The transition for many teens from acting out in their adolescent ways to maturing into a responsible adult is the emotional motivation and conflict in the new drama, What Richard Did. Based on the award-winning book Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Powers, the Lenny Abrahamson-helmed film adaptation is a devastating study of how teenagers confront who they think they were and who they ultimately prove to be. Shot entirely on location in Ireland, the coming-of-age film, led by Transformers 4 star Jack Reynor in the title role, is a detailed portrait of the consequences teenagers must learn to take responsibility for.
What Richard Did follows the privileged title teen character, Richard Karsen, as he lives in a world where everything seems possible. The rich Dublin rugby star’s pre-college summer, which is filled with access to his family’s beach house and cars, changes when he sets his sights on Lara (Roisin Murphy) as Richard believes he can easily win her over from Conor (Sam Keeley).
However, Richard’s insecurities and defenses soon sabotage his blossoming romance with Lara. An alpha male who refuses to accept Lara’s continuing friendship with Conor, Richard is drawn into an after-party scuffle, which has devastating consequences for not only him, but everyone else around him.
Reynor and Abrahamson generously took the time to participate in a roundtable interview recently during the Tribeca Film Festival in a New York City hotel. Among other things, the two discussed what drew them both to the adaptation, and how the actors improvised a bit to make the film seem as natural and authentic as possible.
Check out the full interview below.
How did you both become involved in this project?
Lenny Abrahamson: Ed Guiney, one of the producers of the film, who I’ve worked with on pretty much everything I’ve done, had read the book. Jack, you had independently read the book, hadn’t you?
Jack Reynor: Yes, I had, indeed. I read the book in school. It was part of the curriculum, and it was great. I knew what the material was, and was incredibly excited from the moment I had even heard that it was going to be made into a film. I said, “I have to get this film.”
Were some of your friends like the characters?
Jack Reynor: Yeah, I went to school in a similar society. I grew up in the countryside, so I had an insider’s perspective on it, which was great.
How close did the film stick to the book?
Lenny Abrahamson: It’s very different. In the book, there are multiple frames, so you hang with different characters. The Richard and Lara characters are different. But there are enough similarities and essentials that it is enough of an adaptation of the book, but it’s a very loose one.
This film deals with that age range a lot truer than a lot of other films. Was that done purposely?
Lenny Abrahamson: Well, what happened was I read the book once. Then I left it, so I wouldn’t be constantly going back to it. What we did, which allowed us to get that truthfulness, was that we cast very early. We cast nearly a year before we shot the film, and then we work-shopped with the cast on and off for that year, which allowed them to get close.
That allowed me to learn the language of those people. We weren’t improvising, we were just talking. We were shamelessly stealing their language. That sort of authenticity is the most important thing. Films should have the capacity to bring you into another world. I wanted the audience to feel as though they were spending time with real teenagers.
Lenny, how did you decide to cast Jack in the lead role?
lEnny Abrahamson: Well, Louise Kiely, the casting director on the film, said “There’s this boy that you should know.” Jack was about 18 or 19 at the time. He had a small part in the film Dollhouse by Kristen Sheridan, which had a big ensemble.
We did a big search for all the people in the film. Like Patrick Gibson, who plays Jake in the film, the younger boy who really idolizes Richard, he came in to audition. We auditioned all the guys to play Richard. Patrick’s an amazing actor, but way to young, so I made a part for him. Jake didn’t exist at all; we auditioned Patrick, and decided to put him in the film and create a role for him.
I think that for a film like this, you can’t take an actor and squeeze him into a role. You have to bring a role to meet them, in trying to create a film as naturally as possible.
Jack Reynor: It was interesting. Going through the film, I went through a process of change myself. I realized, “Wow, I get what he’s saying. I don’t need to put this kind of pressure on myself.” That actually changed me as a person in the real world.
As a kid growing up, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I suppose in some elements, I had a similar upbringing to Richard.
Lenny Abrahamson: There is a sense of certainty in what teenagers believe. I think most of us growing up have enough rejection and disappointments, whether it’s with the people we love who reject us. You come to terms with that.
With Richard, who everyone loves all the time, a big question in the film is, how do kids like that deal with failure? That’s a spark with Richard, as he lets himself down and can’t handle it.
Jack Reynor: I used to see this all time growing up. These guys were wound so tight, and were under enormous amounts of pressure, academically and with sports. With this school, it’s almost military.
Lenny Abrahamso: It was similar for me, as I grew up in a private school. There’s so much pressure on what it means to be a kid from those schools, and what you should aspire to. If you’re a successful kid who really buys into that, and all your teachers and peers think you’re the thing, how do you deal with it?
Jack Reynor: What I always found to be incredibly irresponsible-though I wouldn’t say a lot of bad things about my school, because I did enjoy it-but one of the big problems I think it has is that it used to send all the guys over to Kolkata when they were 17. They’d send them to work in all of these awful conditions, where they’re being exposed to human trafficking and poverty and disease.
Then they’d bring them all home and put them straight back into school, and they wouldn’t really reflect on it properly. You need counseling when you get back from something like that, but they never got it.
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