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From the Press Pack for Hear My Song

'You close your eyes. You cast your mind back thirty years and you see and hear what you want to see and hear.'

Tooth outRomancing the past and facing up to present-day responsibilities is a central theme in the British Screen, Film Four International, Windmill Lane presentation of a Limelight film, Hear My Song, directed by Peter Chelsom from an original screenplay by Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar.

Hear My Song is a fictional comedy/love story about fundamental values based on an incident in the life of world-famous Irish tenor Josef Locke. When the celebrated music-hall performer sang, women wept.

But the real Josef Locke had to leave England in the 1950s to avoid arrest for alleged tax evasion. He settled the matter within nine years. Meanwhile, a Josef Locke sound- and look-alike, who billed himself as "Mr X", played to sell-out audiences across England.

With these real-life details in mind, the screenwriters created the character of shady concert promoter Micky O'Neill (Adrian Dunbar) and his world. He books dubious acts into his club, Heartly's, the lively focus of much of the mm's action.

After his latest booking Mr X (William Hootkins) is discovered to be a fake, Micky goes to Ireland in search of the real Josef Locke Ned Beatty). The two return to Heartly's: Micky to redeem his reputation and prove himself to his fiancée Nancy Tara Fitzgerald); Jo to face the love he abandoned 30 years earlier, Cathleen (Shirley Ann Field).

First-tine feature film director Peter Chelsom wrote the screenplay with Adrian Dunbar from his own original story. Chelsom hails from Blackpool where the real Jo Locke sang for 19 seasons.

Three years ago, while in pre-production on his award winning short film Treacle, he was handed a tape of Locke's. "I had this journey on the motorway to Blackpool and I put the tape on. I know it sounds corny, but I just knew I had to do something about it. I researched him and I just got infected."

"Jo was the everyman's idea of an opera singer. His style represented old values and it was not elite." Which is just the type of film Chelsom hopes to continue making -quality productions which are universal and accessible.

Producer Alison Owen-Allen was also interested in productions which were about making fundamental choices in a complex world. She immediately clicked with Chelsom and his witty script.

"I'm always calling Peter 'the British Woody Allen'. His eccentric casting and humour is similar. Although humour is important, the fabric of the film is also very important to him Like Woody Allen, Peter has got an eye for the landscape - a lot goes on in the background."

IUnbelievable - even for Eire!needed, a considerable amount of pre-production time went into casting the film. Chelsom and casting director Jane Frisby looked to both London and Dublin, where most of the production was filmed, for talent. The key role of Micky O'Neill was written by Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar for Dunbar himself "Micky's a very capricious character. He'll try every option before he tries telling the truth. In this way he's not at all consistent, which is the type of character I like to play."

For the important role of tenor Josef Locke, Peter Chelsom only had one person in mind - leading American actor Ned Beatty. Beatty, often cast as a 'heavy' in films like Deliverance and two Superman epics, gets a chance to play a stem, yet more vulnerable role here. "

I do like casting that redefines people, which having Ned Beatty play the unwilling hero of Locke does," Chelsom says. For Beatty, the chance to portray an entertainer brought back the joy he felt singing with his local church as a young boy growing up in Kentucky.

"It's a wonderful thing using the singer, the troubadour, as the subject area." Shirley Anne Field, known so well for her provocative roles in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Entertainer, at the chance to play Jo's lost love and Nancy's mother, Cathleen.

"She feels, like a lot of women do, that she's had her chance and missed it. She let her life stop happening because of a man, Jo, and now we see Cathleen becoming a woman in her own right. What I like about Peter Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar's screenplay is they allow people to be attractive at any age."

Playing Cathleen's daughter, Nancy, who is also Micky's fiancée, is newcomer Tara Fitzgerald To play the sensible and jolly Nancy, Fitzgerald looked to her own experiences. Someone like Nancy appreciates what you can do within boundaries.

The best times I've had is when I've had a fiver. You just go with it and have the best time." David McCallum, best known for The Man from U.N. C.L.E. and The Invisible Man, plays Chief Constable Jim Abbott. He reckons Abbott is a man tormented for 30 years by the burning desire to catch Jo Locke.

"His reasoning process has been distorted by this obsession, as well as his memory of Jo's girl, Cathleen" Playing Jo Locke's look-alike, "Mr X - Is it or isn't it?", is William Hootkins. The actor revelled in his character's eccentricity.

"He's so weird," Hootkins says as an understatement. "It's a very literary film in the way that it examines appearance versus reality." Fintan, Micky's reluctant accomplice in a mad journey across Ireland in search of Jo Locke, is played by James Nesbitt.

