Samuel Goldwyn Films
Picture the scene: Late '90s. Rural Ireland. High school (where sex education videos feature nuns sitting between the couple). The most welcoming backdrop for a coming out, coming-of-age story? Not likely, but in new Irish queer rom-com, Dating Amber, two gay high schoolers have all that to contend with and more.
Directed by Irish filmmaker David Freyne (The Cured) and starring Normal People's Fionn O'Shea and Lola Petticrew (A Bump Along the Way), the film follows two closeted teens Eddie (O'Shea) and Amber (Petticrew) as they try to navigate —and survive— high school life where their classmates, increasingly suspicious of their lack of interest in dating, begin to label them as gay. Unable to face coming out in such a hostile environment quite yet, Eddie and Amber decide to be one another's beards, faking a romantic relationship to keep the other kids and their parents off their backs. Of course, this plan encounters many a road bump along the way.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
While Eddie and Amber move at different paces towards self-acceptance, their reliance on the faux romance varies, with equally heartwarming and heartbreaking moments for both. Ahead of the movie's VOD release on November 10, we chatted to O'Shea and Petticrew about the tense yet tender romcom that puts queer characters in the spotlight, as well as '90s fashion and whether we can adopt the word "shift" the next time we want to ask someone to make out.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you guys first get involved with this project?
FIONN O'SHEA: From the moment that I read it —and I think the same goes for Lola— we just completely fell in love with Eddie and Amber and their stories. We were talking about this earlier, very often you read something and you're like, "I'd really like to be a part of this" and then sometimes you read something and you think, "I have to be a part of this." This was one of those moments where I think both of us felt like we have to make this film — and then we had to convince a lot of other people that we were the right people to make it too.
Did you guys have to do a chemistry read, even though your characters aren't technically romantically involved?
LOLA PETTICREW: Yeah, Fionn and I met during the chemistry. They had four potential Eddies and four potential Ambers and I think we both knew from the get-go that if either of us was going to get the role, it was going to be with the other person. We just knew that we hit it off and that if we sparked with anyone, it was definitely with each other.
O'SHEA: I knew Lola was going to get it. I just thought she was so brilliant and I thought maybe if I stayed close to her, my odds might go up a little bit.
PETTICREW: That's really when our friendship started. We knew then that even if we didn't get the role that we'd be friends. We had lots of rehearsal time —which is unusual on an indie— and by the time we started shooting, we really were best friends.
What about Eddie and Amber did you relate to that made you feel like you were the right people to play them?
O'SHEA: The moment that I read it, I just saw so many similarities between myself and Eddie. I just really felt like I understood him and that's a testament to Dave's writing. He's an incredible writer. I just felt like I intrinsically understood Eddie and I knew who he was. We were really lucky that during the rehearsal process, we got to bring so much of ourselves and our own experience and then our friendship to those characters as well. Then on set, we got the chance to improvise quite a lot and try lots of different things. Again that's down to Dave; he wrote a brilliant script, but he also wasn't afraid to veer off and let us try different things, some of which worked — and I'm sure we did some things that didn't work that didn't make it into the film.
PETTICREW: I just hadn't come across anything quite like this script in general. Amber's a trip. She's feisty and headstrong. She's also vulnerable and you see at the end that she's incredibly selfless. I just hadn't seen a film where the two co-leads were a queer woman and a queer man and that the focus of the film was platonic friendship.
Yeah! I was going to ask, how important it felt to be part of something that brought the LGBTQ characters to the forefront instead of demoting them to funny friend status?
PETTICREW: I honestly swell with pride every time I think about it. The movie was something that, not only career-wise was incredible for me, but personally was formative in terms of my own sexuality. I couldn't be prouder to be a part of it.
You're obviously both too young to have gone to high school in the '90s, but was it fun to revisit that decade in terms of hair, makeup, and costuming? Did it help with getting into character at all?
PETTICREW: It really was super fun. We had the most amazing hair and makeup designers and we had an incredible set and costume designers. We had so much fun going in and trying on things. I love the characters of Tracy and Janet and their crimped hair and colored eye shadow. Beautiful!
O'SHEA: A lot of the nineties fashion has come back in. It's vintage clothes now. Then there was stuff like my shell jacket that was just off the rack in Pull&Bear in Dublin. I do think my favorite costume of all of them though, is Amber's dress that she wears for the first date with Eddie's parents.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
PETTICREW: They gave me it as a parting gift and I can't wait until we have some event that I can wear it to!
This movie walks a fine line between drama and comedy. Did either of you find one or the other easier to play?
PETTICREW: It was so fun because, as an actor, it's great to be able to work both of those muscles, but I think that a lot of people who do comedy would agree that comedy can be a lot harder — finding those beats. A lot of comedians say that comedy's a serious business and I would agree. You can interpret things in such different ways, I think it's just finding the beat together and knowing each other's rhythms. There's such a fine line between comedy and drama in real life and a lot of the time you find comedy in the tragedy and that's something that Dave writes so beautifully.
During some of those funnier scenes at school or the sex wall, was it hard not to break? Some of the obscene gestures the boys at school are constantly making were cracking me up.
O'SHEA: Absolutely! Dave was the worst for that above anyone else. When he's directing, —because the sets are quite small— he'd be standing next to the D.O.P .and he would always be the first to start laughing and once we heard Dave laughing behind the camera, we couldn't stop. I think the scene that took the longest to shoot because we just couldn't stop laughing was that dinner table scene where Amber goes to the Cotter house for dinner. We just could not stop laughing and I think on just one setup, we were getting upwards of 30 takes.
Is the word "shift" still used for making out today in Ireland or was that a very '90s phrase?
O'SHEA: Those kind of words really do go in and out of fashion. I'm sure the words we used in school are now completely obsolete, but "shift" is one of those words that's still around and hopefully will have a very long life. I remember when I was in school "score" was a big word for making out, and then "meet" as well. Like, "Will you meet my friend?" It's a little bit misleading. But "shift" is the one that's stood the test of time.
It seems like Irish film and TV making is having a great moment right now. Will you continue to seek out productions made in Ireland by Irish filmmakers going forward?
PETTICREW: It's something that I'm definitely really, really proud of. The work that's coming out of Ireland at the minute is incredible and you can see that with things like Derry Girls and Normal People. All eyes are really on Ireland and the minute and, more than anything, I'm just really excited to see it for all my friends as well. Everybody is grafting really hard and I think that it's going to be a really lovely and bright future for Irish work and I'd be delighted if they kept hiring me.
Dating Amber is available to stream now.
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