In my career, I’ve interviewed quite a wide range of people, from a producer of fighting games, to a world-famous wrestler. But an actor who rarely speaks when in character is a new one.
From her assured performance, you wouldn’t have assumed that Booked Out was Claire Garvey’s first feature film role. A career actor, the film marked a turning point in her career: “I’ve been quite busy since [Booked Out],” she says. “I went to Cannes film festival, did a couple of shorts, completed two more features last year, and I’m working on another two this year. And that’s all stemmed from Booked Out – Booked Out was my first feature film, things snowballed a little bit afterwards.”
Having applied for the role, advertised on Spotlight, Garvey took a unique approach to preparing a piece to read at the audition. “I picked some dialogue from Monster, the Charlize Theron film. It’s a voiceover, so they had nothing to compare it to.” She felt the character reflected what she saw in the role of Jacqueline, and this approach landed her the part.
Jacqueline, as a character, is an odd entity – extremely quiet, unresponsive, with a mood that swings more often than a golf club. I’m curious as to how she pulled off the role, as to me it seems quite difficult to communicate more in silence than in dialogue.
“That’s what really drew me to Jacqueline as a character, because she was a bit of a challenge. She’s mute for most of the film, and you want to have that seriousness about her, because she has to have the layers there, but she’s got no action and she’s got no dialogue, and that’s what really drew me to it and want to create that character. Someone you could empathise with and someone who’s also a bit mysterious. I did a lot of research – it’s not a situation I’ve ever been in myself, so I did a lot of research and spoke to a lot of people, and that’s where I managed to create that character from.”
To have no prior knowledge of the dark places Jacqueline must have visited in Booked Out and to do justice to these is no small feat, but it does call into question whether someone would want to place themselves in that mindset in future roles. I suggest this to Garvey.
“Every role I’ve taken on has been different from the last,” she says. “I’ve been quite lucky. And I think I’ve been quite lucky to find a strong female role as well, because they’re few and far between [laughs]. You’re just the girlfriend, or the mum, or someone who happens to be there for the sake of it, it’s not usually got a strong storyline, which again is what drew me to Jacqueline. She’s not usually a character that you’d come across.”
This seems clear – Jacqueline may depend on someone else for emotional support, but to have survived the trauma she has experienced is a miracle. I agree with Garvey – if there’s anything that Booked Out suggests, it’s that strong female characters who are not afraid to take charge, or to grieve in their own way are not anathema to the director, Bryan O’Neil.
What caught my eye when researching the film was that during production, Garvey and Mirren Burke (who plays Ailidh in the film) were never allowed to interact with one another off the set. Presumably this was to encourage a more natural feel to their interactions in the film. “The first couple of days it was tricky,” Garvey states. “You’re working on location, a small place – it’s quite hard to ignore people if they’re sat right next to you.” But the film definitely benefits from it, I think, and she appears to agree. “When you’re watching the film, you can see the tension there.”
One of the reasons I’m a big fan of indie media in general is that quite often they tend to throw the rulebook out the window. I’m curious to see if Garvey thinks there are any advantages to working without studio backing.
“The whole low-budget aspect of it I actually quite enjoy,” she says, taking an optimistic approach to an aspect of any indie project that usually comes bundled with stress and desperation. Would she collaborate with the Booked Out crew again? “Definitely.”
One of the aspects of Booked Out that allows the film to work so well is its small cast, with only four characters of any real importance. “It keeps it real, doesn’t it? You can grow an attachment to each character, you’re not amongst too many different people.” Since then she’s featured in a film that has a “massive cast” – her fond memories of Booked Out coming to the fore as it allowed her to form strong friendships with the cast due to the intimate nature of its production, especially in comparison with later work. Words like “family” and “unit” are bandied around, and it paints a heartwarming picture of a small crew becoming friends through a shared cinematic purpose.
With the project now largely finished, save for promotion and release, where does her future lead now, and what characters does she specifically want to play? She states she’s open to almost anything, and I think that’s an enterprising approach. But a relationship with the director is paramount to her taking a role: “if I get on with a director really well, then that’s a massive thing, because you work so closely.”
We move on to her past, and she explains that her family’s mining background, hailing from further North than London, placed the film Brassed Off – a tale of a colliery brass band who hit hard times when their pit is closed – top of the list as far as her favourite film goes. I inquire as to whether or not she has any guilty pleasures – films most people would cringe to admit they enjoy. Interestingly, she goes with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet – a film that many would label as a masterpiece, rather than a guilty pleasure, and a choice that should spark some debate amongst those who ask the same question in future.
Interviews are only ever as interesting and informative as the participants are willing to make them, and it’s always enjoyable to meet someone whose genuine enthusiasm – she then interviews me about my favourite films after the interview finishes – helps take the edge off their professional reasons for engaging in conversation in the first place.