Abner Pastoll Interview…
Director Abner Pastoll is riding high on a wave of positive reviews for his newest film, A Good Woman is Hard to Find. Starring Sarah Bolger as Sarah, a widowed mother of two who finds herself inexplicably mixed up with a common criminal, she must do whatever she can to protect herself and her children. Tito, the common criminal in question, is played by Andrew Simpson. Simpson previously starred as Jack in Pastoll’s first film, Road Games. A writer himself, Pastoll chats with me about finding Ronan Blaney’s script, working with Simpson again and his extraordinary stroke of luck with Sarah Bolger.
LF: How did Fantasia Fest go?
AP: It was amazing. Really incredible, actually, to watch the film with that audience, the way they reacted to the film. Applause and cheers and gasps in all the right places and laughter as well. It was absolutely crazy, actually. They were really cheering Sarah on through the movie:they were totally with her through it. It was really nice. It was very cool.
LF: Her character is amazing. How did you come to be with this film?
AP: It was a month before the world premiere of Road Games in 2015 that I read the script for this film. So, this is taking us back four years now. Basically, I was looking for a writer to collaborate with because I had a few ideas and it’s nice to bounce ideas off of people when you’re working on something. My producer knew an agent in London and he had a few clients, so she asked him to send over some samples and he sent five samples of five different writers and I liked the first couple and then of these five scripts, I read A Good Woman Is Hard To Find by Ronan Blaney and I was so completely shocked by how amazing the script was. Not only was I thinking, this would be a good writing partner, but I said to my producer, “Can we find out about this script?” It turned out, I was one of the first people to read it, so it was available and we said to his agent, “We’re going to make it!” He’s like, “You want to option it and develop it more?” We said, “No, no we’re just going to make it.” So, both Ronan and his agent were quite excited at that prospect because usually what happens with a producer and an agent is a director will option a script and spend a year or two years developing it further. So, that was music to Ronan’s ears, to find someone that believed in the script that he had been working on by himself was ready to go and so that was the beginning.
LF: That’s wild. It was just ready to go? There wasn’t anything that you wanted to adjust?
AB: Yes, I felt it was ready to go. A script is never finished until you lock the picture and movie, after you shoot and edit. It’s constantly evolving and changing, but I felt like it was ready to move forward with. I didn’t want to waste any time. It was such a good script and I think that’s why he was like, “Ok let’s do it,” and it helped that when I met Ronan, we immediately clicked and were totally on the same page. He kept saying to me, “It’s your film now, so if you need to make any changes, you can do them,” and the changes that I did make to the script, I did very small rewrites and was always being respectful to his intentions. Because he has worked on projects in the past where directors come in or producers have brought in another writer and they’ve completely changed things that were important to him, without really consulting him because that’s kind of, weirdly, how the industry works when it comes to writers, so I think he was really grateful that I was so respectful and I treated it that way because I am a writer myself and I treated him with respect because I know what it’s like when somebody comes in and changes your work, but then I was looking at it from a director’s perspective as well. Some things might work better on the page than they do when they translate to the screen, so I was thinking like that, but yeah, basically, from that stage, we moved forward and optioned the script and started casting and the rest is kind of a long, boring story. It took kind of a long time to get to the shoot from when I first read the script, but that’s basically how I discovered it.
LF: Now, how did you guys luck out with Sarah?
AP: So, the most amazing thing about this movie is, this is the easiest casting I’ve done in my life. I sent her agent the script, he had a quick look at it and he said, “Yeah this looks really good, I’ll send it on to Sarah,” and within 24 hours, I had a Skype meeting set up with her and we were supposed to talk for 20 minutes, but we got along so well, we ended up talking for a couple hours. We were talking about the character and everything and she just got it, so I knew immediately she was perfect for it and I said, “Ok, do you want to do it? she was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” It was the easiest casting you can imagine! It’s kind of a boring story because it’s got nothing crazy about it.
LF: I think it’s a great story. You read the script and you’re like, I need it and then you talk to Sarah and you’re like, yeah it’s you and then, obviously, it was her. She IS, well, Sarah.
AP: Yeah, she is. That’s the thing. When I read the script, she was the only person I could picture in the film, which is kind of crazy.
LF: My only experience with her was Emile, but when I looked at her imdb, I realized I had seen her in a few things.
AP: She’s done some big studio films, some indie films and a lot of television. She’s done a bit of everything and she’s been working since she was quite young. In America, Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors, she’s been working pretty much her whole life.
