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Fifty Dead Men Walking - Kevin Zegers interview

Kevin Zegers in Fifty Dead Men Walking

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KEVIN Zegers is probably best known for playing the role of Felicity Huffman’s son in TransAmerica, as well as rom-com It’s A Boy-Girl Thing. But he’s a versatile and chameleon like actor who likes to surprise.

His latest finds the Canadian star playing an IRA member in Fifty Dead Men Walking, a thriller based on the autobiography of IRA informant Martin McGartland, which has already attracted a fair amount of controversy. He talks to us about some of the issues involved…

Q. I would imagine that this is one of the most difficult roles you’ve taken given it’s controversial theme, and that you’re a Canadian playing an Irishman in the IRA?
Kevin Zegers: For me, I try to take the jobs that people wouldn’t necessarily expect of me, or want me to do, or think are even a good idea. Initially, when this was written, what was needed was a chubby, angry kid from Belfast. But I’d worked with Kari Skogland [the director] before and she believed I was capable of dong that. So, it was definitely an engaging process that felt like a challenge every day.

Q. Is Sean a real life character? And what kind of research did you do?
Kevin Zegers: He is, although it’s not his real name. As for research, I went to Belfast for about a month before we started filming. I spent a lot of time there trying to gain a better understanding of everyday life. We were also in touch with both sides – although my character is mostly involved in the IRA side. But I learned a lot from just being there. And it was important for me to be living there and going about life in Belfast. So, you could say the research was pretty extensive and both myself and Jim Sturgess [his co-star] were pretty actively engaged in the community.

Q. How hard was the accent to crack? You do it very well…
Kevin Zegers: Well, they say it’s the hardest accent to do but another of the main reasons behind spending so much time in Belfast was to realise my goal that by the time we started filming I could be in a pub and sort of hang out with the locals and they wouldn’t wonder why I was talking in a funny accent, or like a Canadian trying to sound Irish.

Q. Did you enjoy the pub culture and develop a fondness for the odd pint?
Kevin Zegers: [Laughs] I think Jim and I got a little too much of a taste of the pubs! But it’s sort of part of the culture, especially when we were shooting – we only had light of day for five or six hours because everything shuts down at 4pm or 5pm. It’s very social… and it’s a good place to shut up and listen. I felt we were in a good situation to do that. In fact, when preparing for this, Jim showed up around the same time I did, and we probably did the pub circuit one too many times. But I feel like it was good for us to sort of feel what that was like and to experience some of the darkness. It can be very dark and, especially in some of the outer areas, very serious. People knew who we were, of course, and some people didn’t want us there, but once we’d established we weren’t there to exploit them, they opened up. We were well taken care of.

Q. What kind of feedback have you had since the film was completed? Have people continued to be supportive?
Kevin Zegers: Everyone was and continues to be very supportive. Kari went there months and months before we started filming and engaged everyone. With most films that are shot in places like Belfast, and which deal with complex issues, people are very sceptical. They see this big [filmmaking] machine rolling in and taking them for all they have.

But I felt that Kari didn’t want to cast anyone, or hire anyone, that went in with that attitude. It was very important to her that everyone was on the same page and that the community was aware of what we were doing. She was always very open. She wanted to shoot in real locations and, in order to do that, she had to re-engage a lot of people who didn’t like the idea of a movie being made on this issue. She could have shot it in a studio, but she wanted to maintain the authenticity.

Q. One of your co-stars, Rose McGowan, was heavily criticised for comments she made during the Toronto Film Festival [which suggested she sympathised with the IRA]. Is that something you’re aware of when promoting a film such as this – the strength of feeling that still exists? And are you more careful about what you say as a result?
Kevin Zegers: Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that Jim and I were engaged enough. We didn’t stay in hotels, and we had our own apartment during filming. So, it’s not so much about being careful but more a level of respect. It’s still obviously a very delicate situation, but I understand it a little bit better now having lived there for three or four months. I understand both sides. I think it’s a little short-sighted to make a blanket statement about it [The Troubles] because it’s not really something that’s easy to sum up in a quote.

In terms of the ideology, I think that for every good idea there’s a bad idea waiting to happen, and both sides should incur some fault. It’s pretty universally recognised that both sides made mistakes, and that there has been loss on both sides. So, it was always important for Jim and I to engage both sides in a way that felt completely unbiased.

In fact, another of the reasons why Kari wanted to cast me in the first place was because I was Canadian and we’re known for being quite relaxed. She is Canadian also, and I feel her and I both had a strong sensibility to sit there, shut up and listen. People just wanted to be able to talk and not be judged, which was nice for them. So, it’s not something we fear talking about and, indeed, I like talking about it. But I can see how problems might occur.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your next project, The Story of Bonnie and Clyde, alongside Hilary Duff?
Kevin Zegers: We’re due to start shooting Bonnie and Clyde next month. It’s currently in pre-production and it’s going to be big and a little daunting, to be honest. It’s a lot of pressure. But I think I might be ready for that now. I also think it’s going to cover a lot more than people expect. I think it might blow people away. I also have a smaller film called Frozen that I’m very proud of. We shot it in Utah and it’s coming out in November.

Read our review of Fifty Dead Men Walking