Set in the mundane, middle-class wasteland that is contemporary Pittsburgh, Homemakers is a new dark comedy by Colin Healey driven by the spitfire theatrics and emotional nuance of Rachel McKeon. After inheriting a house following her grandfather’s passing, volatile and vulnerable singer Irene McCabey (McKeon) leaves Austin for Pennsylvania to claim her property. While she initially rails against the idea of “nesting”, through the process of destroying and restoring her new home, McCabey transforms her raucous life.
Homemakers won the Audience Award at IFF Boston and makes its NYC premiere as part of the Northside Festival this coming Monday, June 16th. Fans of Times Square, Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains, and the punk rock oeuvre will be stoked on this new addition to a classic genre. Check out our interview with McKeon on her musical influences (shoutout Candy Slice!), mastering Irene’s reckless physicality, and re-framing the definition of strong female characters. (No spoilers, so read on…)
Your voice and stage energy have us convinced you’ve been in bands before. What’s your musical background?
People have been asking me this left and right, and it’s the ultimate compliment. I’ve certainly always been a musical human being – but as far as being in a band goes, I have zero experience. That said, I’m sure the countless prepubescent hours spent in my childhood bedroom with the company of Gwen Stefani and Alanis Morissette didn’t hurt (I distinctly remember thrashing about with my kaleidoscope serving as a mic, and the volume on Tragic Kingdom turned up to max). Seriously, the fact that Irene’s authentic energy and sheer joy as a singer is resonating with and believed by audience members is so cool.
Who are your rock icons and which performers influenced your characterization of Irene in the film?
The character herself, off-stage, was not directly influenced by anyone – although for the recording of the song I decided to vocally channel three individuals: Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain, and Dolores O’Riordan. Also, Colin prescribed my watching the amazing Gilda Radner do her SNL character Candy Slice (check out “Gimme Mick” if you’ve never seen it), which is a delicious embodiment of decadent rock-and-roll types. And while Candy Slice is a mockery, and Irene is not, seeing the amount of pure bravado she gives to that character was particularly inspirational for me, and I believe Colin especially wanted me to realize how physically free I was allowed to be in the role.
What was your process preparing for the role? Any challenges you encountered along the way you can share?
My biggest challenge was tossing away my own daintiness in service of Irene. I’m an impulsive individual in my own way – but the amount of disregard for her own bodily well-being that Irene harbors was something I needed to really develop and integrate during the shoot. I’m someone who has a half of a glass of wine, takes a stroll around the neighborhood, listens to some music, and calls it a night. Irene has the whole bottle, a shot of whiskey, and then heads out to find the rest of her evening’s fun, most likely being injured a few times along the way.
What initially drew you to the part? Do you tend to choose in-your-face characters and strong women?
They seem to choose me, although I’ve played my fair share of ingenues as well. But even my more traditionally lady-like characters are never complacent. They are always fighting in some way – it’s just how externalized that struggle is that makes the difference. I definitely don’t have a preference for in-your-face characters over a more subdued personality. What has been a blessing for me, though, is that the women I’ve generally been asked to portray are so complex, so multi-faceted. I do think the term “strong woman” is often misconstrued. Great female characters aren’t strong because they are physically fit, always standing up for themselves, and consistently making the right moral choice. The real ones are strong because they have layers of experience and a detailed point-of-view that creates a strength of personality – they are fully human, and operate as fully realized individuals.
The back and forth between Irene and her older neighbor was really compelling. Is there a particular relationship you enjoyed developing most?
There are so many great supporting roles in this film, and Irene gets to feel out her relationship with all of them. The dealings with the neighbor (played by Harry O’Toole) are especially fun because he’s the first person who really tests her. And it’s just so wonderful that an often unlikable young woman would find camaraderie with a grumpy old man. Of course the biggest relationships in the film are those with her cousin, Cam (Jack Culbertson), and her ex-girlfriend, Kicky (Molly Carlisle), the first providing her with the notion of family for maybe her first time ever, and the second being a person who doesn’t necessarily do Irene good, but that she can’t seem to shake. I also mighty enjoyed coming up against Cam’s mother (Sheila McKenna), because Irene is encountering a woman who also attempts to manipulate those around her – there’s a strange reflection of her there, and I think she understands she’s met her match. Of course there’s no leaving out her father (John Shepard), but I don’t want to give too much away there.
How fun was it to completely trash a house? Did you ever fix something just to smash it again for a second take?
A lot of shots required just one take – we had one chance to get it. That kind of destruction definitely does not come naturally to me. So.. at the risk of sounding lame, I wouldn’t say it was fun. However, I love to throw things. Throwing things is fun for me. And there were definitely some good opportunities to throw items that smashed into tiny bits. Very satisfying, indeed.