Herself director Phyllida Lloyd has told RTÉ Entertainment that the drama, which tells the story of a single mother trying to build her own home, "is a world story".

The British filmmaker, whose credits include box office hit Mamma Mia! and the Oscar-winning The Iron Lady, joined forces with Herself's Irish writer and star Clare Dunne to get the story on screens.

Below, Lloyd talks to Laura Delaney about the "overwhelming" reaction to the movie in the US, filming in Dublin over five weeks, the importance of gender balance on set, and why Herself's themes of homelessness and domestic abuse are more relevant than ever before.

Laura Delaney: Herself received rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. Were you surprised by how many viewers can identify with the story?

Phyllida Lloyd: We've found that as we've shown the film at Sundance and in Dublin that people have come forward and gone, 'That's my story, and that was my mum's story, and I was that child'. The movie gives access into the levels of trauma and challenge that so many people face. The response so far has overwhelmed us.

It's not just a Dublin story - it's a world story. The landscape of homelessness everywhere is really devastating.

Phyllida Lloyd chatting to Ruby, who is one of the movie's youngest stars

The pandemic and Covid-19 restrictions have heightened the situation for many living with domestic abuse. Do you think your already relevant movie will have more of an impact on viewers now than if it had an earlier release?

It's been humbling that the themes of the movie have come into focus more sharply. We know that the Covid experience has made people very vulnerable to domestic abuse and the stress on people is absolutely huge.

It's remarkable that the themes of isolation and community that are at the centre of the film seem to have loomed so large.

Herself is in cinemas now

We now understand what it is to be a neighbour, what it is to have a neighbour, and that one person's safe place is someone else's isolation nightmare.

When Clare [Dunne] went to talk to Women's Aid in Dublin, a lady that she spoke to there said, 'Please don't make this woman a victim because these women are so strong and have to be strong to both stay and leave'. That was very important to us.

Clare Dunne plays a single mum in an abusive relationship in Herself

Filming of the house building scenes took place in Clontarf. How on earth did you come across someone's back garden in Dublin and what did their neighbours make of it?

Our location manager did really well, finding the land at the back of someone's garden - and so close to the city too. When he stumbled upon it we were thrilled.

Although, there was a moment where suddenly a house started being built next door. Our hearts stopped when we heard the sound of a cement mixer. But it was all smoothed over quickly.

Tom, the man who owned the land, did really well at involving the neighbours in the dilemma, and so people were very gentle with us. It's been an incredible experience and very humbling working on this film in Ireland.

You filmed the movie over five weeks. I'd imagine that was incredibly challenging with no room for error?

I wanted to have the freedom not to have to cast 'big stars' and so we brought the budget down in order to do that. There were times where I thought, 'Am I going to be able to pull this off in time?'

It was all down to preparation and rehearsing. All of the actors had to learn how to use those pretty lethal-looking power tools and heavy-lifting without damaging themselves. It was a quick shoot but we were well prepared.

Conleth Hill plays building contractor Aido

You tried to get a 50/50 gender balance among the crew and cast. Did you encounter any difficulties throughout the process?

Clare and I had been working on a big all-female project in the theatre for several years. We were right there with wanting to get good representation. It's not easy because there aren't huge numbers of women in films on the technical side and those who can be found are extremely sought after.

We really went out there to try and get a 50/50 gender split. Clare wanted a really diverse community on the building site amongst the characters to reflect the nature of the city as it is today. Diversity of all kinds was really important to us.

Both Phyllida Lloyd and Clare Dunne strived to get a diverse cast and crew on set

With decades of live stage performance behind you - do you still get nervous ahead of theatre and big screen releases?

I can't really relax until I've seen a body of reviews. I'm hardwired through years of bracing myself for an opening in theatre where it all comes at once.

I always feel really nervous but I shouldn't do. I should just enjoy the opportunity to share it with people.

I was a little bit shy about putting myself forward to direct this film in Ireland because I wondered whether an Irish director would give it more authenticity. Eventually, I just thought, 'Sod this' and I went for it, as I really wanted to put Clare as the lead.

I'm most excited for Clare. I so wanted to help her get onto the screen. She was struggling for various reasons to get hired, her birthmark on her eye was not helping her get work on the screen in America.

I'm just so proud of her and both excited for her as a writer and an actor. She's waited a long time and worked so damn hard, and she deserves everything that I hope is coming to her. I feel like a proud godmother.

Herself is in cinemas now.

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