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Eileen Walsh is Trying to Break Your Heart

In the delicate and devastating Irish drama Eden, Eileen Walsh, who won the Best Actress prize at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, gives an incredible performance as a wife on the brink.
EdenDon’t be fooled by the small scale of Declan Recks’ Eden—in its study of a marriage at a crossroads, it contains whole worlds. Slowly and effectively, the audience is drawn into the daily mundanities of Billy and Breda Farrell (Aidan Kelly and Eileen Walsh), an Irish couple falling apart the weekend of their tenth anniversary.


Billy wants the life of an unmarried man, while Breda wants Billy to, simply, want her. Adapted by Eugene O’Brien (from his play of the same name), the narrative takes on the queasy urgency of a horror film, as the marriage bends and strains underneath the gulf of their conflicting desires.


In Eileen Walsh’s lovely, delicate performance, which won the Best Actress Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, you see a woman coming undone. It’s easy to root for Breda’s happiness, after all, she’s raw and open, pain flickering across her face. Tribeca recently got the 31-year-old Walsh (who should be familiar from The Magdalene Sisters) on the phone from Edinburgh to talk about this tricky role and how it may have caused some sibling rivalry.


Tribeca: Congratulations on the film, it's beautiful. What was the Festival premiere like? How was it winning Best Actress?


Eileen Walsh: It was mindblowing and has been since then. For me, I didn’t even know I was nominated. And going to New York for three days, it fulfilled every romantic ambition I had about working there, just being there. I saw the Steppenwolf production of August: Osage County. It was amazing. Watching it, I was thinking, that's why we [actors] do what we do.


When I got back [to Europe, after the awards], I had 18 missed calls and I was on Irish radio the next day. What a film lovers' festival! It gives a small film like ours the space and the time to take off. And jeez, it’s Robert De Niro, it’s incredible.


T: So Eden was originally a play that starred your sister? That's an interesting situation. Was there any tension?


EW: Yes, Catherine. She's nine years older than me and a phenomenal stage actress. The play was directed by Conor McPherson. I saw it about four times. It's a tour de force of a play really, a beautiful, fragile, gentle look at a relationship falling apart. I had missed out on a film version of Disco Pigs, which I played onstage, so I knew what that was like. When they were making Eden into a movie, Catherine called me and said "Eileen, I just spoke to the producers and they’re seeing younger people, do you know they’re looking at people?" So I went in and got the part. We get along great. There’s so few people you can trust to read scripts and judge them for you.


T: What was the difference in adapting the play to a film?


EW: The main difference was that the play was monologues, it was really beautiful. The two characters, Billy and Breda, never spoke to each other. The play finishes before the movie does. He stays on the floor in the kids' room, and it's where the characters reach some bit of a connection point, where they can butt heads.


T: Knowing it started as a play, it was surprising that the film starts out almost silently. There's not much dialogue.


EW: I think it’s slow to start, but you need that pace to show the nothingness of their relationship. The space between them is the space between their bed. It’s the space between the audience. Even though not much is said, they’re kind of intensely brooding characters. You want to do them justice.


T: What are you doing next?


EW: I’ve been living in Edinburgh for the past ten years. And Monday I move to London. My husband, Stuart, is going for his post grad in sculpture at the Royal College of Art. I’m several months pregnant and working on a new baby. It’s nice, we’ll have a relaxing Christmas.


Eden at the Sunshine Cinema on Friday, November 14th.


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