by writer/director John Gray
Growing up in Brooklyn in the ’70s, I always felt slightly like an outsider... maybe because I didn’t like to fight, or because my parents were separated (much more of a stigma then than now), or because I feared the casual violence that happened all around me. Though all those things were true, the real reason I stood apart was because I had a secret: I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to make movies. An oddball hobby at best, and a laughable pipe dream at worst in a blue collar neighborhood where getting a high school diploma, a good union job and a nice dental plan where the cardinal rules of the culture. That and don’t stand out, don’t be different, and don’t think you’re better than anyone else.
Quickly realizing that I was useless at doing jobs that mattered, like being able to build things or fix things, or use any kind of tool without smashing my own fingertips and those of others, I set forth on trying to make a career for myself in movies and television; blessed, perhaps, with the ignorance of how impossible such a thing was. The inspiration for White Irish Drinkers came slowly over a 10-year period, and began when I started to feel that there weren’t many movies that examined the white urban underclass; where the danger and violence came not so much from what happened out on the street, but from what happened once the apartment door closed behind you.
Nearly everyone I grew up with was beaten or at least occasionally smacked around... and nobody took it too seriously. It was the currency of our neighborhood. Our parents hit us, our friends hit us, and we hit our friends. The nuns and brothers at school hit us. Especially the nuns and brothers (which you would never dare report to your parents, for fear of the question that would follow: “What’d you do that they had to hit you?”). The fist was the basic and most effective element of the neighborhood problem-solving toolkit. Even so, the people I grew up with saw life with humor and wry sarcasm and with clear-eyed, instinctive intelligence and wit. Qualities that aren’t usually evident in many movies about the working class experience.
I have always been fascinated with the themes of family, of neighborhood, and of the tortured search for, and withholding of, love. In creating the Leary family, I saw in their private world a microcosm of that place and time... the power of drink over their lives, the unnamed yearning for something that seems out of reach, and the grasping of the familiar over the reach for change, and the swaggering fear of the unknown world outside the neighborhood.