Ireland has some jarring inconsistencies when it comes to morality. Drunkenness, gambling and violence are all tolerated by turning a blind eye, but try to sell a magazine containing pictures of naked women and watch your local town go nuts. (Sure, you could argue that it’s exactly the same here in the U.S., but isn’t it always easier to laugh at another culture?)
In the upcoming feature film “Turning Green,” Donal Gallery stars in a breakout role as a young man who hates Ireland so much he’ll do whatever it takes to get out. Trapped in what he considers to be a sexless country full of Old Biddies and Holy Joes, young James spends his days in the 1970s being rebuffed by the local girls and fantasizing about consenting American ones.
James, you see, has an ace up his sleeve. He was born in America and can’t wait to return.
The dark comedy written and directed by Michael Aimette and John G. Hofmann (both have American and Irish passports) was originally inspired by an observation that Aimette made on one of his earliest trips to the country in the l980s.
“Hey,” he told himself, “there’s no porn here.”
Upon further investigation, he learned that magazines containing nudity were illegal in Ireland right up until the late 1990s. That simple fact was the original inspiration that led to the final film.
“We’re both Irish citizens,” Aimette tells the IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice. “My parents grew up in Brooklyn and we’re both three-quarters Irish and one-quarter something else – in my case one-quarter German, in John’s case one-quarter French.
“I’m really close to my family in Donegal and they encouraged me to come over. I wanted to move to Ireland for a while and write there so I went to Galway. I got my passport in 1997 and it was a really cool thing to get. On one of my earlier trips to Ireland I was amazed to discover there was no porn in the country.”
Although the one time lack of girlie magazines in Ireland allowed them to score some funny points about Irish hypocrisy in the film, the idea itself was only a means to an end.
“It could have been selling guns to the IRA,” Aimette says. “Or we could have had him selling drugs to an unsuspecting youth. But we hoped to create something a little funnier, so we settled on a kid selling soft-core girlie mags on the black market to buy an air ticket back to the states.”
The central idea of the film -- what it feels like to be a teenage fish out of water -- is a theme almost anyone can relate to.
“The porno idea became a fun way to elaborate on that. You have this extremely Catholic country where the church had a much bigger role in daily life than here in America,” Aimette says.
“As for the porn content it’s actually really low -- I mean it’s enough for our fathers to dislike it, but not so bad that our mothers have disowned us.”
For the central role of James Powers, the alienated young teenager who finds a novel way to break out of the country he feels is holding him back, Aimette and Hofmann tested scores of young Irish actors before they finally found Donal Gallery, 22.
“I was in the Gaiety Youth Theatre Company and casting directors for “Turning Green” had come over from London looking for a young Irish actor to play the part,” Gallery tells the Irish Voice.
“They had gone through the rounds with young lads from the agencies and didn’t think any of them suited it. When they spread the net wider they approached the Gaiety. I went along with a few others and I ended up getting the part.”
Through talent and sheer luck, Gallery found himself cast in the lead role on his first ever try. It was enough to make his friends claw themselves with envy. And it was a once in a lifetime role too, playing an angst filled Irish and American teenager filled with the desire to escape, an insider and an outsider at the same time.
“I really enjoyed playing the role because I could relate to the charterer,” Gallery says. “I’d never acted on film before and now I was playing the lead role in the first film I ever did. It was overwhelming and exciting and it was -- by a mile -- the best experience I’d ever had.”
Being fledgling filmmakers, both Aimette and Hofmann learned the business the hard way -- sheer graft and the horse trading about budgets and casting that every film entails. They learned how to do it by actually doing it.
“As filmmakers our biggest concern was about casting Donal because he’s the one who is in almost every scene,” says Aimette. “I mean, for supporting roles we thought of people like Stephen Rea and Colm Meaney, people who had really impressed us in other roles.
“But Donal was the quickest decision we made because he was perfect. He came in on the last day and he was that perfect storm of qualities we need. We knew immediately.”
Although he was cast in the lead role of a feature film on his first try, Gallery doesn’t have any airs or graces about him. Originally from Rathfarnam in Dublin, he started acting when he was cast in the role of Judas in the musical “Godspell,” back at his old secondary (high) school St. Benildus College. Jesus was the star turn, he remembers, but Judas got to wear black.
“Acting on my first film with an Academy Award winner like Tim Hutton and alongside Colm Meaney was being thrown in at the deep end I suppose, but they were really supportive and it didn’t feel too intimidating,” Gallery says.
“Both of them helped me out in our scenes. Meeting Colm Meaney in particular was weird because he’s been in about half of all the classic films about Ireland and the Irish.”
What Gallery liked most about the film and his character was the irreverence. He had never seen an Irish film with the cheeky, youthful and kind of ridiculous quality that “Turning Green” has.
“A lot of Irish roles center on a charming lad who has the gift of the gab, but my character doesn’t. He has a kind of charm, but it’s a different kind, that’s why he probably doesn’t feel so Irish. I don’t remember seeing many young Irish characters like him in Irish film before,” Gallery says.
On set Meaney was a thoughtful guide offering support and help. “It wasn’t a crash course in acting, he was just encouraging me and making me believe in myself so I could do it. I was glad of it,” says Gallery.
When told that Colin Farrell, when he was starting out, had once auditioned for Boyzone Gallery laughed and said he’s at the stage where he wouldn’t turn down anything.
“There’s a take what you can get factor at my stage of a career. I have to see how things play out. I’d be over the moon to get any kind of role after “Turning Green” and I’ll just take it from there.
“I’m graduating in a few weeks time from the Samuel Beckett School of Drama at Trinity College, and a lot depends on how the release goes and what the reception to my performance is. The perfect thing to do would be substantial films. Smaller roles in any film would be great. We’ll see what the future holds!”
“Turning Green” opens on November 6.