'Room' Director Lenny Abrahamson on "Deeply Offending" the U.S. Right With New Project

Lenny Abrahamson - Getty-H 2016
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The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, speaking from the Dubai Film Festival, also discussed Donald Trump's "vindictiveness" and creativity in post-Brexit Ireland.

Oscar-nominated Room director Lenny Abrahamson is aggressively pursuing a post-Brexit creative agenda in his home country of Ireland. Backing a new five-year plan aimed at supporting culture and the arts called Creative Ireland, the filmmaker has suggested expanding the Irish Film Board to cover TV drama.

After participating in an "In the Director’s Chair" panel at the Dubai International Film Festival, Abrahamson spoke to The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the global political situation, he thoughts on America’s president-elect and why many of his forthcoming projects are focused on the United States.

How do you think Brexit has directly impacted the creativity and the arts in Ireland? 

It is incredibly challenging for Ireland. We are Britain's biggest trading partner and the currency is now really not in our favor, which is making it really hard. What it’s done, maybe, is make the government focus on what is unique about Ireland. As culture and community fragments in Britain, in Europe and the States divides more and more, Ireland is reasonably cohesive and positively centrist. It could be more to the left, but it is not as savage as it is in other places.

In a country of five million people, I don’t think we’ve ever taken advantage as we could, particularly in television. There are amazing animators and writers [who] are now given an opportunity to engage on global platforms. It doesn’t have to be glossy, just intelligent and interesting.

Is there any positive to come out of Brexit?

I think largely what will come out of it will be negative. Ireland was the first country to vote for same-sex marriage, and that’s a really good thing. However, it’s hard not to feel, as I have young children, an overwhelming sense that is one of anxiety and depression about what’s happening globally. We will try to preserve the good things as long as we can, and hope it passes away without a real calamity. It amazes me though, after 70 years, given the history of the continent before that, that it looks like we are on the brink of destroying the EU. I cannot believe that is happening and how easy it is. In a period of stability, you think things won’t change. Things have changed so quickly. And in the States they are heading into very dark orders now.

Where do you go creatively from here?

I’m in the process making decisions about what I do next. Definitely my priorities have shifted since Brexit. I’m not overtly political, but I want to be on the right side of what is a very political line. The only thing we can do is to try and be on the side of humanness and to go after the myths and the lies and the brutality that’s been unleashed to the extent that one’s own way of working can fit it; you do need to be mindful what’s at stake.

How do you think the president-elect will affect Hollywood?

The important thing is to go to him as much as possible and be as resistant and fight the things he tries to do. He’s anti-democratic and it’s always a fight. Whomever disagrees with him he has a desire to crush and win. I don’t think Hollywood is his most important target, but the media is really at risk.

There is this idea of post-truth. Even where information is readily available it’s just ignored. But his vindictiveness can’t be overestimated. That’s where that gets so dangerous is in if he perceives someone is coming after him — he is obsessed with SNL — it’s incredible, I can’t believe what’s happening.

What are upcoming projects are you working on?

I’m in early days on a project that goes through a lot of U.S. history. It starts in the mid-1700s and goes until now and follows the black experience in the States. Organizations like Black Lives Matter are vilified by the right. It’s amazing, people don’t have any understanding of the history of their own country. And as an outsider I’m going in and deeply offending everyone on that side of the political spectrum.

Another project I am working on is about Emile Griffith. He came to the U.S. from the American Virgin Islands as a teen. He was a gay black kid who started working in the fashion industry in ladies’ hats. He had this incredible physique and someone suggested he start boxing and three years later he was the world champ. It takes place in New York in the 1960s and is an amazing story that’s really relevant to now. It’s about living a double life, about people affected by repressive social conventions. It’s titled A Man’s World.

Lastly, there’s this book, Neverhome by Laird Hunt about the American civil war. It is a passion project, which is about the rise of a young Austrian policeman and the euthanasia program. I think it is the most relevant to what is going on now.

Why’s that?

Listen, Trump [is] not Hitler. There will not be a Nazi takeover, but the story illustrates how easy it is for the morality of a person to change by degrees from where they stand to a position they never imagined capable of occupying. That process of normalization is what is happening in the U.S. right now.  

I hated Ronald Reagan when I was a teenager. I thought he was an utter fake. So with Trump it is not like any of this was new. But I don’t think America realized how rotten the building is until Trump stepped up, and now it’s too late.