Cosmo Jarvis and Niamh Algar spoke with Solzy at the Movies about The Shadow of Violence following the 2019 world premiere in Toronto.
The Shadow of Violence was one of the sleeper hits when the film premiered last year in Toronto. If you attended TIFF in 2019, you probably know the film by its original name: Calm With Horses. There’s a Coen Brothers-esque vibe to The Shadow of Violence but I like that this film isn’t shot like the typical indie gangster movie.
What was your first reaction when you heard that The Shadow of Violence (formerly titled Calm with Horses) was selected for TIFF?
Niamh Algar: I was so delighted for Nick Rowland and Dan [Emmerson]. Because when we were filming this, Toronto was the festival that they really wanted to showcase it at. Because after Toronto then would be London and the boys are coming from London so we knew that something like that it would be really special. It’s such a strong independent feature sense here in Toronto but I think it was really beautifully fitting. I was very excited and very proud of him.
What was it that attracted you to the screenplay for The Shadow of Violence?
Cosmo Jarvis: The style of writing, subject matter, and how it didn’t seem to have any kind of ulterior agenda over it. It was a very literal story—very practical. The style of the dialogue and the way that Joe and Colin—the style of it and how the language he used seemed like it was of the place, which is always something that it’s quite rare to come across stuff like that. Where you know, just from the text, you can get a sense of the characteristic of the place and the characters and the places had on the people that the narrative was following. So that was me. And also the fact that it was a relatively small story that took place in a very limited proximity and all of these events. It seemed ambitious as well to do it incredibly and with integrity. It was just a good challenge.
Niamh Algar: Yeah. The pacing of it. I didn’t see the ending coming. When I was reading it for the first time, I could not see the ending coming, which I think is really exciting to see. As an actor, you don’t get that sense again as you as you’re telling the story because you know what’s gonna happen. It’s always so amazing to read a script for the first time and be really surprised by it and also the colorful characters. Every one of them is so developed and unique in their own sense that no one is wasted in the script and no one was wasted in the story. Watching it last night, every actor brought so much layers to what they had even if it was only for two or three scenes. There’s one actor in particular that I want away was Ryan McParland, who plays a character called Needles. He has about three scenes in it but they’re some of my favorite scenes in the whole film.
Cosmo Jarvis: Even Brandon—
Niamh Algar: Yeah. The weird thing is that I come from a small town in Ireland but I’ve met that character. I know who he is and I think a lot of people are going to see their own people in this. It’s very much a universal story that could have been set anywhere. You could set it in a small village in Moscow and it still would translate.
Cosmo Jarvis: It still would have worked. Nick has said that about wanting to make something that’s specific but also by the same token very accessible.
Niamh Algar: Yeah. It’s timeless as well. Watching it last night—it’s really cool, you can’t really tell. It could be set in the early 90s or currently. It’s ageless and has a very beautiful film quality about it.
Cosmo Jarvis: Because it’s local, it feels local to itself. It doesn’t rely on any kind of aesthetic technologies or anything. Like you said, it could happen anywhere.
In general, what do you look for when you read a script?
Niamh Algar: I get pulled in by the story because at the end of the day, that’s the main Bible for it. I suppose something that challenges you that you haven’t read—
Cosmo Jarvis: Or seen.
Niamh Algar: Or seen. And obviously, the director, the team involved and what their vision is of the story.
Cosmo Jarvis: The same kind of stuff, just something that kind of sticks out but not necessarily in a contentious way. It could be contentious because it’s simple or because it’s not loud or something that’s just clearly has some part where it feels like the person that conceived it doesn’t give a fuck what you think and is usually a good thing.
Niamh Algar: It’s usually the stories that you would be so excited to go to the movies with your friends to watch—the type that I’m always drawn to.
Cosmo Jarvis: Yeah, that’s always a good start—something that you’d be interested in going to see and watch again. It’s rare to find films like that.
I felt that there are quite a few themes in The Shadow of Violence including family and loyalty. Which did you relate to the most?
Cosmo Jarvis: For me, the family thing and the struggle of not being able to necessarily always do the right thing by the people that would probably do the right thing by you because there are other things that get in the way the older you get and the further into old age and civilization and society that you get to create a lot of wasted time and a lot of wasted opportunity and heartache and blood and sweat and tears. I got that straight away about that those kind of things. As for the loyalty, I think they’re one in the same. The loyalty is your loyalty to other convoluted things in society. That’s why it’s so hard to just to balance that for everybody.
Niamh Algar: I think each of the characters are struggling for identity. You have Dymphna who is trying to prove himself in this family and then Arm is a part of this family that Ursula understands is not their family. She even says at one point, “This isn’t your family.” It doesn’t need to be a blood relative in that sense. Your family represents so much more. It’s your tribe. It’s who you are as a person and what you stand for and where your loyalties lie. That’s what I think Arm is struggling to find because he’s never really felt like he’s a part of anything. If I watch him as a character, he’s like a lone wolf left behind like for a stray dog
Cosmo Jarvis: Looking for a character—
Niamh Algar: Who’s been beaten all his life but still has that ability to be able to forgive the person whose beat him.
