This true story tells of Christina Noble, who, born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, transcends a rough-scrabble childhood and finds herself a world away in Vietnam destined to help the vulnerable children of that country. With pluck, imagination, and humor, Noble proves her motto to be true — that “a little insane goes a long way” — and that one individual can effect great change.
I read that your wife Deirdre O’Kane brought Noble’s story to your attention. How long did it take to bring it to the screen?
As a writer and director it’s always very important to listen to your wife because she often has the best ideas! Deirdre had read Christina’s Noble’s first book, Bridge Across My Sorrows, when it was published in the early 1990s and she had been amazed by the story. Later on, when Deirdre became successful in Ireland as an actress and stand-up comedian she started to become more involved in helping to raise funds for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.
When we moved to London in 2006 we had a lunch to celebrate Deirdre’s birthday and, as usual, I was pestering her to come up with an idea for us to develop together. “There’s only one film I want to make,” said the birthday girl, “and that’s Christina’s Noble’s story.”
So began a process of five years to bring the film to the screen — two years of research and getting to know Christina herself, two years of script writing and financing, and then a fantastic production year shooting in Vietnam and the U.K.
What was it about her story that particularly caught your attention?
The same thing that catches everyone’s attention: that the extraordinary life Christina Noble has lived is definitely “stranger than fiction” and that her heroic achievements, following a very difficult childhood and early adulthood, have an uplifting and inspiring energy to them. However, the qualities that made me most interested in making the film are that Christina Noble is very funny, loves music and sings wherever she goes, and has a ferocious courage that borders on fearlessness. So, even though the story is about one woman’s struggle to help vulnerable children on the other side of the world, the film mostly reflects the colourful, energetic, imaginative, and sometimes crazy outlook that Christina brings to life. In a sometimes cynical, world she is refreshing and completely unique. A filmmaker’s dream!
Gloria Cramer Curtis has a small part in the film but was so compelling as young Christina. How did you come upon her for this part?
We were working with a casting director in Dublin called Maureen Hughes who is well-known for finding good child actors. It is always a difficult and exhaustive process because children who can really act are so hard to find. Amongst the hundred of meetings and tapes watched, myself and my producer, Melanie Gore-Grimes, saw something remarkable in Gloria and we called her in for a meeting.
She was only 8 years old at the time and she came into the room with such confidence, spark, and enthusiasm that it was quite disarming to the adults there. I did two more workshops with Gloria before finally casting her but they only served to demonstrate how good she was and how well she could take direction. Gloria’s identical twin sister Adrienna has also done some film acting in the recent past so she was able to take part as Gloria’s stand-in and it became a proper family affair!
Actually, the entire cast is quite impressive. Was it easy to get them all onboard?
Fortunately the script got a very good response from actors so we were in a happy situation where we could offer roles to many of the best Irish actors around and they jumped at the opportunity. After that it was merely about the usual scheduling difficulties with actors who are in high demand. We were fortunate that Brendan Coyle had a gap in between shooting series of Downton Abbey; Liam Cunningham had just finished filming on Game of Thrones; and Ruth Negga was also between films so we were lucky in that respect. Interestingly with the Vietnamese actors we had the same issue because they are all big film and television stars over there and sometimes we had to work around their shooting schedules on other projects.
What do you hope people will take away from this film?
I hope that people will find the film a really valuable, entertaining and emotional journey to have taken, that they will be affected and inspired by Christina Noble’s extraordinary and ongoing story, and, most of all, that they will tell their friends that they must go and see it!
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