Academy Award winner John Patrick Shanley’s latest project Wild Mountain Thyme is available in theaters and on-demand from Bleecker Street. The film stars Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan in a sweeping love story set on two farms in Ireland. We spoke with Shanley about getting casting just right and his main inspirations for the film and its play origins.
DS: What brought you to the mindset to adapt your award-winning play for the big screen?
JPS: You know, I would say the adaptation starts before that. I took my father back to Ireland. He came to this country when he was 24. I took him back to Ireland when he was a little too old to drive. I did that several times and visited with his family on the farm that he was born in. The experiences and that talk … that’s what I adapted into a play.
DS: What lead you to cast Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt in the film?
JPS: Well, the thing is that you know, when I write a play or a movie, I almost always start from I don’t start from actors. I start with the actual people. And then once I have written it, then I say, Now, what actor could play this actual person and in the case of the casting of Wild Mountain Thyme, I started with the male lead. He needed to be introverted and intelligent. A dark romantic lead who was preferably Irish. Well, that narrows the field. In fact, now it’s down to one person. I had an actress for Rosemary, but she fell out because of her schedule. I said to the producers, rather cavalierly, that ‘if you could get Emily Blunt, that’d be great. She’d be terrific.’ We sent her the script, and within three days, she came back with “I want to do it.”
DS: Why were you so sure that Emily would work?
JPS: Emily has got it all, you know? So, she’s a musician, which means she has an excellent ear. And I knew that she could do the dialect the accent. She’s a formidable actress. She’s a major box office star. She checks all the boxes, and I thought she had a kind of gentle extroversion. That matched gentle introversion, and indeed, their intelligence and chemistry, and they’re quiet passion perfectly matched each other. It was a very happy piece of casting.
DS: There is almost a lyrical quality to the dialogue in the film.
JPS: Well, I was inspired by me, and my father came to America in 1924. He had a brogue, and when I took him back to Ireland, everybody had a brogue. My uncles in America had a brogue. The music of that language surrounded me. I found that unbelievably impressive.
DS: How would you rank the experience of making Wild Mountain Thyme compared to, say, Doubt or Moonstruck?
JPS – This was a lot of different kinds of joy. This Is the only time that I ever wrote a script where I didn’t want to finish right away. I would keep going back and putting another touch on it because I didn’t want to let it go. After all, it was such a happy thing.
DS: Is Christopher Walken’s character in the film a representation of your father?
JPS: He’s a cross between my father and my father’s brother, Tony, who never left the farmand passed away there. My uncle Tony died at home, and as he was dying he called his children to him, and one by one, he shook their hands and thanked them for being his children.
DS: How much of your life’s experiences did you pull from writing “Outside Mullingar,” which ultimately you adapted into Wild Mountain Thyme?
JPS: You know writers, artists in general, we invent nothing. We take all the raw material that comes to us, and we fashion it into whatever we wish to express.
DS: What do you hope people get from seeing the film?
JPS: You know, with a lot of stuff … I don’t know. Suppose you would ask me the question. What’s the theme? I wouldn’t have already answered, but this one I do. It’s actually said by Emily Blunt’s character towards the end of the film. Everybody thinks there’s something they’re not; I would hope that people would take that away. People carry this burden, that there’s something inside .. some secret that they feel that if they were honest about it and shared it, they’d be destroyed. No one would love them, but you can actually say the thing, and certainly, it won’t always work out, but most likely it will have a good outcome,
DS: The true definition of love… speaking of love … how could you not love Ireland after watching the film, but it’s my understanding that there’s been some backlash… I don’t get it.
JPS: When Emily called me and told me she wanted to do it. I said, well, okay, the one thing I want to tell you is we’re not making this movie for the Irish because if you try to get the Irish to love you, you will reap the whirlwind. Just leave it be. You’re gonna have a lot of opinions, and you get on with what you’re doing. And if you stick to your guns, maybe eventually they’ll come to like you a bit.
DS: What do you enjoy more, directing or writing?
JPS: I enjoy writing because I’m not out in the rain, and I enjoy directing because, at that time, I’m not writing wherever I am; the other place looks better.
Images by Ron Adar / Shutterstock; Kerry Brown / Bleecker Street