very existence threatens the stability of the new life Ellen has painstakingly put together. But Rose proves to be very determined, which forces Ellen to reveal a secret she’s kept hidden for over 20 years. The shocking revelation forces Rose to accept the violent nature of how she came into existence.
Rose also believes that she has little to lose and much more to gain when she then sets out to confront her biological father, Peter (Gillen). What Rose doesn’t foresee is that she’s on a collision course that will prove to be both violent and unsettling, as dark forces gather and threaten to destroy her already fragile sense of her own identity.
Molloy and Lawlor generously took the time recently to talk about penning, helming and producing ‘Rose Plays Julie’ during an exclusive interview over Zoom before GIFF’s virtual launch. Among other things, the scribes discussed they were driven to tell the drama’s story from the perspective of Rose, Ellen and Peter, and work out their conflicts through their interactions with each other. The filmmakers also noted their appreciation of being able to work with a casting director who introduced them to different performers, which helped them decided who to cast in the main roles, especially the eponymous character of Rose.
ShockYa (SY): Together, you wrote the script for the upcoming movie, ‘Rose Plays Julie.’ Where did you come up with the inspiration for telling the story? What was your overall penning process like together while you were working on creating the screenplay?
Christine Molloy (CM): We’d have to go back a few years, to when we first started to work on ‘Rose Plays Julie,’ which was back in about 2014. We started with a few very clear ideas, and then, like with all scripts, it went on a journey and changed in different ways. But the core ideas stayed through that process.
Joe and I have worked together for a long time, and we usually begin the writing process by doing a lot of walking. Where we live in London, we can walk down a series of canals, and it’s a brilliant walk from our home.
We can walk and talk about our ideas until we’re ready to start writing. For this film, we spent a good chunk of time taking our walks. In our minds, we had an idea to explore a story where the impact of an act of violence on somebody is felt over the course of years.
We wanted the story to be told from the perspective of the three characters. Whatever resolutions that we arrived at would be worked out through their interactions with each other. This story is about justice, but it’s kept tightly between the three main characters-the mother, the father and the daughter. The story’s details changed throughout the drafts, but the core ideas remained pretty solid.
SY: In addition to scribing the script, you also co-directed the film. How did working on the screenplay together influence your helming style? How would you describe your overall directorial style on the set?
Joe Lawlor (JL): I think when you work together on the script, you’re always trying to do as much work as possible before you start directing. You don’t have a lot of time to think on the set; you really have to have all of your thinking done beforehand. But there are little moments on the day when you’re shooting where you can think about something if it isn’t quite working.
But effectively, all the real thinking is done beforehand. Like Christine said, that was done while we were walking and talking about a scene. Even when you’re breaking a scene down during pre-production, you’re still analyzing everything on the set.
You’re also working through things with the actors, and building up a relationships with them. Some of them like rehearsing, and others don’t; some want to do all of their preparation and talk about their characters with us, while others want to hold that back until the day of the shoot. You can only hope that the preparation they’ve done is right. (Lawlor laughs.) If you trust them, you know they’ve done that work in advance.
So I think a key part of directing is the preparation you do in advance of the actual day of directing. Sometimes directing feels like you’re just executing a plan you already have set up.
Actually directing a film on set can be so short and fleeting that it can be easy to get it wrong, as you’re very quickly making a lot of decisions. So you always have to reassure yourself that these decisions come out of a long period of working together, and thinking alike.
SY: Speaking of working with the actors, ‘Rose Plays Julie’ stars Aidan Gillen, Orla Brady and Ann Skelly. What was the casting process like for the drama? Once the actors were cast, what was the process like of collaborating with them to build their characters’ arcs and relationships?
CM: We’ve worked with Aidan Gillen before, so we have insight into how he likes to work, and what the process of working with him is like. So we’re able to approach Aidan in a direct way, since we know him, and he knows us.
In regards to Orla Brady and Ann Skelly, we certainly needed help from a casting director (Emma Gunnery). We used a casting director for the first time with this film, which is our third narrative feature film together. It was a very interesting process for us.
