Actor Rupert Fennessy stops by on Close-Up Culture to chat about his role in the critically acclaimed film, The Falconer.
The film follows Tariq and Cai, two best friends who work together at a zoo, but their friendship is challenged when Tariq plans to steal animals from the zoo and sell them to save her sister from an abusive marriage.
Hello Rupert, welcome to Close-Up Culture. Can you tell us about your background and what led you to acting?
I was born and raised in the UK and spent a large amount of time focused on academics before moving to New York for college. It was here that I felt more able to branch out into the arts and I began to invest more time in acting. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my studies, but I definitely found myself eager to create, eager to explore. I’m sure just living in the city, surrounded constantly by so many people doing the same, was the biggest drive behind that.
What I began to love about acting, and what I think got me so hooked, at least initially, was how it forces you to observe how we function as people. It’s all about behaviour. The smallest details of how we interact with others, how we move when we’re on our own, all these little peculiarities. And when it’s done well I feel like acting can illuminate human behaviour. So you end up discovering things about us. And these discoveries are experiential rather than intellectual and I found that refreshing. I felt I was still learning, but it didn’t have the same formality or rigidity as before.
You play a lead role in the film The Falconer, which is based on a true story. What drew you to this story and the role of Cai?
I think the fact that it was based on a true story immediately caught me. The films that I find myself most interested in are those based on true events, or at least based firmly in reality. So straight away I felt this tremendous excitement and I started to imagine this story, this friendship and how it actually took place. Then I got to the story itself and was in awe. It had so many beautiful elements to it, and then in the midst of all this beauty is such a tragic and painful circumstance surrounding the sister. There’s so many contrasts. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about it. It has the potential to be such a grand, almost Hollywood-esque story, but fortunately avoids all of that, instead cementing itself in the most modest and unpretentious of places, which is so much more compelling.
It was the same with the character of Cai. His world and experiences are so foreign to my own, but at its core is a friendship which is so familiar. In Cai there’s this battle between feelings of attachment and detachment, which flip back and forth so frequently, even sometimes in the same scene. And those feelings were very apparent to me from the start, they seemed to jump out as soon as I read the story. So that understanding and tangibility really drew me to him, and also helped a lot with a lot of the improvised scenes.
The Falconer takes place in a village in Oman. What was your experience like filming there?
Yes, I’d say around half the scenes were shot in this small village called Yiti, near Muscat, and the other half in various locations around that. The experience was stunning. The landscape, the turquoise waters, the people who we met and got to work with. The whole thing was surreal.
There was one moment in particular that always sticks out. There’s a scene which takes place on a remote, unspoilt beach at night. Cai and Tariq are sleeping on blankets next to a fading fire and the waves are gently lapping onto the shore a few meters away. We finished the scene, packed up all the equipment, and then all went in for a quick swim marking the end of the day. It was so warm, and there was this incredible light blue bioluminescence which traced every movement we made. It was one of those moments that’s so rare you can’t help but remember it. Oman is a very special place.
Can you tell us about your approach to the role of Cai and, amongst other things, how you prepared to handle the falcons in the film?
One of the big questions for me going into shooting was how to approach a character who is real, who actually exists. In the weeks leading up to shooting, I had a lot of questions and doubts sort of rushing into my head about it. But after meeting the real-life Cai and the directors on the first day, all these worries vanished. They made it clear that although the story we were making was going to be based on these true events, the characters were not.
We weren’t tied to the real individuals as one might be in a biopic, we weren’t trying the emulate every trait and characteristic, we just wanted to tell their story as authentically as we could. This gave Rami and me a lot of space to develop our own friendship, which is what we did for the first week before filming began. We pretty much spent every waking minute together. It’s quite incredible how close you can get with a person when that happens. We spent the first few days talking constantly, about everything, and then we just clicked and reached that level of comfort where we didn’t need to speak at all to understand each other. I think that’s rare. We got very lucky with each other.
Funnily enough the process isn’t too dissimilar with training the falcon, Ameera. It’s all about building that familiarity and respect to a certain extent. So a lot of what you see in the film – the training, the feeding, the time spent waiting for her to fly to my gauntlet, the frustration when she wouldn’t – the majority of it was real. The real-life Cai was our animal wrangler for the whole shoot. We really couldn’t have dreamt of anyone better. His patience somehow never wavered throughout all our questions.
What will be your biggest take away from this project?
The whole two months was a crash course in acting on screen for Rami and me. We went in totally naïve but ready to learn. So this practical-side was honestly invaluable – the sort of lessons that you can only pick up on the job. But more than all of that I think I began to find the answer to what I mentioned in the previous question – how to portray someone who is real. The realisation that I came to was that no matter what part you play you should think of it as if this person exists somewhere. Because if you do it well enough, they often do. So I try to carry that on in my work since.
I understand you are working on some short film projects for 2023. What can you reveal about those?
I’m really excited for the next few years. The roles are all vastly different which is great because then you don’t have to worry about any traits from one unintentionally flowing into another, like a sort of character hangover.
The next project I have lined up is a short film called “Brutal World” which is due to begin production in late January. I was very fortunate to be cast as the lead in that, and it’s one of the most complex shorts and roles that I’ve had, so there’s a lot of exploring and questioning which I’m looking forward to.
In the summer I’m performing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which is going to be my first dive into Shakespeare in New York. I’ll be playing Nick Bottom, so a very fun character and nothing like anything I’ve ever really done before, so I’m excited to see how that feels.
I’m going back to Shakespeare the summer afterwards also, this time playing “Orlando” in “As You Like It” with Shakespeare Downtown. The director is one of the most incredible people I’ve met so to get to work with him is a huge honour.
What type of roles and projects would you like to take on in the coming years?
I think I’d just love to try as many different roles as I can for the time being. I’m still early in my career and I’m keen not to entrench myself in certain types or genres. So for now I just enjoy any project that allows me to keep exploring, to completely dismantle and then reassemble myself into something different.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
Going forward I’m keen to continue juggling theatre and film. They each require quite a different kind of acting which doesn’t often compliment the other, so jumping back and forth is sometimes tricky. But I really enjoy the challenges both bring up, and the different discoveries you can make from each.