"He's one of the little nice guys  and seems to have a constant minor hassle, usually caused by Micky." This is Nesbitt's first feature mm, a fact which contributed to his early trepidation. "I had an inert sense of panic - I didn't know what to do!" Hear My Song is structured into three segments.

Early scenes centre around Heartly's night-club and in Micky's office. The glorious landscape of Ireland's scenic west country comprises the middle section, while the end returns to the city, where Heartly's begins to be demolished.

For production designer Caroline Hanania, the main problem was giving each of the three segments a unique feel. For the first part, a harsh, big-city feel was required from the small, picturesque quality of Dublin, where actually the film was shot.

A quainter and brighter look was needed for the Irish countryside scenes. Finally, the return to Heartly's (where the crane has broken through the roof) had to carry a fantastical element. At the same time, Hanania avoided a distinctly contemporary feel.

"We tried to get a period look, 50s and 6Os, instead of a severe, present day atmosphere. As the mm is so much about memory, the design is how you imagine things to feel." Costume designer Lindy Hemming sought this same timeless quality.

Heartly's club, the centre-piece for the film, was actually an abandoned Methodist building called Merrion Hall, located off Dublin's historic Victorian-style Merrion Square.

To transform the run-down late 1800s hall into the splendour of Heartly's the production team worked day and night to add a stage with a grand proscenium arch and a working Art Deco style brass and marble bar, as well as beautiful decorative details and tromp l'oeil effects.

For the early scenes in Heartly's, a false ceiling was added to enclose the space and make Micky's world seem smaller. The ceiling was removed by the time Micky returns with Jo for his triumphant come-back concert.

They have started to demolish Heartly's and the roof has a gaping hole knocked in Two regions of the Republic of Ireland's verdant countryside were used for scenes where Micky and Fintan roam the backroads in a worn Morris Traveller, in a frantically funny search for Jo Locke.

The rugged Irish Sea coastline of County Wicklow, South of Dublin, provides a suitably rough backdrop to the key scenes where Jo confronts Micky and forces the truth from him.

Hundreds of miles to the west, County Clare and the breath-taking Connemara area of County Galway provided endless opportunities for Director of Photography Sue Gibson's lens.

 

Casting around...

For the important role of tenor Josef Locke, Peter Chelsom only had one person in mind - leading American actor Ned Beatty.

Memories rekindledBeatty, often cast as a 'heavy' in films like Deliverance and two Superman epics, gets a chance to play a stem, yet more vulnerable role here.

"I do like casting that redefines people, which having Ned Beatty play the unwilling hero of Locke does," Chelsom says. For Beatty, the chance to portray an entertainer brought back the joy he felt singing with his local church as a young boy growing up in Kentucky.

"It's a wonderful thing using the singer, the troubadour, as the subject area."

Shirley Anne Field, known so well for her provocative roles in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Entertainer, leapt at the chance to play Jo's lost love and Nancy's mother, Cathleen.

"She feels, like a lot of women do, that she's had her chance and missed it. She let her life stop happening because of a man, Jo, and now we see Cathleen becoming a woman in her own right.

What I like about Peter Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar's screenplay is they allow people to be attractive at any age." Playing Cathleen's daughter, Nancy, who is also Micky's fiancée, is newcomer Tara Fitzgerald To play the sensible and jolly Nancy, Fitzgerald looked to her own experiences. Someone like Nancy appreciates what you can do within boundaries. The best times I've had is when I've had a fiver. You just go with it and have the best time."

Getting awayDavid McCallum, best known for The Man from U.N. C.L.E. and The Invisible Man, plays Chief Constable Jim Abbott. He reckons Abbott is a man tormented for 30 years by the burning desire to catch Jo Locke. "His reasoning process has been distorted by this obsession, as well as his memory of Jo's girl, Cathleen"

Playing Jo Locke's look-alike, "Mr X - Is it or isn't it?", is William Hootkins. The actor revelled in his character's eccentricity. "He's so weird," Hootkins says as an understatement. "It's a very literary film in the way that it examines appearance versus reality."

Fintan, Micky's reluctant accomplice in a mad journey across Ireland in search of Jo Locke, is played by James Nesbitt. "He's one of the little nice guys in the mm and seems to have a constant minor hassle, usually caused by Micky."

This is Nesbitt's first feature mm, a fact which contributed to his early trepidation. "I had an inert sense of panic - I didn't know what to do!" Hear My Song is structured into three segments.

 

About the Cast

Ned Beatty is Josef Locke, the celebrated Irish tenor who filled music halls around the world. When he sang, women wept.

