VERONICA GUERIN - Q&A with CATE BLANCHETT & director JOEL SCHUMACHER
Movie Interview by Reece De Ville
Present at the London press conference of VERONICA GUERIN are actress Cate Blanchett and director Joel Schumacher.
Significantly, you don't have Veronica Guerin depicted as a saint, though one character in the film calls her 'saint Veronica'.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: In a very sarcastic way.
Instead, we have a very complex woman here, a woman who's something of a negligent parent as the granny brings up her young boy, as you see in the film.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: You'd never say that about a man.
CATE BLANCHETT: There's an inherent cultural sexism isn't there, that goes along with that...
You think so?
CATE BLANCHETT: I do. I mean I wonder if that would have been put to Russell Crowe's character in THE INSIDER.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: You know there was a terrible tragedy in the United States. There was a young male journalist, Daniel Pearl, who went to Afghanistan and left his young pregnant wife behind, and was captured and murdered. And no one ever talks about him as reckless or careless or negligent, as he was just doing his job.
CATE BLANCHETT: And what he was doing was important...
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Yes
How do you see Veronica Guerin, and what was your attraction to the project?
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Well, I thought she had real balls. And I think that one of the things that all story tellers do, which is my job, and the reason we go to movies and plays, and read novels and hear stories is that I think we're constantly wanting to see stories about people who do things that maybe we wouldn't do. Or don't do. And, I hate bullies and I love the fact that she just wouldn't step down from these thugs who constantly tried to silence her. And also I thought that I'd love to know her, as she seemed to be mischievous and have a sense of humour, and not think of herself as a saint or a martyr and she had an ego, and she was a real human being.
CATE BLANCHETT: I don't think that she had a lot of support.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Zero
CATE BLANCHETT: People talk about the beating and how could a woman continue after she'd been punched in the face to do what she does, after her son's been threatened. But, the paper gave her the option that you can either write the story or press charges and she chose the less public option to press charges. She took him to court and they let him off. So, what's a girl to do? On a moral, existential level, what is she saying to her son? That it's ok? What kind of world am I creating for my son on one level. But also, the only way to really protect herself and to protect other people from suffering the same fate was to do something about it. I really think that in terms of heroism, and I was talking to my husband the other day about this and, quite rightly, we're living in cowardly times. When to actually stand up and say 'I think this' and 'I'm prepared to fight for this', we just think 'what an idiot''. And I think that it's such an inkblot test as to how or what we think is important. The heroes that we see in films are people that get away with things, and they're naughtily pleased that they get away with things. And now anyone, particularly a woman, who stands up and fights for what she believes in is considered fool hardly and reckless and irresponsible.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Especially when she's attractive and young. But, I often think that, being an old hippy myself, there was a time in the 60's and 70's where there was a mantra that one person could make a difference and I think, especially in the United States, that we've become very cynical that our vote doesn't count. Especially after the election, where people thought 'my vote doesn't count', people don't vote, they don't speak up. As Cate said, they're very afraid to speak up. I even have a friend, a very important columnist, she wrote a criticism during the Iraq war and Newsday sent it back to her and said 'Could you just write about entertainment right now, during the war?'
CATE BLANCHETT: I just visited America, and I landed on the day they unleashed their 'weapons of mass destruction' and I thought I really don't want to be in America right now. But I was so pleased, as there was such a strong voice of dissent.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: There was. The good thing that happened is that there was a healthy debate about it. I think she did shine a light on something that was a war zone and that was controlling. It became so liberal and they bent over backwards for human rights. A lot of hands were tied, the journalists couldn't print names. She wasn't a martyr, and she wasn't doing this totally in self sacrifice, I mean she was ambitious she was successful, she had an ego...
CATE BLANCHETT: She was a journalist!
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Yeah, she obviously was becoming very famous writing about these things. She was criticised for exaggerating the problem by the other papers, which obviously wasn't the case. I think the murder was a wake up call. These things happen in our cultures. It usually takes some terrible tragedy to cause action. Unfortunately.
What was it like for you Cate, when you watched Veronica's beating scene?
CATE BLANCHETT: Whenever you do a stunt like that, it becomes incredibly technical. I did connect one time, but I was really pleased. Action like that is completely how it's shot. But Joel shot it in a very confronting way, and it was raining of course and it was shot on gravel and I'm wearing a very thin suit where I couldn't put any padding as they'd already established the costume. But, it was a very technical exercise.
4 or 5 times the 'C' word is uttered during that scene. And clearly that affects the certification of the film, at least in this country. Was there any pressure to take that word out of the script?
JOEL SCHUMACHER: No. But, we did shoot a television version of every scene so we wouldn't have to go back and loop it. So we did do that. This is pretty amazing since we did 92 locations in 50 days, that we had the time to do that. But the cast was very co-operative.
CATE BLANCHETT: And you'd just come off PHONE BOOTH, shooting with Colin Farrell...
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Every five seconds, a swear word!
How do you strike the balance between your work life and looking after your child?
CATE BLANCHETT: Anyone who wants to be an involved parent, which frankly I don't think there much point in having children and having someone else raise them. I think it happens to men and to women. I've been fascinated how that's the first question that everyone asks, and frankly I asked it myself as an actor. And then I had to be confronted by that question. But life in itself is a constant juggling act.
Has parenthood changed you as a person? Particularly after having to perform a scene where your onscreen child is threatened?
