Twice Shy is a modern, coming of age drama that revolves around a young, unmarried couple who set off on a road trip from Ireland to London, as the result of an unplanned pregnancy. The film charts the ups and downs of their relationship by juxtaposing their dramatic journey with flashbacks to happier times in their romance.
The film stars Shane Murray-Corcoran and Iseult Casey in the lead roles and features support from a stellar cast including Ardal O’ Hanlon (After Hours, Fr. Ted), Pat Shortt (The Guard, Garage), Mary Conroy (Ros na Run), and Paul Ronan (Love/Hate).
Director Tom Ryan wrote the story for Twice Shy in the hopes of reflecting a modern Ireland and addressing some topical issues in a sensitive light. We caught up with the director to talk about the film.
Twice Shy premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2016, and in the intervening year it has clocked up a lot of air miles with festival appearances in Australia, the UK, France, and more. “It’s been very surprising how well it did overseas. I wasn’t really expecting it to do as well. We ended the festival circuit at Cannes, which was surreal and a dream come true. For such an intimate, low-key movie, with such Irish themes, to do so well abroad is a testament to Shane and Iseult. Audiences here and abroad believe in their performances and their romance together, and sympathise with them and are able to relate to them. That the romance was key rather than any of the Irish issues.”
The drama in Twice Shy comes from an unplanned pregnancy and the decision taken to terminate the pregnancy. Due to Irish law, this forces a journey to the UK, and this journey is the connective tissue of the film. The effect that this decision has on the couple, rather than the act itself is key for Ryan. “The question that the film is asking is ‘is the relationship going to survive this, are they going to stay together, will this break them up’. We’re not asking is abortion right or wrong. And I think that’s the reason why it has travelled so well overseas.”
The film was picked up by international sales agent 7&7, who brought the film to the Marché film market at the Cannes Film Festival. Ireland had a record number of films selling at the Marché reflecting the robust health of the industry. “It was a dream come true to be included with them. When you’re making the movie you have a bit of tunnel vision. You’re just trying to get to the finish-line and just get it made, get it out. You don’t really think any further than that. So since the film screened at the Fleadh last year it’s just been a wonderful bonus to us. You always have modest expectations and to have the film surpass them is wonderful. We weren’t expecting to be included with all these amazing Irish films at Cannes, or to even have the film open as wide as it is. It’s opening in select cinemas on Friday, opposite Transformers 5. So hopefully that’s good counter-programming!”
Ryan is Tipperary to the core and has set both his feature films in the county. “It’s been such a pleasant experience to shoot in Tipperary, and the whole town of Nenagh has been really supportive of me. I wouldn’t have been able to make Trampoline, my first film, without their help. I got sponsorship from local businesses and they let me film in locations around the town. In the school and places like that. We had special screenings in the local cinema, and it was just brilliant. When the opportunity came to shoot Twice Shy, it just felt natural to go back there. I’d such a pleasant experience making a film there, so why not go back with Twice Shy? And then to be able to get Pat [Shortt] and Ardal [O’Hanlon] down there to shoot in Nenagh was amazing.”
Ardal O’Hanlon and Pat Shortt play the fathers of Andy and Maggie respectively. Getting the two onboard for two of the smaller characters was quite a coup for the sophomore director. “When I wrote the script I had them in mind from the first draft. They are who I wanted in those roles, and I said that to Fionn Greger, my producer. I expected him to laugh at me or to tell me to be more realistic, what with our budget and everything. I’d love to say that there was some sort of great story in getting them onboard, but it was really just as simple as sending them a copy of Trampoline and the script for Twice Shy. And then just meeting with them and chatting about the film and chatting about the role. And they’ve been phenomenal.”
The key to making Twice Shy work was getting the central pair of Andy and Maggie right, and finding a pair whose chemistry made the relationship a believable one. ” We put up the usual poster and notices that we were casting. And then I met with actors one on one for a coffee, just to chat to with them and get to know them, rather than dive straight in and act, or do an audition. I liked to chat to them first and see if we get along and see if there are aspects of them that relate to the characters that I’d be able to work with. The next stage was to invite people to audition for the role of Andy individually and for the role of Maggie individually. Then the third step was the chemistry test. We’d pair up candidates for Andy with candidates for Maggie and see if they worked well together. And as soon as Shane and Iseult came together, they just clicked. They had an instant chemistry. They were fantastic on camera for the screen test, and they just kept that level up for the whole shoot. I’d love to sit here and say that I did my job as a director, guiding them through the process. But they were professionals. They were absolutely brilliant. Shane had experience growing up on movie sets and it was Iseult’s first time on screen, and together they were supportive of one another and they worked really hard for one another. I just had to sit back and now I’m taking credit for their hard work! They were great to work with, fantastic to watch, and they carry the movie on their shoulders. If it didn’t work on screen between Andy and Maggie then the film would just fall apart.”
The film takes place in three locations, with a car journey as the connection and flashbacks providing additional character development. “It was very important for the three acts of the story that we have three different locations. It starts in rural Ireland and we flashback to how they met in Tipperary. Then they mature a bit and the second act takes place in Dublin, where they are going to college. And outside influences start to affect their relationship. And then, of course, the third act is set in London, where they are going for the termination. It’s very important that you have three distinct locations. Tipperary really stands out with the rural landscape, and then Dublin with its busy cityscape, and then you expand out further with London, which is incredibly cinematic. And all of that played to our favour as it makes it look like we had a bigger budget than we did.”
Those scenes in London are integral to depicting Maggie’s journey, and the journey many Irish women face when choosing to terminate a pregnancy. “It was important to portray that. To be respectful to that. To show it in a compassionate way, and in a non-judgmental way. It is such a serious issue, and such an intense thing for somebody to have to go through.”
With national and international focus on Ireland’s abortion laws, Twice Shy is very much a film for the zeitgeist. “I felt a responsibility to portray it in a sensitive, non-judgmental, and balanced way. If we can get people to start a conversation about it after seeing the film, to just talk about it then that’d be great. The film is called Twice Shy, due to the phrase ‘once bitten, twice shy’, as the characters when we first meet them are reluctant to talk to one another on the journey. It starts in silence. They have hurt each other in the past, they’ve been hurt in the past. So it’s all about getting the characters to a point where they can open up and talk about it. And to encourage people to talk about it. If we can get people, after seeing the movie, to talk about these issues of suicide, abortion, and depression then that would be fantastic. It’s also important, that in getting people to talk about it, I felt a responsibility to portray these issue in a way that wasn’t grim or talking down to the audience. The characters never debate these issues. They never delve into right or wrong. It’s just an observation. We are trying to show how a couple’s relationship can be affected by them. They’re either going to get through it or they are going to break up. There was a responsibility to handle these issues with care. Thousands of people a year set out on this journey to the UK. We need to be able to talk about it. It was very important that the characters mention the word abortion, that they don’t tip-toe around it avoiding saying it out-loud. It’s all too common that it’s spoken of in hushed tones or there’s an attempt to brush it under the carpet. It was also important that there would be humour. Not from poking fun at any of the issues, but from character interactions and intimate moments. If the audience can have a bit of a laugh then hopefully they can relate to the characters more and empathise with them more.”
Twice Shy is out now in selected Irish cinemas and on Volta.
You can listen to an outtake from the interview where we talk about the fluid geography of his native Tipperary in the film, his hopes for the future, and the amazing soundtrack which features acts like Ash, The Coors, Gavin James, and Molly Sterling.