Confessions, part 1

Kelly Reilly on the women of Calvary.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Calvary director/writer John Michael McDonagh with Kelly Reilly at the Explorers Club:
Calvary director/writer John Michael McDonagh with Kelly Reilly at the Explorers Club: "Well, in Ireland, 'dirty little whore', it's almost like endearing."

John Michael McDonagh's Calvary stars Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Isaach De Bankolé, Domhnall Gleeson, Dylan Moran with The Diving Bell And The Butterfly's Marie-Josée Croze, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, M Emmet Walsh and David Wilmot. Fox Searchlight Pictures celebrated with a luncheon at the Explorers Club in New York with guests including Jimmy Breslin, Dana Delany, Jodi Applegate, Annette Insdorf, Eugene Hernandez, Joyce Carol Oates and Charles Gross.

I spoke with Kelly Reilly and what started out with Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert and Tippi Hedren's style in Hitchcock's The Birds, quickly turned to themes of forgiveness which brought us to develop a quick theory of a Holy Female Trinity holding Calvary together, before lunch was served.

Brendan Gleeson with Kelly Reilly at the Explorers Club:
Brendan Gleeson with Kelly Reilly at the Explorers Club: "He protects her. It's a final act as a father."

Between the main course and desert, Peggy Siegal introduced John Michael McDonagh, Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd and Kelly for a lively discussion.

Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a priest in rural Sligo, Ireland, who, during confession has a man tell him about being raped by a priest when he was seven years old, "every other day for five years - I bled a terrible amount." The voice does not want to "learn to live with it", the predator is long dead, and so he tells Father James of his plan: "There's no point in killing a bad priest - I am going to kill you because you're innocent. I'll meet you on the beach next Sunday." Kelly Reilly plays the priest's daughter Fiona, who comes to visit during the week leading up to the fateful Sunday.

Just before we spoke, Kelly was handed a bag by Calvary producer Lizzie Eves, containing the green woolen coat she wore in the film.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I see you have the green coat with you, the one you wear in Calvary. Your director told me that he chose it because he wanted you to look like Monica Vitti in Red Desert.

Kelly Reilly: In my dreams! I think that was more John Michael's vision of this character. He already arrived with the idea of this green coat. And that there was something timeless about her. I didn't want her to arrive bringing in the modern world. She can blend in with her father. But absolutely, that coat, which they are giving to me as a gift, which I'm quite moved by because I often keep things from my characters and that one will definitely be handed down.

Explorers Club Polar Bear where Calvary director John Michael McDonagh was being photographed earlier.
Explorers Club Polar Bear where Calvary director John Michael McDonagh was being photographed earlier.

AKT: The color also reminded me a little bit of Tippi Hedren's costume in Hitchcock's The Birds.

KR: Yes, yes. It's very classic and very simple and elegant.

AKT: Your character Fiona manages to escape out of this world. Your father, [Father James Lavelle] doesn't tell you about the dog.

KR: He protects her. It's a final act as a father. I mean, he hasn't been a father for her and I think those last walks on the beach, those last conversations are how he is fathering her. He is healing her and it lets her go on with her life.

The bell for all official functions at the Explorers Club peals, signaling that lunch is being served. It is from the former US Coast Guard cutter Bear, used by Admiral Byrd for his second Antarctic expedition in 1933.

KR: I don't know if that enables her then to forgive him and maybe go on to lead a more happy fulfilled life, although she's very troubled. It also enables her to forgive [the] killer. It's just so subtle and so profound. People talk about this film as a dark comedy with a black heart. I think that last scene is one of the lightest.

AKT: Which one do you mean by last scene? The one with you?

KR: Yes, the scene in the church, I mean, prison. That scene is all about acceptance and forgiveness. It's the cycle of abuse or the cycle of pain, the cycle of anger. It's the idea to forgive him.

AKT: And the forgiving one is a woman. I think the women are very interesting - all three of you.

Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki globe at the Explorers Club
Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki globe at the Explorers Club

KR: I agree.

AKT: You don't really communicate with each other. That is, you do talk, when you interrupt. I think you have one line with Veronica [Orla O'Rourke]. Otherwise, you are the triangle and somehow one hopes…

KR: Right! The Holy Trinity!

AKT: A female Holy Trinity!

KR: That's very nice. We have to ask him if he thought of that. If you think about the virgin and the whore.

AKT: And you are the Holy Spirit?

KR: Maybe. Maybe, right? That's beautiful.

AKT: I like that.

KR: You have to tell him.

Kelly is pointing to John Michael McDonagh, who is being photographed with a Polar Bear at that moment.

KR: That's beautiful. I love that. I think also in that one exchange I have with Veronica, she [Fiona] is really trying to protect her father from her. She has no idea. She has no idea of his life or of what he experienced. All those characters are slightly self-indulged. It's their story, their situation, their pain. Therefore, they can't relate to each other. And he [Father James] is the only one that is able to do that. Not all priests are like that - I'd be in church every week.

Kelly Reilly as Fiona with Father James, Brendan Gleeson:
Kelly Reilly as Fiona with Father James, Brendan Gleeson: "John Michael's vision of this character. He already arrived with the idea of this green coat."

AKT: There was one scene I was quite shocked by. The scene when the pub owner calls you a whore.

KR: Yes. Well, in Ireland, "dirty little whore", it's almost like endearing. You know what I mean? It's not supposed to be… It's a very strong word.

AKT: Hearing it during a screening on a summer morning in Manhattan, it shocked me. The priest, your father, takes it in stride. I would have punched the guy.

KR: It's a very strong word in America. In Ireland it's strong but they use that kind of dirty mouth. I mean, I had just sworn at him. I told him to f-off. [The pub owner] is not a very nice man, is he?

AKT: Indeed, he is not.

The Explorers Club lobby holds the globe, where, according to legend, Thor Heyerdahl made his plans to sail from Peru to Polynesia on the Kon-Tiki in 1947. In 2013, The Weinstein Company (TWC) brought a replica of the famous raft to New York and docked it at the marina in Battery Park.

More on the Calvary men in part 2, when I speak with Brendan Gleeson about the special effect of wearing a soutane and why playing a really good man has quite an appeal. With John Michael McDonagh, I make a tour of his many literary references, from Beckett to Melville, from Camus to Joyce, and from Philip K. Dick to David Gates' Jernigan. Joyce Carol Oates, who sat next to me during lunch, elegantly sums up the importance of Calvary and Chris O'Dowd shows me his T-shirt.

Calvary opens in the US on August 1 and comes out on DVD in the UK on August 11.

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