Luke McKenna Interview
In our latest Featured Arist interview, we caught up with actor/writer and director Luke McKenna.
IFM: First off Luke, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Well firstly two years ago if you’d asked me if I had any involvement in film I would have said no, and that I wouldn’t have seen it in my future either. I am a primary school teacher by training and at that time I had just finished up my first year teaching. However, Ireland going the way it went and a few other factors changed my direction in the last few years. All of a sudden I have somehow found myself currently in the process of wrapping my own tv pilot on RED Epic, having played a large role in an independent Australian feature film alongside now good friend, and award winning actor Michael Parle (Tin Can Man) who is also producing the pilot, organising dates and planning a shoot with cult actor Greg Sestero from the renowned Tommy Wiseau film The Room who has also joined our cast, as well as being involved and acting in multiple short films and plays. Bizarrely, somewhere along the line the theme song that was written for the pilot has also reached the final of the Irish Musical Comedy awards 2013, with the potential of getting to the UK final… and then Monday morning comes along and I go back into the classroom and stand in front of 30 or so children, who are blissfully unaware that over the holidays Mr McKenna, dressed as a priest, was lying face down on a beach at seven in the morning being barked at by a small dog.
IFM: How did you first get involved in filmmaking? Did you go to college, or is it something you got involved in on your own?
Well it was college where it started for me really, though not what I studied. I went to Froebel college of Education in Blackrock (now Maynooth) to study primary teaching. Mr McKenna is my longest running character. You are a different form of yourself when you are up in front of a class of children, and are essentially acting all day at work. It’s no wonder many teachers get involved in acting. Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson and Dermot Morgan (who also attended Froebel back in the day) were all teachers once upon a time. During my teacher training in college I got very involved in acting as a hobby playing roles in both established plays like Trainspotting and devised works such as the very controversial “Good Kids Drink Milk” written by playwright Sean Dunne, an Irish take on school shootings, a promenade piece performed on site in a secondary school in Wexford (Where I played, surprise surprise…a teacher). During the development of this play and another outing called 16 devised with a group in County Wexford Youth Theatre I discovered a knack for writing to go along with my passion for acting. Further involvement in amateur drama and the All Ireland circuit, coupled with living with members of Devious Theatre company in college and I was well and truly bitten by the bug. Devious themselves have their own webseries under Microfilms called Vultures which has reached far and wide, and flatmate Jack O’Leary was cast in RTE Storylands “Rent a Friend” and stole the show. It was then RTE’s Storyland that started my journey into film. I developed characters and a premise around a previously existing idea of mine for Storyland with friend Noel Cullen which grew into our tv pilot “The Blessed Ignorance of Men”, a title stolen with permission from the already mentioned Jack O’Leary, who’s band had a song of the same name.
IFM: Give us an idea the work you’ve done up till now, as you’ve worked on a number of successful projects including ‘The Tudors’ and ‘Ninety Seconds’.
My journey into the realm of film has been one very odd snowball effect after another. My involvement in The Tudors was very minimal. I played one of the Kings elite guards, the Yeoman as an extra for a large part of a season. But even though I was around a lot, the enemy of the extras, the focus puller, means that I’m practically nowhere to be seen. I can see me sometimes, because I know that was me standing by the throne, or marching one of his wives to execution, but in reality I was just a living, breathing prop. There wouldn’t be much difference between putting a lamp or one of the yeoman standing in a spot for the most part. Jonathon Reese Myers was a very nice guy. He sat among the yeomen during his break when we were filming in Christ Church Cathedral and was enthusiastic about getting to know some of the furniture.
Apart from that I was mostly theatre initially until The Blessed Ignorance of Men. But once the project caught the attention of actor and producer Michael Parle things
changed in that department. Michael has been very involved in film, and Tin Can Man has won awards across the globe and it’s my belief that he will be a household name very soon. He has worked with Director Gerard Lough of Ninety Seconds on multiple occasions, and how I came to be in that was as simple as during a meeting about the BIOM I asked how filming of Ninety Seconds was going to which he replied “You’re in it by the way, didn’t I tell you?” It was also through Michael that I met Australian director Richard Wolstencroft, who cast me alongside Michael as a main role in the Irish segment of his seven-sectioned portmanteau film The Second Coming that is based on the W.B. Yeats poem of the same name. It compiles seven different stories from seven different locations around the world from Australia, to Thailand, to Las Vegas to eh…Wexford. I believe it is being released in two parts, with the Irish section in part two, meaning it won’t see the light of day until 2014.
