Director Spotlight: Ken Loach: Collaborator Paul Laverty on Loach

The Angels’ Share blends many serious issues with fantastical, mythical elements. Do you always plan for it to be lighter than your other works, or did it come about through the writing?

Paul Laverty: That was a great challenge. It was a difficulty trying to make it seamless. You’ve got to try to plan that and think it out very carefully. The film before was a very tough tragedy. Lives fell apart. It was a very dark, dark tragedy. You’ve always got to be truthful to the premise of the story.

What fascinated me was the starting off point — how many young people today think they’ll never have meaningful work in their lives. Existential & political questions were important. When you have a child when you’re young like that, you project into the future very naturely.

In reality, children are full of fun, energy and wit. They’re angry and frustrated, too, and we wanted to capture all of that. We thought if we mixed it into the world of whiskey, that would allow us to be a bit mischievous. There’s an irony of the whiskey being a beautiful drink and still requiring a distinct palette.

How did Ken Loach, the film’s director, help you hold that balance? How did you work together to incorporate all of it into the story?

I’m luckier than many writers working with Ken. We both feel like we’re filmmakers. I write, Ken directs, and we meet in the middle as filmmakers.

I’ll write something on paper and do more journalistic work if we’re both into it. Once the script is written, I’ll meet up with Ken, and we become our own toughest critics.

I’m very involved in the research and preparation for the film, as well. It’s not like I write the script and then forget about it. We talk about it through the shoot and then again in the editing.

Two critical situations in the story are having your first child and the struggle for young people to find employment. Are you a father yourself?

I’ve got three young boys. I remember when my first child was born, you have to be organized and ready for the future. You’re already projecting into the future. They’re very, very practical questions you have to deal with. [You think about how] these children are going to be dependent on me for the next 20 years.

If you imagine someone like Robbie…it dramatizes it in very specific ways. When you meet these young children, you see the future. 60 percent of children under 25 years old don’t have work. Portugal, Italy, and Ireland are all terrible. The system is unacceptable as it is.

Our story doesn’t deal with all of that, but at the heart of it, it’s there. In a strange way, telling this particular story brings in these other questions.

What about these issues made you believe they would fit into a lighter film like this?

I think what you have to do is realize the characters are fiction. Recognize they’re hopeful and then find the characters that entertain you as a writer. If they don’t entertain you as a writer, they’ll sure as hell bore the audience watching them.

You want them to have surprises for you. You just hope the characters will be mischievous and irreverent. It was a very enjoyable process doing a comedy like this.

The good thing of working with Ken is how open he is with his casting. I love his bravery in that. He has a great sense of people’s ability. That’s why Paul was able to do this. He creates an environment in which people are not skeptics. It’s a wonderful thing.

Were you worried at all about handing over your film to an inexperienced actor like Paul Brannigan, especially an actor in the leading role?

I came across Paul…and he was a smart kid. Very very bright. I made a mental note that we should see Paul when we did the casting. I had to chase him all over the place, though, to get him in. He skipped the first two meetings. It was a long process to see if Paul would be up for that. It was a joint decision that we should give him a chance. There were no surprises at all because we knew him from the start.

Many of your past works have dealt with violence and restraining violent impulses. My Name is Joe focused on an alcoholic who got sober after a violent outburst frightened him. Robbie, the central character in The Angels Share, is very similar. What made you decide to make Robbie violent?

Many of the kids [we met within institutions] were in there for assault. I thought it was very important not to romanticize the violence. I always hate it in films when you never see the consequences of the violence — not just for the victims, but for the perpetrators.

Ken totally supported me. People were worried about the flashback scene [where we see Robbie brutally assaulting a guy]. The violence has a tremendous and lasting effect on people. These people were massively damaged for the rest of their lives because of Robbie. It was important to show that and be truthful about it.

Your films have reached so many parts of the globe. Does that affect what you write? Do you find yourself writing for a specific audience?

I would never be sophisticated or smart enough to say I’m writing for a specific audience. I think people who do that are few and far between. Making films is much more fragile than that. You have to get the script right. There’s the lottery of the casting. Everything has to come together. You just try to follow your instinct. I’ve been lucky with Ken who gives me the freedom to do that.

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The Angels’ Share is now playing in theaters and on demand.