Irish filmmaker John Butler has done it all in the world of filmmaking, from working in commercials and television to his first feature film, The Stag (aka The Bachelor Weekend), in 2013. His latest film, Handsome Devil, is a story of acceptance between the unlikeliest of friends in a boarding school. Breaking Glass Pictures will release the coming-of-age tale to theaters and VOD on June 2.
World Film Geek got to talk to Butler about his experiences in film-making and his experiences on the film.
First of all, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to talk about Handsome Devil. I saw the film a few nights ago and it was actually quite a good coming-of-age story. It wasn’t what I expected and I mean that in a good way, because it truly breaks from the norm.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
Before we talk about the film, can you describe how you got involved in filmmaking?
My first job in business was moving furniture for a TV company in San Francisco after I left college. I got a job as a runner moving furniture. After a year, I got a job writing stories for one of their magazine shows. After that, I continued to work, doing documentaries and short films, TV commercials, I’ve done everything. I’ve done every type of storytelling and every type of TV and film work you can imagine.
It’s a really long road with all those different kinds of formats. I did a TV sketch show in 2011 and the first film I made was The Stag which was in 2013. Looking back at it now, I’ve taken the scenic route. Let’s just put it that way.
What inspired you to write this film that seems to be about acceptance, especially between an outcast and a talented sportsman?
Well, I’m gay and I’m really into sports, as I was as a kid, and it’s hard to reconcile those two parts myself. So, the inspiration for the character of Conor came from there. And I’m also a very pretentious fan of music who was the only individual in the world, so that’s where Ned came from. So, it’s pretty much two sides of myself and it was to recognize myself and bring them back together. That part of the film is autobiographical but none of the events are.
In Handsome Devil, Ned and Conor don’t seem to have a romance as one would expect in this type of film, but rather a “bromance”. And what helped is the chemistry of the two actors. What was it like working with Fionn O’Shea and Nicholas Galitzine, who play our central characters of Ned and Conor respectively?
It’s a buddy movie and even if the characters are straight or gay, or one was gay, and it should be said that the sexuality of Ned is never declared. Even if you do think he is gay, it is still the fullest expression of homosexual friendship is friendship. It is all about who he is and it is the story of friendship between two men. The most important part of the story is that these are two lonely men who are just looking for a friend. So it was really important to me that is plays out as a buddy movie, and they’re friends and that’s what it’s about.
In terms of on the set, Nick and Fionn hadn’t met before but got on really well. We did a lot of work beforehand, figuring out, rehearsing, doing a lot of stuff that allowed them to bond. Fionn is a very good soccer player and Nick is a very good soccer player. So there was a lot of opportunity for us to hang out and do things that we liked together. It was a really good experience with the intention of making this a buddy film and paying respect to the idea of male friendship and that’s really important.
And that’s what’s great about the film. Many who will see this film will get a generalization of this type of film will think one thing, but it turns out to be an entirely different thing. And that’s why this is a really good film. And I can relate to the film as someone who had been through that as a kid.
So, the film is set in a place where the sport of rugby is a case of obsession, much like America will have its small towns obsessed with American football. Where did the idea for having an obsession for the sport come from?
Well, that was actually the school I went to, but it’s also about the pressure the kids are under in all regards, like the school where sport is not healthy. You can see the headmaster in the film has his head turned when the pursuits of an opportunity arise and it made him suspend his good judgments. I think it was important to tell this kind of story and definitely experience what I was seeing growing up. I love stuff like Friday Night Lights, where the high school kids are the main focus of the town and I find that interesting phenomenally.
I take it you’ve seen the film Varsity Blues, which revolved around the Texas football town and their obsession with their new quarterback not really involved in the obsession with the sport?
Oh definitely! I love those sports films. I’m a big fan of that genre and that was an area I wanted to play around with for sure.
That was the vibe I got with this film aside from the buddy film, with the obsession with sports. So that’s great to hear. Finally, do you have any new projects in the works?
I actually do. I wrote a new film called Papi Chulo that I’m hoping to make. It’s another buddy film that is set is Los Angeles and is about the friendship between a gay white weatherman and a Latino migrant worker. And they are kind of an Odd Couple kind of buddy film, kind of like Lost in Translation. There’s a big language barrier between them and all these other massive differences between them but they become friends. So, I’m hoping to make that at the end of the year.
That’s great. Well, Handsome Devil comes to theaters and VOD June 2 and I would highly recommend this to anyone who looks for acceptance from all corners, no matter who you are. This is definitely a great film to watch. Thanks again John for talking about the film.
Thank you so much and I’m glad you are helping to get the message out there! Take care.
A special Thank You goes out to Katrina Wan PR and John Butler for making this interview possible. If you want to follow John Butler, go to his Twitter page for his latest news.