A place out of time

Austin Andrews and Andrew Holmes on Paloma Kwiatkowski, Donal Logue, David Mazouz and The Island Between Tides

by Jennie Kermode

Paloma Kwiatkowski as Lily in The Island Between Tides
Paloma Kwiatkowski as Lily in The Island Between Tides

Somewhere between an adaptation of and a sequel to JM Barrie’s play Mary Rose, The Island Between Tides is the story of a family whose lives are turned upside down by encounters with a magical island where time runs at a different pace. Lily (played as an adult by Paloma Kwiatkowski) is lost there briefly as a child and experiences a change of perspective as a result. Her return visit as an adult sees her flung forward 25 years into the future. Donal Logue plays the father and Camille Sullivan the sister who have to cope with her disappearances, while Logue’s Gotham co-star David Mazouz takes on the role of Jared, the son who grows up without her, also altered by the island’s influence and struggling with mental illness and substance abuse as a result.

It’s a film heavily dependent on atmosphere, says co-director Austin Andrews when we meet to discuss it. Amongst other things, it’s a ghost story, and so getting the tone right was always going to be essential to its success. He and the film’s other co-director, Andrew Holmes, who joined us for our conversation, have just had the pleasure of screening it at Fantaspoa, and are feeling very positive about how it has been received. We talk about the time shift in the story and I ask whether it was that or JM Barrie’s story that first inspired the film.

“The JM Barrie story was the jumping off point, definitely,” Austin says. “I've always had a deep fascination with trying to understand, harness and take hold of time, even just for myself as a person. I think that's something that's common to a lot of people, and that's really what I engage with in this piece and what I see in my favorite pieces of art, like music and movies. I consider books as part of that, too, you know, separate from paintings and such. But, yeah, I think that was huge.”

Andrew agrees. “I think looking at the property and seeing where JM Barrie's play Mary Rose lends itself to the movie, it really is that device of time, and for people in general, it's the human condition to not understand time. You know, time as a child seems to move slowly and as you get older, time, or our perception of it, continues to change. It's our only real currency as a species, and it's this device that has been used by storytellers and filmmakers and artists for a long time. We can't explain what happens in our movie. Back To The Future can't explain how the DeLorean can go into the future and come back.

“It's something that just can't be explained. It's the fact that we can imagine what we would do and how we would use it, and that's something that audiences naturally find fascinating. So when you look at a play like Mary Rose, you start to see a device that people can sink their teeth into.”

I ask how they approached keeping the characters feeling like consistent people across time, whilst also showing us the ways that they're changing as individuals.

“That's it,” says Austin. “A lot of our jumping off points are explorations of a whole lifespan. Like in the UK, the Up series is my favorite documentary series of all time, which looks at the same 14 people every seven years, returning to them from age seven all the way through to, I think, 63 Up was the most recent one, and that's a longitudinal study. Boyhood was another one that looks at how people change and how they stay fundamentally the same across the whole lifespan. That was something that we had a really interesting opportunity to explore with this time device in Island Between Tides, where Zinnia maybe gets hardened a little bit because of this experience of losing her sister. Can that be unhardened with her sister coming back? Well, probably not. We look at grief, of course, as well, and the way that will fundamentally change us. And it's a one way street.”

Donal Logue in The Island Between Tides
Donal Logue in The Island Between Tides

Andrew nods. “Yeah. And you start to look at the characters in our film. You know, young Lily when she goes across to the island – from the play, there’s the line ‘You were frozen like a flower in the spring frost.’ The idea in casting Paloma was she was able to naturally capture that arrested development of her character and able to be consistent. And she does have an arc. You can see her mother bear instincts come through the film. We actually tried to control that a little bit more, having Lily be confused in the process and not really understand exactly what's happening to her. I mean, it's a bizarre situation to put a character through. So we naturally let Paloma make some of those decisions herself, and she did a really great job doing so.”

I mention that I liked her in the film because she’s very good at looking like a lost child whom strangers want to rescue, even though she must be in her early twenties.

“Exactly, says Austin. “That was huge for us in casting her – finding an adult actress and adult character, really, who can still feel like she's in an arrested state of almost pre-adolescence.”

It seems a very personal film to everyone involved. I found it impossible to look at Donal Logue in his role without thinking of what he's been through as a parent as well, with his own child having gone missing (thankfully she made it home). He's the heart of the film in a lot of ways.

Andrew nods. “Yeah. You know, I met Donal doing a documentary called Inmate #1: The Rise Of Danny Trejo, where Donal paid tribute. He was close to Danny, he helped Danny write his book. And it was that conversation, and the conversation in his friend's driveway where we did the interview, afterwards, that really stuck with me, and we started looking at casting. I always had Donal in mind for something. This film didn't exist in our heads before we did that interview. When it came up, it was definitely an exciting idea.

