• Culture

Irish film and TV’s ‘proud mom’ / Drogheda’s Louise Kiely talks casting Normal People

Drogheda-based casting director Louise Kiely tells LouthNow.ie about discovering the stars of Normal People, how she first fell into the job and how Louth is home.

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Chances are if you’ve seen an Irish film or TV series in the last decade, it may well have been cast by Louise Kiely Casting, one of Ireland’s leading casting agencies. With credits including the Golden Globe nominated Sing Street, the multi-award winning What Richard Did and the IFTA winning A Date for Mad Mary, the agency is well renowned and very respected in the domestic film and TV industry.

Outside of Ireland, they have a host UK and American credits also under their belt – the upcoming The Last Duel starring Matt Damon among them – but it is fair to say that casting Normal People could be one of the company’s biggest achievements yet.

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Normal People, based on the Sally Rooney novel of the same name, hit screens at the end of April and was an instant fan favourite the world over. A transatlantic smash, the show has been obsessed over by viewers and can lay credible claim to being 2020’s most talked about show.  It has garnered attention thanks to its script, directing by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie MacDonald but above all, the performances – particularly those of the leading characters Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). The woman responsible for finding these previously unknown young actors is Drogheda’s very own Louise Kiely.

“If we had got it wrong it would have been a big disaster, as in, people would not have loved them the way they do,” Louise told LouthNow.ie about the task of putting faces to the names of the young lovers. “At the time, I just felt that it was almost an honour to try to get to find these very beloved characters and I knew that came with a very large amount of work.”

As it transpired, one half of the task wasn’t that arduous at all. “Paul was easy – we knew he was perfect for Connell pretty early on but what we needed in Marianne was something very specific. It took a bit of, I suppose, dogged stubbornness, to just hold out until we found the perfect person for her.”

That perfect person was to be London-born actor Edgar-Jones and much like Mescal, she too has proved a great fit with those in the profession lining up to praise the the casting choice. For Louise, a long time lover of the Canadian sitcom Schitts Creek, it was its co-creator Dan Levy’s kind words who left her awed. “I’m a massive fan of his and he was really kind about the show so that was really cool to be honest. Also, Reese Witherspoon –  the fact she watched it, for me that was really exciting because I’m a huge admirer of her work.”

At the heart of Normal People is a love story, which is what makes it relatable to people stretching from Blackrock to Beverly Hills, according to Louise. “I think there is something about the story which taps into everyone. There is an honesty about it.”

Louise grew up in South Africa, before studying in Cork and Dublin. In 2005, after working as an actor for several years, she set up her business “without really thinking too much about it,” she admits. “Myself and my friend decided to start casting. We got our first job on a short film and at that point it just absolutely felt right. As soon as it happened for me, to be honest, I never looked back. It was the right position for me to be in and it was great to fall into it.”

Louise has lived in Drogheda for the past nine years, surrounded by other recognisable names in the industry such as Drogheda natives Darren and Colin Thornton, both of whom she has worked with on the award winning film, A Date for Mad Mary.

“It was terrific to work on A Date For Mad Mary,” Louise says. “Louth is home for me so being part of the film which is obviously about a Drogheda woman, was really cool and it was brilliant for Louth, the town and the guys.” The film went on to be nominated at film festivals across the world, winning Best Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards in 2017, a proud accomplishment for everyone involved.

“That was very special. Deirdre O’Kane was presenting the IFTA’s when the film won and the fact that she is from Drogheda as well is really nice.”

Louth has become a hub of creativity over the years with the likes of Droichead Arts Centre and An Tain Theatre acting as popular regional hubs for theatre, music and movie screenings. They also act as homes to youth theatre in the county’s two biggest towns – offering young people entry-level opportunities into the arts, through youth theatre.

“I think youth theatres are one of the best things ever. I have many friends who have come through the youth theatre system as kids and work in the arts sector now. If a teenager is looking to find something other than sport and they have any bit of a creative tendency, there is nothing like it.”

Luckily, Louth plays host to a number of successful youth theatres with Droichead Youth Theatre, Dundalk Youth Theatre and M.A.D Youth Theatre facilitating hundreds of kids every year.  “I think the people in Louth work really hard.” Louise said, giving a special mention to Kwasie Boyce of M.A.D YT, Colette Farrell of Droichead Arts Centre and Anthony Kinahan of Act Out YT. “They all do really fantastic work.”

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As for the day job, the team at Louise Kiely Casting have had a busy year despite the pandemic, due largely to the fact that a lot of the behind-the-scenes casting work continued apace. Dating Amber, which stars Lola Petticrew and Normal People’s Fionn O’Shea, was recently released on Amazon Prime Video and has received largely positive reviews. The film was written by David Freyne and is, once again, a love story. “But in this case, a platonic love story,” Louise says.

“It is a coming of age story, a coming out story and a love story. Much like with Paul and Daisy in Normal People and Seanna and Charlie in A Date For Mad Mary, it was imperative we get the combination of Eddie and Amber right.”

Another project Louise and her team have been working on of late is Dead Still, a Victorian comedy written by Red Rock’s Imogen Murphy. Set in 1880’s Dublin in the heyday of ‘post-mortem photography’, the six-episode drama follows a photographer (Michael Smiley), as he investigates the murders of his recently deceased subjects. “It is not like anything you’ve ever seen.”

Starting a new project stirs something in Louise. It’s nothing new, but it’s always exciting. Once the casting is complete and series go to production, the results mean as much as ever. “It is like the first day of school. The actors arrive and there is a mixture of excitement and nerves. We sit down and there is always a buzz in the air and then they’re ready and they go and make their movie or television series. That’s when my job is done and I feel like a proud Mom.”

Louise said that watching Normal People for the first time was an intense experience. “By the end of it my brain was fried. I was watching it via my own work lens. Then I watched it all through a second time, much slower, and I absolutely relished it. It’s just a beautiful story.”

According to Louise, Normal People was perfect lockdown viewing. “I like the idea that we were all kind of stuck in our homes and I suppose nobody could travel but in a way we all kind of travelled the Marianne and Connell road together in lockdown and fell in love with them. I’m honoured to be a part of it.

“I love what I do and I’m very proud of the work we do. I’m also very proud of Ireland and I think we are a very talented nation.”

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