Chosen to screen at the Oscar qualifying Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland, trans short film ‘MUM’.

Answering questions about the short film ‘MUM’, a film starring transgender actress Kate O’Donnell, are the writer/director, Anne – Marie O’Connor, lead actress Kate O’Donnell, and producer Kate Larking.  I had the honor of seeing the film, and in my humble opinion, it is a tiny masterpiece! The writing, acting, dialogue, and photography weave together effortlessly, every scene a polished gem, creating a deeply emotional and moving experience.

Questions for Anne-Marie O’Connor

Was your intention to write a trans character film, or did you want to do something specifically for Kate O’Donnell?

Kate and I are good friends and I have always wanted to work with her and write something about Kate’s life and experience. I wanted to write something that was about a trans character, but without concentrating on the transition, which is more often than not the central premise of stories centering on trans characters.

The character Kate O’Donnell played was grounded and self-confident, even as a child. Not self-conscious or apologetic. Was that intentional?

100%. Kate is very confident and positive and was confident as a child. A longer version of the opening scene, which we cut as it wasn’t playing right saw Kate’s brother threatening the boy who calls her ‘girl’. She was protected by her older brothers at school, this gave her the freedom to act like a girl, which might not otherwise have been an option to a little boy in 1970s Coventry!

There seemed to be a repetitive image of the sun. Was that meant as a metaphor of some kind, or just beautiful photography?

That scene is really about Kate remembering a time when she was free. Little Andrew isn’t framed by anything in this shot and yet Kate is always framed (boxed in) until she sits on the wall outside Mum’s house after the argument, and feels a certain element of freedom having had it out with Graham.

Joe Pearson as young boy Kate.

Have you worked with cinematographer Colm Whelan before?

No. He was introduced to me by a friend. He is extremely experienced and shows an enormous amount of grace under pressure and we worked together on all of the scenes to make sure each shot was saying something.

Is there any plan to expand this into a feature? This seems like an introduction to a character we want to see more of.

No. I think that MUM tells the story that I wanted to tell. As a writer I always have a number of projects that I’m involved in, and characters that I want to write about, so while I am immensely proud of MUM I like to think that it stands up on its own as a short film.

There were several scenes where the Kate O’Donnell character dresses, applies make-up, etc. I saw this a representation of her personal self-respect. Her style was elegant, and I felt the necklace had meaning, sort of you can be shattered, but the pieces can be put back together ,and might even be better than the original.        Am I way off base here?

Not way off base at all. It was more about arming herself, assembling herself to face the world or more importantly, Graham. Even though Kate sets off with high hopes for the day ahead she clearly knows that it won’t be plain sailing.

I guess I am trying to say that everything about Kate’s character and presentation was meticulously choreographed. Would you agree?

No, I don’t think it was. There were definitely beats throughout that she needed to hit and that she looked very together was key to the role, but I don’t think it was choreographed. Kate might disagree!

The young boy added a rich and important dimension to the film. Who is he? How did you find him? Did he audition?

Both actors playing Kate are trans actors. Little Andrew is played by Joe Pearson, who was only nine at the time of filming. We spent a day with trans kids auditioning for the role and it was a very moving experience. I think, especially for me as a parent – to see these parents come with their kids who have many challenges facing them in the world, to see Kate who is so confident and positive was a great experience. I then spent time with Joe to make him at ease for when he had to perform in front of a full crew.

Can you tell us anything about the feature you are due to direct?

It is about a young woman whose own lies have led her to a place where she can’t separate fact from fiction, and as such, is an unreliable narrator of her own life story.

Margot Leicester as ‘Mum, Kate O’Donnell and Ash Palmisciano.

Questions for Kate O’Donnell

How does it feel being called a lead actress?

Very nice! As MUM is my first experience working on a film. It was great to work with such established talent as Lee Boardman, Ken Colley and Margot Leicester.

Is the self-confidence you radiate something you have always had, or did you develop it over time? What made you empowered?

I think I’ve always been outwardly confident. In my one woman show Big Girl’s Blouse, I talk about feeling safe in the spotlight, that if you step into the center of attention it can act as a shield, and I think that is something that I’ve always done, as an effeminate boy, a gay man, a drag queen and now as a transgender woman. When you live in a minority you have to be very resourceful, and my confidence comes from – and is intrinsically linked to – that.

How did you get into performing? What is the difference between doing a strictly trans performance (your stand-up show), and playing a trans character?

