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Irish playwright Enda Walsh on playwriting and screenwriting

November 7, 2009 | 11:00 am

Enda Walsh, the acclaimed Irish playwright, didn’t study literature or drama in college—he went to film school.  (Studying cinema in Dublin, a city with a very small film industry, Walsh has said was “like studying dentistry in a country where people have no teeth.”)

He worked as an editor for a few years in his 20s, then devoted the next decade of his life to the theater (which he speaks about at length in this Sunday Arts and Books profile).  But recently, Walsh has returned to the world of cinema.  After the success of the film “Hunger,” which he co-wrote with director Steve McQueen, Walsh is under contract to write an adaptation of the children’s book “Island of the Aunts” and a Dusty Springfield biopic.

Walsh says writing for the screen is an entirely different process: “A play you write from the stomach, but the craft of screenwriting is all head.”  When Walsh writes for the stage, he says he writes for the characters (“I just let them have at it”) but when writing a movie, “I’m writing for someone else’s vision, I mean, of course, there are always strains of me in there; but ultimately, the balance of it should be for the director. It’s a director’s medium.”

 When asked if he would ever write a screenplay for himself to direct, Walsh (who is directing the upcoming production of his play, “New Electric Ballroom” for UCLA Live) says: “I might do that.  There’s a director, Pawel Pawlikowski, who made ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘My Summer of Love’, two brilliant films, and he works very organically — and that’s a very exciting way to work.  But you rarely get the opportunity to do that.  So meanwhile, I’ll just do what I do.”

--James C. Taylor