When we talk about modern cinema and new writing, we often want to push women to the fore — yet sometimes, we need to be reminded that facets of masculinity are also waiting to be fully explored. Connor O'Hara's Kindling is a film that takes viewers to those places, following a group of young guys brought back together by their friend's fatal illness. FILMHOUNDS sat down with Tara Fitzgerald (Sid's Mum) to find out more about her involvement.
I went into Kindling not really knowing what to expect, and I certainly wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was, for it to be so emotionally touching. Was this a script that you were presented with and immediately wanted to be involved with?
Yeah, it was it really was. And also because I looked at (writer-director) Connor O'Hara's short film Infinite which acted as a springboard for this and I chatted with him, and I was so won over by him. I think he's an exceptional person and had such a clear vision, and it's really coming from such a place of authenticity. So I was very excited by what he said and seeing that film. I sent him a message just saying “Everything that you set out to achieve and everything that you told me you hope to find in the film I think you've done,” which is quite rare.
We're not talking about a subject matter that's easy to deal with. How much does having a good connection with your cast with your crew? sort of affect your ability to be able to deliver on something so deeply emotional?
Well I think for me, it's sort of everything. And again, that was Connor's skill. He showed a huge level of maturity in how he handled all of his actors and the weight that he gave all of our characters. For instance, my character is called “Mum.” And my husband is called “Dad.” We don't have names in the script, which is very unusual for a main character. Connor explained that he wanted us to have a feeling of being everyone's mum and everyone's dad, and that was part of his vision. It wasn't that we weren't obviously very important, but just that we express something that was sort of archetypal, in a way. I think that goes some way towards one component of the success of what he's achieved, that universality idea. That makes it easier in a way. Greek myths and myths in general use archetype to help tackle very painful or very difficult ideas. That's my interpretation of what he was aiming for. And that's why I think he achieves that on lots of levels, that you can watch something — it's very difficult, isn't it? And it has a sort of satisfaction to it because it's quite cathartic in some ways. It's very real.
“Sid's Mum” was probably the first thing I picked up on even before I watched it, and I was surprised at how my initial reaction was to be really annoyed by that. I think we see women get to a certain point and they feel they've been pigeonholed into the role of mother. Do you feel like that sort of stereotype, or curse, still exists?
I don't think it does so much anymore. You're probably aware of it more than I am. But I think there's been such a strong reaction in support of women's stories over the last few years and fleshing out these more typical characters. I got what Connor was going for, I understood what he was expressing and he used the name Mum in a very positive way. But certainly, I think what you're describing did exist until really very recently. I think there were classic tropes and a classic trajectory that an actress might expect to encounter. I'm in my mid-50s. 20 years ago, there would have been a certain pattern that I might follow, let's say, and the mum role would have been one of those typical roles. And perhaps not much else. The girlfriend to the mum to the evil witch, or whatever.
One of the things I really like about Kindling is that it's a really nice reminder that there's so much untapped potential in male vulnerability and these different sides of masculinity that I think — where we have these conversations about women's stories coming to the fore or whatever it is — it's just really nice to see that angle. Did it ever feel as if you were essentially a woman in a man's story? Or that this was just a human story of love, grief, and loss?
Yeah. Intellectually one can have one experience, obviously, and then when you're actually wrapped up you're completely immersed in filming, which was so massive because it was during a lockdown. That created its own particular bubble. We had a camaraderie that was so special about that time, even with all that difficulty. So I felt very immersed in it as Mum to Sid in that story and the difficulties that she was encountering and trying to process about her child. I didn't really think along gender lines only that it was, as you say, really lovely to see young men be able to express something that perhaps isn't often expressed. That felt very refreshing, that felt like a good, big glass of cool water and made me conscious of perhaps a gap that hadn't really been explored fully, artistically.
We're presented with this woman that has this former life that she's had to sacrifice, but that's also sort of hidden from us. We don't tap into it too much. How far did you go into creating that backstory?