LF: Emile is what I immediately remembered her from and this is a completely different character from that film.
AP: She had a lot of input: she was always sending me ideas and suggestions and I was like, “Yeah that’s cool.” For the most part, I think everything that she thought of for the character, I pretty much agreed with because it was on the same wave length of what I wanted. She was constantly surprising me like that. The amount of thought that she put into it and energy and everything, so I knew the whole time, even before we finally got it all together so we could shoot, I knew I had made the right choice casting her.
LF: And what about Andrew?
AP: Well, Andrew I had casted him because, obviously, I had worked with him already.
LF: Did you already know that you wanted him?
AP: Yeah! I had a pretty strong idea that he would be good for this role, but I didn’t actually realize how good he would be. Like, I knew he would be good, but he surprised me. I really believe in him as an actor and I like the idea of showing a different side of him if that makes sense?
LF: Yeah, it was amazing!
AP: It was incredible because when I sent him the script, I said, “Andrew do you want to have a look at this? I think you’d be really good for this role.” He read it and he said, “Abner, I have to do this because I really identify with Tito. He’s much more like me than Jack.” I was like, “What do you mean?”
AP: “What do you mean you’re more like Tito than Jack?!”
LF: Noooo, I don’t like Tito!
AP: He’s not like that, but he said he identified with him, so I was like, “Ok, whatever that means.” (laughing) So it was really fun. He’s from Northern Ireland and the movie is set in Northern Ireland and we shot half of the movie there because it was a co-production with Belgium, so we actually shot half of the movie in Belfast and half of the movie on a sound stage in Belgium. I cast him in the role because he was local to where we were shooting, so it made sense and we had that shorthand as well because we had already made a movie together. We trusted each other and I thought he could bring something interesting and unique to the character, which is what he did.
LF: He really did. The more awful Tito became, the more surprised I was by Andrew.
AP: He brought lots of really good ideas, too. He was just as involved, in a different way, with his character as Sarah was. It was great, it was a really fulfilling experience working with him and they really clicked as well. They had a really good relationship on set when the cameras weren’t rolling. It was really good fun.
LF: And who chose the underwear that Tito was wearing in his final scene, because it’s so perfect.
AP: My writer, Ronan Blaney, he wrote it into the script. I gave him the extra touch with the pink socks as well.
LF: I noticed that!
AP: I thought, we’ve got to stick with the ridiculousness of his outfit!
LF: So good! I was laughing so hard. Tito is pretty funny, which is conflicting because he’s, well, trash.
AP: Exactly. You almost like him because of his humor and naivete, so you see that he has, potentially, has or had a good side to him. Maybe he’s like this because of circumstances.
LF: Yeah, I found myself making up all kinds of excuses for him and a past history and he really did seem, like you said, naive, because he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll just leave the drugs here, sell some everyday and it will be over and we’re great, right?” Especially because he knows who he stole the drugs from. And that guy was amazing! Edward?
AP: Yes, Edward Hogg as Leo. If you want to know how I cast him, he’s one of my best friends so that was super easy to cast him.
LF: Oh, really? I hope he didn’t also identify with his character.
AP: No, ha, ha, the interesting thing is, Ed really gave him an extra dynamic. On the page, he was just a typical crime boss, but the way Ed played him, he made him into a complete psychopath. None of that was really on the page. Even Ronan was surprised. He was like, “Wow, he completely elevated the character beyond what was on the page, in a good way, and completely surprised us.”
LF: Yeah, he was scary.
AP: Ed’s an amazing actor. I don’t know if you know much of his work, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you see a movie called White Lightening from 2009. It’s him and Carrie Fisher and it’s based on a real guy called Jesco White. His performance is insane and I’m always happy to tell people about this movie.
LF: I do not know the film, but I will seek it out!
You open the movie with Sarah, she’s taking a shower and one of the first things I noticed was that there was no gratuitous nudity. Was this anyone’s specific decision?
AP: That shower scene was written for where it takes place later in the movie, but I started the movie by opening with that. In the script, the opening is different. Actually, Sarah and I did sit down before we did it and discuss, is there going to be any nudity? Well, you’re in the shower, so you’re going to be naked, but we should shoot it tastefully. She is in the shower, so she is naked, but you don’t have to see her naked body.
