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INTERVIEW WITH PAUL IRELAND the St Kilda-ite first time director of highly acclaimed contemporary Australian movie PAWNO.
By Henry Shires

PAUL IRELAND, despite the surname and the fact that he has been a highly in demand Australian film and TV thespian for the best part of the last couple of decade, is actually a pretty bluff Scottish cove. Who displays very little of the show biz “luvvie”. And whose presence is more reminiscent of a younger Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws), with his ubiquitous baseball cap.

He it also, totally coincidentally, my wife’s cousin’s husband. Small town, Australia, huh! Though I am not sure that we have ever exchanged more than two words both totally sober before. Given the nature of “family” get-togethers.

However both being get-getting types. We get right to it.

Paul: I’d always wanted to do it (direct) since drama school. It was just that I never got round to it. Life just got in the way. And then this project came up. And I was going to be involved anyway. So I just decided to jump onboard and direct it.

On why Footscray rather than St Kilda:

Paul: It’s one of the few remaining suburbs in Melbourne that has still got that edgy, raw quality which is a melting pot of different cultures. Because I didn’t want it just to be about a certain area. I wanted it to be this could be anywhere in the world. It’s just about people. Could be Paris, New York. Or even Glasgow.

On the great, highly eclectic, multicultural sound track:

Paul: Every single piece of music in there is chosen by myself. For instance, the opening Vietnamese/hip hop track. The film’s composers called me and said they had this very different track and I listened to it and I thought, man it’s very different. It’s great. I thought it fitted really well.

On his own first experience of the Pawn Shop phenomenon:

Paul: In UK my mate and me, aged about 17, moved from Scotland to Blackpool, to make our fortunes. And we were skint and I had this gold chain. And our rent was due. So I pawned it. I think I got about 60 pounds. I never got it back. Because we then went and put the money on a horse. And of course lost it. And then had to go back home to Scotland with our tails between our legs.

But in the film, it’s an analogy. Pawnshops to a lot of ordinary people all over the world are their banks. They don’t have money. They don’t have savings. It’s their way of having money and getting to eat. So in a way Les (the pawn shop owner) is a bit like an alternative social service. In fact despite his grumpy façade he is actually one of the most caring characters in the film.

On the uniquely diverse spectrum of very different male role models in this film:

Paul: I usually associate with a particular character but because we have so many lead characters and I got so close to all of them and helped draw them, I sort of like them all. I love Danny’s innocence and good nature – that’s Damien (the film’s writer, who plays him) to a tee. And I love Carlo’s philosophical, street person, take on the world.

On the film being gritty on the outside but extremely romantic at heart:

Paul: I think everyone is searching for love. You know. It makes the world go round etc. I just wanted at the very end of everything just to have two people having a beautiful kiss. Looking over a beautiful city. Melbourne. Even after everything that has happened before you still feel uplifted. There are a lot of different things going on in this film but I still wanted the characters, and the audience, to feel at the end that there is also always hope. There is hope for everyone out there. Because I feel that way about life.

On the importance of not signposting or being too black and white in plotting:

Paul: Throughout the whole thing I did not want to overplay anything. For instance for me the biggest love story in the film is the friendship of the two druggy street lads, Carlo and Pauly.Also I can’t tell an audience what to think or feel. So as much as I possibly can I leave things open to the audiences own imagination. Cos you never know what’s going to happen in life. I don’t even know what’s going to happen when I walk away from this café. Could be my phone goes and it’s my sister telling me that my dad has died. All we have got it right now. When you know what’s going to happen next in a film, or in life. It’s boring.

On whether he knew personally experienced real hardmen (there may be no sex but there is just a brush stroke of “the old ultra-violence” in the film) growing up back in Scotland:

Paul: Yeah I did see fights growing up. I grew up in a very rough area (Waitress, could I have another skinny latte please). We had a Catholic and a Protestant school. And every single Friday they would have a fight. In England you probably had fish on a Friday. We had the Friday fight.

On avoiding the common first/low budget “creakiness”:

Paul: Damien (Hill the writer) and I worked on the script together for 2 and a half years, in my kitchen. And, being actors, we read each scene out aloud to each other and enacted it. Cos if I can’t make something sound right in my own mouth, as an actor, I know there’s something wrong with that. And we cut a lot to make it more…filmic.

But I knew that the real key to it would be casting really good actors. And I wanted a really multicultural and eclectic cast. And interesting faces on screen.

As Woody Allen says. Casting is 80% of the trick. You have a vision in your head. Then you just set up the scene. And you just let these guys play. Bring whatever they want to bring to it.

And you don’t want to have to work with people who are a pain in the arse. Do you know what I mean?

I certainly do. And, for me, Paul Ireland was an absolutely lovely example.       

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