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Alec Baldwin on the set of Pixie: ‘My priest will never see this movie. I’ll make sure of that’ | Film

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It is an autumn morning in pre-pandemic Belfast. Nuns stroll around a disused church brandishing shotguns while the priests are packing pistols. In front of the altar, standing beneath a sack of drugs that hangs from the rafters like a pendulum, is a thick-necked, blue-eyed bruiser in a cassock and dog collar. He starts to speak, trips over his words, then roars a string of expletives (“Fuckfuckfuck!”) before quickly righting himself: “I’m good, I’m good, let’s keep going.” The spectacle of Alec Baldwin fluffing his lines is truly something to behold.

This is the final week of shooting on the British comic-thriller-cum-road-movie Pixie, and the second of Baldwin’s days on set as the gun-running, drug-dealing priest, Father Hector. “Aside from being a man of the cloth and being involved in some pretty lurid dealings, he is a businessman,” Baldwin tells me later by email. “He has a job to do and sometimes people get in the way. Even when things turn ugly or violent, I try to be merciful.”

He has known the film’s director, Barnaby Thompson, for several decades, though it was Thompson’s son Preston – the screenwriter of Pixie – who offered him the role. “Preston saw Alec at a party,” recalls the producer James Clayton, “and said: ‘Do you want to play an Irish gangster priest?’ Apparently, Alec replied: ‘Don’t you dare offer that part to Brendan Gleeson!’”

Pixie herself, played by the Oldham-born Ready Player One star Olivia Cooke, is the stepdaughter of a Sligo gangster (Colm Meaney). After a planned heist of hers goes wrong, she escapes across the spectacular countryside with two accidental accomplices (Ben Hardy and Daryl McCormack) in tow, as well as a dead body in the boot. Her explosive confrontation with Father Hector is the scene being shot today.

Arriving on set, Cooke takes a pew – an actual pew, that is, one of several lined up on the grass in front of the church – and nurses a coffee. “The film twists this idea of the woman scorned and turns it into a story of empowerment,” she says. “Pixie does some dastardly stuff, but hopefully you still love her. You come to understand why she’s doing what she does. It’s not just for the thrills. And the way Preston has written her isn’t gendered. People talk about strong female characters but a weak female character is really just one that’s been badly written.”

As Baldwin runs through his tirade again inside the church – “We’re going to snuff you out and bleed you slow!” he promises his adversaries – I inspect the storyboards pinned up outside, which have captions such as: “Whip-Pan to Old Frail Priest with Magnum-Style Gun.” Standing nearby is the 26-year-old Preston Thompson, named in honour of Preston Sturges, the master of screwball comedy. “Everyone at school thought I was named after Preston North End,” he shrugs.

With that name, it was perhaps inevitable that he would write a frantic comedy. The idea arose from a road trip that father and son took together in the west of Ireland. “It’s the most breathtaking landscape,” he says. “I always liked the idea of doing a western set there in the lush green grass and rolling hills, with all these slightly idiotic gangsters.” He shared the thought with his father. “His response was: ‘It doesn’t sound great.’ That put me off for six months. Then I showed him my first draft, and he said: ‘I want to direct it.’ I was, like, ‘Oh do you, motherfucker? You put me off this!’” He grins. “I made him wait.”

Olivia Cooke … ‘Pixie does some dastardly stuff, but hopefully you still love her.’



Olivia Cooke … ‘Pixie does some dastardly stuff, but hopefully you still love her.’ Photograph: Aidan Monaghan

I ask Barnaby what changed his mind. “I was quite wary of the gangster genre,” he says. “It’s a very well-trodden path. But there was something liberating about having the Irish backdrop and a female lead. It managed to avoid the cliches.” Despite having been in the film industry for decades, producing everything from Wayne’s World to Spice World, Pixie is his first solo directing gig. (He previously co-directed the rebooted St Trinian’s movies with Oliver Parker.) “To find yourself directing a film that’s written by your own son is one of the great joys. You can be frank with each other in ways that you often can’t with other collaborators.”

