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27th Nov 2020

Wolfwalkers’ directors on difficulty of hiring British actors to play British villains in Irish movies

Rory Cashin


The new Irish movie is a huge Oscar favourite, and will be one of the first movies to be shown in cinemas when the Level 5 restrictions are lifted.

Let us not beat around the bush here, Wolfwalkers is probably going to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2021 Academy Awards.

Sure, it is going up against Pixar and Disney, but we feel good about the gifted storytellers at Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon and their chances of winning.

The story of Wolfwalkers follows Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a young apprentice hunter who journeys to Ireland with her father (Sean Bean) in a time of superstition and magic to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.

Before we get into the interview, you should know that Wolfwalkers is due for general release in Irish cinemas from Friday, December 4, with advance screenings from Wednesday, December 2. Here is the trailer:

Another great actor involved is Simon McBurney (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Conjuring 2), providing the voice for Oliver Cromwell, who has tasked Robyn’s father with ridding Ireland of the wolves. He is, to put it mildly, not a nice character.

In the run-up to the release of Wolfwalkers, we chatted to the movie’s co-directors – two-time Oscar-nominee Tomm Moore (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) and Ross Stewart – about a whole host of topics around the Irish film, but we had to know: How difficult is it to get a British actor to play a British villain in an Irish movie?

Ross Stewart tells us: “Simon, before he even knew about Wolfwalkers, he had met Darragh [Byrne, editor at Cartoon Saloon] at the premiere of The Breadwinner, and he’d said that he really wanted to work with Cartoon Saloon and potentially do a voice. He is an amazing actor and he’s been in some amazing films, so I think when we presented him with the idea of playing Cromwell, he just saw it as a challenge.

“He didn’t want to portray Oliver Cromwell as a very two-dimensional villain, he wanted to get into the idea that Cromwell, at the time, thought that it was his God-given duty to civilise these savage lands, and he thought he was doing a good thing, whether we think it or not.

“But he himself thought he was on some kind of divine mission to civilise these ‘savages’, so he wasn’t being bad just for the sake of being bad, so I think Simon got into that side of Cromwell. And he’s a character actor, so he spent a good couple of hours with us, and presenting to us his version of the Cromwell that he wanted to play, and to see if we were on the same page. So it was a really interesting experience to work with such a professional.”

Elsewhere in the interview, we chat about how important it is for family friendly movies to be a little bit scary, the challenges of finding child actors, and the one thing they’re both looking forward to the most if/when the 2021 Oscars takes place. Check out the full interview with the directors right here:

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