“Life’s a Breeze” – Roundtable interview with Fionnula Flanagan

breezeDallas, Texas
April 25, 2014
Fionnula Flanagan, star of “Life’s A Breeze”& “Tasting Menu,” and Ron Salfen, on behalf of the Presbyterian Outlook 


Fionnula Flanagan: It’s so green here. Even coming in on the plane, I saw all these greenbelts.

Presbyterian Outlook: This is a good time of year to be here.

Fionnula Flanagan: Summers not so much.

Presbyterian Outlook: I like the idea in “Tasting Menu” that you could make one night so special, and you could have food that’s just so incredible that you’ll remember that evening forever. And then you add to that the ambiance of cocktails on the veranda, music on the beach, and I was thinking, “How great it would be, to have an experience like that, that you would just never forget.” Did you have any sense that it could really be that special?

Fionnula Flanagan: It was modeled on a world-famous restaurant – I’m not a foodie, however – but it was called Buli, and it was not too far from there, near Empuries, Costa Brava, near the French border. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Presbyterian Outlook: Is that why the Spanish sounded so funny?

Fionnula Flanagan: Yes, it was Catalan. This is Catalonia. They all understand Spanish, but not all Spaniards understand Catalan. It’s full of x’s and y’s, you know. Ridiculous. Nobody could pass a spelling test.

Presbyterian Outlook: You weren’t trying to speak it?

Fionnula Flanagan: No, I have some Spanish, but I wouldn’t even attempt Catalan. But Andy Tarbet, for instance, who plays Max in the movie, is Canadian, and he speaks fluent Catalan. He’s married to a Spanish actress, and he’s lived there for years. He writes plays in Catalan.

Presbyterian Outlook: That’s very impressive. You know, there were several languages being thrown around there – the Japanese customers, throwing around their Japanese….

Fionnula Flanagan: (laughs) Yes, when we were all together in the hotel, and all hanging out, you heard all sorts of languages.

Presbyterian Outlook: Did you really get to eat all that great gourmet food?

Fionnula Flanagan: You know, the truth of the matter is, we had this incredible chef, who has his own restaurant in Gerona — not too far away – and he prepared all of those delicacies. He had some sous-chefs hovering while he was doing all of that, who handed it to the actors playing the waiters. But the truth is they put it down in front of you, you push it around with your fork a little bit, you take one bite and say “Mm, very good!” they say “Cut!” and then they bring you another one. But you know, actors don’t like to eat on camera, anyways. We didn’t get to eat an awful lot, but we did eat a little bit of everything.

Presbyterian Outlook: I did have a point of identification with you. You’re sitting there, looking at the people at the next table, and you’re so cognizant of their interaction and their dynamic that you’re sort of making up a backstory in your head, which isn’t quite right, but still, you’re relying heavily on your intuition about folks. I will do the same thing in a restaurant.

Fionnula Flanagan: You eavesdrop!

Presbyterian Outlook: I do!

Fionnula Flanagan: Do you then go over and tell them what they should do they with their lives?

Presbyterian Outlook: No!

Fionnula Flanagan: Well, I did! (laughs)

Presbyterian Outlook: You were so intent on that young couple in front of you, and kinda wanting to help them along a little bit, by telling her to go with her heart.

Fionnula Flanagan: Well, the irony is that later on you find out that my (character’s) husband was unfaithful to me, all the time, and she finally confesses that, but she prefers to believe, publicly, that he was wonderful, you know. So when I threw the ashes into the sea, I said to Roger (Gaul, the director), “We should throw the urn into the sea, too!”

Presbyterian Outlook: Actually, I was sitting there thinking just that!

Fionnula Flanagan: You know the reason I didn’t? They’d forgotten to bring the double urn, in case we needed to do the shot again… and that urn weighed a ton!

Presbyterian Outlook: Oh! But that would have been a fitting ending to that scene.

Fionnula Flanagan: Yes, like “Go to Hell. Let the sea take him. I don’t want him any more.” When we do the re-make, we’ll do it that way!

Presbyterian Outlook: How difficult was it to turn into the Nan in “Life’s A Breeze”?

Fionnula Flanagan: Well, I had to play an 80-year-old (she’s only 72!), and they took an hour and a half for the makeup every day. We shot all the exteriors in Ireland in November and December. It rained and sleeted and snowed and sometimes all three at once. There was a horrible cold wind. It was bitter, and we shot so much of it in landfills, and I was up to my knees in stinky mud a lot of the time. And then we did all the interiors in a studio in Sweden. And we had a wonderful production designer who created this entire Georgian Dublin house, down to the last detail.

Presbyterian Outlook: I had some identification with your character again. I’m getting older now, so people are looking at me as curmudgeonly, or getting senile, or both.

Fionnula Flanagan: Really? (laughs)

Presbyterian Outlook: It’s a delicious dynamic, though, having a big secret from the family like that. But your character never says what you intended to do with that money in the mattress.

Fionnula Flanagan: That shot was cut out. I was going to leave it to the little girl.

Presbyterian Outlook: Emma (Kelly Thornton)?

Fionnula Flanagan: Yes, for her education. But I was the curmudgeon there. I didn’t want her bringing me my newspaper in the morning; I’m independent. You see me shoveling my own coal. It was an interesting film to make, because I think families are like that.

Presbyterian Outlook: Oh, yes: sibling rivalries, and the little secrets, the slackers and the ones who are successful are arrogant… all that.

Fionnula Flanagan: Yeah, and grudges kept for eternities, passed down for generations.

Presbyterian Outlook: But Emma was the one who always believed you, and the only time you got mad at her was when she expressed a little doubt.

Fionnula Flanagan: Yes. She fears what the rest of the family suspects: that I’m starting to lose it.

Presbyterian Outlook: Yes.

Fionnula Flanagan: So be nice to your children, they’re the ones who will pick the home you go to! (Perish the thought!)

Presbyterian Outlook: So you do have identification with this character yourself?

Fionnula Flanagan: Yes, I do. That’s what made her interesting to me.

Presbyterian Outlook: She had a lot of love/hate.

Fionnula Flanagan: With justification. It’s an absolutely awful family: greedy, pushy. And this gesture of cleaning out this house is not for her, it’s so they can sell it.   But I like the roles with a little edge to them, some bite, because they’re interesting to play.


Ronald P. Salfen is parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.


Click here to read the Outlook review of “Life’s a Breeze”

Click here to read the Outlook review of “Tasting Menu”