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Ivan Kavanagh • Director of Never Grow Old

“This was an extremely ambitious film on our budget, but I think we pulled it off”


- We met up with Ireland's Ivan Kavanagh, the writer-director of the western Never Grow Old, set to be released in the USA on 15 March

Ivan Kavanagh  • Director of Never Grow Old

The western feature Never Grow Old [+see also:
interview: Ivan Kavanagh
film profile
, a Ripple World Pictures (Ireland) and Iris Productions (Luxembourg) presentation, is released today, 15 March, in the USA. We sat down with Irish writer-director Ivan Kavanagh (The CanalThe Fading Light), who discussed the making of his latest picture with us.

Cineuropa: Please tell us about Never Grow Old. What is it about?
Ivan Kavanagh: Never Grow Old is about Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch), an Irish immigrant and undertaker, who profits when outlaws, led by Dutch Albert (John Cusack), take over an American frontier town on the California Trail in 1849. It shows the dark side of the “American Dream”, the “pursuit of happiness” at all costs and the hypocrisy of an oppressive, patriarchal town, which was built after the violent and murderous expulsion of the local Native Americans. Dutch Albert sees through all of this when he gets there, and sets about tearing the town and its residents apart, using their guilt, lies, greed and desperation against them, in pursuit of his own warped, xenophobic vision of America.

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What is it like to work with talented actors such as John Cusack and Emile Hirsch? How did they contribute to the making of the film?
Emile is a very instinctual and naturally talented actor, and we quickly developed a kind of shorthand when working together. He was always extremely well prepared and patient, and respected everyone’s job on set, and he could give me a consistency in his performance from the very first take to the last. He also brought a vulnerability to Patrick that I liked. John liked to intellectualise every scene and action of his character, so we’d have long discussions the night before or on the day. His research before he arrived on set was exhaustive, and he came along with a whole notebook full of ideas for his character. We talked a lot about current US politics and, with this in mind, discussed the idea that Dutch Albert bends the truth to suit himself, his worldview and his self-interest; in other words, the truth is what he says it is.

What kinds of artistic challenges did you face in making this film?
This was an extremely ambitious film on our budget. From meticulously recreating the period, to finding locations that looked like America, building the American frontier town, shooting in two countries, post-production in three, the cold, the rain, the unbelievable amount of mud, the horses, the guns, stunts, fire and the huge cast, the challenges were immense and sometimes seemed never-ending. But I think we pulled it off, and I am extremely proud of everyone’s work – and of the film.

What were your main sources of inspiration when writing the script?
The idea was to write a western that would work as a genre film, but which would also comment on the founding of America and what that really meant (and thus, hopefully, commenting on the America of today). The film opens with a burnt American flag, so it touches on subjects such as the genocide of the Native Americans, xenophobia, the oppression and exploitation of women, the law of the “wild west” and capital punishment. My main inspiration when writing were the frontier photographs from the 1850s onwards. The hardship on the people’s faces was startlingly apparent, and when you listen to the hymns they sang at the time, they are about hardship, the misery of life, and how life will be better on the other side, in Heaven. It is a very sobering and moving view of the founding of America, and of the immigrant experience. I tried to get some of that into the film, as well as paying homage to the westerns I loved as a child.

What is western cinema today? Why do you think this genre is still able to enthral the masses in 2019?
I think the enduring appeal of westerns probably lies in the simple good-versus-evil stories in most of them. It is also exciting to watch a time and a place, in the not-so-distant past, where people have to take the law into their own hands, where violence could erupt at any moment, and where everyone carries a gun. There is a strange attractiveness to that (in the safety of your own home, of course, and in fiction), which endures to this day in the States. I think that within this simple morality-tale structure, you can experiment and explore more contemporary and serious themes, such as the current political situation in the USA.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes; I am in early pre-production on a psychological horror film that I wrote called Son, which I am extremely excited about, and which will shoot entirely in the USA this spring.

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