'Fifty Dead Men' touched a nerve for its star

Rose McGowan says she could understand IRA violence

TORONTO -- Rose McGowan so sympathized with the senior Irish Republican Army operative she plays in Kari Skogland's "Fifty Dead Men Walking" that, had she lived in Belfast during Northern Ireland's Troubles, she'd have joined up with the Republicans.

"My heart just broke for the cause," McGowan said at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival ahead of its world premiere Wednesday night.

The true-life thriller features McGowan as a strong-willed IRA leader who works alongside an IRA infiltrator played by Jim Sturgess, who secretly provides information to Britain's Special Branch.

"Violence is not to be played out daily and provide an answer to problems, but I understand it," McGowan said.

McGowan, whose father is Irish, added that she prepared for her role by receiving extensive direction from former IRA volunteers and local Belfast Catholics.

Canadian director Kari Skogland, who adapted Martin McGartland's 1998 autobiography to make "Fifty Dead Men Walking," said former IRA volunteers provided security and logistic support for her Belfast shoot.

And creative advice. "I had many secret meetings in dark places. We were being watched by all side, phones tapped, that sort of thing," Skogland said.

She added IRA advice on how to make a bomb, or torture and murder informants, aimed to lend the drama authenticity.

Sturgess recalled one especially emotional scene where his character, "Marty," is inducted into the IRA, as poignant for the IRA advisers on set that broke down as the cameras rolled.

"We were in such a weird place. Everyone was recalling an intense moment, and Dickie, one of the IRA guys, was in tears," Sturgess said.