Four Irish actors and one Irish producer have been chosen as Stars of Tomorrow in the international film bible publication Screen International. The prestigious line-up announced this morning includes Seána Kerslake (A Date for Mad Mary), Fionn O’Shea (Handsome Devil), Paddy Gibson (The OA, What Richard Did), Jessie Buckley (Beast) and Farah Abushwesha (The Party (IFB short), The Last Photograph).
Screen has displayed a strong track record in identifying rising talent with the initiative. Previous Stars of Tomorrow include Benedict Cumberbatch (2004), Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (2005), Suffragette star Carey Mulligan and Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor John Boyega (2011). Last year’s Stars of Tomorrow included Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth), Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) and Josh O’Connor (God’s Own Country).
The fact that we have an unprecedented number of young Irish actors this year is testament to both their talent and the bigger role that Irish film is currently playing on the international stage. Irish actors form almost one-third of our talent portfolio this year, and they are all ideally poised for further success on an international level.
Although Seana Kerslake and Fionn O’Shea came to my attention for vibrant performances in brilliant Irish films (A Date for Mad Mary and Handsome Devil), it’s also fair to say that both Paddy Gibson and Jessie Buckley arrived in Stars of Tomorrow completely by stealth. They were so convincing in their characters that it was only at the process that I realised they were also Irish too.
Fionnuala Halligan, Editor – Stars of Tomorrow, Reviews Editor – Screen international
Fionnuala Halligan curates the line-up after considering hundreds of candidates and consulting with industry experts including casting agents, talent agents, managers, producers and directors. Now in its 14th year, the annual talent showcase spotlights up-and-coming actors, writers, directors and producers from the UK and Ireland who are primed to make their mark in the industry in the years to come.
We are delighted to see Irish talent on the rise internationally. Many of these nominees featured in Screen’s “Stars of Tomorrow” received their early career breaks on IFB-funded feature films and projects filmed on location in Ireland. Watching new generations of Irish actors, writers, directors and producers break through into the international industry is the result of the long-term, continued and sustained investment in talent and it so important for the future growth of the industry.
James Hickey, Chief Executive – Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland (FÉ/SI) is the national development agency for Irish filmmaking and the Irish film, television and animation industry.
For the third year, Screen is partnering with the BFI London Film Festival to launch the initiative to international industry, which will see the 2017 Stars presented as part of its programme of events.
This year’s Stars will be toasted at an event in London during this year’s festival, on Thursday October 5.
This will be followed by an exclusive industry dinner on Monday October 9 attended by filmmakers, producers, casting directors and the Stars themselves.
As a child, Fionn O’Shea adored his older sister and insisted on doing everything she did — including Saturday morning drama class.
His first audition was for the Irish Film Board funded short film called New Boy; he got the part, and the film went on to be nominated for an Oscar in 2007. “It was a massive help to have that on my CV,” O’Shea says, in his typically understated style.
He started a business degree in case the acting did not work out but, after just a few months, he was cast in Richie Smyth’s The Siege Of Jadotville for Parallel Films. Based on the true story of an Irish battalion under attack in the Congo in the 1960s, it shot in South Africa, prompting O’Shea to drop out of the course. The film premiered at Galway Film Fleadh in 2016, and was acquired by Netflix.
While shooting Jadotville, co-star Jason O’Mara recommended O’Shea to director John Butler, who was looking to cast his coming-of-age film Handsome Devil. After recording an audition on his iPhone, O’Shea landed the lead role of a sweet, gawky boy forced to attend a rugby-mad boarding school. Handsome Devil screened at Toronto last year.
O’Shea, who admires fellow Irish actors Cillian Murphy and Andrew Scott, has most recently completed James Kent’s Second World War drama The Aftermath, with Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgard, for Fox Searchlight Pictures, and has moved on to Channel 4’s comedy series Hang Ups opposite Stephen Mangan. “My goal is to work on things that I really care about and with people I really look up to,” he says.
Gena Rowlands’ performances in the films of John Cassavetes inspired Dublin-based Seána (pronounced Shawna) Kerslake’s love of cinema. “I love when I see something raw and honest, whether it’s a superhero film or a kitchen-sink drama,” says Kerslake. “As long as you can see the humanity and the flaws.”
This is the perfect description of Kerslake’s breakout role in Darren Thornton’s A Date For Mad Mary. She stars as the sweary Mary, a force of nature desperately looking for a second chance back in her hometown, and her performance earned rave reviews last year when it screened at festivals including Galway, Karlovy Vary and London.
Mad Mary, produced by Element Pictures is run by Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe, with offices in Dublin and London, working across production, distribution, and exhibition. Element Pictu... More, was Kerslake’s second lead following Kirsten Sheridan’s Dollhouse. Experimental and unscripted, Dollhouse was a baptism of fire for Kerslake, who was fresh out of university where she had studied anthropology.
Impressed by Sheridan’s way of working, she trained at the director’s Dublin-based The Factory. Small theatre parts and a BBC Three TV series called Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope followed, as did some deleted scenes in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster.