It depends. Connor was so clear about what he wanted and so involved, honest, and prepared to share stories and what his inspiration was. That doesn't always happen. Because he's an auteur, you've got a lot for nothing. That's like gold dust. You could go straight to the font of all knowledge and pick his brains about what he meant by something or how he envisaged something. So that's really special. And then I've got my own presence. I went to a drama school where we studied Stanislavski and Lee Strasberg. We studied methodology, which means that you can get as involved or not involved as you want in a character's backstory. You have all these brilliant tricks for you to find a way into characters or find a way into a story if you're struggling. So sometimes I would use some of those things. But in this case, I think it was so easy because I was with such talented actors as well. And in a way, your job is done for you. If you're lucky enough to be sat opposite someone who's really living, whatever they're supposed to be living, and with that balance around me, it becomes very enjoyable.
Was that you singing in that first clip? [Sid's mum is shown in old camcorder footage to perform.]
I shouldn't say, should I?
I imagine it's probably because I grew up in a sort of similar area, but I loved how much of it was filmed in a house rather than somewhere obviously looking like a soundstage. Is that almost restrictive because there are however many crew and actors in a certain space, or is it more of a comfort because it's a familiar zone and you can let your guard down a bit?
It's a really good question. I'm very affected — well I think a lot of us are but as an actor, you get a chance to really use it — by spaces that I'm in. You can feel the timbers of that house, so I find it very useful kind of getting used to the fact that there was reduced head height. Some of the ceilings you had to — I didn't because I'm quite short — but some people had to crouch down. If you live in a space, you get familiar with always dropping your head because there's a beam, or stepping over something, or the stairs aren't quite straight. That house was very full of those sorts of idiosyncrasies. I love if you can get all of that fabric and all of that texture from the space you're in rather than otherwise, although sometimes soundstages give something otherworldly. It's not quite real, and that can give for what you want in a different way. But for this, we were so immersed in it. The crew felt wrapped around you rather than when things can sometimes feel like the crew are over there and you are over here. We were all kind of in it together, and that felt very good. The countryside was so beautiful. Those fields had a sort of halcyon sense to them because everything was blooming. And it works really well with that juxtaposition of Sid's illness. This issue of this exploding nature is sort of doing the opposite of what's happening with him. But also then the oppression that you get also feeds into the suffering that goes on around suffering, and how difficult it is to ongoingly be in a small space with someone who's not well. To watch someone you love and care deeply about being in pain and how to manage that.
Your character has such a good line: “That's love. It makes us lunatics.” Is that something you agree with? We love to put the mother-son relationship on a pedestal, the son can never do anything wrong. Or is it more specific? In any good relationship, we're all gonna act like idiots?
I think so. That's very “old soul” and wise of Connor and a beautifully written thing that I say. I do believe that real love is — I don't think he means the out-of-control sensation when you first meet somebody — but I think he means on a deeper level that lunacy, and you forgive people and you allow people in it, it's not conditional. You embrace all the dirty bits and all the messy bits about people and you love them for that anyway. It does make you do ridiculous things, and you will walk to the ends of the earth for someone you love, put yourself in danger, or put them in a safe place to make sure they're okay. I don't have my own children, but I understand really protecting people you love. She's a lioness in some ways, and I think you get that. It's also classically the duty of the mother to be the gatekeeper. Connor explores that very delicately, the idea it's her who's left with that role and she doesn't particularly want it. Who wants to be the bad cop?
Is there anything else in the pipeline?
There are a couple of things that I rather annoyingly can't talk about. There's a there's another really special independent film that I worked on last year called Portraits of Dangerous Women, which is written and directed by Pascal Bergamin, which is a gorgeous little film with Mark Lewis Jones and Yasmin Monet Prince and Jeany Spark. It's a sort of unlikely combination of characters who come together because of an accident. It's great fun. So there's that and I've just been doing some theatre. I've been very lucky. I've really been working with some exceptional talents, lately.
Kindling is in cinemas and available digitally from 21st April.