CIARAN FOY INTERVIEW
Conducted by Karin Crighton
WARNING: This interview contains mild spoilers.
New York is cold in October. The wind whips down 7th Avenue with a vengeance and emerging from the subway at 42nd Street one is met with the overwhelming traffic of the theater district on a matinee afternoon. Hurrying up to 49th street, I found a rare quiet in the ancient building where Falco houses its offices.
The elevator leading up to the offices where I interviewed Ciarán Foy could well be from the movie itself. Narrow and rickety, the door closes the rider off from any sense of where you are in the world or any sense of safety.
Citadel has the same effect. The movie stems from a vicious attack perpetuated on Mr. Foy in his youth that left him petrified of the world and other people. Despite this event that could have left a lesser person shut off for life, his struggle in overcoming his own agoraphobia has yielded a story of redemption that both empowers and terrifies.
Karin Crighton: I got a lot of messages from the film about the current stasis of children in urban environments , which seemed somewhat hopeless. Is there hope, short of blowing up [the feral kids]?
Ciarán Foy: Citadel is partially based on my own experience of being viciously attacked and living with agoraphobia in an area like that. I didn't want it to be like Eden Lake, where a middle class character's Land Rover breaks down in a shitty area and suddenly the locals end up [attacking them]. In that case you are saying something very political. I wanted everyone to be in the same class in this movie. I wanted Tommy to come from this area. We see him and Joanna at the start in this working class area, we encounter Danny who is obviously a good kid, so in a sense the feral kids are not so much [a true representation of] youth for me, but abandoned youth. Their father abandoned them, they're left to raise themselves.
The attack happened I was 18. Afterwards, I viewed the world as extremely threatening place. I saw the gangs that still loiter on the corner as pure evil. In hindsight, I came to understand the various social and economic reason of why things are the way they are, but the other piece of it, the more I looked into it, the more common ground was the lack of parenting. And how it's not the world that's the threat. It's the fact, and the metaphor with Tommy and Elsa, that what ultimately corrupts our youth is the lack of love. If Tommy's not there for her, if he fears the world, the gangs are going to be attracted to him and take Elsa away. And ultimately she would be corrupted. When I was getting help for agoraphobia I was told that in your brain the opposite of fear, speaking in terms of hemispheres, is not courage, but love. Fear and courage and guilt are all in the same quadrant; the opposite is love and altruism. That's ultimately got to be Tommy's story: To go from being non-father, a reluctant father, being someone who saw his wife, who he loved, being taken away from him and being replaced with this life, that he has no love for initially. His arc can't be fear to courage, but having no love for Elsa to finally being a father. Those were things on my mind versus saying it's hopeless. It was strong incentive to end with him very hopeful. In that it was a story of a redemption.
KC: Was there any meaning to the lack of religion with the character of the priest?
CF: I don't think you can sit down to start to write and say "I'm going to write about these themes", I think the themes present themselves as you write. As I was writing, two themes become apparent, kept coming to surface: first the fear of fatherhood and second was self-belief. I saw this and realized: "This is like Dumbo". This is why you see so many little elephants in the film! You've got a character who has no self-belief who meets a mentor, who gives him a feather that Dumbo believes allows him to do what he does. And he learns at the worst possible moment that it's just a placebo, that the ability has lay within him this whole time.
KC: That's the best metaphor I've ever heard: Citadel is Dumbo.
CF: Right? So for me, Tommy is Dumbo, the feather would be Danny, who Tommy is told will hide his fear, but it's just a placebo. But if he's walked past the hoods before, we know that ability must lay within him. So Dumbo is evidently a story about self-belief. And no matter what your belief, we can have crutches we fall back on that allow us to get through anything, but ultimately it's got to come from inside. The themes grew hand in hand.
Then I thought, if it's about fear of fatherhood, what if I have a literal Father in it, a spiritual father? The generic trope with this kind of movie is that you have a Catholic priest who has all of the answers to a supernatural threat. What I wanted to do was to turn it on its head; to have a faithless priest with no answers to a very real threat. And let's have the main character be religious. So you have this nice switch of the guy who should be wearing the collar is not that faithful and vice versa.