Preston offers some examples: “He’ll say to me: ‘This scene is really sloppy writing.’ Or I’ll tell him, ‘That’s an old man idea.’” Watching his father at work gives him a visible glow. “I know how much he’s wanted this over the years. I’ve never seen him happier.”

The curly haired, dough-faced Meaney, best known for Roddy Doyle adaptations including The Commitments and The Snapper, marvels at their relationship. “I’ve never met a father and son who get on so well,” he tells me during a break in his trailer. He’s full of praise, too, for the writing. “I look for things these days that are quirky, fun, and that I suspect I’ll have a good time on. My character is a gangster but it’s become a drag for him. All he wants is to cook. His attitude is: ‘Oh, I suppose if we really have to shoot this guy …’”

A full year later, and with Pixie one of the few high-profile titles that hasn’t been pushed back to 2021, I call Barnaby to discover what effect the pandemic had on finishing the film. “We’d got far enough to be able to complete it,” he says. “Post-production was mostly done remotely, though I did go into Soho during lockdown to do the mix. That was quite spooky, like being in 28 Days Later.” It is still a month before the postponement of No Time to Die and the closure of the Cineworld chain but it is already clear that Pixie will open in an unstable landscape. “These are challenging times but I desperately want people to see the film in cinemas. We never even had a conversation about streaming.”

His desire for it to play on the big screen is understandable. Alongside Cooke’s lively, eye-catching performance, it is John de Borman’s ravishing cinematography that helps Pixie establish its own identity. After all, there was no shortage of other movies being mentioned when I was on set. Preston likened Pixie to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Y Tu Mamá También, while James Clayton named Baby Driver, In Bruges, Layer Cake and True Romance as reference points. “Tarantino-esque” was how he described the violence. “The statue of the Virgin Mary gets its head blown off. It’s not a Peckinpah movie. It’s supposed to be funny.”

Baldwin agrees. “It is, by turns, clever and funny,” he says. “It pops with cynicism and action, and it has this great young cast, including Olivia, who reminds me of Holly Hunter. These sorts of black comedies only work when it’s real and not overdone, so we tried to play the craziness as real as we could.” How will he explain to his own priest this portrayal of a corrupt man of God? “My priest will never see this movie,” he says. “I’ll make sure of it.” Amen to that.

Pixie is in cinemas from 23 October


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18 Movie Easter Eggs You'll Be Shocked You Missed The First Time

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Who’s ready for an egg hunt?


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Rams review – Sam Neill and Michael Caton’s unpretentious sheep farmers will move ewe | Film

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The poster for Rams depicts a perturbed-looking Michael Caton next to a smug-looking Sam Neill, both standing behind a sheep, which, like them, is staring into the camera. Going by this advert alone you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a bone-headed comedy about cack-handed country types and their livestock – something with a tagline like “they’re baaaaaad to the bone” or “just ewe and me”.

How wrong you would be. Rams is a lovely, even-tempered drama about men and rural life, gentle but firm of spirit, with a down-to-earth pith and a way of entertainingly and unpretentiously exploring potentially difficult subjects such as masculinity. Director Jeremy Sims and screenwriter Jules Duncan faithfully remake the excellent Icelandic film of the same name, which won best film in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 2015 and tells the story of two brothers who live on neighbouring sheep farms but haven’t spoken in many years.

In the Australian version, the protagonist Colin (Neill) is the more affable of the pair, a sensible chap with savoir-faire, who gazes upon his cattle with love and reverence, literally telling them how beautiful they are. Les (Caton) is quite the opposite: a stink-eyed “get orf my lawn!” type, with zero patience and a glowering disposition, prone to epic solo drinking sessions followed by marinating while comatose in the sun.

A grizzled looking man holding a trophy in one hand and a beer in the other
Michael Caton as Les, a farmer prone to epic solo drinking sessions followed by marinating while comatose in the sun. Photograph: Ian Brodie Photo/Roadshow Films

Handsomely shot by Steve Arnold in and around Mount Barker in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, with occasional roving drone shots that make the film look a little touristy, much of the drama takes place on the brothers’ farms, the MacGuffin arriving in the form of a terrible disease that infects one of Les’ prize-winning rams. Authorities decree that every sheep in the valley must be killed for the sake of containment, which means, in addition to the brothers losing their livelihood, the potential end of their prized bloodline.

