Interview by Ellen Tannam
Darren Thornton is an acclaimed writer and director, with credits including the hit drama Love Is The Drug and the award-winning short Frankie. A Date For Mad Mary is his first feature film.
This is your first feature,and you wrote the script with your brother and writing partner Colin. How does the process differ from writing a short film or a television series?
Its long and can be tortuous at times. It’s great though, because we wrote the first draft of this one really quickly because we were adapting a play by Yasmin Akram (10 Dates With Mad Mary), so we had a broad roadmap for it in the beginning.
We would do literally anything to avoid writing. Long-form writing like television can be easier in some ways because you have a longer amount of time, stories set over a longer period of time. Whereas the films we write tend to be quite compact in terms of timeframe, trying to squeeze everything into 80-90 mins.
What is it like writing with your brother?
We share a brain in a way which is good and bad because when things are kind of good we are flying, but when we get stuck we tend to get stuck in the same place. We never really fight over scripting or anything like that.
How has the response been to the storyline between Mary (Seana Kerslake) and Jess (Tara Lee)?
We didn’t really set out to write an LGBT film in so many words, we just wanted to tell a coming of age story about a girl who at a certain point has a relationship with another girl.
It never even entered our heads that that would be a talking point or controversial, it just made sense for the story that that’s what it would be so, nobody really talked about it at all
There was a point in the edit after the referendum had happened and I was looking at it thinking, does this film feel really dated now? But that wasn’t the case, and it really resonated with people. We always did quietly feel that there was an element of Mary coming to terms with her sexuality within the film.
What was the experience of working with Seana and Tara like?
Seana works without any sort of vanity. She has a real courageousness and would throw herself into anything, and trusts you implicitly.
She can go to uncomfortable places quite quickly. I know on the first day of shooting we were shooting one of the last scenes in the film, and it was one of her most emotional scenes where she has a sort of cry that is quite cathartic.
On the first day we shot that 13 times and each time she had a breakdown and it was absolutely no problem, she just went for it.
When you have that kind of commitment from actors you feel very lucky. Tara is absolutely the same, she works really hard all the time and had a lot to do in terms of the music and the singing for the film, which she prepared and recorded before we shot.
A lot of your stories are about people coming of age- what attracts you to those kinds of experiences?
I think it’s what we know and relate to, we both feel like we’ve never fully come of age, we both always have this strong connection to that feeling.
The thing about writing is that you are often trying to figure things out about yourself, and write it through characters. It’s an easy way to figure your shit out, through characters. It’s cheaper than therapy, so.
What are your hopes for this film, and what projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
With this film we just hope it gets seen far and wide, it’s in the London Film Festival in October and that’s a huge thing for the film. StudioCanal have bought the UK rights, and Mongrel have secured the rights for the US, and an American release is massively important to us.
We’re working on 2 feature films and 2 TV series. One is a multiple narrative coming of age story about teenagers set on their debs night, struggling with each other and sex and sexuality over this one particular day.
We’ve got another story about a couple from the Midlands who are about to get married, together since they were teenagers and have never been with anyone else. Leading up to their wedding they freak out about not having slept with other people, and open their relationship to see what it is like, and some crazy things happen in the process.
Photo of Darren Thornton credit- Tony Whitmarsh