Kieran O'Brien Q & A
Read our review of 9 Songs
Kieran O'Brien has an extensive CV; he has worked along side Steve Coogan in Michael Winerbottom's 24 Hour Party People, and has done various television work, including: Cracker, Coronation Street and Band of Brothers. He stars in Michael Winterbottom's controversial film 9 Songs. After an exclusive preview screening of the film at The Ritzy, Brixton, Kieran O'Brien participated in a LOVEFiLM members' Q & A, which has been transcribed here.
LF: What was your initial reaction to the film after seeing it in its entirety for the first time?
KO: The first time I saw it I thought: "Oh my God! What have we done here?" My reaction to it was well... I was amazed that Michael had put together an engaging story from over 200 hours of footage... But I was very pleased.
LF: You've worked with director Michael Winterbottom before on 24 Hour Party People - how did you react when he offered you the part in the film?
KO: I was lying in bed, very hung over, and there was a message from Michael in his usual style going "Um, er... Kieran, it's Michael, I was wondering what you were doing for the next 3 months?" - I love the way he says three months when it was six - and he pitched it very simply. He wanted to make a love story, with this character called Matt remembering a relationship, told predominantly through their sexual relationship. I thought: "Right, OK...." and I said we should meet first. But I knew straight away that I do it though, because it was Michael. He could have asked me anything to be honest and I would have said yes, because everyone wants to work with him.
I've just finished working with him on a film called Tristram Shandy and the cast on that is incredible: Ian Heart, Steve Coogan. And again, we were up at his offices and he threw the script at my lap and said: "This is what we're doing next," and I thought he was just saying this is what he was doing, but he offered me a part. So, just thank the Lord for Michael - I can pay my mother back some of the debt. If he ever pays me...
LF: Speaking of money, where does he get his funding from?
KO: There is no money. Half way through 9 Songs we couldn't continue. So I, in my infinite wisdom, said: "Well, just scrap my fee and pay me when you can," and that was a long time ago... The terrible thing about British film industry is the sheer lack of money. With Tristram Shandy for the first four weeks, they were paying for it on credit cards until he could get the money. Their finances are bizarre.
LF: Has your mother seen it?
KO: No, my mum hasn't seen it. I wouldn't advise my parents to see it, but in the same way as I wouldn't recommend any other film with lots of sex and music in it. They are 68 so I don't think they want to see it. This film isn't for everyone. So, no she hasn't seen it.
LF: Do you think about the audience when you're working on a film?
KO: Well, I'm going to talk about Michael a lot in this interview - I'm not sure anyone had much to do with the film other then Michael. I know we're in the movie, but it was his vision, his dream, his narrative. You know he edited it and put it all together, he was the one who had everything to do. You only think about the audience, in regards to this film, in the same way you think about anything you do - obviously you want people to like it. Obviously not everyone will. But, you know, I do what I m told. I walk onto the set in the morning with these incredible ideas and then we do the complete opposite. On 9 songs Michael's standard line was: "Talk less." You're there to do the shoot and move on - and hope he makes it looks good.
LF: How much was scripted? How did you set up the shoot?
KO: None of it was scripted at all. The idea changed... developed. We were originally going to film for 6 weeks in the Antarctic - so half the film was going to focus on my character out there as a glaciologist told retrospectively.
In regards to the shooting process, Michael thought we would shoot 10 days on 10 days off... the reason we didn't go to the Antarctic was the idea developed and Michael thought the idea had changed and become a different film. He introduced the bands, which shows you how organic the process is.
In regards to the rehearsal, Michael said: "Lets all meet in a hotel room" - sounds like a bad casting session - just to see whether we would all be able to cope with it I suppose. So there was myself, Margot, Stuart Wilson and Marcel Siskin - both of them always work on Michael's film- to see if it would work when people get together and have sex. So, it just shows you how tight the budget is, we were supposed to meet for one day's rehearsal and that day's rehearsal ended up being the last scene in the film and the reason he does that was that he only has to pay for rehearsal time as opposed to a shoot.
You know I only met Margot three days before to discuss if there were going to be any possible problems that were going to arise. And the conversation there was very brief; because once I'd committed to it I didn't go through any emotional trauma. So it was just a case of meet Margot then begin. Like I said, it was supposed to last three months but went on for about five or six months, and that's how it works with no scripts - it's open ended. In the same way Michael shoots a scene, he goes: "Right, er.... OK we've started" and the same way when he finishes; he goes: "OK, right that's enough of that" which is great for an actor. It's bizarre. It really is a bizarre process and the same when you ask him was that alright and he'll go: "No, no no no no no, er... yes" and you'll go: 'What? What were all the No's for?'
The one thing I found quite exhausting working on 9 Songs is that he shoots you doing everything. You'd break for lunch and he'll say: "Actually, Marcel can you shoot all this?". He asked me at one point if I could eat more like a scientist. Which I think is still in the film actually, forgive me I've only seen it twice, I think its when we're eating and talking about doing something for Thanksgiving, but it's shot all over my shoulder, 'cause Michael obviously thought that I ate like a northerner. But it is just massively different, an experience like no other.
LF: What did you think about the voice-over used in the film, as it makes such a difference to the reading of the film?
