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 Jean Butler InterviewJean Butler
Excerpts from the interview with Jean Butler taped on the set of her first feature film, The Brylcreem Boys. The interview was recorded for the documentary film "Past into Present" with director Susan
Morrall

Morrall: Is The Brylcreem Boys the first film part you have had?

Butler: Up until now I have mainly done theatrical work, so, yes this is my first film role. The story is basically a romantic comedy set in Ireland during World War II and I play the part of 'Mattie', the female lead. Her character is rather like that of an outspoken Katharine Hepburn type of woman.

Morrall: When you read the script and decided to take the role, did you relate to the part of Mattie?

Butler: In some ways I related to the part, but on a basic level as soon as I read the part I said "this is a red-head, a very fiery red-head" and although I do have red hair, I don't have the temperament, as such. But my sister does, she is also a red head so I know the nature quite well. I don't have the same kind of angry streak that the character of 'Mattie' has, but I understood it immediately. I also identified with the free spirited, independent attitude of Mattie's character. She wasn't one of those timid, type who would faint at the sight of blood. 'Mattie' was written as a 'ballsy', individual.

Morrall: Did you enjoy working with your co-stars Bill Campbell and Angus MacFayden?

Butler: Bill and Angus were terrific. The nicest thing about working with them was how generous and supportive they were to me. Because they are professionals and this is my first film, I was able to watch them and learn from their professionalism. They were really very helpful and they made me feel that it wasn't my first film part.

Morrall: In the film you ride a horse and you make it jump some very high fences. Do you enjoy riding horses and did you do your own stunts in the film?

Butler: No to both questions. Horses and I don't actually get along very well. I have to get rid of that fear straight away, and that is something I have set in my mind to actually do. As soon as I am able I'm going to take some horse riding lessons so that I can get over that fear. Also, I really need to learn to ride properly, because for films it is one skill that is a standard.

Morrall: Are confessing that you can't really ride?

Butler: Yes. At the casting session for the part, I was asked if I could ride and I told Terry (Terence Ryan, the director) " Oh, I can ride a horse. O f course I can ride a horse." In the end he got a stunt double to do the jumping scene.

Morrall: How did you eventually get the part of 'Mattie'?

Butler: Terry (the director) was looking for an actress with red hair, who could sing. He had already auditioned several red-haired actresses for the part, when by chance he went to a performance of Riverdance in London. He came backstage to see me and asked if I would be interested in doing a screen test.

Morrall: Did you like working with the director, Terence Ryan

Butler: Terry was really great. It was my first time working with a director on a film. Previous to this I had only worked with directors on theatre projects, so I when I arrived on the film location I was a little apprehensive. I didn't know much about the film world or how my relationship with Terry would go or what was going to happen. But Terry was very laid back and approachable and made me feel confident. I never felt that I couldn't go up to him and tell him if I was uncomfortable with a scene or if it wasn't working for me. He would just take me aside and say " do what you feel is right". And if he didn't like what I was doing he would just tell me, which was grand. So it was a two- way street, which was very important. I think I was quite lucky in that way because I have heard about some movie directors who are not accessible or sympathetic and some have reputations of being very dictatorial. So, I was lucky to have a director like Terry Ryan.

Morrall: The dance scene is an important sequence in the film, was there any problems for you with it?

Butler: The dance sequence in the film wasn't so much a problem simply because dancing for an audience is something that I have done in real life. I have danced in front of audiences from Dublin to New York, so dancing on a film set wasn't a problem. There was a big difference in how I felt about it though. The dance for the film is very different from the show that I'm doing at the moment, which is very stylised and very set. For the film, most important thing was that it looked as natural as possible. That it didn't look like Jean Butler dancing but looked like 'Mattie' dancing. That was the most important thing, to have that natural flow about it. It was actually quite liberating for me, simply because I had been doing a stage show for so long, and then to come on to a film where they have asked me to dance, and it wasn't a dance that I had to practice for ten hours a day. For me, it was simply the freedom of getting up on the set and doing what I wanted to do without having to think that they are judging me on my dancing. Because, in the end, it's 'Mattie' on the screen dancing. It's the character of 'Mattie' performing.

Morrall: Did you have any input in selecting the music for your dance piece?

Butler: Yes. The music that I dance to was written especially for me by the wonderful Irish musician Donal Lunny. He called the piece 'Mattie's Theme' just for me. So my theme, well, 'Mattie's theme' is now part of a major movie soundtrack. Not only did Donal compose the piece for me, but he also appears in the film, in the pub scene, playing the music on a bodhran drum.

Morrall: You have the reputation of having the most beautiful legs in the world, yet in the film you wear trousers for the dance sequence and your legs are hidden. Why was this?