LF: Exactly. And because that is the way you chose to open the film, for me, as a woman, it set the standard that I was watching a film that was going to be mindful of being respectful and it was, the whole time. I feel like this movie is just a big feminine power anthem.
AP: That’s amazing to hear because the thing is, I was never trying to do that. I was just trying to focus on the character and make a good film from my perspective, so the fact that that comes across like that means so much to me because I think sometimes people try too hard. Does that make sense?
LF: That makes complete sense. That’s what I was ineloquent trying to say: that I didn’t feel like you guys were trying to say, “This is female empowerment. We’re in the MeToo movement.” It was just two really great guys made this female character and it showed off how amazing she is and what she can do. You were so respectful of her and the way she was and the way she was treated and how she dealt with people. Everything was so respectful and modern and it was so refreshing because I didn’t feel you were trying to ploy me with it.
AP: That’s great to hear it worked in that way. That makes me feel my job here is done. I’ll retire now.
LF: It meant a lot to me. I know it’s annoying right now because this is so much in the media, but watching horror my whole life, women always are, even if it’s the final girl, still just a thing a lot of the times and so for it to be a wonderful female character, because she is, because you guys respect that, that was really nice. And she was a mom. She felt real. You know, I was joking with you, but I really feel like this is a woman I would sit next to at the playground. She was tired, she was at her wits’ end, but when she’s with her kids, she picks herself up and takes care of things. It felt really real.
AP: That is one of the things that drew me to the script. On the page, she already felt real and then Sarah elevated that. When she really brought her to life, I think she really created a true really, real character.
LF: The film has a lot of moments of humor that feel organic to the story and it’s really nice.
AP:I think humor is important to balance everything out because everything else is quite serious and dark, so to have those moments of humor is sort of a relief because if it’s just intense all of the time, you don’t have that moment to really appreciate what you’re watching.
LF: So far, making this film was super easy for you. Did you run into any difficulties?
AP: Don’t get me wrong, it was not an easy film to make. I’m still recovering from it now, even though we shot it quite a while ago. It was an incredibly difficult film to make once we finally got to the point of shooting the movie because a week before we were due to start principle photography, I was told that I had to reduce our shooting schedule. It was a co production between UK and Belgium. We were shooting in Belfast and had constructed a set in Belgium. Basically, everything that happens inside her apartment is all a sound stage and so, apparently, we were slightly over budget on that side of the production.
Originally, I was given twenty days to shoot the movie and I was stressed because I was thinking that’s no time at all and then they said that I had to reduce the shooting schedule again and I said, “Well I can probably do it in nineteen days,” and they said, “No, you have to cut four days.” Basically, I had to shoot this movie in sixteen days: ten days in Belfast and six days on the sound stage in Belgium. So I was really panicking and I had no idea how we were going to do this and Sarah was due to fly over from LA to Belfast to start doing her camera tests and costume fittings, just a few days before and I still hadn’t told her our schedule had been reduced because I thought, I have to wait to tell her until after she arrives because if I tell her before, she’s not going to get on the plane. I was really worried that she wouldn’t come and then when she arrived I said, “We need to talk,” and I told her and she was really chill about it. She said, “You know what, I think we can do this.” She told me that she shoots TV all the time and it’s very fast and, yeah, its pretty crap because we’ll probably have to make a few extra compromises, but she said if we don’t do it now, we’re never gonna shoot this movie, so lets do it. So, it was very encouraging to hear that she was very into doing it even though we had basically no time whatsoever. But it reminded me that we had been talking about working on this together for eighteen months, so we knew what we were gonna do and we just went and we did it and it was very difficult because sometimes we could only have one, two or three takes, but she always nailed them on the first take. So actually, the second and third takes were a bonus when we had the luxury of doing more than one take, which is kind of crazy when you have to think about the fact that we had to deal with working with kids and the fact that it’s a co-production and we had to shift our production over from Belfast to Belgium, so we had a couple of travel days in the middle of the shoot and it was pretty tough. It was great to have such an amazing crew because everyone was on the same page and they were like, this is a great film, let’s make something really great.
Everyone was super dedicated to bringing it to life, even though we all felt a bit psychotic by the end of it. My director of photography, Richard Bell, he was joking with me the other day that he might not be over it. We’re both psychologically damaged from working on this movie. We were joking that our next film, we have to make in twelve days. It was just so intense the amount of stuff we had to shoot in such a short space of time, I don’t even know how we did it. Honestly, when I watch the film I’m just so in awe of the fact that we have anything that good when we had basically no time whatsoever.
