Writer/director Anne-Marie O’Connor’s poignant drama Mum stars talented transgender actress Kate O’Donnell (Boy Meets Girl) along with Lee Boardman (Jack the Giant Slayer, Coronation Street) and Kenneth Colley (Star Wars, Peaky Blinders).
A film with a trans character at the heart of it, telling a universal story: When Kate goes back to see her mother after a few years away, she realises that far from being ready for a day out, her mum is gravely ill. And no one thought to tell her. So she takes matters into her own hands and although she doesn’t get the day she wanted, she gets the day she needed.
Anne-Marie O’Connor began her career writing for theatre before penning three novels, Everyone’s Got a Bono Story, My Made Up Life and Star Struck. She moved into screenwriting, co-creating Sky 1’s long-running hit comedy Trollied, starring Jane Horrocks, Jason Watkins and Mark Addy. She is currently working on returning dramas in the UK and US, and has written and is due to direct her first feature.
In the role of the central character, Kate, transgender actress Kate O’Donnell continues to make a name for herself, after starring in the BBC’s groundbreaking series Boy Meets Girl, she then went on to play Feste in the Royal Exchange’s recent production of Twelfth Night, directed by internationally renowned theatre director Jo Davis. Her second one woman show, You’ve Changed premiers at Edinburgh International Festival in July. Mum stars two other young transgender actors to watch, Ash Palmisciano and Joseph Pearson (Joe is ten and Mum was his first screen role), alongside Kenneth Colley, known for his work in Star Wars and Peaky Blinders. Kate’s brother, Carl, is played by respected British actor, Lee Boardman, a familiar face to many with roles in the Emmy winning Starz show, Da Vinci’s Demons, Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, London Boulevard, alongside Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell, and in Coronation Street, in which he portrayed fan-favourite bad guy, Jez Quigley. And Mum is played by acclaimed theatre actress, Margot Leicester, fresh from her role as Camilla Parker-Bowles on in Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III both on Broadway and on BBC2. Executive produced by Gail Egan and Andrea Calderwood, (Last King of Scotland, Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man). Edited by Chris Wyatt (This is England, God’s Own Country) with an original score from Peter Gregson (Wonder Woman, A Little Chaos).
After premiering at the BFI Flare the BFI’s LGBTQ Film Festival, it has gone on to win best LGBTQ film at the London Independent Film Festival, the Award of Excellence at Global Shorts and has just been in competition as part of the official selection at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Congratulations with the movie. It’s a great movie with about an ‘a-typical’ topic. Why did you choose to make a movie about that theme?
So the background is: I know my Kate, who plays Kate [in Mum], for years. She transitioned in 2004 and was Andrew when I first met her. Whenever you see any story, across the board [in film, on television …] about any sort of trans[gender], it’s always about the transition. Either the fascination with the transition or for some reason the transgender becomes a sex worker or it’s about not finding love. That’s it. This is how a trans[gender] narrative is so far. Kate is amazing, she’s really out there in the world as a transwoman, and so why would we never do and make a movie about something universal. Why is that [universal] narrative not there in the film [and television] world? So making that was the ambition of this movie. Even though the film itself is a really small and intimate story about going home and wanted to see your own mum, while your stepdad is a dick who’s obviously not pleased about her transition, it’s actually quite a big ambition because people don’t make films about it, especially when it’s also about trans[gender]. We also cast trans-actors. When we flashback to little Andrew, that’s a little trans boy. He transitioned two years ago and his mum said that it has been the most positive experience for him. She also mentioned to me that she wanted him to be in the movie because he wanted to be in it. Ash, who plays adult Andrew, also transitioned a long time ago and he’s just an amazing actor. They’re all really positive and we wanted the film to be a trans-positive film.
All very strong women it seems?
Yeah, indeed. Kate is also the creative director from ‘Trans-creative’, which is the first trans-led theatre company in England, and she also played Feste [in Twelfth Night] in Manchester’s Royal Exchange from April to May which was a huge success. She’s also doing a one-woman show in Edinburgh. Another thing that we did with the film: We had a crew of 20 people and 19 of us were women. It wasn’t planned but it’s just happened like that. Most of us all had small children so it was very hard to work 18-hours day so we ran a crèche and we made the film in 4 days. Yes, we still worked long hours but we could keep an eye on the small children while we were able to do the job. Because of that there was a lot of mum energy around the set.
And you didn’t have any plans to make a long feature film of Mum?
Well not about Mum but I just wrote a long feature film that I’m going to direct. So I have something to direct next, which is about a young woman in her 20. Essentially is about somebody’s mind-fault. For let’s say that if you come back from holiday and telling having everyone that you had an amazing time while that might be not quite right. So I’m working on that at the moment, which has been supported by my agency. I’ve also been working out some film ideas and then I have some television-shows coming up on ITV. So I got quite a lot going on but I love that. I really enjoy directing. With Mum, we’re going to Galway film festival [which at the time of the interview didn’t take place yet] and then we’re heading over to America. With this movie we premiered at Flare, BFI Flare, because I love Flare.
Do you think that in America they will react differently to this movie? Cause obviously transgender is a very sensitive topic in some countries in the world.
Well weirdly they get it. They’re Americans; they’re ‘Yeah, ok year right’. The few references in the film might get lost but weirdly they get. When they got an idea about what’s about, then they get it. It’s great that we were able to create something universal because love writing things that are universal to me. Most of time writers go like ‘of course it’s universal’. Originally I’m from Bradford where a lot of factories are. I used to work in one of those factories. Kate and I always say that a movie is universal if someone at those factories sits down and says ‘I get it’. I think Mum is universal because, whether you have a good relationship with your mum or not, everyone has a mum and that relationship is so key to everybody. Whether is because you estranged with your mum or because it’s a close relationship or whatever, everyone understands that.
Do you think that people will accept transgender more after they’ve seen the film?
Well not necessarily because of the film but I think because of Kate. People might go like ‘Oh I don’t know she was trans’. In the past, transgender might have the feeling that they needed to be accepted [by the society] because of their looks but now they’re going ‘whose business is it really’. Kate and I, we were talking about that. She said that you still have people going like ‘Oh she’s transgender’ and there’s still that fascination with the transition. I think Kate is doing a great job by just moving on and being positive.
She probably a great example for a lot of trans genders
Yeah, she’s a brilliant role model. Year after year, there’re many girls who’ve made the transition and to have someone out there who’s proud about her transition and who doesn’t care what other people think. She did a one-minute film at Piccadilly in Manchester and she went up to women and asked them a few questions. She asked them what bathroom they used and they said the one for the women. It was only three questions and the last one was: Had you had any surgery [as in surgery to transition from male to female]. They all went ‘No’. And then she said ‘I’m transgender’ and these are the questions I get all the time.
You mentioned already some upcoming projects, are there anymore in the near/far future?
Well, that’s all it actually. I have big project here in the UK that’s going to be a co-production between here and America about a woman who’s a doctor in Israel. I’ve met someone who’s a doctor in Israel and she’s amazing and I wanted the project to be about her. It’s more about the pressure at home and how all things are crumbling at home and how that impact the decisions that she makes that might messes everything up.