A WEST Cork actress is being lauded for her role in a new Irish film that delivers a message of positivity and acceptance to young people who are in the process of coming out.
Clara Harte (26), from the coastal village of Timoleague, stars in Who We Love which premiered at last weekend’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Written and directed by Graham Cantwell, it’s a feature film adaption of the IFTA nominated, award-winning short film Lily which hit screens in 2016 and centred on LGBT teens in a school environment.
Clara played Lily, and for the past few years has been involved with Graham and co-writer Katie McNeice in developing the character which so many young people identified with. In fact it was that exact connection that prompted Graham to develop the short into a feature.
It was only when they were on the festival circuit with Lily and when so many people kept asking him ‘what happened next?’ that he realised the opportunity.
‘The short had a really strong impact on kids, it helped them, or it made them open up in a way that maybe they hadn’t before and I thought if a short film has that kind of reach, the reach of a feature film has so much more, you could get to so many more kids,’ he said.
However, he said what he didn’t want was for Who We Love to be an ‘am I gay?’ story.
‘She (Lily) is confidently gay from the start, right from the outset. But in a sense what Lily wants to do is to change to fit the world, but she realises eventually she shouldn’t need to change.
‘And while she may not be able to change the world she can change the people around her so in effect the world becomes more accepting of her and tolerant of her.’
So, the idea behind the film was to figure out that journey for Lily, to take her on that bigger curve towards acceptance of who she was, he said.
The film centres on best friends Lily (played by Clara) and Simon (Dean Quinn), in their final year at school and their steps into the Dublin LGBT+ scene.
It was nearly over the line, with just over a week of reshoots needed, when the pandemic hit, which delayed it by nine months, so finally seeing it premier last weekend was a big moment for everyone involved.
Like Graham, Clara hopes the film will show young people struggling to come out, that acceptance is there.
She was only 21-years-old when she played Lily originally and said she had just a week to prepare for filming the first time round.
This time the character was in development for around two years, and she was immersed in the project with the writers.
‘There was a lot of bigger emotional stuff going on too, she was on a very raw journey so from that aspect I had to prepare myself mentally for it. For around four weeks, I was going into quite a dark space,’ she said.
But as she grows into her craft, Clara, who trained in the Gaiety School of Acting, said she was getting better at switching a character on and off.
‘It’s getting easier to just let it exist in that moment and not be in that intensity all the time. It’s all about finding your own healthy method of acting,’ she said.
Clara split the pandemic between Timoleague and Dublin, but is back in London where she’s been based for the past two years.
‘What I love about the Irish film scene is that sense of community. Once you know one person, you know everyone and there’s safety in that. Initially moving to London was like being a fish out of water, but there’s lots of Irish actors there and we stick together,’ she said.
After her fair share of service industry jobs ‘to fill the gaps, because there are gaps’ she’s now starting to attract a steady flow of acting jobs.
And while work obviously dried up during the pandemic, she was far from idle.
She got funding from Screen Ireland to write, produce and act in her own short film which she shot on Cape Clear.
‘It’s called Foxglove, and it’s about a girl who left home when she was young, coming back to reconcile her relationship with her dying father. So it’s a very human story,’ she said.
Foxglove was also shown at the Galway Film Fleadh where Clara was also one of five rising talents across the fields of acting, directing, and producing nominated for a new talent award.