Not long out of drama school, Lola Petticrew has stormed onto the scene with roles in all corners of TV, film and theatre.
Just last year, Lola appeared in indie film A Bump Along the Way winning her the Bingham Ray New Talent Award as well as The Country Girls at the Abbey Theatre [in Dublin] bagging rave reviews from The Independent and The Irish Times. This year, Lola’s portfolio only continues to expand, appearing in BBC One’s Bloodlands and gripping new independent films Here Are the Young Men and Shadows.
Adding to that list, Dating Amber was just released on Amazon Prime Video, the much-anticipated teenage indie film in which Lola stars opposite her now best friend, Fionn O’Shea. From the home they are sharing together in isolation, we caught up over Zoom to reflect on the critically-acclaimed, feel-good delight as well as her wider journey to the now.
Your film Dating Amber is out on Amazon Prime Video. What can you tell us about it?
So, Dating Amber is set in the mid-1990s in Ireland and is about two gay teenagers that stage a fake relationship in order to stop people from antagonising them at school. They sort of fall platonically head over heels in love with each other and become a really integral part of each other’s journey.
Tell us about your character Amber. What was it like to play her and how did you prepare for the role?
Amber is a very loud, opinionated, rebellious young girl. I think what interested me about her is that she rushes into Eddie’s life, a bit like a wrecking ball, but she also has this incredibly gentle nature and the fiercest heart. I always say to our director Dave [Freyne] that when I grow up, I want to be Amber. I just think that’s she’s absolutely incredible.
To prepare for the role, we were actually quite lucky. We got a lot of rehearsal time, which typically on film — never mind indie film — you don’t get at all. Me, Fionn and Dave met quite a lot in the months coming up to filming and what that did is it gave me and Fionn the chance to hang out. We always say it was like lightning in a bottle. Me and Fionn became best friends straight away. So, I think we were able to bring a lot of our chemistry to the film. There was no prep in the world that you could’ve done that would’ve been a good enough substitute for what we were able to create organically.
The chemistry you guys have in that film has been incredibly praised. Do you think to have that time was a fundamental part of that?
Massively! I think that because Dave had sort of set up a world where we were in charge of what the world would be and how it would work, we were able to bring a lot of ourselves to the characters and a lot of ourselves to that relationship. There’s a scene at the ‘sex wall’ when they finally agree to start going out with each other. We’d rehearsed that scene maybe 30 times over in the rehearsals and when we got there on the day, Dave was like ‘start the scene as it’s written, and then sort of improvise.’ And that became all three of our favourite scene because you can see so much of me and Fionn’s relationship in it.
Were there a lot of improvised moments in the film?
Yeah. There were a few. I mean, we stuck to the script a lot, but what’s great about Dave is he wrote the script as well and he wasn’t married to anything; he was always down for changing things or trying things on the day.
You know the shot that they keep using with the sunglasses and the lollipop? We were shooting in this caravan park, and they had lollies just sitting around and I was kind of just eating them during the day. And then I went to Dave, ‘I think she should have a lolly in this scene’, and he’s like ‘right… ok’. Then I had those sunglasses and I was like, ‘I think she should wear the sunglasses’, and he’s like ‘right…’. [Laughs]
And were there any other moments like that, that really stand out to you? Particularly with you and Fionn, by that point, you were obviously such good friends.
There are a lot. I think it was the last week of shooting, in between takes I had just gone on my phone on Twitter and I saw that marriage equality and abortion rights had been passed in the north [of Ireland] where I’m from. It felt so incredibly beautiful to be on the set of this particular film when that happened. I was really teary and I had to continue shooting, and then Fionn took a photo of me — says it’s his favourite photo of me — and I’m sitting on the catering bus just going through my phone beaming…
The film captures a multitude of challenges that Amber and Eddie face, including a narrative around the Irish army with ideas around toxic masculinity, as well as the queer experience in the Catholic community in Ireland. What challenges are gay teenagers/young people facing in Ireland today?
We spoke about that a lot. A lot of people were asking, you know with it being set in 1995, is that because it’s easier now? I think sometimes people mistake ‘easier’ for ‘easy’. I had an easier time being queer than my sister had coming out as a lesbian, and we were two people that lived in the same household and had incredibly supportive parents. Now we have this backlash of people going, ‘why are your generation so obsessed with labels?’ and people ask me why I use the term ‘queer’ and why I don’t use ‘bisexual’. I think that we’re coming to learn now that the label doesn’t define you, you define the label.
On the other side, Amber and Eddie got to go home and be alone with themselves. Now you go home and you’re with your phone, you’re with your laptop and you’re with all of these channels on TV, and you see all sorts of things. So, I think Eddie and Amber would’ve had that sort of luxury. I think that’s maybe something that is different. But there are more similarities than differences.
The film undoubtedly has a really wonderful message, of how allies in mutual difficulty can really work to support one another. How important is it for your work to educate or convey a message as well as simply entertain?
I think it’s massively important for me. I was speaking to Fionn yesterday about everything’s that happening in America at the minute, and you can feel sort of helpless. I think for me, to use my voice and my platform, I want to make sure that what I’m saying is important.
You’re also in Bloodlands, a BBC One thriller, coming out later this year as well as Here Are the Young Men and Shadows. What can you tell us about those?
Here Are the Young Men was actually the first feature film that I ever made. I played quite a small role in it, but it’s a really, really lovely film and it has an incredible cast. I play a character called Julie who moves one of the main characters to make a massive decision, that’s integral to the story. I got to shoot that in Dublin as well, which is always really great. I think that’s coming out early next year.
And Shadows, I filmed directly after Dating Amber and that’s sort of a high-concept thriller, set post-apocalypse about two girls who live in an abandoned hotel with their mother.
Bloodlands was the last project that I finished shooting before lockdown, and I got to shoot that in Belfast which was great because that’s where I’m from. That’s a BBC One thriller starring James Nesbitt and I play his daughter. It’s sort of a fast-paced police drama, but unlike any police drama I think you’d be used to… coming out I think in the autumn. But I really enjoyed working on that; I mean, I got to work with Jimmie Nesbitt. I don’t think there’s any girl from the north that wouldn’t love to play his daughter.
Are there any other actors or writers you’d like to work with?
Me and Fionn laugh because every time someone asks us this we just scream ‘David Freyne’. It’s like… you can’t just keep working with Dave… [Laughs]
I think it would be weird to be three months into Lockdown, chatting over Zoom and not address it — what have the last few months been like for you? Been working on any new skills?
So, me and Fionn were actually together in London and we heard whispers that a lockdown was going to happen; we made a decision to come back to Ireland to be at home. For us, it’s not actually a massive difference because we spent all of our time together anyway. But I went vegan before Christmas, so I’ve been practicing lots of vegan cooking and Fionn’s been a bit of a guinea pig.
I think at the start we felt a massive pressure to be doing something or creating something, and then it got to a point where we were like, ‘Do you know what? This might be the only time that we have for a bit to just do nothing and be okay with that.’ There’s so much happening at the minute, so I think it’s okay to forgive yourself and binge-watch a Netflix series for four days on the sofa; I think that’s absolutely fine. So, we’ve been doing an awful lot of that as well.
Looking to the future [when things actually get going again], what’s next? Anything else you’re working on or looking to work on?
It’s sort of all up in the air at the minute. A few things are like balancing in the air, but that is all dependent on what happens in the next month or two. But I’m dying to get out and work again. I think it was nice to have a break for a week but now I’m dying to like get on a train, hug my dog and my mam, have a cuppa tea on the sofa and get straight back into work.