Nick Rowland on Calm with Horses: 'The way I looked at all the relationships in the film is they're all trapped by a selfish love'

Nick Rowland on Calm with Horses: 'The way I looked at all the relationships in the film is they're all trapped by a selfish love'

Director Rowland and leading man Cosmo Jarvis discuss the atmospheric crime drama set in a bleak rural Ireland

Leading man Cosmo Jarvis turns in a breakthrough performance in director Nick Rowland's debut feature film, set in a fictional town on the West Coast of Ireland. Adapted from a novella about a hulking criminal enforcer from Colin Barrett's award-winning collection of short stories, Young Skins, the thirty-year-old actor wrestles with themes of frustration and fatherhood with the sensitivity and maturity of a seasoned pro.

Rowland is close to the material, a book, he says, 'I just fell in love with. When I was reading it, it felt awfully similar to growing up in Banff in Scotland. It felt very familiar to me. There was a universal quality to it. If you've grown up in any of these isolated, small communities, they're picturesque but you always feel that dark things could be lurking just around the corner.'

There's both beauty and bleakness in Rowland's portrayal of small-town life told from the perspective of a man stuck by circumstance. The occasional eruption of visceral violence associated with the crime thriller is there, but so too is the emotional drama, made especially poignant by the strength of Jarvis' empathetic representation of a wounded and morally torn character.

'What became really clear, from the moment Cosmo came in to audition, is that he really understood the spine of the character,' says Rowland. 'With a character like Arm, on the page, he's not particularly sympathetic, and there's a real danger that the audience won't go with him. Cosmo made some really interesting choices and played him a soulful way, and not as an alpha male. He brings a vulnerability, where you want the best for the character, and you understand that he's being manipulated.'

Arm carries out violent payback for a local drug-dealing clan, and is used as something of a tool by his friend, Dympna (Barry Keoghan). His mettle is tested, and loyalty is split between his real family, son Jack (Kiljan Moroney) and ex-partner Ursula (Niamh Algar), and the criminal family who have taken him under his wing.

'The way I looked at all the relationships in the film is they're all trapped by a selfish love,' explains Rowland. 'Arm loves Jack, but wants to keep him in the town and in his life for selfish reasons. How do you break that? That was one of the main questions I wanted to explore.'

Parenthood and the moral complexities at the heart of the film chimed with Jarvis. 'I can only speak for myself but all of my moral compass in some way comes from the ember of honourable characters in films or fiction,' says Jarvis. 'I was always interested in older actors, which I guess is because as a young man you're looking for knowledge, wisdom and father figures … I mean I was.'

Jarvis' family life is something he has been open with, in his previous career as a musician, with references to his parents' divorce. 'It's weird because I've grown up watching all these old boys doing their stuff, Daniel Day-Lewis, James Gandolfini, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Lee Cobb, Peter Sellers,' lists Jarvis. 'They inadvertently turned out to be my parents one way or another growing up.'

General release from Fri 13 Mar.

Calm With Horses

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK
  • 1h 41min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Nick Rowland
  • Cast: Barry Keoghan, Ned Dennehy, Anthony Welsh, Cosmo Jarvis

Arm (Jarvis) is a retired boxer who has a yearning to be a better man and a good father, but is manipulated by drug dealer Dympna (Keoghan). Impressive debut feature from Rowland, set in a rural Ireland choked with mud and despair, marbled with black comedy and bursts of shocking brutality.