The fictional Hear My Song picks up on a real episode in Locke's life: his exile in Ireland to avoid questioning about alleged tax evasion. Beatty jumped at the opportunity of playing a great singer, as well as the chance to film in Ireland "I loved the whole business of using a singer, other than some sort of terribly macho guy. Although I must admit, playing a larger than life character like Jo is a challenge."

We  see Locke in his native Ireland, joking with his four mates in the local public house, attending a cattle auction. When Micky arrives, Jo suspects he is a tax collector and forces the concert promoter to come clean. Micky admits that he wants Jo to sing at Heartly's so he can redeem himself to his love, Nancy.

Jo himself faces his responsibilities: he risks arrest by returning to England for the sake of Cathleen, the woman he abandoned 30 years ago.

Beatty has appeared in over 45 feature films, beginning with the role of Bobby Trippe in Deliverance in 1971. Since then he has been seen in Network (Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor), Nashville, Superman land Superman H, All The President's Men and Wiseblood. He has appeared in numerous American television miniseries and films, notably Friendly Fire (Emmy Award nomination) with Carol Burnett. Born in Kentucky in 1937, Beatty now lives in Los Angeles.

Co-screenwriter Adrian Dunbar plays the lead role of Mick O'Neill. Micky's an opportunist concert promoter of Heartly's night-club, who has an eye for a quick scam and for his beautiful fiancée, Nancy. He's distrusted by most of the community.

Then again, would you trust someone who books a man in a sailor's outfit singing songs from South Pacific or Frank Cinatra, complete with shiny suit?

He's an emotional self-starter. If there wasn't Micky around, nothing would happen. If he learns a lesson, it's that he must care for someone before he cares for himself" Dunbar tint met Chelsom when they acted together in Ourselves Alone at the Royal Court in 1985.

Dunbar came on to the film when director Peter Chelsom was writing the screenplay and developing the character of Josef Locke and Mr X Together, Dunbar and Chelsom invented the fictional character of Micky as the film's centre of action and the movie took off .

32 year-old Dunbar was born in Enniskilin, Northern Ireland, and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He has appeared in numerous stage, television and feature productions. Roles include Macintyre in BBC's Reasonable Force Conn in Euston Finns' The Fear, Le Roux in Working Title's acclaimed A World Apart, Lennox in Euston, Finns' Dealers and Peter in the Academy Award-winning My left Foot.

Recently completed filming on Neil Jordan's upcoming feature film A Soldier's War, Dunbar is currently co-writing his second script with Hear My Song director, Peter Chelsom, called Sam & the Captain.

Shirley Anne Field is Cathleen Doyle, the grown up beauty queen that Jo Locke chose as Miss Dairy Goodness in 1958. She is also Nancy's mamma and thinks her future son-in-law is no good.

Having been hurt herself by self-serving men, she doesn't want her daughter to make the same mistakes. Little does Cathleen realise that she too, "has a whole life ahead of her." Cathleen is a woman whose husband, who adored her, has died.

She's been seven years on her own, she's re-set up her life, she's become a croupier because she doesn't really have any qualifications except her looks and a quick mind. She wants the best for her daughter, forgetting that the best can still be there for her."

For Cathleen, the best returns in the shape of tenor Josef Locke, the man who abruptly abandoned her after a brief carefree affair. "What Peter Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar have done is write a new type of woman - a heroine who's past 25!"

Field has performed with great leading men, including Sir Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer, Albert Finney in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and Steve McQueen and Robert Wagner in War Lover. She has appeared in numerous television programmes and theatre productions. Most recently, Field appeared in the films Shag, Getting It Right, The Ridlel Papers and as the rnistress in Stephen Frears' award winning My Beautiful launderette.

Last year, Shirley Ann Field published A time for Love, her frank autobiography about her childhood, rise to stardom and the truth behind her mother's unexplained disappearance 30 years before.

Newcomer Tara Fitzgerald plays Nancy Doyle, dental hygienist by profession, good-time girl by choice. She is engaged to opportunistic concert promoter Micky O'Neill and injects some good-humored sense into his ambitious ways.

As Nancy's mother Cathleen explains, she is attracted to Micky because: "he makes life happen. That's exciting for a girl." "Nancy loves life," Fitzgerald says, "She's proud of that. She's got great strengths like her job. She knows if she wants to relax and have security, she's got to have a reasonable job.

Micky's the spice in her life. The audience mustn't feel she's so good, though She's not the worthy type." Fitzgerald is fresh out of London's Drama Centre after three years of rigorous training. She plans to balance film and television work with her passion for theatre.

