Danika McGuigan died in July 2019, shortly after she finished filming Wildfire, a psychological drama, in which Danika – called Nika by family and friends – and Nora Jane Noone played sisters coming to terms with their past. The film had its Irish premiere in Nika's family's hometown of Clones, Co Monaghan last weekend and Nora Jane joined Ryan Tubridy in studio to talk about Nika and her experience of making Wildfire. The development of the film was unusual, Nora Jane told Ryan, involving the two actors and writer-director Cathy Brady:
"It was a long process. Cathy had started with us first and we workshopped to find the characters and the story, based on us as actors, which was amazing. And then she went away and wrote a script, based on that."
Nika and Nora Jane hit it off immediately. They had both worked with Cathy Brady before, so it was sounds like it was an actor’s dream. A lot of work went into the film before the cameras started rolling, so all three of the main players were very invested in it.
"By the time we got to the shoot, we had, like I said, done so much work and you just wanted to do it justice. So, we were kind of – we were hitting the ground running."
From what Nora Jane tells Ryan, it sounds like all the work put into workshopping the film wasn’t just an elaborate warm-up session, but rather a crucial pillar of the process of devising and scripting:
"So, there’s a dance scene in the film that’s really exciting and that was amazing, but we found that in our very first workshop together. And that was the first moment, I think, where we were all like, 'Oh wow, this is something special. Where’s this going to go?’"
Nora Jane didn’t hear that Nika was sick until a few months after shooting Wildfire. She thought they’d be doing additional voice work on the film together in London. They did catch up briefly in London for a coffee, but shortly after that Nora Jane found out about Nika’s illness:
"Cathy called me and told me that she’d been diagnosed."
It was just five weeks after that that Nika died and Nora Jane – who lives in Los Angeles – was pregnant with her first child and getting ready to get married, when she got the call:
"I couldn’t fathom it, to be quite honest with you. You don’t believe that that’s possible when someone’s so young and she was so healthy and so mindful of her health."
It wasn’t until the film came out that Nora Jane feels she started to really come to terms with Nika’s death. When Wildfire went to the Toronto Film Festival, Nora Jane had to do interviews and answer questions about her absent co-star.
"And it was kind of the first time we were talking about it in depth and people were asking, ‘What was the experience? What was it like? What was your bond? What was your relationship?’ And reflecting how it came across on screen. And to try and find the words for what that was – it's very difficult. It’s very hard to sum it up."
Nora Jane spoke about how herself and Nika had been all about the work during filming and how she assumed they’d have the time to celebrate and have fun once the work had finished. Nika was just 33 when she died.
To hear Ryan’s full conversation with Nora Jane Noone – including Nora Jane’s experience working on The Magdalene Sisters and Coronation Street – just go here.
Wildfire is in cinemas from this Friday.