GOOD MORNING from Ireland’s Ballyconnell, County Cavan, 100 miles northwest of Dublin — where road barriers still stop travelers and troops interrogate anyone heading north. But this is all for Castle Rock’s “Run of the Country.” Director Peter Yates said his actors and props were too accurate for some travelers — even an Army Jeep driver was surprised by the sudden change of “events.” We are only a few miles from the northern border and the road winds in and out of Northern Ireland many times en route to the location. Now, however, there are no soldiers to be seen here. But a red light stops you, and your vehicle is checked from a nearby tower by computers that verify the vehicle and its occupants. At least that’s what they assured me. While talking about the roads, I should add, they are ribbons through the greenest countryside I have ever seen. They tell us there are 40 shades of green in Ireland. The “greens” I have seen so far outdo each other … The story in “Run of the Country” is Ireland today. The north-south conflict is evident in the romance between its young leads, newcomers Matt Keeslar, a Juilliard student in New York who is seen in “Quiz Show,” and Victoria Smurfit, a member of Bristol’s Old Vic. He looks like a young Gregory Peck and she, a teenage Greer Garson. The star of the movie , however, is Albert Finney, teamed again with Yates. The two men were Oscar nominated for “The Dresser.” Finney plays Keeslar’s father. And Dearbhla Molloy is his mother.
THE MOVIE IS REALLY of the fighting in the north, actions by the IRA and civilian onlookers and victims. But the story is really a contemporary version of “Romeo and Juliet”–“and Mercutio,” adds Yates … In the movie, young Keeslar is from the Republic of Ireland. He’s impregnated Smurfit, who’s from Northern Ireland. Finney is a member of the police and the relationship with his son is fierce, tender and all emotions in between. Yates also produces, with Ruth Boswell, and Nigel Wooll, who has worked with Yates before, on “Year of the Comet,” is exec producer. The cameraman is Mike Southon, who worked with Yates on “Roommates,” which Disney releases in 800 theaters Christmas Day. Yates’ son Toby, assistant directing, also is directing the second unit. All these factors add up — and permit Yates to bring in this “Run of the Country” for a remarkably economical cost. Other factors are the Irish government’s program to return percentages of movie investments — reportedly as much as 15%. Yet another attraction for Castle Rock is that Yates and Finney are taking far less than their usual salaries in exchange for a piece of the gross … Another plus, Yates reminds: “Everyone here is totally cooperative — and they are sweet about everything you ask them to do.” Castle Rock Entertainment handles U.S. and Canadian distribution, with Castle Rock Intl. handling international sales, excluding the U.K. and Ireland, where Channel Four Films holds all rights. Yates is working long hours on this location, from early morning on the sites, then back to the Slieve Russell hotel, HQ for the company, where he looks at rushes from London until about 9:30 p.m., catching dinner on the run most of the time. The rushes are viewed in a conference room of the hotel where a large screen has been set up. Sandwiches and hot soup are given those viewing the footage — to save even more time. One who watches the rushes each day and who is also on the set daily is screenwriter Shane Connaughton, who also wrote the screen adaptation of “My Left Foot,” for which he was Oscar-nominated.
I RODE OUT TO Monday morning’s location in the little town of Scotshouse. The Community Center, about the size of an elementary school recreation hall, has been taken over for interior sets. This location has the same telltale signs a movie company is there — a catering truck whose menu featured such items as steak and kidney pie. And the services truck was a converted London double-decker bus with tables for the crew to dine — smoking in the upper deck, no smoking below … Finney came out of his trailer to greet me, reminding we hadn’t seen each other since I introduced him at the “Annie” premiere in L.A. He sadly said he’d returned from his mother’s (91) funeral in England. The company had given him five days off and it was not easy to return to the world of movies from his sad mission. But he was the complete pro, working in off-camera scenes as well as on. He said he was happy to be working again with Yates. He was well-acquainted with the background of this story, telling me he was unable to return to Northern Ireland to the stage where he and Laurence Olivier had worked — because it had been bombed. “It will take a generation,” he said, to return to normalcy in this part of the world . Finney and Molloy did a small turn dancing to “The Tennessee Waltz” in the scene I watched with Keeslar observing ’em. And Finney’s son, Simon, is working on the pic as camera focus puller. I also watched Finney, Keeslar and Smurfit in the day’s rushes. One scene will be a shocker — Keeslar is tarred and feathered on his lower torso and badly beaten. Finney comes upon him in a moving scene. Finney’s silent reaction told more than a thousand words … The movie is being planned by Castle Rock for spring. Martin Shafer told Yates the pic will go out without test screenings — a la “Barcelona.” Shafer had given Yates the go-ahead on the film after reading the script over one weekend. Yates feels as confident today.