This summer, Kerslake shot Lee Cronin’s psychological thriller A Hole In The Ground, in which she stars as a woman who does not recognise her own son. It is the kind of role she relishes. “I feel it in my skin if it’s hammy or clichéd,” Kerslake says of her performances. “I try not to hide, try to not have a barrier. I try to let people in.”
Growing up in Dublin, Patrick Gibson (“I’m generally known as Paddy,” he grins) would make short films on a VHS camera.
His acting career took off while he was still at school, with roles in Ireland-based TV series The Tudors for Showtime and Neverland for Sky Movies and SyFy. He was then cast in Lenny Abrahamson’s coming-of-age film What Richard Did in 2012. “I realised this is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he says.
Balancing school with acting jobs became balancing university with acting jobs, as Gibson took up a place to study philosophy at Trinity College Dublin. He appeared in Niall Heery’s 2014 feature comedy Gold and starred in the BBC’s First World War drama series The Passing Bells. Two years into a four-year course came the call that would change Gibson’s life, when he was cast in Netflix’s The OA.
He left to shoot the otherworldly series in New York in February 2016. “I’ve not done two jobs the same and I’ve been out of my comfort zone a lot of the time,” Gibson says of his eclectic résumé. “As long as something has a distinctive strand of truth in it… That’s what I look for in scripts and characters.”
This year, Gibson has also appeared in John Ridley’s 1970s-set political drama Guerrilla for Sky Atlantic, and Starz’s historical drama The White Princess. Now his feature career is poised to take off with lead roles in Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s The Darkest Minds, based on the young-adult trilogy about supernatural teenagers, for 20th Century Fox, and the US comedy drama In A Relationship, with Emma Roberts. A second series of The OA starts shooting in October.
Gibson is keen to emulate the career of Jake Gyllenhaal. “His work resonates with me. The choices he makes are incredible,” says the young actor.
“What I love about filmmaking is that, for a moment of magic, it relies on every single member in that team. I want to be involved in that common dialogue,” says Jessie Buckley, who grew up in Ireland as the oldest of five children. Until this year, much of her career has focused on the theatre. But with two prestige TV series and two buzz-heavy features in the can, the screen is ready to claim her.
An early start in musical theatre led to Rada and then roles in BBC series War & Peace and Taboo. She has recently starred in two further TV series: The Last Post, a 1960s-set drama based in the Yemen written by Peter Moffat for the BBC, and The Woman In White for Origin Pictures.
Buckley’s first feature role is the lead in Michael Pearce’s Beast, as a woman living on the island of Jersey who is still being punished for a crime committed years earlier. “I read 20 pages and thought, ‘I have to do this,’” Buckley says. “I fought tooth and nail to do it. I could just see her.”
She expresses a similar passion for Rose-Lynn, the character she plays in Tom Harper’s Glasgow-set Country Music. Rose-Lynn is a mother of two who, following her release from prison, has a dream to go to Nashville and become a country singer. “It’s not a musical,” Buckley emphasises. “It’s Ken Loach meets a western with music. There’s nothing heightened about it, not even with the music. The music is another limb for this character.”
The seam that runs through Buckley’s roles is one of a woman searching for a way of living and surviving in a hostile society that has its own ideas of how she should act and behave.
“I’m interested in telling stories about people with vulnerabilities who find their own strength,” Buckley explains. “They are not people with beautiful hair or perfect teeth, but [those who] have wounds from life. I want to play real people and tell real stories to audiences.”
Founder of the Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum, a showcase for emerging talent, Farah Abushwesha says she established the platform as a direct response to her own drama studies.
“When I came out of drama school [at The Poor School in London], I couldn’t find parts for women in their early 20s,” says Abushwesha. “That’s how Rocliffe evolved. Slowly I realised I was much more comfortable behind the camera, putting people and projects together.”
After producing several shorts, Abushwesha started work as a production co-ordinator on Tom Harper’s The Scouting Book For Boys.
Eventually came a move into line producing on projects including Tom Shkolnik’s The Comedian and The Rise (aka Wasteland) with Rowan Athale, before Jason Newmark offered her a job as co-producer on Pressure starring Danny Huston and Matthew Goode.
Huston then asked her to be a producer on The Last Photograph, which he starred in and directed. “It was one of those moments when you see your career changing,” says Abushwesha. “That’s where it all started.”
In 2016, Abushwesha produced short The Party, an Irish Film Board commission to mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, directed by Andrea Harkin, which earned a Bafta nod earlier this year.
Abushwesha heard about the nomination while working in New York on her biggest film yet, Stephanie Laing’s Irreplaceable You starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Christopher Walken, Michiel Huisman and Steve Coogan. The Exchange has taken on sales.
Abushwesha stayed true to her principles on the film. “[I was] very committed to having as much diversity as possible,” she says. “We had a female DoP, female costume designer, female production designer. I’m very much about promoting women behind the lens.”
Next up is a project with director Naomi Sheridan with development funding from the Irish Film Board, and a supernatural horror set of the coast of Ireland called Blackened with Aislinn Clarke.