When you ask me about casting a 25-year-old American actress, for example, my mind always goes completely blank, and I wouldn’t know where to start. So to be able to be guided through that process by a casting director was really interesting and helpful for us.
We were able to discover things that we weren’t able to engage in before, including sending the script out and getting self tapes back, and opened our minds up to different possibilities. Then being able to meet and talk to different actresses really helped inform our decisions. We certainly went through that process for the part of Rose.
Also, in the casting of Ellen, we needed to approach Orla Brady by almost offering her the part, which was also a really odd thing to do because we didn’t know her. We knew of her as an Irish actress, but we never met her before. We really needed to be clear that we wanted to offer her the part.
So with that in mind, we had a Skype call with her, and that was the first time we had the opportunity to talk with her about the script. We talked about her thoughts and ideas about the character. By the end of that conversation, we just knew she would absolutely be the right person for the part of Ellen.
We were so pleased to have the opportunity to work with Orla, Ann and Aidan. To me, despite all of the other work that goes on, making a film has so much to do with the cast, as you bring the actors in to bring the characters to life. It’s both daunting and thrilling as you see the cast fall into place. Making this film was a process we learned a lot from.
SY: Besides writing and helming the drama, you both also served as producers. Why did you decide to also produce ‘Rose Plays Julie?’ How did you balance your producing and directorial styles on the set?
JL: Although we worked as producers on the film, the lead producer was David Collins, who we’ve worked with before. That was very useful, because as you’re filming, there’s stuff to deal with every day. So David dealt with all of those issues as a producer, so that we could focus on directing. He was also someone we could bounce ideas off of throughout the production.
I think the main effort of all producing is hunting down the financing, and that’s always time consuming. In the beginning of a production, you set what your ideal budget is, but of course, it never happens that way.
In terms of financing, we could have made the film a couple of years before we actually did, but we held out to try to get a little bit more financing. You have to bring the film out and try to get people on board, and that’s always a tricky process. People will have different opinions about the project. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up building a project with people who don’t really share the same ideas about the film that you have. So you have to make sure that whoever you work with has the same objective as you.
CM: The whole process of making a film is a labor of love because you have to keep the energy and motivation going. There are hurdles that you’ll fall over, and you have to keep picking yourself up and get going again.
So you have to build a good relationship with producers you trust, and will fight as hard as you on the film. David certainly was that kind of producer for us; he didn’t give up, and that helped us not give up, either.
SY: The movie (played) at the Greenwich International Film Festival this month, after it screened at several other international film festivals. What does it mean to you that ‘Rose Plays Julie’ (screened) at the festival? How are you planning to officially release the thriller?
CM: We had the world premiere for the film in October 2019 at the London Film Festival, so we feel lucky that we were able to present our film to audiences in a brilliant context, and get feedback during the Q&As. We also had our cast and key crew members there.
We then brought the film to Ireland for its Irish premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival, and that was the last really big night out we had before everything closed down. We’re coming up on the year anniversary of that screening. (The movie played at the festival on February 29, 2020.) It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year.
But giving your film over to an audience is one of the most important things. So we’re forever grateful that we had that experience in person.
But the journey that the film has gone on since then has obviously been impacted by COVID; the subsequent screenings have all been virtual. That’s been an interesting journey. It’s also interesting to see how different festivals have brought in high levels of audiences and engaged them, and have made the most out of the situation.
The movie’s official release in the U.S. is going to be through Virtual Cinemas. It’s something that we’re all going to have to accept, because how much longer are the distributors going to sit on the film? It’s up to the distributors how they’re going to release the film, but we’re happy that we’re going to be getting it out to an audience.
I think it’s a little bit easier to release films in Virtual Cinema settings in America than here in the UK, as we don’t have the Virtual Cinemas set up the same way that they are in America. So here in the UK, the distributor is going to try to wait a little bit longer to release the movie into cinemas. But that’s the way things are, and we really want to get the film out.
We’re thrilled that we also (had) the screening at the Greenwich International Film Festival. I think it’s a really interesting Showcase that they’ve put together. It’s really good to be a part of a lineup where you feel it’s an interesting mix of films.