Butler: The character of 'Mattie' was an independently minded woman, a modern woman in the 1940's. You only have to look at some of the old movies with Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwick to recognise the type of woman. In some ways they were more liberated than the 90's women. The costume designer, David Murphy, saw 'Mattie' as a version of Katharine Hepburn and he was the one who decided that she should wear a pair of stylish trousers for the pub-dance scene. I think the trousers work very well and fit exactly with the other war-time fashions. After all, during that period, women were working in aircraft and munitions factories to help with the war effort, and they would have been wearing trousers.

Morrall: You also were involved with the choreography with the four men who did the Irish 'boot' dance

Butler: Yes. The four fellows who performed the 'boot dance' are all excellent dancers. I knew what I had in my mind with regards to the type of dance I wanted to create. Terry (the director) also had informed me what sort of dance he wanted to see, but he gave me a lot of creative freedom with his request. He told me he wanted a very aggressive dance to add to the mood of the fist fight in the pub. I think what made the dance scene work was our first rehearsal with the four male dancers. I had them drink a few pints of Guinness first before telling them how the dance was going to be and showing them the steps. This loosened them up and got them into the mood of the dance. I had picked out four dancers from the Riverdance show that I knew could do the routine, and in the end they were all very good.

Morrall: Did you choreograph the men's dance too?

Butler: I choreographed the entire dance sequence for the pub scene. Obviously with some directorial help from Terry, if this wasn't working or if that wasn't working, we would discuss how to make it better. With any dance piece I work on, I start out with an idea of exactly what I want, and it's sometimes harder to create a piece if I'm not also dancing in it as well. For the film, a number of ideas were tried out on the dance floor, and I just asked the dancers " Can you do that again. Try that again. That works. Can you repeat that? Can you build on that?" So it was partly a collaborative effort, but at the end of the day there has to be somebody with the ideas, planning out and working over the routine and ultimately deciding what works and what doesn't work.

Morrall: Although it is a brand new piece, would you consider the men's' 'boot dance' to be very much like a traditional Irish country dance in the 1940's.

Butler: I'd say so. I admit that I wasn't in the 1940's in Ireland (laughs). In the context of the screen, the dance is used to bring out the violence of the fight sequence in the pub, I'd say that things like dance challenges and fist flights over women could happen men go to a pub and have a few drinks.

Morrall: The concept of the men's' dance has incorporated a freedom of style. Do you think that perhaps traditionalists of Irish dance would object to the arm movement of the dancers?

Butler: In the 1930's and 40's Irish dancing was more informal and liberal than it is now. Taking into Consideration that in the film the dance was set in a 1940's country pub and not in a modern competition with rules and adjudicators, I think it is perfectly acceptable. Basically Irish dancing is very traditional, with the arms held straight down at your sides. But for something like this country dance, and also considering the time period that the film is set in, the 1940's, there is the option for arm movement. I don't think that there will be any traditionalists of Irish dancing writing in to the film's producers to complain that the arm movement in the dance is incorrect, because that's how it was in those days. Also for the film, especially the context of the scene that it's in and also how Terry wanted it to be, the dance had to be quite aggressive and free.

Morrall: Who are the four lads that dance in the film?

Butler: The four fellows' names are: Stephen Burns, Kevin McCormack, Brendan de Gallai and Lorcan O'Murchu. They are all terrific dancers and were in the 'Riverdance' show. I thought they would be great for the film and suggested to Terry that he should cast them for the pub scene.

Morrall: What are your thoughts on 'the love triangle' in the script and how your character 'Mattie' dealt with the two prisoners of war, Myles and Rudi, who both fall in love with her?

Butler: I think that the love triangle (in the film's story) was something that 'Mattie' actually used to the best of her advantage. I think that the main interest was in Myles the entire time, but because of the streak and the fire and the 'balls' of the character might have, she knew how to get Myles skin crawling, she knew how to use Rudi, but she also did care for Rudi, it wasn't just a use -and - throw- away situation. She did care for him ( Rudi) and obviously we know what happens at the end (of the film.), but it is more important in the sense of how she uses him. What I found very interesting about the love triangle and 'Mattie's' character is that she was very aware of her sexuality. In the sense that, she could use it when she needed to, but at the opposite extreme, she was most attractive when she wasn't being aware that she using her sexuality. For example, when she was fixing the tractor, or hammering at the forge in the barn, or just driving the horse. That's when Myles caught her, and that's the real Mattie, when Myles caught her out. And he had insights into her that Rudi didn't. Rudi only saw her dressed up and when she was using him in a certain way that he never knew about. The interesting thing was that Mattie could work it both ways and like a red- head she always gets what she wants.

Morrall: Did you enjoy working in the film enough to want to do another?

Butler: Yes. Of course. I really did enjoy myself on the film. I didn't really get to see much of the Isle of Man, other than the film's main locations, because I was working the whole time I was there. I liked the discipline of filming; it's very different from my experience working in theatrical productions. Now that I've had a taste of it I just want to keep on working. It will depend of course, on what sort of film parts I am offered, but I definitely would like to do another film.

 

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