Arts

Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn on directing Liam Neeson in Ordinary Love

Good Vibrations directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn are back with Ordinary Love, a drama starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville as a married couple coping with a breast cancer diagnosis. David Roy quizzed the Belfast-based husband and wife duo about making the Northern Ireland-shot film from a script by acclaimed playwright Owen McCafferty

Liam Neeson (Tom) and Lesley Manville (Joan) star in Ordinary Love

HI GUYS, how does it feel to have Ordinary Love finally opening in cinemas today?

Glenn Leyburn (GL): It feels great – these things are always a journey and more often than not you are living with films for years before they get released. Our first screening was the Toronto International Film Festival, then the London Film Festival and now we've got a slot for release, so it's a real relief to have it out there and be able to put it in front of audiences.

Lisa Barros D'Sa (LBD): A film doesn't really exist until it finds its audience, in a way – it's all about how it communicates to the people in the audience. So we're just looking forward to seeing how it goes down this weekend – fingers crossed that people will like it.

The film has already created a buzz at the festivals – are you pleased that it seems to be connecting with people?

LBD: We've been thrilled with the reaction so far, it's had a very warm response. We showed it for the first time in Toronto and at that point we had never watched it with any kind of audience, so it was a bit daunting. But people seemed really moved and they laughed and there were lots of lovely comments at the end.

One of the things we really loved about this film was that it felt like a really unusual love story, a love story that we don't tend to see that often: it's about a couple in middle age who have had a really strong journey through life together, one that's taken them through thousands of beautiful ordinary days as well as some of the biggest challenges that life can bring.

It's also about a couple who still have a very vibrant relationship after all these years. They're not bored with each other, it's not a power struggle – their relationship is still very much alive and thriving. So that was very interesting to portray.

One of the challenges the couple go through is a cancer diagnosis, which Joan (Lesley Manville) receives early on in the story, but ultimately it really is about that power of the connection between two people that can bring them both life.

Ordinary Love is a change of gears for you as film-makers after Good Vibrations – was that a deliberate choice?

GL: Good Vibes was much more on an ensemble piece with a much larger cast and filming that was a bit like trying to harness chaos – which was wholly appropriate to the subject matter and the tone of that film.

As film-makers we always like to try new things and have new challenges, so to do something like Ordinary Love which is so intimate with two great actors like Liam and Lesley was really very appealing to us.

We actually had a bunch of projects on the go but this one rose to the top really quickly. Owen McCafferty delivered a first draft and we all really loved it, and that doesn't always happen: sometimes scripts require a longer period of development but this one had an instantly positive reaction from us – and thankfully from Liam Neeson as well.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville chat to Lisa Barros D'Sa on set

We'd been working with him on one of those other projects after Good Vibes and met him a few times, so when [Ordinary Love] came in, we could just hear Liam's 'voice' in the script.

We instantly thought of him, so we got the first draft sent to him and thankfully he connected with it in the same way we did. He signed up after the first draft, which is also very rare. Of course, Liam has a great theatre background and knew who Owen was, so I think that was a strong attraction for him.

LBD: He just loved the writing and I think he could feel himself in this character. So he was immediately very excited to do it.

Was it Liam who suggested Lesley as a potential co-star?

LBD: Yes, Liam had been a huge fan of her work, as were we. I think we all maybe recognised that there was maybe something similar about them as actors, they have a great quality of naturalism to them – you always believe what they do on-screen.

They're also very low-key people, there aren't big egos involved. They're very intelligent and have a similar sense of humour, a very dry wit. They have a warmth to them as people and are very generous as actors, and I think those qualities helped make the set a very happy place to be.

The respect they had for each other allowed them both to be vulnerable in those moments where the story required it and enabled them to get to a place where they could play these characters quite astonishingly and make it absolutely convincing that they'd been together for decades.

GL: Liam and Lesley had actually never met before and we didn't have a lot of time for rehearsal beforehand. He went to see her in New York doing Long Day's Journey Into Night in the theatre and then they met up for dinner after that to have a quick chat. We had a couple of days in Liam's apartment talking over the script, and another day or two in Belfast before we began – and that was really it.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville with Lisa during shooting

Was is yourselves and your Canderblinks Films producing partner David Holmes who encouraged Owen McCafferty to write this particular story?

LBD: We'd been hoping to work with Owen for a while and I think David takes credit for persuading him to write this, which is his first ever film. David and Owen have been friends since childhood and so he knew very well the journey he and his wife Peggy had been on when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

David had also had experience of that journey with members of his own family and wondered if it might be a strong subject for Owen to write about and for us to work on together. I think initially Owen was quite resistant because, quite understandably, he feared he and Peggy having to relive those experiences again while working on the story. But I think they decided that it might be something positive to put out into the world.

Obviously it's a fictional story, but I think that being the basis of the film really gives it something that's deeply resonant. And it's a very universal story: this [breast cancer] is a journey that so many people go through every day and one that we don't perhaps see portrayed this way on screen. So hopefully it will connect with people in a positive way.

:: Ordinary Love is in cinemas from today.

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