Celebrity Interview: James D’Arcy Talks on Made in Italy, Casting, and the Writing Process

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Made In Italy, staring real life father-son Liam Neeson and Michael Richardson, has been released to rave reviews. Taking time from production in Rome, Director James D'Arcy, talks on getting the film made, his writing process and upcoming projects.

Made in Italy, from IFC Films, presents the story of a father and son who are forced to confront the barriers that have separated them as they undertake the challenges of repairing their Tuscany vacation home.

Below is an excerpt of my interview with first time director James D'Arcy.


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Janet Walker: Congratulations on the film. Made in Italy brings a fresh perspective to tragedy and loss and so if you could describe your thoughts as you were writing the screenplay?

James D'Arcy: I wanted to try and make a film, my ambition was to mine and that we could do it in a way people felt real identification with some of the emotions later on in the film. I really wanted people to smile and laugh as well.

So, I made the decision to try and walk people into this more dramatic part of the film with fun, with laughter. So, I guess the movie tales a little bit of a turn two-thirds of the way through it gets a bit more serious.

Broadly, and who could have known 2020 would look the way it looks, I wanted people to feel hopeful about humanity and about their relationship. And I wanted people to come out of the film just feel a little bit better about their lives. Something globally that we really, desperately need right now.

Casting Liam Neesom and Michael Richardson

JW: So the entire pandemic story came after the film, I'm assuming after you already written the film and was going toward release, so with all of that going back pre-pandemic, most people say that when you are writing a screenplay it helps to have talent in mind, did you have a cast of talent in mind?

JD: Well, yea but the wrong talent, to be honest with you Janet, because when I first starting writing this maybe twelve years ago, I wrote it with me in mind. I was going to play Jack, and we didn't get it going, because I didn't get the last part of the film, the third act, right and so it sat in the drawer for years and years and years and by the time I came back to it I was too old to play Jack and thought perhaps I could direct it.

I did not have talent in mind, but, and I was nervous to send the script to Liam because there are parallels with his own personal life and very famously his wife, [Natasha Richardson], died in a skiing accident and in this film he is playing a widower, and I didn't know him.


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So, I thought I ran the risk of his representatives writing back to me in a very angry way, suggesting he wanted to plow that furrow again, as it were, and actually the opposite happened. He wrote me a lovely email saying how much he had identified with the film and then we met and had a two hour mega cup of tea and he said, the more emotional parts of the film had slightly scared him which is a pretty good starting place for an actor.

When you feel like, "Oh God, Can I do that?" That is actually a quite a good place to be, it sort of means that it is hard to get away from that project. So, I got very luck because I'm a first-time director and it was a big risk for Liam to work with a first-time director.

But then, I got even luckier because he said," I want to do the film anyway, and if you haven't cast Jack yet, would you consider meeting my actual son to play my son, I think we can bring in an extra dimension to it that isn't on the page." And I was happy to meet Michael. Liam insisted we do an audition to see if it would work, Michael was wonderful, charming, and moving and looked like his Dad, which was fantastic.

That doesn't normally happen, usually fathers and sons, they don't look anything like each other in the movies. But also, I don't mean to be ghoulish about this Michael lost his mother when he was very young, and I lost my father when I was very young, so he and I had this invisible bond, right away and the main reason I hesitated before offering him the part because I didn't want to re-traumatize Michael in the making for the film. You know, I wanted to make sure he could come out of it unscathed, but he still had to go to those places, and God bless them both they were really game, they threw themselves into it, the comedy stuff, the charming stuff, and the more deeper emotional stuff. It was a really joy to watch them together.

JW: The story-line of personal tragedy and loss obviously drives the narrative so describe how you went about drawing on the personal experience of your leads to build to the confrontational scene?

JD: Firstly, I wrote this script initially ten, twelve years ago, Natasha was still alive. I'm not deliberately trying to draw on their personal lives. And you know that part of the film, is more I mean, completely fictional, my sub-consciousness, fantasy love story with my own dad. He died when I was six, if he would have lived we might have had difficulties and we would have talked and we would have been friends at the end of the movie. It was all very sub-conscious when I did it. Looking back on it, it was my own catharsis, and then of course, Liam and Michael got involved and actually we talked more about them being actors then about their real life.


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You know, I think they bought felt, they said to me privately they felt Natasha was somehow watching over the project and I felt my dad was, somehow, watching over the project. But when we shot the more emotional scenes, I didn't say anything to them. I just told them what we were going to do with the camera and what they were thinking, I don't know. I don't know if they were acting or having a personal cathartic moment, I really don't know and it wasn't my business, my job was to make sure what we were seeing on camera was effecting and it was. And I think it was a long day for both of them, and it would have been regardless. As an actor when you do those big emotional scenes there tough days. They both went for it and it was amazing.

Magic from Messiness

JW: Describe your process as a screenwriter?

JD: Oh messy, Janet. Very, very messy. The problem is and I can't remember who it was, another writer said this, the problem really is, "The typewriter is connected to the everything machine." And that is a major, major problem when you are trying to write something, because you get a bit stuck on words and the next thing you're looking up where the best fish restaurant is around the corner, or playing backgammon, or literally do anything except writing the script.

So my process was a little bit messy and there's a lot of unfinished scenes, and scenes that just didn't work, and some how eventually there would be these moments, these flourishes, at 11:00 o'clock at night when you suddenly go why am I feeling inspired now? And then I'd be writing to 4:00 o'clock in the morning and I suspect many writers are not too dissimilar.


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JW: What's next for you?

JD: That's a good question. As a director, I don't know. I have a couple of projects that explain my writing process to you so you can guess they're in a messy state but I have a couple things that could maybe work, I'm actually at the moment, I'm in Rome, I've got my other hat on, I'm acting again in a mini-series about Leonardo Di Vinci which obviously shut down during the pandemic but we are back and finishing that project. And I'm supposed to go and do another TV thing until the end of the year, but I don't know, it feels like the world is pretty fluid, so I don't know. But I would l love to direct gain, it just a question of finishing the right project and we have to see when the film comes out if anyone wants me to direct again.

Made in Italy, from IFC Films, is available across multiple streaming platforms. See it.

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