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Interview with Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Thaddeus O'Sullivan looking through lens

HBO

Why tell the story of Churchill again?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

When people question, "Why Churchill?", I have to say that was never an issue for me. He was an interesting character and became more interesting as we went along. I didn't know very much about him except from a narrative point of view. Everybody has their own idea of Churchill, usually based on some particular period that they're interested in. They know him through the First World War or through the years when he was in the doldrums, the '30s. Or they know about him in the '40s during the Second World War or some specific incident in his life. Here's a man who's had something like three thousand books written about him and countless films made. With Into the Storm, I was drawn to Hugh Whitemore's script which wasn't general in its approach, but very specific and, in that sense, very fresh.

HBO

It seems like the relationship between Winston and Clemmie is at the center of this film, with the world events happening almost off screen. Is that true?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Clemmie is certainly at the center of Winston's emotional life, if not his political life. While her importance to Winston is undeniable, the world stage was equally as important to him and his ego is a huge element in trying to understand and appreciate him. In trying to balance those different elements, you arrive at something that's at the center of it, and that's what makes the film unique.

HBO

Brendan Gleeson said that if you're Irish, as you and he are, you have a notion of Churchill which is very different than, say, an English person. Did you have to cast aside prejudgments about him?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Growing up in Ireland, I had a different view of Churchill, so it was necessary for me to stand back and reevaluate my thoughts. I'd already had to cast aside most things I learned through an Irish view of Irish history. The more I looked into the man, the more interesting the project became for me.

It's kind of a schoolboy thing not to be able to stand back and revise, isn't it? Everybody deserves to be revised.

HBO

Why did you want Brendan for the part?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Apart from all the obvious things, his ability as an actor and his physical looks, he has an impish sense of humor. He's a very complex man. At the same time he's being very funny, he thinks about things very seriously; he's very socially minded, very conscious of the complexities that make up the people and the characters. He has a great breadth of interest and understanding about things around him and, like a lot of good actors, he pushes and pulls and reexamines every line and every idea.

HBO

Why Janet McTeer as your choice for Clemmie?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Janet McTeer is one of those actors that everybody is aware of and nobody can quite understand why she isn't as well known as others. She's somebody who's not just solid - she's really quite brilliant. She has the poise and the class and the ability and the looks. And she's very accommodating, which worked very well with Brendan; and she made the role of Clemmie work very well with Churchill. Janet could capture that sense of love and patience required to respond to somebody like Churchill, who could be such a bully, yet so entertaining as well.

HBO

The complexity of Churchill and the conflicting drives within him seem to be at the center of the story as well. Was that important for you to portray?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Hugh's script instinctively defined the characters through contrasts in their nature and their behavior and the unpredictability of their actions. His ability as a dramatist allowed him to put the contradictions together and make an amazing story out of it.

HBO

The whole film is told in flashbacks. Why did you use that device for this story?

Thaddeus O'Sullivan

Chronology in biography is one of the biggest problems in film. 1940 to '45 is the period of our story. And that's the period of the war, '40 to '45. It's very hard to dramatize what's at the core of it, if you're just going to show what happened in 1940, and what happened in 1941 and so on. To me, one of the things that really cracked the script was to start at a particularly pertinent moment in Churchill's life - the key point, the turning point, the moment of realization. Then we go back and look at how we got to that particular moment, so that it's not about the war but about the various circumstances and events that surrounded it. The story is about a man's own rise to power and how he held onto it for that great moment of destiny...until it slipped away.

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