Urban Cinefile
"So they looked at me: d'you wanna kill....? yeah, I'll kill 'em, doesn't worry me."  -Temuera Morrison on his role in The Island of Dr Moreau
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Teenager Emily Barclay was told she was on the short list, and the only one on the short list, but she still wasn’t confirmed for the role of Celia in the highly acclaimed New Zealand drama, In My Father’s Den. Now, after several festival screenings of the film and much critical hoopla, she’s touring the world like a movie star. Andrew L. Urban reports. 

For teenager Emily Barclay, the role of Celia in In My Father’s Den has become a giant door that has opened in front of her into an acting career without limits. Barclay got the role after half a dozen nerve wrecking auditions, and even when she was told she was the only one on the short list, she still didn’t have the definitive ‘yes’. When casting director Diana Rowan finally gave her the good news, Barclay felt more relief than elation. She knew she could do it, she wanted to do it, and her mum said she should.

"an instant connection"

“When my mum read the character breakdown she just said, ‘Oh my God! This girl is so much like you! Oh my God…you have to get this part.” True enough, Barclay felt an instant connection with Celia. And it was made easier by her director, Brad McGann. “Brad had such a clear idea of who she was. He’d done so much research and written so many detailed notes about her … it was easy to become her.” 

Indeed, she recalls shooting one particular scene in which she literally felt she had become Celia for the duration of the scene. But to put that in context, it’s important to rehearse the story.

Paul (Matthew Macfadyen), a prize-winning war photojournalist, returns to his remote New Zealand home town on his father’s death, battle-scarred and world-weary. For the discontented 16-year-old Celia (Emily Barclay) he opens up a world she has only dreamed of. She actively pursues a friendship with him, fascinated by his cynicism and experience of the world beyond her small-town existence. But Paul is not entirely welcome in the town, and long held grudges and secrets slowly boil to the top when Celia disappears and Paul is suspected of being involved. The most shattering family secret and Celia’s fate collide.

Celia prefers to be a ‘nobody’ in a big world, than a ‘somebody’ in a small one; she yearns to travel and drink up the world. Paul wants to protect her and tries to contain her. There is a confronting scene over a small bonfire, and Celia lets him have it, her anger and frustration coming out loud and clear. This is the scene she recalls most clearly, although she says she remembers the entire shoot “as if it were yesterday”.

“It’s a bizarre thing … in that scene, I did it and I couldn’t actually remember doing it. It was like she’d taken me over and I’d become her and she’d spat me out.” 

When Trevor Haysom first approached Brad McGann with Maurice Gee’s novel In My Father’s Den, first published over thirty years ago, McGann passed on the offer mainly because he wasn’t sure if the material was relevant to a modern-day audience. “Although beautifully written, it was set in a New Zealand that had long since gone. For my first feature I wanted to do something contemporary and a little more edgy. Six months down the track I had a dream. I can’t remember all the details but basically the following night I rang Trevor: ‘Remember that book you gave me six months ago? This might sound stupid, but can it be set now…and can it be in Central Otago?’

"the fragility of being human"

The screenplay took the novel as a starting point, but it never really strayed from the central issues. “The notion of families harbouring secrets; emotional isolation; the quest for intimacy in unlikely sources; the effects of individuals fighting their personal histories and failing to communicate honestly with one another; the tenuous rekindling of hope: these were all Maurice Gee’s themes in the book. He had written a story about family and the fragility of being human – the very thing that I was struggling to achieve in my script,” says McGann.

Barclay, looking very much like Celia except more relaxed and in the surrounds of a swish Sydney hotel, sounds sooo young, it jars with the serious subject matter. She is accompanied by the film’s producer, Trevor Haysom; both their careers have been elevated by the film, which had a tremendous reception at the Toronto film festival, one of the most important showcases for independent films. “meeting people in new York has become much easier,” he say. 

As for Barclay, she has been taken on by Australia’s leading talent agency, Shanahans, and is getting scripts to read by the dozen. But she’s aware it’s early days, and that she has a great entrée card, but now she has to play it right.

Published November 4, 2004

Email this article

Emily Barclay

... with Matthew Macfadyen


Producer Trevor Haysom

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020