Director Peter Chelsom chose her for Hear My Song over neatly 600 other young actresses. With barely a break between projects, Tara Fitzgerald also appears in Euston Finns' Anglo Saxon Attitudes, a Catherine Cookson BBC TV special and Channel 4's Camomile Lawn TV series based on Mary Wesley's acclaimed novel (UK transmission March '92)

The eccentric "Mr X - Is it or isn't it?" is played by William Hootkins. Though grossly exaggerated with great comic skill by Hootkins in Hear My Song, there is a MrX in real life. Like Josef Locke, he is a tenor with a great stage presence who sings all the old favorites adored by Locke's fans.

Always billed as "Mr X", never once has he broken the law by saying he is Jo Locke. For American actor Hootkins, the film's Mr X was an opportunity to go all out in playing this "genuinely crazy guy".

Mr X talks Micky into giving him more money by speaking poetic mumbo-jumbo and later he takes advantage of a nostalgic and drunk Cathleen. In the end, however, by switching places with Jo on the wreckers ball going through Heartly's roof, he saves the Irish tenor from arrest.

"Mr X is essentially a naturally exotic person. I'm such a natural over-actor. I over-act when I under-act and Peter Chelsom's trying to get me to play it even fruitier!" Ironically, Hootkins says he's lost a number of parts to Ned Beatty (the film's Jo Locke) because of their physical resemblance. Admitting that he plays "a lot of revolting roles in movies", Hootkins appeared as Lieutenant Eckhardt in Batman and was seen in Star Wan, Raiders of The Lest Ark, and Superman IV

He appears regularly on British and American stages. Television credits include Black Adder and capital City in the UK and Cagney And Lacy and Remington Steele in the States. Dallas-native Hootkins is based in both London and Los Angeles.

David McCallum is Chief Constable Jim Abbott, who after thirty years still remembers the day Josef Locke escaped his grip and fled to Ireland. Abbott is due to retire and arresting Locke on tax evasion charges would be the crowning glory to his illustrious career.

"What we have is a film about life and living, in all its aspects of fulfillment and disappointment. Abbott's obsession is caused by his inability to overcome what happened in 1958 when he nearly drowned trying to arrest Jo Locke.

He has to deal with the physical ignominy of drowning and the terror of almost dying. The reasoning for catching Jo loses all perspective. People lose their rationale when their emotions take over. And remember - he also has a thing about Jo's girl, Cathleen." McCallum was born in Kelvinside, Glasgow, Scotland in 1933.

He graduated from RADA in 1951 and soon after worked extensively in the UK and abroad. After going to America in 1961 to play Judas in George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told, he has continued his career on both sides of the Atlantic.

His films include: A Night To Remember, Billy Budd, and Mosquito Squadron. McCallum is best known for television's The Man from U.N. C.L.E. and The Invisible Man. Other television work includes Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Murder She Wrote, and BBC TV's top-rating series Trainer, co-starring Susannah York..

Theatre work includes Camelot, California Suite, The Mousetrap, Sleuth, Run For Your Wife and the recent production of Hunting if the Snarl'.

Stephen Marcus plays tough-guy Gordon, Micky's mate with a soft centre. "He's been around and knows what things are about," Marcus says of his character.

"We came up with the scenario that he's from London, moved to Manchester and now is in Liverpool. He was a bouncer beforehand.

He's got a bit of naivete about him - he's shy with women. He fancies Nancy like crazy, but doesn't think anyone knows." Marcus worked with director Peter Chelsom on a popular Spray 'N Vac commercial where he played a singing Hell's Angel. The Portsmouth native gets regular work in commercials and appeared in Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Launderette as Moose.

Also at Micky's side in his moment of panic is Derek, played by John Dair. Born in Dundee, Scotland, the London resident says Derek is a bit of a mentor for Micky. "if Micky's frustrated, then he takes it out on us, we're typical dogsbodies. Derek and Gordon are his sounding board. I'm like his uncle and Gordon's like his brother." Dair is usually cast as the heavy, and recently appeared in Batman and Chicago Joe and the Showgirl

Gladys Sheehan is gutsy Grandma Ryan, the forceful matriarch of the Ryan family whose co-op holds the lease to Micky O'Neill's night-club, Heartly's.

The Ryans badger Micky into providing top-class entertainment. It seems the best Micky can come up with is the act that starts all the trouble, the Jo Locke fake: "Mr X - Is it or isn't it?" Sheehan is a familiar face in many films where she has played strong cameo parts, including a brothel Madame in The Great Train Robbery, with Sean Connery and the Reverend Mother in Darling Lily in the early 6Os.

