Ahead of the 28th Galway Film Fleadh we caught up with Irish actor/writer/producer Conor MacNeill, star of Fleadh highlight The Siege of Jadotville, and writer of After ’16 short The Party.
We began by asking about his short film The Party, which is set in Belfast in 1972, and sees a young man welcome his cousin and man-on-the-run to a party of drinking, dancing and young love. By morning, reality catches up with them.
The Party is the most different of the After ’16 shorts as it is a fictional narrative that depicts the consequences of the 19156 Rising, the subsequent partition of the island, and the trouble that caused for generations living in Northern Ireland. The film is exceptionally good at setting the scene, in feeling like it is a 70’s era film. MacNeill was quick to comment: “As writer I didn’t get to wear any of the costumes, but I did manage to get down to the set. The production design was extraordinary. They’d made the whole street look like it was the 70’s. I brought my mother down and she said it was exactly like being back then.”
The Siege of Jadotville similarly has a historical setting, as it depicts the real-life 1961 siege of a 150-strong Irish UN battalion under Commander Patrick Quinlan (Jamie Dornan) by 3,000 Congolese troops led by French and Belgian mercenaries working for mining companies. The film is an Irish/South African co-production, with the majority of the filming taking place in South Africa. MacNeill was quick to mention the hospitality of the locals. “They made us feel right at home. We were a small band of actors hanging out together, taking the bus to the shoot together, and back together. There was a really good bond in the group.”
MacNeill plays the radio operator “I’m the point of contact for the outside world. I’m the one that brings the rest both good and bad news, that has to tell them that they are on their own. Having us away from home instilled a bond and made it all feel more real.” As a result of his role in the film he spent a lot of time with lead Jamie Dornan. “That was great. Jamie’s a really good guy. We went from there to working together on The Fall a few months later, and it felt really natural.”
When we caught up with MacNeill he was on-set of Channel 4 drama series No Offence. “It is great working on television. This show has a great cast. It even has a fellow Irish actor in Elaine Cassidy, and I get to keep my accent. In Jadotville I play a guy from the midlands. We worked for weeks with a fantastic dialect coach. I really hope that it comes out as authentic!”
Asked what’s next the prolific MacNeill responded “We’ve got this feature due to start at the end of the year. It’s called Invisible Sun. We’ve a great director David Blair and cast in that. We’ve got Robert Sheehan, Stephen Graham, and Michelle Fairley. I can’t wait to get started on that!” Invisible Sun is MacNeill’s first screenplay, and won the 2014 Northern Ireland Screen New Talent Focus award.
We can’t wait to see what this rising star of Irish film has in store for us.