A small group of local farmers meet and spitball ideas on how to react, with Les on the side (illustrating his outsider status) kvetching loudly, while preparing himself a scone. “They don’t know, do they?” he bellyaches, “they just come here and–” then he abruptly stops mid-sentence, upon discovering there’s no more cream left in the bowl in front of him.

Rams, in Rams.
Some rams, in Rams. Photograph: David Dare Parker/Roadshow Films

Les never concludes that line. Sims chops the sentence off and lets it linger; lets the silence take hold for a beat or two. Usually scripts deliver neat lines with neat finishes, film-makers turning the loose threads of real-life into smooth contrivances. The incompleteness of this moment gives it something paradoxically interesting: a special kind of mundanity, and an imperfection that suits the film’s earthy tones. It is indicative of an experience that is not going to rush for you. Like the television series Rosehaven, similarly full of country air and wide open spaces, the audience will adjust to its tone and rhythms – and most likely find that adjustment process rewarding.

It isn’t clear where the plot of Rams is heading, particularly for those who haven’t seen the Icelandic film. That uninspiring poster, and a wishy-washy trailer stamped with a line of text reading “Where there’s a wool there’s a way” (groan) seems to indicate the brothers might do something to please the gods of genre algorithms, joining forces for instance in some kind of sheep-shearing competition and returning home triumphant, lugging a big golden trophy. But that is not the case at all.

Sam Neill in Rams.
Sam Neill in Rams. Photograph: Alex Gott-Cumbers/Roadshow Films

Sims has learned from Grímur Hákonarson (who directed the original) important lessons about containing a film tonally, with few of the stark switches between “happy” and “sad” that made his previous feature Last Cab to Darwin a limited, dictatorial experience emotionally. At the heart of the picture are two very appealing performances from Neill and Caton, who feel even from early moments like real, lived-in characters, well cast to reflect their differences as actors. Caton has always been a bit scruffier and Neill a bit slicker. The former is the kind of bloke who eats rissoles and goes to Bonnie Doon for the weekend; the latter looks good in a leather jacket.

The “neighbouring brothers who don’t speak to each other” setup could have felt like high-concept gimmickry, but it rings true in a funny sort of way. By contrasting geographic closeness with emotional distance, Sims explores a truth we are all confronted with: that there are certain things – particularly those involving our bloodlines and backgrounds – none of us can ever really escape; things that follow us everywhere even if we never move. In this respect I was reminded of director Clayton Jacobson’s dark comedy Brothers’ Nest, another film about starkly different siblings existing in the shadow of their parents – or in the words of one of the characters, another film about “family shit”.

The setup of Rams also develops into an interesting perspective on loneliness and masculinity, with messages blokes in particular may relate to: how men often shrink inside ourselves; how we so easily shy away from expressions of feelings; how we deploy various techniques to shield ourselves from the stabs of memory. See? I told ewe this wasn’t a dopey comedy about sheep. It’s funny at times – but also tender and touching: the cinematic equivalent of a gently moving turn of phrase.

Rams is out in Australian cinemas now


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Best TV Monologues Of All Time

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“Papa Pope and Olivia in the airplane hangar is amazing, especially when he says, ‘You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.’ Whew, can we just take a minute and just analyze how poignant it was back then and so much more now? This sentiment has been instilled for generations and I always go back to this scene when I want to hear a pep talk. Some would say it’s a dad talking to his daughter about sleeping with a married man, but it’s not that. For any POC, you constantly have to prove your worth, while mediocrity can advance due to privilege. I know every Black home was probably like, ‘Oh, they let that fly on prime time?!?’ It was nothing but the truth. Although Papa Pope has his quirks, he always spoke the truth.”

simonesaysthis

Where you can find the monologue: Season 3, Episode 1, or you can watch it here.


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