While in Park City last week at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Daily Dead caught up with several of the creative forces behind the Irish supernatural thriller The Hole in the Ground, including co-writer/director Lee Cronin and co-stars Seána Kerslake and James Quinn Markey, who play a mother and son dealing with some invasive otherworldly forces that stem from a giant sinkhole near their new home in the middle of nowhere. During the interview, the trio discussed their experiences collaborating together on the film, pushing themselves on the ambitious project, and more.
Lee, can you discuss where the ideas for this story came from, and tapping into the power of this relationship between a mother and son?
Lee Cronin: Yeah, I think there are a number of different things that came together to create the idea for The Hole in the Ground, one being just a kind of an interest I had in this strange geographical phenomenon. There have been a certain amount of news stories out there about things like you see in this film, and I thought it could make for quite a creepy concept if it could just take you away.
Then I was exploring this thematic idea between mistrust between a mother and a son and then some of my own interests in Irish folklore and mythology, and I kind of threaded them all together into this idea of a mother and son. I think what's interesting about these ideas is the fact that this dark void could be identified as anyone's future, or what the future might hold for any of us. Particularly, if you're in a precarious place emotionally, or in your life, which the character of Sarah is in the film. I just thought it was a great large-scale object that we could play around with, and it speaks of the mystery of life because it's this dark hole in the ground and it is hard to imagine what might be on the other side of it.
For you both, what was the big appeal coming into this? Was it your characters or was it the story?
Seána Kerslake: What drew me to the part was the journey of this woman coming from a very insecure place, to fighting her own demons, and then having to come face to face with her demons, and trying to get the isolation of that, where you’re running from your past, but you also have to face it, too. All those ideas were interesting to me. Also, getting to be in a horror movie was such a big thing, so I was interested in doing a horror movie because I'm a scaredy-cat. And getting to do all the stunt work was a big draw for me. It was something I was really excited to prep for and be ready for, and be physically exerted. As well as knowing that I was gonna have to use my imagination, it was emotionally and physically quite demanding, and I was scared of the challenge, so I was like, "Okay, I have to do this movie."
James Quinn Markey: Like Seána said, it was the challenge. The storyline of Chris, the way he is kind, gentle, and lonely for the first 20 minutes where he's all just nice, and then he just goes into a totally different person, was fun. When I'm at home doing my homework, I'm just myself, James Quinn Markey, but then when I'm on set, I put myself in the shoes of another character and when I read this part, I really thought I would enjoy putting myself into his shoes.
When you guys came together to make this movie, did you guys have a lot of time to come together as a family? I feel like it's a pretty tangible relationship that you guys share on screen here.
Lee Cronin: We did. We did have a little bit of time. We did some kind of chemistry tests, in which the guys got to spend some time together, so we made sure that they both vibed with each other. Then, once everything was locked down and we were hitting that prep phase, we spent about a week together. We were doing other things as well, there were costume fittings and stuff like that, but it was probably a couple of weeks out from the shoot, and we did hang out a little bit, played some games, and we just messed around.
Then, we also worked through some of the scenes, but not too much, because we wanted to keep a certain freshness to everything that we were doing as well. What I wanted to try and do was give the guys a little bit of space to get to know each other. When you're making an independent film, you don't have endless time, and you need to get there quickly, so I think we set the strong foundations for that in the prep.
Seána Kerslake: For me, I find it helpful when you just get to know somebody and figure out your character in relation to their character, and vice versa, rather than running the scenes all the time.
Lee Cronin: I actually learned a lot making this film, and it's great when you make something to learn something new. Something I learned as I was shooting a dynamic like this with a young performer was to write additional material that he can rehearse with to help build the characters, rather than touching on the material that you're gonna actually shoot in the film. Because when you're working with a young performer, they're so great, they have a memory like a sponge, and sometimes if certain information goes in, it stays locked in position.
James, did you enjoy the parts when you got to be really scary in the movie? Was that really fun for you?
James Quinn Markey: Well, yeah, I definitely enjoyed being scary. It was also really fun to do some stunts, too. I particularly liked throwing someone across a kitchen. It's not something that I usually do in general. So yes, I did enjoy that a lot.
Seána, I know you get to do some physical stuff in this, too, but you also have to go through the emotional wringer, too. How did you prepare yourself for everything that this movie threw at you?
Seána Kerslake: Yeah, sometimes you have to push that to the back of your mind, and because your character is psyched up, then you ultimately get psyched up, too, so it's like you’re splitting your head in two, where I have to keep Seána there and Sarah over here. And I had to be physically ready to exhaust myself, so that’s what I prepped for. I just tried not to think about it too much, and just did it.
Lee Cronin: Watching Seána work, and her method where she might step away and find the moment, was so interesting to me. We've been talking about it a little over the last couple of days, just how you have to be in a number of different emotional spaces in any given day. You might say there are eight places that Sarah's personality lands in the film, and you might have to visit all of them on a single day at times, which is pretty challenging for anyone. I think she was great. They both were.
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[Image credit: Above image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.]