Interview – ‘The Miracle Club’ director Thaddeus O’Sullivan talks working with all-star cast

Ballyfermot, Ireland, 1960. A hard-knocks community in outer Dublin marches to its own beat, rooted in traditions of loyalty, faith and togetherness. There’s just one tantalising dream for the women of Ballyfermot to taste freedom and escape the gauntlet of domestic life: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes. And with a little benevolent interference from their cheeky and rebellious priest, close friends Lily, Eileen, Dolly and Sheila are the ‘lucky’ few to win this ticket of a lifetime at their riotous local raffle night.

The Miracle Club comes to us from director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, who was kind enough to have a chat with me about his film, filming in his home country of Ireland, and how the core message of the story has also related to his career as a filmmaker.

Nick: I read that the film’s writer and producer, Joshua D. Maurer, has been trying to get this film made for 15 years now! How long into that process did you come on board, and how the film itself found you?

Thaddeus O’Sullivan: At a very early stage, HBO actually asked me to do it but there were some problems eventually with the project. Then I wasn’t involved for a very long time. But, about 2 or 3 years ago, I got approached again by Josh Maurer, and he was working with a writer that I was very familiar with. Someone I’d worked with on a couple of BBC projects, Tim Prager. I thought it would be interesting to get back into it and do some nice work. That’s how I got involved again.

Nick: With The Miracle Club being set in both Ireland and France, and being a Irish native yourself, I’m curious to know what your approach is a filmmaker when it comes to shooting in your home country? Do you feel like there is a nostalgic sense when filming in such a beautiful country like your home country, as opposed to elsewhere in the world?

Thaddeus O’Sullivan: I think to me a country is just another location, but locations to me are everything. They dictate the look. Locations have character. In this case, it was an important period for me, because I left Ireland in the 60s, and that is when the film is set. So, going back and creating the 60s in Ireland was really interesting for me, because those locations were important to me. They make me feel comfortable as a director.

I made a film set in New York once about the mafia, and I initially thought it was a film I couldn’t do because I didn’t know anything about that culture. But once I got in there and started talking to people, and started to think about the characters and where we were going to film, how I was going to use New York, it began to become a part of the story, rather than being from the perspective of an outsider lokking in.

Probably for most filmmakers, whether it’s a room or a mountainside, I have to feel comfortable that it will express something on my behalf.

Nick: There’s a profound line of dialogue that is said in the film, and I don’t want to spoil the context of it, but with paraphrasing, the line is: “You don’t come to Lourdes looking for a miracle, you come to Lourdes to find the strength to continue on when there is no miracle.” I’m interested to find out whether, in the realm of your filmmaking career, has there ever been something that may have not gone to plan the way you expected, but the idea of pure passion and determination in this medium you love has pushed you through?

Thaddeus O’Sullivan: I would say the best thing – and that is a good question – is that I had that on this film. It took so long to make, and it took a lot out of me. We had to will this film to be made. There were so many things that I needed to do it the way I wanted to do it. I think one of those things was working with those wonderful actors which is a good enough reason to do it, of course!

I really wanted to get back into that world at that time. Catholicism during that particular period and women from those backgrounds were familiar to me, and I felt comfortable in it. Maggie Smith at one point said we needed an advisor on the set to show her how to use the rosary beads, and I told her those are the questions I can answer!

Nick: You mentioned your familiarity with the women of that time, and while The Miracle Club focuses on the women themselves trying to find these miracles, I also saw it as a love letter to the tireless efforts and selflessness that these women showed, and still show today, especially a mothers impact on our lives. How important to you was it to showcase that element of the film outside of what the narrative throughline was really about?

Thaddeus O’Sullivan: That’s very interesting. What was interesting for me was what the men were doing while the women were away, and what that all implies. The freedom of women from the duties of the house, particularly to do with the men and children. I thought it would be interesting to be with these women on their own, and feel what they felt.

It’s women who make the decisions in this film. I laid it at the door of the women in this film. Even to the point where we look at the fact that it wasn’t the men who drove Chrissie away in her story. Even when it comes to having children, they’re probably doing these things alone. So when you get someone like [Dolly], who’s telling someone the best way to get rid of a baby is in to sit in whiskey shows she never had the chance to discuss that with someone else. She was in a desperate situation. It’s a big subject that we only touched on, but it was also very interesting to make a film about it.

Thank you to Thaddeus O’Sullivan for his time to chat, and to Transmission Films for organising the interview. The Miracle Club is in Australian cinemas August 3.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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