KO: Myself and Mickey have differing view points to the voice-over. The voice-over was done in sheds, cupboards, car park, where ever we could do to some voice-over. And like I say the characters changed and evolved; I mentioned I was a glaciologist up until five months into the film when Michael said: "Right, you're a film maker now doing a documentary" and I was like "Right, OK, won't that affect the film somehow?" and he said: "No, no it will be fine." So I don't know who I end up as. I'm not overly sold on the voice-over myself. But I do like voice-overs - I thought we could have done it better.
LF: Was it challenging psychologically, managing the line between acting and reality?
KO: Funnily enough: no. When I first started doing press a year ago there were a couple of occasions when I went: "Yes it was difficult, everyday was tough"...but in actual fact that's bollocks: I'm lying. Because in fact I didn't find it like that at all. Margot may have found it tough but I didn't. Because once I committed to it, it was like committing to any other job. You said you're going to make a film so you just get on and do it.
There were some days when you didn't want to jump into bed with somebody or it's just not working that day, but you don't have any choice 'cause that's what you said you'd do. I was just delighted to be working with Michael, perhaps it might have been difficult for everyone, but I don't look back on it and think it was a difficult experience.
You know it's easy to get drawn into the emotional trauma and the impact it had on us all, but we laughed on set everyday. Michael would be saying to me: "Can you please put some trousers on" and I'd be going: "What?!" To me that's funny, people who are naked are funny.
LF: What was the attitude of the film censors - was anything left on the cutting room floor?
KO: Well the BBFC did something amazing, something which they should have done and passed it uncensored. I was thinking about it on the tube here, the BBFC certified it '18' uncut, because its contents are certainly not pornographic. Pornography is there to create sexual arousal, which is not what were doing. And it occurred to me on the tube, that when we see naked people in mainstream film, simulating sex, does everyone watch it and think: "That would just be terrible if they were actually doing it"? Just because you don't see penetration it's the same thing. And it occurred to me that it's preposterous - I don't really get what's the big deal. What was so satisfying, was that they took it as 9 songs the film, and believed that it merited being shown as that piece of work.
LF: How do you feel about this film being labeled pornography?
KO: As I've just said we intended to make a beautiful love story that was engaging and exhilarating and showed two people in love, and we wanted to show people a snap shot of it. If people are offended by it, then walk out and don't watch it.
I wouldn't say that just about 9 songs, but about any film. If it turns people on then that's great as well. The sexual aspect of a relationship is an integral part of a relationship, when you look back on a relationship you tend to think about the sex and the songs that were part of the relationship. It wasn't our intention to make something pornographic. If people think this is porn they're shopping in the wrong places.
LF: Out of all the bands you saw, what was your favourite?
KO: Franz Ferdinand. When it comes to music I'm rather un-cool. I'm into the 'Madchester' scene: The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Oasis of course. But Franz Ferdinand were brilliant. We were lucky with the bands; they were just the bands that were on in the time-frame we were shooting, so we ended up with the likes of Black Rebel, Primal Scream. We could have ended up with Chas and Dave
LF: Did you have partners during filming?
KO: I can't comment on anyone else. But in regards to my good self I won't comment. I've been asked this question a lot obviously, but in regards to family and friends I didn't discuss it with anyone because I don't discuss family and friends with any other projects I do. If I had discussed it with anyone then it might appear that I was doing something wrong, something that I shouldn't be doing it. I would still do the film again, if I was asked again.
LF: How do you feel about how the Press have reacted to the film? Is it frustrating that they just focused on the superficial and sensationalist parts of the film?
KO: Michael came up with a good point after Cannes and the media frenzy that we experienced. He said it amazed him that the line they were taking with Margot was: "This must have been horrific for you" whereas to me it was like: "It must have been great, you got laid, wow." And that pretty much summed it up. There's no message from us, we're making a film that we hope people enjoy, that is difficult - because that's what Michael does. There's no message there.
Publicity is very, very necessary. The press went after Margot because she said she wouldn't talk to them... well they didn't go after me because I said: "Yeah sit down, let's have a chat." You have to do press, because you want people to see it. I don't think it's a problem to be honest.
The difficult thing about it was the initial reaction was: "This is an outrage" and then Anne Widdecombe came out and said: "This is a disgrace, the BBFC aren't here to let pornography into the mainstream." Ann Widdecombe is the most famous virgin in the country, by her own admission - and I guarantee not by choice - and she hadn't seen the film. Well, aren't we all adults and educated to some degree? And for someone in the public eye and on such a public platform [to take such a stand] - it's just ridiculous. You're fighting a losing battle - you have to take the rough with the smooth.
LF: Given that you say you didn't know who your character was, is there anything else in the film to talk about other than the sex?
KO: I think so, I thinks it's a film that enables people to remember relationships, I think it's sad that she (Lisa) leaves him at the end, it certainly reminds me of my past relationships. There is no message there. If you're saying that there isn't any depth to the characters, well, it's a snap shot of people's lives. You certainly don't have to hammer people over the head with back story. It's a love story. And you take from that what you will.
I obviously wouldn't agree that the characters didn't have any depth, and in regards to not knowing who my character was; I always knew who my character was - I just didn't know what was required of him from day to day. I knew my character, Matt, was studying something. I knew I was a guy that was very much in love with this woman. I knew that she was someone he could never capture and she meant much more to him then he did to her. I hope you see some of that.