Back home, one guy read way too much into it at the screening. It was really entertaining. He said, "So basically, what happened was, the priest has quite literally fucked the community, right? And created these things. Which is what the church has done." And I was like, "...Okay."
You know what happens when you're in school when you're studying Shakespeare, and he had a symbol for this and that and everything? I'm convinced we've read too much into it. Maybe an object just meant the object!
KC: Was there any significance to Tommy being so young or is that just a difference in Irish culture and American culture?
CF: Maybe? Well, first, the attack happened to me when I was young, but secondly, one of the things that you see a lot of in terms of iconography of those [working class] areas are really young fathers pushing prams and buggies. It's an image I see a lot of in life but haven't seen in film; it's usually women.
KC: I thought it was very strong choice, even if it wasn't a choice: the unpreparedness of being a parent at such a young age.
CF: He was still a kid and that's why it works in that sense too. It's a class thing too. A lot of middle class people tend to work on their career first, then in their thirties have kids, but in working class areas they have their kids when they are still kids themselves. That was something I wanted to echo: Where I was in my head when this was going on and how people would say "be a man" when you're still on that cusp of childhood. I found it quite a fresh image.
KC: Were those twins really that well behaved or was that editing? Those babies seemed amazing.
CF: The babies were amazing in retrospect. We had twin boys playing the baby girl; Harry and Arlowe are their names. Harry was really laid back, a really mellow kind of kid. Arlowe was possessed.
KC: Well that worked out!
CF: It totally worked out. We could say: Is this a Harry scene? Is this an Arlowe scene? They are the best baby actors I've ever worked with...and the only ones! The best thing would have been triplets; you could have one that is calm, one that is a demon and the other is giggling all the time.
KC: So...the screening DVD skipped in the scene where Tommy is at Marie's apartment. And we lost a lot of that scene. I missed part of what was happening in there, unfortunately. Did she kiss him?
CF: She tried to kiss him and he resisted.
KC: Ah, okay. I noticed the colors were so much warmer and alive. I heard the song and wondered, "Is this representing his growing attachment to Marie or is it just saying how everything reminds him of his love for Joanna?" and then the DVD skipped!
CF: I wanted that to be the one oasis in the movie. I became obsessed with the rectangle in the making of this movie. For me, when I was suffering from agoraphobia the front door became the threat; the threshold I couldn't pass through. In the movie, it became the towers, tombstones. We always wanted to frame Tommy in the rectangle as much as possible; he's always trapped and a prisoner of the tower, except for that scene.
In the first draft of the screenplay, Marie existed all the way to the end. But I didn't want her to go to the towers; she's not an action hero or anything. I always struggled with how she says goodbye; it felt like some Lord of the Rings scene where she says farewell. It wasn't working, and one day out of frustration I said, "Why don't I just kill off this character?" and it was a shocking moment.
KC: It seemed as if the whole theater gasped.
CF: Yeah, there was something in the buildup in writing to that. I think the best shocks in writing are the ones that are shocking to you [as the writer]. I got shocked; you're not expecting that. All of the foundations being laid are leading up to her being a form of salvation for this guy. But it made sense to me; she's not his salvation: Elsa is.
KC: I'm allowed time for one more question: Did you blow up a real building?
CF: [Sounding disappointed] No.
KC: Did you try?
CF: Well, it was one of those things, and I guess I shouldn't say this, but I still think that special effects could have been better. It works, it tells the story, but speaking in terms of metaphors, it was a giant door on fire. I would have liked to burn it down; it was an abandoned building block and it was minus 19 Celsius outside and minus 10 inside. It was great we got that effect of the breath, but it was horrendous to shoot. And it was supposed to be abandoned, but we were hearing noises upstairs.
KC: That's not creepy at all.
CF: And there were junkie squatters all over the place. A fire would have worked for keeping us warm, but sadly, still illegal.
We'd like to thank Ciarán Foy for sitting down with HorrorTalk.
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