IFM: How hard do you push yourself when working? And what would you say keeps you motivated?
I am a man of extremes when it comes to motivation. It really depends on how enthusiastic I am about the task at hand. In fact I ended up in hospital last Easter from pushing myself a little too hard. I have an auto immune disorder which can leave me drained, so I can work myself half to death on occasions and then have gaps where I haven’t been teaching or involved in any productions where I have twiddled my thumbs for days. Which is hard to break out of without a serious burst of enthusiasm. It’s how I got more and more involved in film the last two years too really. I hadn’t been well enough for a full time teaching job (even if they weren’t as rare as hens teeth in this environment) so took to subbing here and there when I could and taught myself editing and the use of DSLRs in my significantly larger amount of spare time. I always tend to have some project on the go outside school, be it film or theatre. Of course the project that takes up most of my time is The Blessed Ignorance of Men.
IFM: Tell us about your upcoming project ‘The Blessed Ignorance of Men’. You’re both a writer and director on the series.
The Blessed Ignorance of Men begins in an alternate Ireland, where the recession has just hit the country. The problems faced by the country remain the same as today, but a very unusual measure is taken to kill two birds with one stone and it shapes the world our characters live in. Primarily this involves the fading influence of the Catholic Church. Over the past few years, although still a huge part of Irish culture, the Catholic Church has changed immensely. With the population of priests both falling and becoming more and more aged, with less and less people entering the priesthood, it’s decided that something must be done. With the poor economic climate, and so many people out of work, the Catholic church issue a few changes and a large push with their new campaign. Unemployed? Join the priesthood.
Our story follows one man who takes this path. Recently unemployed and dumped by the girl of his dreams ‘Colm Kinsella’ decides that entering the priesthood might be a good idea. Accompanying fellow “dole queue priests” on a shortened training program Colm returns to his home village, as curate to his uncle Fr Fintan (Who has found the cover of the confession box very convenient for dealing drugs) He returns to his previous life, and friends who are still mostly unemployed, trying his best to be an upstanding member of the community. He is however hampered on all sides by the antics of his eccentric friends and the advances of his now ex girlfriend Sally.
“Say a prayer for Colm…The path to enlightenment just became a much more difficult journey.”
IFM: As a Director and writer on the project, did you ever feel there was additional pressure on you?
Yes it’s a huge undertaking, but at the same time being the writer I know how I want it to look which makes the transition from writer to director that much easier. I was also convinced by co-writer Noel Cullen to play a role in it, so I’m acting too. It’s very tough, but very rewarding to be so deeply involved in the project. Raj has joined me as co-director as well as being director of photography. Our vision for the show is very similar and we’ve had an incredibly fun time putting the whole thing together. What should have been quite an undertaking, with plenty of prep, was incredible fun. We spent six 14 hour days in August laughing our asses off, cast and crew alike. That being said, all the pressure that there is, is on me. I’ve had to be the driving force behind every step of the way. If I can give any advice to anybody starting out, it would be to just do it. Don’t wait around for things to just happen. But most of all, my go to phrase “there’s no harm in asking”.
IFM: What are your hopes for the future of the series ‘The Blessed Ignorance of Men’, and when can people expect to see it?
We entered Storyland with the project originally, and were told that the concept was too large scoped for a web series. The feedback was incredibly positive and confidence in expanding the project to a full length series grew and grew. Our director of photography Raja Nundlall, who had came on board for the possible Storyland outing was incredibly enthusiastic about it’s potential and stayed on board, and is now directing the pilot with me. It’s very much his as much as it’s mine now. A massive boost for the project in terms of confidence in it going places was the response we received from renowned writer Eoin Colfer who stated that it was “Very good. Very funny, and a well drawn absurdist world…it could be the funniest thing on TV”
The project has since gone from strength to strength, attracting attention globally, especially since Greg Sestero joined our cast. We are hoping for a summer screening of the pilot episode and that it can eventually become a full series on a network. Belief in the camp is that it has the potential in it’s merits to go the distance, but I guess all we can do is wait and see what the future hold once we wrap in the next few months.