It’s funny you bring that up, though because in both “Magdalene Sisters” and “NEDS,” you’ve kept a small, deeply unsympathetic role for yourself. [Here he plays John’s alcoholic father. Minor spoilers ahead.] Is there a reason why?
[laughs] Totally. Both in “Magdalene” and in “NEDS,” I was the cheapest actor available and I was available. That’s what determined it. In “Magdalene,” we put that part out to four actors and we couldn’t get any of them and they were all too busy and they were all way too expensive. And in “NEDS,” I was always probably fourth in line, so me and my brother Lenny, we always knew we had to get a heavyweight, but we knew if we couldn’t get a heavyweight, I could step in and do it. And we weren’t able to get the actors we were looking for. So I stepped in at the last minute, which was not a problem because we always knew that I could play it.
When it came to doing it, when one watches it, quite rightly one’s going to ask questions of an aesthetic like, “Well, is Mullan putting himself in his own movie as the least sympathetic of all the kind of role models?” But from my point of view as an actor, I knew that I could take him to the stage that was not on the page, which was he is sadder and more depressed [than] his behavior [even suggests]. He’s a brute, a bully and a son of bitch, but the bottom line is, particularly when he says “finish me,” he is an empty, hollow soul that’s in a lot of pain, so much so he’d rather have his son commit patricide than take his own life and give his son any kind of future. In that one moment for me, however perverted that may be, that’s where his humanity comes through. This is one very broken man who was once upon a time given all the power you could want in a household and abused it. He didn’t take it with honor. He didn’t do it with compassion. He abused the power that was given to him and as with most abusers, when it comes his his own heartbreak, his own realization of his own brutality comes through. I knew I could do that.
As a director, you’ve talked about making a film about Hurricane Katrina next. What sparked your interest?
It was a story I came across about five years ago. Two lovely San Francisco nurses went to New Orleans, found themselves being trapped and it took them five days to get out. What attracted me to their story was they begun as two and by the time they got to the highway, they were almost a thousand strong. For me, it’s a kind of mythic tale of what happens to modern capitalist society when you lose everything – every mobile phone, every piece of food and all the water. You have nothing except for one another. Do you work as a collective or do you work as individuals? And what do you learn in that process?
Obviously, the institutional racism that was proven by that event goes without saying in the sense that that’ll be an integral part of the film. But for me, it’s as much about humanity wholesale in the sense that if the richest country in the world with a population of 250-odd million can’t look after the six, seven million who were trapped in that hellhole that was New Orleans after Katrina, then what is capitalism doing? What point is there to all the wealth and power that America may have if they can’t look after its own? They can’t do it and for me, I find it fascinating that the most powerful nation on earth really has to look at itself now more than ever because the mistakes that brought us all to the brink of complete collapse just a year-and-a-half ago are being repeated as we speak. We have bankers getting back on the trolley and gobbling everything up again and they’ll quite happily leave us all without jobs, without work as long as they get a $7 million bonus. There’s big questions to be asked and that’s what I want to do with “Katrina.”