Eoin Macken is an actor’s director. This is clear from the way he talks about the process, from casting to the collaboration of improvisation on set, and perhaps it should come as no surprise. Macken is himself an actor, and has worked with some great filmmakers throughout his career so far. This gives him a perspective that is invaluable, an understanding of each side of the process. Pair that with a dream cast, and you have the boldly original coming-of-age film, Here Are the Young Men. Part juvenile delinquency drama and part psychological thriller, it is a film that leaves an impression. Sitting down to talk with Macken about the filmmaking process and his directorial style, I found an undeniably passionate artist inside of an actor blessed with natural charm.
Ryan Izay: So, Here Are the Young Men is adapted from Rob Doyle’s novel. What was it that drew you to the source material?
Eoin Macken: You read certain books, and they have some kind of grit in them, that kind of drives you along, and it felt visually very cinematic to me. And Rob’s book kinda really goes into the headspace of these characters and explores something I thought was really dark and unhinged and interesting, and I kinda provocative and wanted to explore what those characters went through. When I read his words, it kinda made me think of a lot of music, which is what I tried to put in the film. So I just was like, I want to make this; I think there could be something cinematically really interesting about this. And I was trying to shoot Dublin in a different way, that wasn’t like the usual coming-of-age story; a lot more pulp and grit to it.
Izay: I notice that you seem to favor thrillers and psychological thrillers in your filmography. Is that genre that you gravitate towards?
Macken: Yeah, I do. I do, I think. I like the darkness in people. I guess, you know, there’s something interesting about it… there’s not a huge amount of darkness in my own life, I think, and I find that sometimes allows you to explore those themes in an interesting way. And I did a psychology degree, so I was always interested in what makes people tick. Also, it’s kind of fun, when you’re shooting that stuff. It’s kinda fun. Especially visually. You can play around with stuff, and I’ve always been inspired by, visually, a lot of color and so forth. So you can kinda do crazy things when you explore that kind of movie.
Izay: In terms of visuals, do you have any filmmakers or films you to for inspiration?
Macken: Yeah, anything by Oliver Stone or David Lynch. Or Kieslowski. I love a lot of Kieslowski’s stuff, like A Short Film About Killing. Have you seen A Short Film About Killing?
Izay: Oh, yeah! It’s a spectacular film.
Macken: It’s amazing! And it’s just shot so beautifully. And it’s all so chaotic, and that’s what I love about that. Those sort of movies, they have a mood to them, right? And visually… they have a kind of angst in the visuals. I always find that fascinating.
Izay: When I was looking through your work, I noticed this wasn’t the first time you have adapted. Is it true that Leopard was based off of a passage from East of Eden?
Macken: Well, no. I didn’t adapt that. That’s- I think someone wrote that once. That was just inspired by the idea… I loved Steinbeck at the time, and that was inspired by the idea of writing something similar. I’d read that book at the time and Tom Hopper asked me to write something, so we could make something. So, what I liked about East of Eden was the character of Lenny and so forth. So I tried to write something for Tom that gave him something interesting to explore, and that story just evolved, happened.
Izay: Is writing your own screenplays for the films you direct something you prefer, in terms of the creative process?
Macken: Yeah, it’s not something I want to do exclusively, you know. I’m doing some things with some other people’s writing at the moment. It’s just that sometimes it gives you a bit more freedom to explore characters. And also it just kinda happens, because when you’re starting out trying to make films… It’s hard to make films, and sometimes the best way to do that is to write things, and then go from there.
Izay: Which would you say is more challenging, acting or directing?
Macken: They’re very different. I love acting. But I do also find, acting’s very challenging and can be exhausting. It’s emotionally exhausting, and directing’s not as emotionally exhausting on the day. But there’s also, when you act at least you can go home and relax. When you’re directing a project, it’s a constant 24/7 thing. And I kinda enjoy both, because they’re both very different headspaces. So when I’m acting, I don’t think about directing at all. But it also, I find for me, helps me then, to totally trust who I’m working with, because I just trust them as a director. That’s how I want to be. That’s how I want people to trust me. So I kinda find that freeing in a way, to do that. And then when you’re directing something, it’s like a total different creation of the story, and you’re responsible in a different way.
Izay: Are there any directors that you’ve worked with as an actor that inspired you, either in a positive way… if it was negative, I won’t ask for names.
Macken: No, no… There was two. One was Paul W.S. Anderson, who I worked with on Resident Evil, and he came aboard as an executive (producer) on this, and he helped me with some of the script. He directed an awesome movie called Shopping (1994) earlier in his career, which I loved. And I love Paul’s approach to filmmaking, because he really enjoys himself. And he makes things he wants to make, and that’s also really important. And he’s very definite about what he does, and he knows everything about cinema. And then Mike Figgis, who I worked with, has a very different approach. And I just love Mike’s approach to casting and working with actors. I remember one day working with Mike on this movie called Suspension of Disbelief (2012). On the day, he goes “Okay, so you’re going to do a monologue for this scene.” I was like, “What monologue?” and goes “Oh, you’re gonna write it.” And he gave me like an hour to write the monologue. This scene was already constructed but he wanted me to just do this piece. And it was incredibly liberating, and it was also interesting, because the idea for Mike is that once you know your character and what the context is, then you should be able to say words in that character’s voice, because you’re in that situation. And so that’s also quite interesting, because it forces you to consider really understanding your character. So I found working with Mike that way was really interesting.
Izay: You mentioned Shopping, so I have to make a comparison, just in terms of your film. They are both films, I feel like, that are coming-of-age, but also deal with delinquency, and maybe some issues of masculinity in ways that are culturally relevant now. Was that something you were aware of and wanting to address within your film?
