Review by Carla Sanchez Taylor
There is more than one way to experience the world. It’s easy to fall into heedless and stagnant patterns of supposition about the reality we perceive. It is almost always art that helps us snap out of linear thinking and back towards experiencing the world through new perspective.
Good art should always do that: set a reminder for us to think in panoramic view, beyond our own conceptual perspicacity. Though the story is conceivably familiar, Handsome Devil surprises audiences with an unexpected take on identity, sexual and otherwise. It stands representative to usher in a new pandemic evolutionary era of acceptance.
Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is an artsy, social outcast starting his second year at an all-boys Irish boarding school. Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a handsome, troubled rugby star, is his new roommate who has just been kicked out of his previous private school.
In an academic environment where athleticism is encouraged over individuality and pack mentality dictates the pecking order, an unspoken secret brings these unlikely people together in deep friendship.
I got a chance to talk to lead actors, Nicholas Galitzine (Conor) and Fionn O’Shea (Ned) about the ever-changing identities we try to hold on to, and how to let go of the ones that no longer serve us.
Carla: After watching Handsome Devil, I searched my notebooks for an old Roger Ebert quote that kept coming to mind: “Movies that encourage empathy are most effective than those that objectify problems.” I thought that was particularly pertinent to Handsome Devil in that it starts a conversation about identity and it looks at it through the filter of friendship. It was very refreshing and thematically relatable.
Fionn: When I first read the script, I felt like I really understood it. I grew up in a very similar school setting. I think everyone can relate to that sense of trying to find themselves, of not wanting to follow the crowd. But also of that dichotomous fear…of not wanting to stand out because school can be the most difficult place to do that. I really appreciate the way John Butler (director/writer) considered this: nothing is ever just funny or ever just dramatic. Life, in general, sort of fits somewhere in the middle.
Carla: And you can really have that interpretive freedom in developing characters. While the story structure was somewhat simple, it really allowed the characters to have such richness. It made Ned and Conor stand out as outliers. Do you think that going with the pack marginalizes the individual?
Nick: To make waves in whatever community, you have you be outside the general consensus of thought. You need to be original and authentic. If you think about actors, performers and musicians, the greatest in all fields are usually not in the pack.
I didn’t feel part of any of the plethora of cliques that existed in my school. Though I wasn’t shunned, I’m actually quite happy that I was able to grow up not feeling tethered to a community that forced me to think a certain way.
Carla: I think it also has a lot to do with self-acceptance and understanding yourself. This movie seems to be all about that journey of finding the courage to reveal what’s inside of you. I love that none of the characters are spared in this. What do you think gave Ned his courage?
Fionn: I think Ned is definitely a believer that the past is a better place. His way of holding on to that, with his memories and musical taste, come out in his eccentric appearance. In boarding school, if you’re wearing uniform, the only thing you are really in control of is your hair. In the opening scene you see all of the students and then there’s Ned with his bright red hair.
Carla: Appearance seems to be the most notable and sweeping way we differentiate ourselves right? But I think also finding your true voice, outside of appearance is really hard and it takes a lot of vulnerability. In acting, is there something that’s helped you get into a confident headspace, where you are simultaneously present and creative?
Nick: When I first started working on Handsome Devil I was a fairly anxious, sensitive person and I still am really sensitive but the process of putting myself in uncomfortable positions, testing myself, really allowed me to realize that the constraints I’d put in place didn’t actually exist. It’s a nice process of moving forward and learning about self-imposed limits.
Fionn: And making films is like the biggest team sport. Everyone brings his or her own personal strengths forward and you work together with that.
Nick: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible because in the end, you can play that paradox…of playing on the team and playing for yourself.
Handsome Devil is now available in theatres and on demand.