Recently she appeared in the Irish television drama, The Irish RM. She relished the chance to play the feisty and funny Grandma Ryan. "She swears and says 'bollocks' and 'bleedin'. I don't believe in growing old gracefully. I enjoy living life well to the end and enjoying every second of it"

Grandma Ryan's daughter, Kitty Ryan, is played with equal verve and strength of character by Britta smith. Kitty Ryan is also a good friend to Cathleen Doyle, Jo Locke's old flame, and became a firm support for her. Indeed, Kitty socks Micky in the ace when Cathleen is humiliated and reveals that Mr X is a fake.

"She's a very colorful character and a real matriarch, but there's a humanity about her as well, a softness," Smith says. Smith trained at the Abbey School of Acting and at the Gate Theatre, Dublin. She has appeared in numerous television and film productions, including The Country Girls (London films), Children In The Crossfire (CBS), The Irish RM (Channel 4) and Glenroe RTE).

Her many theatrical appearances have earned Smith great praise, notably in the role of Christine in miss Julie (Dublin Critics Award 1976) and as Sister Agnes Paul in Semi Private.

Gina Moxley is Brenda Ryan, the grand-daughter of the notorious Ryan family and friend to Nancy Doyle, Micky's girl. Moxley grew up in Cork, Ireland, where she studied painting at the Crawford School of Art After working in Dublin designing magazines and as a darkroom technician, she stumbled into the film business by chance.

While on a working-holiday in Turkey eight years ago, Moxley was offered the lead role in Evlerden Biri, a feature film in which she quickly phonetically learnt Turkish. "I got into acting by mistake. Obviously no thought went into it or I would have run in the opposite direction!"

Moxley appeared in Boss Grady's Boys at Dublin's world-famous Abbey Theatre, and in productions for the Dublin Theatre Festival. Her numerous film and television credits include Lapsed Catholics for Channel 4 and R'IE, the six-part RTE drama series Molloy and the Irish-Australian mini-series Act of Betrayal starring Elliot Gould. "Brenda Ryan is somebody who's growing slowly in confidence. She's part of this clan of strong Irish women - her grandmother and mother are fairly formidable characters," Moxley explains.

James Nesbitt plays Fintan, Micky's friend and reluctant accomplice on a frantic journey through Ireland in search of Josef Locke. Trained at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, Nesbitt was born in Ballymena and grew up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Hear My Song is Nesbitt's first film.

Since graduating from drama school in 1988, he has appeared in Russian director Yuri Lybimov's celebrated year4ong world-tour of Hamlet, and in a few television productions. Nesbitt describes Fintan as a truly sympathetic character who's somewhat put upon by Micky. "The type of guy the viewing public should like. He's married with a couple of kids and is a small-time theatrical agent. He's a long-time friend of Micky's."

About the Filmmakers

Peter Chelsom (Director/Writer) is interested in making quality films which are accessible to everyone. like Hear My Song, a comedy/romance about old-fashioned values which developed from an original story of Chelsom's. "The story of Josef Locke and Micky O'Neill suits the stuff of films because it's dangerously near an edge of being melodramatic. I can't imagine making a film where there wasn't a huge amount of passion for the central character or those around him or her. Where characters are also pushed to their absolute limits.

Where characters make very optimistic transitions, like Micky and Jo. In other words, the characters do the things that in real life you only hope they will do, or suspect they probably won't." Born in 1956, Chelsom remembers the real Josef Locke from his days growing up in Blackpool. The celebrated Irish tenor sang for 19 seasons at the seaside resort and was known as 'Mr Blackpool'. He used to go into Chelsom's parents' antique shop, The Golden Age, and his autograph is in their guest book. One of the film's themes of how dreams can be distorted intrigues Chelsom.

"There's a phrase in the film spoken by Grandma Ryan which is the key: 'You close your eyes. You cast your mind back thirty years and you see and hear what you want to see and hear'. Dreams and longings and cravings for something more fundamental in a very transient world is what Hear My Song is all about. It is also about responsibilities."

Chelsom trained as a photographer before spending three years at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He was the only actor to play leads at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Royal Court before the age of 30.

On television he played Edwin in A Woman of Substance and was the son in Sorrel And Son. Abruptly, after ten years, he stopped acting so as to concentrate on writing and directing films. His first film, a short called Tread4 won him international acclaim and a BAFTA nomination in 1988 for best cinema short. In the past two years he has also made 36 commercials, notably campaigns for Molson Canadian Lager, Tetley Beer and The Express newspaper.

Not surprisingly, his speciality is dialogue and humour Hear My Song is Chelsom's first feature film. He is currently co-writing his second script with Adrian Dunbar entitled Sam and the Captain which he will direct.

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