I have been performing since I was young. I played all of the girl parts in the plays at my all boy’s school until a teacher stepped in and told my mum I had to go to the doctor for being too effeminate. Luckily for me, Doctor Lewis had a son who was also too effeminate, so it ended there! Which is just as well, as things didn’t tend to end well for effeminate boys in the 1970s

I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan. Did he influence or inspire you in any way?

I think he’s a brilliant performer and hugely charismatic, but Eddie Izzard is a cross dressing man and I’m a transgender woman, so the two are quite different things. I don’t think of him as someone who would influence my performance.

You really owned the part in Mum. Does it have any roots or resemblance to your true-life experience?

It is autobiographical but it’s also a bit of fantasy. My step father is difficult, and it has meant that I don’t see my mum. I used to be very close with my mum so when Anne-Marie and I were discussing making a film she asked me what I’d like to write about, if it was about my mum. I said simply, I’d like to go home and paint my mum’s nails. A very simple thing, but something that in my family would be insurmountable.

When did you know you were trans? Was your family supportive?

They weren’t unsupportive. They went for the ‘Don’t Mention the War’! approach. In fact, I went and met them all in a caravan park for the first time as Kate. My mum said the coleslaw was off and asked if I’d have pickle instead, my brother showed me his new car, so I was quite grateful when my autistic nephew, who no one had thought to brief, and who needs order and surety in his life, ran around shouting, that’s my Uncle Andrew, in a dress!’

I love this character and could easily see her in a recurring role. Would you be interested in taking her further, like a detective character or a Doctor Who?

I don’t think I was on the short list for the new Doctor Who! (but I’m very pleased it’s a woman, I like to think that the doctor has transitioned) I have just played Feste in Twelfth Night in the Jo Davis, critically acclaimed adaptation of Twelfth Night. I was very at home in this role and I’d love to act again in film.  I very much enjoyed the creative experience of MUM.

I know you are involved as Artistic Director for TransCreativeUK. What’s next in your acting career?

I am currently rehearsing for my new one woman show, You’ve Changed, which is on at the Edinburgh International Festival and I will tour nationally. And after that I think I’ll have a little lie down and read a book for a few days.

Questions for Kate Larking

What is the name of your production company?

We made MUM through Anne-Marie’s company which is called Little Lamb Films, but my production company is Up With The Larks.

What made you want to get into this part of the industry? Do you have any experience in acting, writing, filming, etc?

My interest actually started on the other side of the camera and I studied English and Drama at Manchester University but soon realized that there were some proper talented actors there and I quickly withdrew backstage! Yes I do write, and am currently doing an MA in screenwriting. Professionally I started off working for a theatre company before moving in to film and TV. I’ve been in the industry for 12 years now. In addition to producing and teaching producing at universities I am a Line Producer and Production Manager in film and TV.

It is brave and bold to be producing ‘MUM’, a trans film. What drew you to this project?

The script is so strong – touching, poignant and funny and Anne-Marie is a very talented writer and engaging person to work with. I think that the story is surfacing at a very important time for the transgender community and I am proud to be able to make a small contribution to a sea of change that has been too long in coming. I also find it a deeply personal story, facing the fact (if we are fortunate enough still to have them) our parents are ageing and often coping with ill health. On another note I am also very proud of the fact that 80% of our crew were women so we unintentionally managed to subvert the industry norm and because 5 of us had one year old children, we took a family friendly approach to filmmaking and even set up a crèche!

When will the film be screened at the Galway Film Fleadh?  Thursday 13 July.

Have you submitted to any other festivals?

Yes we were in competition at Edinburgh International Film Festival, we premiered at BFI Flare and we won the best LGBT Film Award at the London Independent Film Festival. And we hope to get into more festivals, we’re waiting to hear from some….

Have you ever won an award at a film festival?

Yes, we won the best LGBT Film Award at the London Independent Film Festival.

What is on your plate next?

I’m seeing MUM around the festival circuit, I am developing a number of other film projects on my slate and doing some pre-production work for Nickelodeon.

MUM also stars the talented actors, Margot Leicester, Tony Award winner for King Charles 111 as ‘Mum’, Kenneth Colley, from The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, Lee Boardman from Rome and DaVinci’s Demons, Ash Palmisciano, from Boy Meets Girl and a trans-activist, and Joe Pearson, a 10 year old trans actor in his debut film performance.

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