Cosmo Jarvis: Life can get to a point where you just forget what you were all about 10 years ago and then suddenly, you’re this horrible person. It takes people around you like Ursula or whoever to say that to remind you but then you’re in danger of seeing them as an obstacle or an enemy. And when really, it’s just like they’re right? You’ve become an asshole. Same for Dymphna because his he’s trying to fill the shoes of his dad and he isn’t. He’s trying to be a badass but he’s still a boy. He doesn’t know—everybody in it has a conflict like that.
Niamh Algar: The only person who doesn’t is Jack and he represents an entire innocence of the story. He is living literally in the moment. He’s not planning anything he’s done. He’s not dwelling on anything in the past and that’s the whole point. He’s just been affected by what is happening externally to him. It’s almost like the audience is Jack.
Can you talk about your process in preparing for your role in The Shadow of Violence?
Cosmo Jarvis: I had to first familiarize myself with the place. It’s a fictional place but it’s very reminiscent of a real place. I went to western Ireland and stuff like that for a while early before we started because I wasn’t Irish. I wanted to get that right and honor the people I’m playing to do my best to become familiar with that kind of character that and were originally conceived characters by Colin that I first read by Joe in the screenplay. There was that and I had to put on weight and eat a lot.
Niamh Algar: He had a whole group of friends in Ireland before we even started filming. I remember I rang him because I obviously met him at the audition. The costume fitting was in London. And I remember ringing him just two weeks before we’re filming this and I’m like, “Hey, do you want to meet up in London and just maybe talk through the script or anything like that?” He’s like, “I’m actually in Ireland.” He’s in accent and I live about an hour and half from where we shot this and technically, where the film was meant to be set and I was just blown away. I was like, I felt like I was talking to one of my mates from Galway. He captured it and embodied it. His whole physicality had changed. When I arrived in Ireland—I was living in London—I met Arm. That was it. He stayed in—you even he had copies of the costumes.
Cosmo Jarvis: Yeah, I stayed in character.
Niamh Algar: The costume designer was Sharon Long. She did such an incredible job on my costume. You got a real sense of it wasn’t really much what I had to in the sense of voice prep and like that, it was more so any of the prep I did was with Kiljan and making sure he was comfortable. Nick and the production company set up play dates. We went to this children’s ball pit and banks and castles. We hung out as this young couple with a kid. It was just making sure that Kiljan was comfortable. When we started doing that, it was really nice. It was easing into rehearsal where everyone was just having fun,
Cosmo Jarvis: Me and Niamh hung out a lot and that was definitely part of the preparation because the more that you get to know somebody, you play games a little bit even subconsciously. You’re testing the law. We were similar in that way—every minute that was spent in the restaurant area of the Lough Rea Hotel was a minute of preparation because it was just familiarizing ourselves and what with each other and testing wits and humors.
Niamh Algar: We hung out with Barry and Anthony Welsh who plays the love interest in it. It was because it was in this very small area in Ireland and the whole production company was there. And when you have an independent film like this, everyone’s in it because they want to make something really special. It was really a lovely vibe to be around. And then, you could walk up to Nick in the evening and go, “Hey, I’ve got this idea about maybe the scene.” It was just very freeing and that’s what I love so much about making independent film is the creative freedom that you have. The prep doesn’t just stop once you start filming. It continues throughout the entire shooting process. We were kind of lucky enough that we got to shoot relatively quite a lot, which is great and really helped.
Cosmo Jarvis: If we were shooting stuff that took place at Ursula’s house, we do a lot of our stuff right there. We had a full day usually do a scene that on paper you wouldn’t think would take that long but it was good. In hindsight, it was good because it meant that we could really do a lot and just keep doing it until it was done. Nick is one of those guys that doesn’t know what he doesn’t want until he knows he doesn’t want it so that was cool. He kind of encourages you to try new things.
What do you hope people take away from watching The Shadow of Violence?
Cosmo Jarvis: It’s not worth thinking about things that are worth it and the things that aren’t worth it. It’s never worth it to sort of mess around with intangible meaningless crap especially if you have people or at least having have a hope having people that can be your people.
Niamh Algar: Yeah, I think this is the kind of film that you watch with roommates with you overnight. And it’s only the next day where you’re still thinking about it. Those are some of my favorite films that you don’t really know how to sum it up straight after watching it. You have to sleep on and think about it and then make your mind up about it. And I mean, cinema is escapism. I go to the movies to dissolve into it and forget about what’s going on in the outside world. This is such a fast-paced and that presents crime and love and drama and everything. It covers everything that you just want people to just sit back enjoy it and just kind of be entertained—come away with something.
Cosmo Jarvis: Especially in this, I feel for every character, even the villain-type characters. Even the evil uncles, I empathize with them. Every single person—whether it’s because they’re stuck in this place that they could be going out or whether it’s because they’ve gone that whole life and felt the need to get into massively large-scale drug-dealing and become habitual cannabis addicts. Everybody has a part in it even if they come across as the villain. It means that there are a lot of conclusions that a person can come to about its narrative purpose and moral.