SXSW 2012 Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Ciaran Foy & Co-Stars Aneurin Barnard and Wunmi Mosaku Talk Citadel

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In Ciarán Foy’s urban tale of paranoia Citadel, the dilapidated conditions of Edenstown cast a shadow over Tommy Cowley (Aneurin Barnard), a single father who has been trapped there by his agoraphobia since his wife was fatally attacked by twisted feral children one random day.

Tommy now finds himself terrorized by the same mysterious hooded gang, who seem intent on taking his baby daughter, and as he becomes torn between the help of an understanding nurse and a vigilante priest, he discovers that to be free of his fears, he must finally face the demons of his past and enter the one place that he fears the most- the abandoned tower block known as the “Citadel.”

During our recent time in Austin for the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Foy and co-stars Barnard and Wunmi Mosaku to hear more about what inspired the creepy story behind Citadel as well as the challenges of making the independent film and more.

Check out the highlights from our interview below with the trio from Citadel, and make sure to check back here soon for more from SXSW!

Dread Central: I’d love to hear what inspired the story of Citadel since it seems like a very personal story.

Ciarán Foy: Well I grew up in Dublin, Ireland and when I was around 18 years old, I was beaten with a hammer and had a dirty syringe held to my throat by a gang of kids who were no older than 13 or 14 years old in an unprovoked attack. The scariest thing about the attack for me was that they didn’t want anything, they didn’t take anything but they left me with a deep psychological scar and a trauma which eventually became agoraphobia.

I didn’t have a word for it when I was house-bound back then, I just knew that I was terrified to walk outside and every day I would just try and cross that great threshold to make it outside. So it’s my battles with agoraphobia and my eventual recovery from it that became the catalyst for what eventually became the story of Citadel.

DC: So did the attack then also inspire you to go into filmmaking then?

Ciarán Foy: I had always loved messing around with a camera and before the attack, that’s all I really did. But I did always know I wanted to be a director and it seems kind of serendipitous now to look back at this letter that I received saying that I had gotten accepted into the National Film School of Ireland and that prompted me to get my act together and get out of the house.

Somehow I felt safe going out at rush hour as long as there were lots of people around and so through my recovery process, I was also going to film school. But with getting through my fear and dealing with my agoraphobia, my imagination began to run wild with these ideas of creatures that feed off your fear, much like a real-life assailant would.

Then it evolved into what if these things could only see fear and nothing else and eventually I incorporated the idea of these feral children who were inbred or somehow mutated and THEY could see fear. See, I’ve always been a big genre geek and I wanted to take something horrible from real-life and twist it into something strange and dark with my imagination and use that to make a genre movie.

DC: Can you guys (the actors) talk a bit about what drew you to working on Citadel.

Aneurin Barnard: For me, getting involved was the normal process; the script was sent to my agent and my agent read it and thought it was something I definitely should get involved with. So then I auditioned for Ciaran and through several auditions, we kind of workshopped through me playing the role of a young, single agoraphobic father. Thankfully, he offered me the role and I jumped right in because it was something from day one that I really connected with.

I wasn’t agoraphobic necessarily but I had experienced many situations like Ciaran had so I connected to this character immediately. It was also a journey for me a bit too because I was able to get through some things by playing this role. I went at this with a very realistic, documentary-like approach; I wanted my performance to feel real and raw but never ignoring the fact that this is a genre feel so people can still be scared and have fun with the story too.

Wunmi Mosaku: I read Ciaran’s script and loved it but I think I read it from a completely different perspective than these two guys. I didn’t really respond to the thriller aspects, I was more caught up in the emotion of the character of Tommy and the tragedy of these feral kids. I grew up in Manchester and they have always looked down on the kid population there but in reality, they’re not bad kids; they just respond to what they’re given and if it’s always negativity, well then you’ll get negativity back.

So I really explored the script how my character Marie would- she would think these kids need love and I responded to that kind of emotion. And I think Ciaran has done a brilliant job and managed to capture humanity inside of a horror movie and has done it quite beautifully.

DC: It seems like atmosphere was key to making Citadel a successful film then.

Ciarán Foy: Atmosphere is everything- it’s what gets your imagination going when you’re watching a movie. My main goal for the film was to with a more atmospheric approach but it is a terror film as well. I kind of describe Citadel as a half-psychological thriller/half-biopic movie which is kind of strange but it is a lot like one of my favorite horror films- Jacob’s Ladder; it’s all about the atmosphere. I mean, I can still watch Jacob’s Ladder and be absolutely paranoid by the end and I’ve seen it countless times now. So I wanted to do something like that- establish a distrustful atmosphere so the audience is always kept guessing from beginning to end.

Aneurin Barnard: You know, it could be very easy to just call Citadel a horror movie and leave it at that; but there’s more to this movie than just that. Sure, it’s creepy and scary and has a few good jumps in there but that’s selling the story short. Citadel is personal, it’s raw and I think the way Ciaran tells this story is so revealing that audiences can’t help but be hooked in immediately.

DC: Indie films are never easy; any challenges you guys faced while making Citadel?

Aneurin Barnard: We really had no time to think when we were working on Citadel but I think that created a frenetic atmosphere which I think heightened everything for me in this movie. And then I’m dealing with a baby, holding this baby, throughout a lot of the movie so there’s that to think about too. And even though we didn’t plan for it, the snow we got hit with while shooting was a God-given to this film because it really added another element into the mix.

But there were times where it was hard to come down from the agoraphobic aspect of my character; I almost began living this life even after we finished shooting. I didn’t really sleep ever for the entire shoot which was also pretty insane; I suffered with insomnia and when we weren’t shooting, I’d go to the gym at night to just sort of sustain that feeling. Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea (laughs) but I definitely did get absorbed into this world.

Wunmi Mosaku: It was absolutely great working with Ciaran for me so I got off lucky I suppose (laughs). The challenges for me really came from being in those minus 14, minus 19 temperatures and having a baby on set who got quite sick so that was hard. But I actually was coming down with glandular fever while working on this and I was also working on a project in Manchester at the same time so I was traveling back and forth every single day. At night, I’d travel up to Glasgow to shoot Citadel and every morning I’d go back to Manchester to work on the other project so it was pretty stressful. But I’m glad I did it.

Writer/Director Ciaran Foy & Co-Stars Aneurin Barnard and Wunmi Mosaku Talk Citadel

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