Jack Hickey's directorial debut LGBTQ and mental health drama in Oscar running

Mental health, suicide and LGBT issues are all explored in Dublin actor and director Jack Hickey's first film as a writer and director. Jenny Lee finds out more

Claire Dunne stars in the new Irish short film Cynthia

EMOTIONAL honesty, bravery and truth are at the heart of actor Jack Hickey's directorial debut. His live-action short, Cynthia, has already picked up awards at the Galway Film Fleadh and the Irish Film Festival in London.

And with the film long-listed for this year's 92nd Academy Awards, Hickey will be waiting with bated breath on Monday to see if Cynthia makes the nominee short list in the Live Action Short Film category.

Cynthia is a story about unrequited love and emotional bravery. Over the course of a fraught evening Cynthia navigates her once familiar circle of friends, and comes to realise that some bridges can't be mended. Clementine, her best friend and female crush, wants everything to simply go back to how it was. But things have changed, and the full weight of everything left unsaid begins to bear down on the table. Drink is had, tensions are high, and devastating things are said. Things that cannot be taken back.

Hickey is best known for his work as an actor in the likes of Game Of Thrones, Emmerdale and Jericho as well as the feature films Mary Shelley and most recently starring alongside Hermione Corfield in Sea Fever.

Just over a year ago he set up Dublin-based film and television production company Copper Alley Productions with his sister Lara Hickey, who produced Cynthia. It was a natural progression for the siblings, who were been brought up "engulfed in the world of drama and theatre".

"Our father worked for Screen Ireland, our mother was an actress for 20 years with the Abbey Theatre Company, where my grandfather also served as the artistic director. That's been our life. I'm trying not to think about the Oscars," Hickey says.

"I've been going to the Galway Film Fleadh for as long as I can remember, so just getting our film into it, it was a culmination of a life long ambition, let alone winning the Tiernan McBride Award.

"I've worked on some amazing projects as an actor. I did a horror film called Sea Fever that premiered this year at the Toronto Film Festival which was the most amazing acting experience, working with an incredible cast including Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, but [the days spent] shooting Cynthia were the happiest professional two days of my life. I couldn't quantify the pride and satisfaction it gave me."

Hickey credits the films success to the cast – Clare Dunne, Moe Dunford (Vikings), Valerie O'Connor (Red Rock), Peter Campion (Derry Girls), and Caoimhe O'Malley (Dublin Murders).

"There are some miraculous performances in this piece and I think we own every accolade and positive comment about this film to these actors," he adds.

He has particular praise for Dunne, whose own first feature film, Herself, will debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Claire has a huge talent. She approached the whole process with such delicacy, nuance, and empathy," he says.

"There is a five-minute monologue in the film which is all about emotion and Claire did it in one take. I can't communicate what an immense amount of talent it takes to pull that off."

Was he not keen to star in Cynthia himself?

"I was tempted, but I didn't trust myself to do it properly," he laughs.

The film sensitively handles the effects of attempted suicide, while also exploring prominent topics including mental health, LGBT issues and unrequited love.

"I wanted to make a piece that was unashamedly raw and emotional. For me, there was something very rich in the idea of how we can be vulnerable, even in the most robust of social contexts. Vulnerability doesn't come easy to us and bottling things up and being fake can literally kill you," Hickey says.

"I don't think it's a polemic film, but if there is a message it's that emotional honesty can be a release and if you just move through the world honestly you will have a better time. It's not always socially convenient, but ultimately it's the best thing you can do for yourself."

Hickey is hoping to continue touring Cynthia around the film festival circuit in 2020, as well as writing and developing his first feature-film screenplay. He has also teamed up with sister Lara again on plans to shoot another short. "It's something extremely different in tone, and I'm looking forward to the challenges it will present," he says.

Audiences can also look forward to seeing Hickey in front of the camera, in Ferdia Mac Anna's new coming-of-age romantic comedy, Dannyboy. Shot in Kildare, it tells the story of a young man trying to find love among New Romantics, Post Punks, Goths and other tribes.

"I actually play the lead singer in a band. I'm definitely not the rock star type, but this was a fun character to throw myself in to. It's set in the 80s and I was wearing a red fur coat and my hair was as high as the ceiling," he laughs.

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