FandomWire‘s Oliver Swift had the opportunity to speak to actor James D’Arcy about making the leap to director, with his feature debut, Made in Italy. Read on to see James and Oliver discuss drive in theaters, the rains of Tuscany and wanting to direct a Marvel movie.
OS: Hello and welcome to the FandomWire show, I’m Oliver Swift and I’m here with actor, writer and film director James D’Arcy who is here to talk about his directorial feature debut, Made In Italy, which is released next week. How are you doing James? It’s good to be able to speak to you today.
JD: You too, Oliver, you too.
OS: Before we start, can you briefly give us a summary of the film?
JD: Yes, sure. So the film is really a father son redemption love story, I suppose. The father and the son, who are played in the film by Liam Neeson and his real life son, Michael Richardson. When we first meet them they’re estranged and they are obligated to go to Italy and sell an old family home, which they do with some reservation. The story is a gradual reveal of their relationships, set against this, hopefully, very beautiful Tuscan backdrop.
OS: It certainly seems like a very personal story, are there any events in the film that are directly lifted from real life?
JD: There is a shadow of Liam’s wife, and Michael’s mother, who has died ten years previously. By chance, this parallels what has happened in real life with Liam’s wife, obviously Natasha Richardson died and it’s very public knowledge how she died. I wrote the script while Natasha was still alive, so it is completely by chance, but I do think it is one of the things that Liam probably tapped into when he read the script. Honestly, it could’ve gone either way. I was nervous he might get quite angry that I was being ghoulish or something about his real life. He didn’t and he saw that it wasn’t his life story and he saw it as an opportunity, perhaps, for him to investigate some of those emotions and he leapt into it. Not only did he want to work with a first time director on a pretty low budget movie, but he also suggested that there could be something in doing this with his own son that brought an extra dimension to it. So, that’s how I met Michael. My father died when I was very young, so this script was my love letter, or fantasy love letter, to what my relationship with my father might’ve been like. The three of us sort of had losing somebody in common and that helped us have a little shorthand, especially when we come to the more emotional scenes.
OS: Yeah, so it was Liam who brought Michael on then?
JD: I met Liam and he responded really well to the script and he said in that meeting, ‘look, we don’t have to do this, but would you consider meeting my son, Michael and auditioning him, because I think there could be something in there’. And we had a long conversation about the fact that we didn’t want to do the Neeson family therapy film, we were trying to make an entertainment, which he was one hundred percent adamant about. But, he felt that there could be something between the lines, which you just couldn’t get otherwise and I was very happy to meet Michael. When I met him, he’s such a charming young man and of course, because his real life mother has died, he has access to all of that complex emotion. And it didn’t hurt that he looks like a movie star. You know, a Richardson-Neeson, he comes from maybe the best acting stock of anybody ever. So, Liam suggested it, but in the end we could’ve gone in a different direction, but I really thought it was worth exploring and I’m glad that I did.
OS: I’m glad you did, too. They’re both great in it, it’s pretty powerhouse.
JD: And, also, I think the other thing is, having Michael on set brought out something in Liam that I feel like I haven’t seen in a film, ever. There’s a lightness to Liam that I don’t remember seeing. Obviously, more recently, he’s become successful in the genre of action films, but even before that, I don’t remember seeing Liam smile in movies and when he did, I was like ‘oh my God, wow’. It’s really amazing.
OS: Well, I think you’ve mentioned previously as well, that you wanted to play the role of Jack back when you first had the idea. Is that correct?
JD: Yeah, that’s true. But when I first had the idea, it was over a decade ago. What I did was that I wrote the script, I did two or three drafts over the course of a year and then I just couldn’t get it going. And it just sat around for a really long time. Then I directed a short film, which I massively enjoyed. It’s called Chicken/Egg, it’s on YouTube. I really enjoyed doing that and the guy who had produced it, Sam Tipper-Hale, read this script and said ‘this would be a great first feature, it’s not expensive and it’s a real character piece and I think we have a chance to get it going, why don’t we work on it a little bit?’ Which we did, with Pippa Cross, who was my other producer, and the truth is, these small films, at this point you have to go one of two ways if you’re a first time director. You either need the backing of a streamer who will take a punt on a first time director, or you need an A-list star who will come and take a massive pay cut and who will trust you. So, I got really, really lucky that Liam saw something in the script, or the short, or me and did that. I don’t think he’s worked with a first time director in…I don’t know when he last worked with a first time director.
