Irish author Roche reflects on movies, writing
Billy Roche, right, at a reading of one of his new scripts by UD's REP actors.
Billy Roche offers feedback during the reading.
The REP actors at the reading.

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8:20 a.m., May 7, 2010----While Irish author Bill Roche enjoyed co-writing the script for The Eclipse with the film's director Conor McPherson, the creator of the Wexford Trilogy said he doesn't envision a long-term career on the silver screen.

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During a question and answer session that followed a screening of The Eclipse in the Trabant University Center Theatre at the University of Delaware on Sunday, May 2, Roche fielded questions about his work on the script and his appearance in the film.

The author's week-long visit to UD also included visits to classes in English, theatre and the Master of Liberal Studies Program, as well as readings of a new Roche script by the University's REP actors on Wednesday, May 5, in the Thompson Theatre of the Roselle Center for the Arts.

The author of seven plays, two film scripts, and a collection of short stories, Roche also wrote Tales from Rainwater Pond (Pillar Press, Kilkenny, 2006), which includes “Table Manners,” a story that evolved into the screenplay for The Eclipse.

Recently named Best Irish Film of the year, The Eclipse also garnered Roach and McPherson a separate award for best script.

Framed by elements of the supernatural, the film zooms in on the terse relationships between novelists Lena Morelle, (Iben Hjejle), and Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) who are attending a literary festival in the Irish harbor town of Cobh, in County Cork, and Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds), a festival volunteer haunted by visions of his still-living father-in-law and his dead wife.

“The original story, 'Table Manners,' is part of a collection of short stories that became Rainwater Pond,” Roche said. “I sent the story to various people, including Conor McPherson, who fell in love with story and though it would make a pretty good film.”

Roche said that he and McPherson spent a lot of time working on the film script, which called for a title change, as well as a change in marital status for the character of Michael Farr.

“In my original story, Michael is still married to his wife, and was fooling around. When we were trying to sell the story to the movie producers, we found that there really was not much sympathy for a married man fooling around with other women,” Roche said. “Somebody suggested that making Michael a widower would generate all the sympathy in the world, and that's what happened.”

The change to film's title came about because the producers said there was another play called Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn, Roche noted.

“I threw my hands up in the air, and we changed the name to The Eclipse,” Roche said. “We later found out that there were a lot of things called The Eclipse, including a book by John Branville, one of my favorite writers.”

Roche noted that the supernatural element, which includes Michael's being haunted by his elderly father-in-law, as well as by his dead wife, are more in realm of the film's director and reflect the ancient Irish tradition of the banshee.

“In Ireland, there is this thing called a banshee, represented by an old woman who would appear at the time of somebody's death,” Roche said. “In those more primitive days, we did not have phones or email to communicate. When the banshee came with their terrible sound, it was a way to let people know that something had happened, and that bad news was on the way.”

Roche said that while he pitched the idea of shooting the film in his hometown of Wexford, the director chose the town of Cobh, in County Cork, with its tiered layout and visual images that included ancient arches and viaducts.

“I wanted it in my home town of Wexford, because that is where my stories are set, but the director fell in love with the many levels of Cobh,” Roche said. “I know he was fascinated with the movie The Exorcist, and about going up to heaven and coming back down the walls and all that jazz. If you watch The Eclipse again, you will see that things and people are constantly going up and coming down. We just didn't have that element in Wexford.”

When asked if he was unhappy with changes made to his original story, Roche noted that he was just glad that somebody like Conor McPherson wanted to use it for a movie.

“You work on a collection of short stories for seven years, and then find nobody really wants them,” Roche said. “You are very glad when somebody will take them. I love Conor, and I just knew he would take care of it.”

Roche noted that complementing the film's visual effects is the score written by Fionnuala Ni Chiosan, an artist and the wife of McPherson.

“I was a musician before I was a writer, so music is very important to me,” he said. “When I am thinking about finding a person to direct a play I've written, I have to be happy with the music that they are going to use. It just wouldn't work without that.”

While he appeared as the head of the literary festival in The Eclipse, Roche said he has no plans to pursue acting as a full time occupation. “I enjoyed being in the move as Jim Belton, because as the head of the literary festival he is running the show. For me to play that part is almost Hictchcockian.”

As a youth growing up in Wexford, Roche noted there were three cinemas, and that he would often get a chance to see up to eight moves in a week's time.

“I was raised on cinema, American cinema, and I especially like the movies of John Ford,” Roche said. “My favorite movie would probably be The Searchers. I also really like The Sweet Smell of Success and Cool Hand Luke. All those guys like Brando, McQueen and James Dean really had a big influence on me.”

Roche noted that his writing usually begins with a special moment or feeling, and that he knows fairly soon how the story will begin and end.

“I like to know the beginning and the end, and I usually stick to whatever I have in mind in that regard,” Roche said. “It's the middle distance that cause me most of the trouble. The middle is really a complete mystery to me. I just have to manage those miles to get to the end of the story.”

When asked if he ever comes across a character that seems to resist his plans for the work, Roche noted that in the end, these situations work themselves out buy by authorial imperative.

“They will go there. In the end, a writer is kind of like God, in that he is looking down on the characters,” Roche said. “That's destiny. The characters may not like my decisions, but they will end up where I want them to go.”

Like most of the characters in the movie, Roche noted that his literary characters are likely to evoke a mixture of laughter and tears. “Writers exclude humor at their peril,” Roche said. “Laughter and tears coexist with me. I lean closer to tears. Tears will always beat the hell out of laughter.”

Roche's visit was co-sponsored by the Department of English, the Institute for Global Studies and the Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events.

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Kevin Quinlan

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