CATE BLANCHETT: I don't consciously think about how parenthood has changed me, but I'm sure it must have. And it's something that I was consciously thinking about my own situation, I always invest in the reality of the character, but I guess it must have been formed when listening to those threats made over the phone in the movie.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: To me the story is a dance of death between Veronica and John Gilligan. Because even though they are totally 180 degree the opposite, they are very similar in some respects. They are both extraordinarily successful in what they do, they both have very big egos and they don't stand down for anyone. So, as they get closer to one another, he pushes, and then she won't take it, so he pushes harder, then she pushers then he pushes harder. So the fatal moment is she does what she has already done her entire career since Bishop Casey, which is doorstep people. She doesn't call and ask for an interview, she walks up to the door and knocks on it. As journalists, you know you might get something. Even if you get a hostile reaction, you get something. And that had worked with her, she had done it with Martin Cahill, she had done it with a lot of lunatics and been very successful with it. So it was absolutely her MO to walk up to John Gilligan's door and knock on it. He then did what he's always done, which is beat the shit out of you if he can't control you. To try to control you, to threaten you. If she hadn't knocked on the door, if he hadn't beaten her, then she wouldn't have had the case against, if she hadn't had the case against him then he may not have had the threat of immediate jail. He didn't want to go back to jail as he would have lost his drug empire. And John Traynor was this willing, and then a reluctant participant in the whole thing, as I don't think he ever wanted her murdered. I think he liked the relationship too much, and had too much pride in his own vanity. He was quite a womaniser and sure he thought she was flirting with him.
What do you think of VERONICA GUERIN'S notoriety amongst her fellow journalists?
CATE BLANCHETT: I think there's been a lot written about her after her death, and there are some people that didn't like her like every human being and people who admired her, loved her, who loved her for what she wrote or just as a human being.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: People were very jealous of her fame.
CATE BLANCHETT: I think in the wake of her death, she's come to represent something, and as you come to represent something and take on such an iconic status in a community, the human being can be left behind a bit. And probably, there's a bit of guilt surrounding it. You write something bad about someone and they die, you would feel quite bad about it. She had a lot of friends who were journalists, but she didn't have a desk, she didn't go into work every day. Her editor said that he often wouldn't know where she was, and she'd call from Florida
JOEL SCHUMACHER: A lot for what takes place in the scene with the journalists was true. There were people that accused her of shooting herself in the leg, just for more publicity. Dublin is a small village, and you have to become very careful if you become successful, as some people won't like it. Certainly not true in Hollywood...!! (laughter)
Did you think that Veronica had thought things through that far, that she was aware of what may happen to her?
CATE BLANCHETT: Everyone I spoke to said that Veronica had incredible reserves of energy, and that she was a great reader of people. She was able to navigate her way through incredible stressful and difficult situations and come up trumps every time. Jimmy Guerin describes a time when they were both 17 or 18 when they both came out of the house and two big burly guys were trying to steal the car. She yelled out at them, they ran off in different directions and Veronica chased one of the guys, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. She was a sportswoman and had a strong belief in herself. It's very easy with the wisdom of hindsight to say 'aha, this was happening, she should have known better', there's so many circumstances in everyone's life that are invisible and hidden and you don't go into the boxing ring, or as a war correspondent in Iraq and think you'll be going home in a body bag. You think you might, but deep down in your soul you think I'm the one who'll survive.
How important was it for you in forming the character not to form any kind of judgement?
CATE BLANCHETT: I'm not a great believer in mottos, but I think if I had one it would be 'don't judge your character, don't fall in love with them, and don't hate them'. That's up to the audience. That's why these questions are asked and that's the potency of the film as it puts the onus back on the audience to think 'what would I have done?'. And it's pure speculation as nobody knows what Veronica felt or what she and her husband talked about in the kitchen at 3am.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: One of the things that her family, who were very, very helpful, her mother really defended her and was a great ally. Because she felt that if they're gonna kill me, they would have done it but if they're going to put a bullet through the window, beat me up, shoot me in the leg, they're just threatening me. As Cate said, you don't think you're coming home in a body bag.
Was learning to play football trickier than the Irish accent?
CATE BLANCHETT: Joel said that you have a bit of licence as you've just been shot! (laughter)
JOEL SCHUMACHER: You've been shot in the leg, you don't have to worry about that!!
CATE BLANCHETT: I did meet with a sports guy, as I'm so not the sportswoman, and he showed me a few moves.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: She did a great job.
CATE BLANCHETT: A lot of the crew wanted to give me tips. A girl picking up a football gets a lot of advice.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: I also feel that as far as her fears were concerned, there's something about fame that starts to become a cloak of invincibility. If Barbara Walters goes to interview Osama Bin Laden, she will not be fearful. The more famous you get as a journalist, I think you start to think they'll never do anything to me as then everyone will know who did it. You know - 'I'm too big now!, they can't'. I think that comes into it as she did have an ego and did enjoy fame, she was not a shy sister in anyway.
CATE BLANCHETT: At the same time I think she'd be quite horrified if she heard herself being described as a crusader or heroine.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Oh, furious.
CATE BLANCHETT: I think she had a great deal of humility.
JOEL SCHUMACHER: I think she wanted to be one of the guys.
Other films have been made about this period of Irish history, THE GENERAL & ORDINARY DECENT CRIMINAL that glamorised the villains. Was that something you very much didn't want to do?
JOEL SCHUMACHER: Yes. I'm totally against that. I think that, for instance, with Martin Cahill there were part of his personality that were very Robin Hood like, like Mafia Dons have where the poor widow comes asking for money and they'd be benevolent and generous, But at the same time they're monsters, and I didn't want to make them charming and adorable. I think in the case of John Gilligan, and some of the people around him, I don't think they were charming and adorable people at all. I think that they were really animals, and I think I made them more dignified than they should be. The one exception I would add to that is John Traynor, he fancied himself as a self-appointed mayor of the community, knew everybody, very charming.