“I actually really liked you doing the math with Bruce Wayne and the Gotham connection, which is complete coincidence, by the way. Donal didn't get cast until probably about a month before, maybe weeks before production, and Wayne Manor was the real place in Prince Rupert.” He laughs.

“On the David/Donal connection, we had worked closely with David when he was a young guy. Austin edited a film that David was in [2014’s The Games Maker]. So when this whole thing came into being, we wanted to shoot this film in a remote place. We wanted to work with people that if we were stuck in this remote place that takes 21 hours by ferry to get to, and there's only one flight a day, so you're really stuck with these people – are we going to enjoy ourselves making the movie?

“We knew through Donal's temperament and through some of his work that we really did like him, and with his connection to the material and a couple scenes in particular, that he would be a good choice for the role. We loved him in that role, and we thought he did a great job.”

“There's one scene in the film where Lily's sitting on the steps, and she asked about what happened to her mom,” says Austin. “Donal has an opportunity to put it in terms that Lily would most easily understand, about what her disappearance did for the family. And that was a scene that I know was very important to Donal. What he said was the reason – more even, perhaps, than the adventure and getting to work with David again, because they'd spent five years doing that show together – it was that scene and that exploration of what it is to lose someone, that was what drew him to the film.”

David Mazouz and Paloma Kwiatkowski in The Island Between Tides
David Mazouz and Paloma Kwiatkowski in The Island Between Tides

David has achieved a lot since Gotham finished, including getting a degree, but he’s at a vulnerable stage in his career now because he has to break through properly into adult acting and he has to avoid typecasting. How did they work with him to try to help him to establish himself and to be different enough in his performance that people will see what he's capable of?

“You nailed it,” says Austin. “That's it. It's a threshold that every child actor has to find a way to cross. And the paths are littered with the failed attempts of so many actors before them. We really wanted to do our part to write a role that would give him something meaty to chew into, but also would allow him to flex some different muscles. Because when you play one character, when you're doing one procedural show – Gotham's a procedural, really, beyond being a superhero show – you fall into habits, good or bad, for a very long time. And he didn't really have an opportunity to flex those muscles.

“As Andy says, I knew him as a kid, I knew what he was capable of even then and the real talent and just great instincts and intuition on display. To work with him, we got him up to Prince Rupert as early as we could and spent quite a bit of time in rehearsals. It was a combination of decoding all the mysteries of the text, but also working with Paloma, working some of those scenes, especially because our schedule started with some of the most difficult stuff. It was his apartment, for our first two days, which were his hardest scenes. And so we knew we had to hit the ground running and find a way to build his character up, but especially to build an environment of trust between all of us. You know, Andy knew him from all those years ago as well, but he just met Paloma. He had not been acting much the previous few years because of his degree, so it was a big thing.”

“You know, you spend any time with David and you realise how clever and curious he is, says Andrew. “He's going to be fine. And he's had some great mentors in the industry. Right now he's producing a short film [Money Talks] in New York. Just the kind of questions that he would ask in production, and when we spent time with him at Cinequest at our world première – you realise very quickly that David is going to do great things in the industry, and people are going to find his talent the same way that we did and just let him run.

“When we worked with him and rehearsed with him, we very quickly found that it wasn't about directing David. It was about maybe pulling back some decisions more than anything else. He had such great instincts. He and Paloma together were the exact same thing. They make a director's job really easy and awesome. Our approach is that if we hire the right people, they'll make us look good, and David was one of the right people that we made the right decision on. His performance shines in the film because of some of the choices that he made.”

It's really challenging, though, playing that kind of character, because he has to be quite over the top in his emotions in some ways, as that's what the character is going through. How did they work together to strike the right balance?

The Island Between Tides poster
The Island Between Tides poster

“Yeah,” Andrew agrees. “This was something that we talked quite a bit about, and for us, it was a lot about sharing art with David and sharing some music and talking about the character. And there's a lot of movie on the floor. The film that you watched was 100 minutes. There was another version of it that was 30 minutes longer than that, and some of the stuff that we had with David never made it through. Some of that was the thought process and the inner workings of Jared where there definitely is this idea of mental illness and what that does to a family.

“We see that rip apart with Ollie and Zinnia’s relationship and them having to bear this heaviness on them that's really not their burden. It's Zinnia's nephew, and clearly Ollie doesn't have a great connection with him because he got into the way of their relationship. So we can see how that all deconstructs, but also, let's bring in the magic of Jared's world, where he's seeing things that other people can't see, but they are real. And we validate that with Lily being able to see it. This whole movie is kind of one big gaslight for David's character and when we see that validation, the first time they go to the cannery and he sees that Lily can hear the same things that he can hear and see, all of a sudden, the clock starts working, and we can really see that mental illness melt away. But it's not until he fully understands he's got to go to the island that it's going to be completely off his shoulders.”

In the second part of this interview, coming soon, we talk about the island, establishing eras through setting and character, working in a remote location and what it has been like to present the film at festivals.

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