LF: Was the lack of visual violence your choice?
AP: That’s kind of more effective when you don’t see too much. You see a little and the sound and your imagination fills in the rest.
LF: I got the giggles a little bit during one of the more gruesome scenes because of the sounds. I thought, this poor woman must be so exhausted.
AP: Well, that’s a good reaction too.
LF: It was gruesome, but funny at moments because it was just another thing she had to do as a mom that day. It was another mess she had to clean up, really.
AP: I like that reaction, that’s a good reaction.
LF: I was more curious after I listened to you speaking about The Collector on the Strong Language and Violent Scenes podcast. So, for you to say that you like The Collector and then I watch this film and most of the violence is left to the imagination, I was just curious.
AP: The funny thing about The Collector is I don’t like that you see so much of the torture. I just like the vibe of the movie and the atmosphere more than the actual torture porn side of it. I think violence is always way more effective when you don’t see it. Your mind fills in those gaps. You don’t need to see all of it. You hint at it or you see just enough to still be completely shocking and there are scenes in this movie where people will react according to their own threshold. Some people find some scenes too graphic, but they don’t realize that it’s their own mind that is doing it. So, the approach was to not see too much, but just enough. To actually include a little bit of humor in it, so it is good that you found it not completely intense and you did find some humor in it.
LF: It was intense, but yeah, I guess we all have different thresholds. I was more upset by the torture scene because of what I imagined was happening.
AP: With that, you don’t actually need to see it, just the thought of it was enough.
LF: Yes and Leo was terrifying.
AP: He’s so not like that in real life. (laughing)
LF: Leo just wanted a metaphor. What was that about?
AP: Because he’s nuts. He’s a mad psychopath who is trying to teach them a lesson. He looks down on them because he thinks that they’re useless and dumb. The interesting thing about this movie, the actual theme of the film, while it’s not explicit in the actual film, is waste: wasted opportunities, wasted lives. If you think about it from the perspective that Sarah’s mother thinks she wasted her life and she could have done so much more with it. Or if you think about Tito, he’s wasted his life because he could have been an intelligent person if he was raised in different circumstances and the same thing with Leo Miller; he potentially could have been a famous musician, but he wasted his life by getting involved in crime.
LF: Are you able to talk about your next project?
AP: I’m working on a few things, but nothing I can talk too much about. I will give you a hint that Sarah’s story from this movie is potentially not over.
LF: Oh gosh, I hope not!
AP: That’s all I will say. I can actually tell you that I’m working on another movie with Ronan. It’s a horror film.
LF: Very fun!
AP: Very different from A Good Woman, but the same creative minds and it’s also set in Ireland.
LF: Are you writing it with him?
AP: No, it’s one of the first scripts he ever wrote and has been stuck in development hell for a long time. Directors have come and gone and after we realized we work so well together, I’m taking over the project because the most recent director dropped out a few months ago.
LF: So you guys just keep having these amazing strokes of luck working together.
AP: Yeah, we want to keep making as many movies together as we possibly can and I’m still working on a project that I may have told you about three years ago. These things take a long time to put together: it’s taking a long time to find it’s place, but I think once people see A Good Woman, it will be easier to get it off of the ground. These things take quite a long time, it’s quite frustrating, but you just got to stick to it.
LF: Are you looking forward to the world premiere of A Good Woman is Hard to Find at Frightfest? Are you nervous?
AP: I’m not nervous at all because, technically, it already premiered at Fantasia. Frightfest invited it as a World Premiere Closing Film, which is quite a prestigious slot to have, and then suddenly Fantasia wanted it, so I consulted Frightfest and they said Fantasia can show it if they call it something else. And it looks like it paid off because we’ve had 25 positive reviews so far, which is insane. There’s one mixed review, but that one is praising Sarah, so it’s still a positive. So, the world premiere is at Frightfest and then we’ve got quite a lot of festivals coming up in September, October and November, which is quite fantastic and we have a UK release date as well.
I hope you had as much fun hearing about the making of this movie as I did. Abner is a truly delightful person and I would certainly recommend checking out the podcast that I mentioned. Please be sure to catch A Good Woman is Hard to Find if you’re lucky enough to have it screen at a festival near you. In the meantime, you can read my review here. You can also read my review of Road Games and it’s accompanying interview .