LA Film Festival Thu 7.9.2015

The Stars of Jimmy’s Hall on the Immersive Experience of Acting for Ken Loach

Forced into exile twice, Jimmy Gralton, the main character of Ken Loach’s new film Jimmy’s Hall, defied the repressive dogma of the Irish Catholic church to defend his belief in freedom of expression. The film made its LA premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month. After the screening, the actors Barry Ward and Simone Kirby joined the audience for a Q&A.

Both actors said researching their real-life characters was no easy task. Very little is known of the real Gralton. What we do know was passed down through oral tradition. When screenwriter Paul Laverty began researching the story, he found that all official documentation of Gralton had mysteriously disappeared. The insinuation is that the government had tried to cover up the fact that they had illegally deported a man.

Making things even more difficult for the actors was the fact Ken Loach intentionally kept them from seeing the script. Ward, who plays Gralton, shared a little about this Loach’s blindfolded approach: “We didn’t know what the project was before we accepted it,” he said, “All we knew was that it was a Ken Loach film. We found out about two weeks before rehearsals ended that it was about someone named Jimmy Gralton.”

But Ward said not knowing what was coming next wasn’t always a bad thing. “The way Ken and Paul work is that they don’t give the actors the script so they immerse you in that world as much a possible. This was very invigorating. For one, you didn’t have to learn any lines. Ken shoots in order so you only really know as much as the character knows. There is less acting required. After each day of shooting we would be handed a brown envelop with tomorrow’s scenes in it. It was very exciting.”

Kirby stressed that just because they weren’t able to learn about the specifics of their characters, doesn’t mean they didn’t prepare. “Barry and I trained for two months doing a lot of different dances,” said Kirby, referring to the soirees that took place in the hall of the film’s title. “Even our choreographer wasn’t sure what they were going to use and what they weren’t going to use. Two weeks before we started filming we met with the rest of the cast in the county of Leitrim and we all learned to dance together.”

Loach is well known for his strong political opinions. When Ward was asked if Loach’s ideology had an influence on the actors, the actor laughed and said the question should be whether Loach’s ideology has an effect on his casting. “During the audition process he was definitely vetting us for our political leanings,” said Ward. “There are no fascists in Ken Loach’s movies. He wears his ideology on his sleeve; you know the way the land will lay. I think everybody involved took that on and immersed themselves in it.”

Jimmy’s Hall is now playing in select cities.

Lorena Alvarado / Film Independent Blogger