Macken: Yeah, there were a lot of things I wanted to address in the film, and I had a lot of fun with it. But yeah, I did… I found a lot of those movies in the 90s were kinda what inspired me. Like stuff from Shopping through to Natural Born Killers, through to Bronson, through to Trainspotting, through to Requiem for a Dream… all that type of stuff. They were the kind of movies that affected me from a visual point of view, and from a musical point of view, and just what the characters went through. And I wanted to explore that same feeling that I got from watching those movies, which made me uncomfortable, and made me think about things, and made me question things… And also made me not want to be a part of those character’s worlds, and be like “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that.” And I think that’s also important, to be like “Okay, these are not places I want to go to in my life.” And so thematically, I found that interesting. And also, there’s a lot of visceral, almost foreboding tension and violence in those films, which is what I wanted to get through this. I didn’t want this to be an easy film. It wasn’t deliberately meant to be uncomfortable, but I didn’t want it to be an easy film to watch, like here’s a nice coming-of-age film… It’s not that. You know, I wanted to explore the morality of what happens when people are pushed to these places, what forces people to be pushed to these places. Without it being too much of, “This is what this is now.” There’s kind of different elements you can take from it, I guess.
Izay: You talk about the process of acting. What was it like with your cast? Because you had an incredible cast… Was that a process, or did it happen pretty organically?
Macken: It kinda happened organically. Again, I mentioned Mike Figgis… I like to follow Mike Figgis’ etho, to an extent, which is, you get a really good casting director on board. Daniel Hubbard was great and we kinda just… I just like to meet people once, and have a chat, and you kinda figure out who you want for the character, and how they understand it. And once I met Dean and knew he was Matthew, that was kind of it, and you just build around them. I wanted people who understood the characters and felt free to explore, and to test themselves. Travis goes to crazy places, Finn does some super-dark stuff, Anya is fantastic, Dean is great, Ferdia was brilliant. And I wanted to get people to allow them to play. You know, they just create the world and I just let them do their thing, kinda just guide them through some stuff. If you get people who really understand their characters, and they’re just really, really great, really talented, you kinda just let them play. You know?
Izay: You got a lot of these actors as their careers are really starting to take off. Was that just happenstance, or was that intentional when you were casting?
Macken: A bit of both. Just trying to find the right people first and foremost. And trying to find the right people that would balance each other. Because I think a lot of acting is about the chemistry between people. Also, there’s no point casting anyone if they didn’t fit the character, so for me they all fit, they all embody the characters perfectly. But yeah, I mean there’s certain people you can just tell straight away are gonna do great. So, Dean hadn’t done 1917 yet, but you knew Dean was going to be a rock star, because he’s awesome. You just knew these things were gonna happen.
Izay: And was that Noomi Rapace that I saw in the fantasy sequence?
Macken: It was! It was Noomi Rapace.
Izay: Was that from working with her on Close?
Macken: Yeah, yeah. Well, she happened to be in the UK at the time, when we just worked together in Close and we got on really well, and we were writing together and kinda working on some stuff, so she wanted to be a part of it. Yeah, I mean her character wasn’t really in the script. I mean it kinda was there; it was a small thing. And I was like, “Do you wanna do this?” and she was like “Yeah!” and we just kinda hung out and she wanted to be a part of it. So it just became a fun little thing. I mean, she’s got the weirdest part in the whole movie.
Izay: I mean, it’s I the fantasy sequence, so it worked. You’ve also got Travis Fimmel a pretty bizarre role from what we’re used to seeing.
Macken: Yeah, again, that’s a very deliberately provocative scene, which is also designed to take you out of the film in a way, and I think that either connects or it doesn’t, but at the same time, I was having fun making that piece of cinema. It’s just fascinatingly bizarre. And there’s a bunch of different metaphors in it, and I was like “Let’s just explore this,” because it’s not often you get to do that.
Izay: Were you always intending to cast yourself as the American homeless man?
Macken: (laughs) Oh, you noticed that? I was the guy that got beat up.
Izay: I did notice that.
Macken: No, that was just circumstance, where the guy who was meant to do it got delayed in traffic. So, I was like, alright. I’m gonna do this. (laughs and throws hands up)
Izay: It was a nice little cameo.
Macken: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Izay: I thought it was intentional, putting yourself in that particular role.
Macken: Well, now that you say it, maybe subconsciously it was. Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe I told that guy the wrong time… No.
Izay: The self-punishing artist.
Macken: (laughing) Yeah, exactly. The self-flagellating artist. Good Lord.
Izay: So is there anything else you’re working on now that you can tell us about?
Macken: Yeah, I’m currently writing a script called Abeline, which is kind of my version of True Romance meets Badlands. That’s hopefully what I’m going to make next year. And I’ve got a movie coming out shortly called Till Death, which I did with the guys from Millenium and Megan Fox. And then I just did a horror movie called The Cellar with Brendan Muldowney in Ireland. Myself and Elisha Cuthbert… It was a pretty crazy horror film. So yeah, there’s a few things going on. I’m trying to keep busy in this crazy world we’re all living in at the moment!
HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN was released on digital April 27 from Well Go USA Entertainment and is available across all digital platforms.
HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN, based on the acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, catalogs the last hurrah of three high school graduates intent on celebrating their newfound freedom with an epic, debaucherous bender. However, when a horrible accident sends them spiraling, the trio must grapple with the most daunting challenge of their lives: facing their own inner demons.