OS: So, with Tuscany itself, it’s pretty significant to the story. Was its connection to art, ie, Leonardo da Vinci, was that a deliberate choice in placing your characters very much in the world of art. Was that intentional?
JD: So, the art angle probably came a bit later in the writing of the script. I knew I wanted to do something about a father and son and I knew I wanted to set it in Tuscany, because the first embryonic idea had come to when I was on holiday in Tuscany. But then, it followed. It made sense to me that the Robert character, Liam’s character, was an artist in Tuscany. It makes a lot of sense because it’s obviously and extremely creative part of the world. So, yes, it just sort of all fell together that way, I guess.
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OS: How was it shooting in Tuscany?
JD: Well, there was the dream of what it would be like shooting in Tuscany. And then there’s what you see on film, which looks a lot like the dream of what you think it would be like shooting in Tuscany. And then there’s the reality, which is we encountered the worst May in fifty years.
JD: We were in Tuscany for five and a half weeks and for the first four and a half weeks, it did not stop raining. So, with almost every one of the interiors, what you can’t see out the window, is that there are three sparks hanging onto the lights with raincoats as the wind comes in sideways. I mean it was just appalling. And the night shoots, we had a lot of night shoots, it was freezing. It was freaky. My amazing producers scrambled really brilliantly and we basically pushed all the exteriors to the last week of the shoot and crossed our fingers. And then the film gods just blessed us, because we got one week of sunshine. And I would say that in the time we were in Tuscany, every single second of sunshine that happened, we caught on film.
OS: Amazing, well you took it and worked with it so well done.
JD: We got very lucky. But it was also good we were in one house because we could suddenly nip outside and a do a scene, if we felt like we had an hour and a half of clear weather. So, that helped our cause a little bit but certainly when we went into town and all that kind of stuff, we just needed to get lucky. And we did.
OS: Good, so obviously directing a feature, I guess it’s kind of the deciding factor now on whether you want to carry on directing in your career? Has it further ignited the passion?
JD: Oh, yeah, I really loved it. I really enjoyed myself. If I’m allowed to do it again, I would love to. I would really love to. I felt that I’m lucky that I’ve been on a lot of film sets in the past twenty five years, so I’ve seen directors at work. But that’s not quite the same as doing it. I felt like I learned quite a lot as I went along and the second time out, I’d hope that I’ve absorbed the first time around and therefore be able to be more technically adept.
OS: Which genres are you looking forward to exploring the most, as a director?
JD: Oh, blimey. I mean we speak the day after Alan Parker passed away and he was a genius in not being in any one genre. That would be a dream for me, to not be stuck in one genre. I just love the movies. If I can work in a number of different ways, that’s great. The bottom line is that you just wanna tell stories that touch people, or move people in some way. The only thing I would probably say is that I’m not going to do a horror movie, because they don’t really interest me.
OS: That’s fair, would you ever want to get back into the Marvel universe by directing a Marvel film?
JD: I mean, I’m not going to say no to that. (laughs)
OS: (laughs) I completely get that. With the last question, as a fellow Brit, how exactly does it feel that your film is going to be opening in some drive in cinemas?
JD: Do you know what, over the course of the lockdown, where I live, a drive in popped up and I went to see Pulp Fiction for the first time in my life. I mean, it’s not the first time I’ve seen Pulp Fiction. I went to a drive in for the first time in my life and we saw Pulp Fiction. The minute the credits started, it started raining. And then it rained for about ten minutes and then it stopped raining, but the windscreen steamed up for about fifteen minutes. And we couldn’t see anything. I turned to my partner and we laughed out loud. We were like, ‘of course this is what it’s like going to a drive in, in the UK’. So, look, I love the idea of drive ins and I’m delighted for America that they probably won’t have to put up for the weather we have. My only sadness is I can’t go to America and join in!
OS: So true. I’ve never been, but I’m sure it’s an experience. Look, I’ll leave it there then. Thanks so much for your time, James.
JD: Thank you, Oliver.
OS: It’s been great to speak to you. Best of luck with the film.
JD: Thank you, appreciate it.
You can read FandomWire’s review of James D’Arcy’s directorial debut here: Made in Italy Review: A Welcome Directorial Debut
A synopsis reads:
A London artist and his estranged son try to mend their relationship as they work together to repair a dilapidated house in Italy.
Made in Italy is the directorial debut of James D’Arcy and is due to be released in the United States in Select Theaters, Drive-Ins, and Digital/VOD on 7th August 2020.
It stars Liam Neeson, Micheál Richardson, Valeria Bilello and Lindsay Duncan.