(L-R) Geoff Thompson, festival organiser; Barry Ward, Irish actor; Credit: Ali Sahib

The British & Irish Film Festival Luxembourg (BIFFL) 2023 Autumn Edition is well underway, with the "core" festival coming to a close on Friday 22 September 2023; additional screenings and special events are scheduled for next week.

Chronicle.lu had the opportunity to speak with one of the special guests at this edition of BIFFL: Irish actor Barry Ward, who travelled over to Luxembourg for the occasion. Barry stars in Sunlight, which was screened at the Cinémathèque as part of the BIFFL 2023 Autumn Edition on Wednesday evening. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with the actor.

Released earlier this year, Sunlight is an Irish drama directed by Claire Dix and starring Barry Ward as Leon, a recovering addict caring for his terminally ill sponsor, Iver, played by fellow Irish actor Liam Carney. The film addresses the still rather sensitive issues of addiction and assisted dying.

As Barry explained to Chronicle.lu, filming was supposed to start before the COVID-19 pandemic but was then postponed to summer 2021. Filming took place in Dublin over about 20 days, with just one day "lost" due to illness (coronavirus). Sunlight premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival in February 2022 and was released in Irish and UK cinemas in June 2023; it is still being screened at festivals around the world. The film had a budget of about €400,000.

Asked whether COVID-19 continued to impact the film industry, Barry explained how everything had stopped during the pandemic and then once restrictions were lifted, things got "really busy" before slowing down again. 2023 is said to be a relatively quiet year "for various reasons" but also because of the impact of the writers' strikes in the US on the entire industry.

Barry Ward has starred in several TV series and films over the years. Some of his more recent film roles have been in Jimmy's Hall (2014), Maze (2017) and Extra Ordinary (2019); recent TV credits include Rebellion (2016) and Taken Down (2018). Despite mainly working on Irish and British productions, he also starred in the 2015 Italian-language drama film L'accabadora.

Regarding his criteria/reasons for accepting a role on a particular production, Barry shared that "nothing ticks every box" but it can depend on the quality of the script, his relationship with the director or if the character is interesting and the role challenges him as an actor. The filming location can also have an impact. He shared that Jimmy's Hall, a historical drama about Irish political activist James Gralton in the 1930s, "ticked most boxes" for him.
He revealed that he particularly enjoyed watching dramas, comedies and sci-fi films, although he preferred acting in comedies. "The workload feels lighter and you go home happier", compared to some of the heavier dramas, he explained. However, it all came down to having a good script, regardless of the genre.
Barry also shared that he enjoyed roles that allowed him to learn a new skill, for example he learned a new language (Italian), how to drive and how to play the guitar for past roles. He described the role of Leon in Sunlight as an interesting one, in that it was "closer to home" than some of his previous roles. He explained that he had not had the opportunity to play a similar role before but this one was "written" for him to an extent.
To prepare for this role, Barry carried out his own research, reading books by recovered and recovering addicts, which proved "helpful and insightful". He noted that addiction (particularly to heroin) had been "prevalent" when he was growing up in Dublin. However, he had been less familiar with the topic of euthanasia before working on the film. He soon realised that this was a "hot topic" on a lot of people's minds.
He added that he felt Sunlight was quite unique in its "healthy look at male bonding", its portrayal of the "interesting dynamic" and the "transgenerational friendship" between two adult men, as they support each other through the "highs and lows" of life.
This was Barry Ward's first time visiting Luxembourg, although he noted that one of the cameramen working on Sunlight is originally from the Grand Duchy (now living in Ireland). His first impressions of the country were that it was similar to Canada and he admired some of the more modern architecture found in the Kirchberg district, including the national library (BnL), but also the picturesque Pétrusse Valley.
(Photo credit: Ali Sahib)