Kate Halpin's long journey to the director's chair

16 August 2023

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We get to know Kate Halpin through her answers to 11 questions.

Learn about her favourite films (by herself and others), the career of international intrigue that didn't pan out for her, & her problem with potatoes.

The Sweetshop

How did you end up being a creative?

I didn’t exactly follow a traditional trajectory to becoming a director (if there is such a thing!?). I was encouraged to pursue acting after being a drama nerd as a teenager. So I completed a BA in acting straight out of high school. When I was on set as an actor, I remember quickly becoming far more interested in what the crew were doing on the other side of the camera. Soon enough, I got a job working at a feature-film production company, then at a casting company, and then finally had my lightbulb moment when I joined the dots and realised that I wanted to be a director.

What's your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?

‘Wrong track’ for RAA is probably my favourite commercial job I’ve done, as it combines dialogue and performance with some stunning locations. My DP Kieran Fowler did a beautiful job of shooting it, so it looks pretty sexy, and it was a fun travel job with a kick-ass team.

What's your favourite piece of work created by someone else?

Picking one is virtually impossible, but I’d have to say the masterpiece that is Magnolia (or pretty much anything by Paul Thomas Anderson). This was one of the films that made me want to be a Writer and Director. I remember being blown away by its incredibly unique tone and script—by the complexity of the characters, the writing and dialogue, the execution, the performances. It’s all near flawless (in my humble opinion). Plus, it has defied the test of time and still holds up over 20 years later.

Who’s on your dream dinner guest list (alive or dead)?

Zadie Smith, Frida Kahlo, PTA, Sam Mendes, Coen Brothers, Greta Gerwig, Andrea Arnold, Xavier Dolan, Chloe Zhao, Pedro Almodovar, Yorgos Lanthimos, Haneke, Kubrick, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (girl crush ahoy)—and Daria.

What career did you think you'd have when you were a kid?

I was pretty damn adamant that I would have no issues forging a long and successful career in international espionage. I consumed a scary amount of spy thrillers as a child and was confident I would make a kick-ass secret agent who travelled the world in style, wearing wigs and fabulously mysterious disguises, speaking at least 17 languages and punching and kicking anyone who got in the way. No doubt, a very realistic idea of what the job entails. Not going to lie, I still dream about it. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm? Pressure, no question. I thrive on it. Paradoxically, my mind is at its most calm when I’m under pressure and amongst the chaos. Looming deadlines, fast turnarounds, the madness of being on set—they’re almost like meditation to me. I suspect many directors and creatives are like this. What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could? Don’t waste energy worrying about what anyone else is doing. Just do you. Don't waste your pocket money on carob buds from the school canteen (they’re not real chocolate). Don’t waste time paying attention in maths. It will never make sense to you, and that’s why someone clever invented calculators.

What movie/show do you never get tired of?

At the moment, I’m obsessed with Fleabag. I can’t imagine it getting old for me anytime soon. Other shows I’ve re-watched numerous times are The Wire, Mad Men and Broad City—all completely different tonally, but all fabulous in their own way.

What food can you not live without? What food would you be happy to never taste again?

A life without chocolate or cheese is not one worth living. Being lactose intolerant is my idea of hell. I enjoy practically every food and flavour, except plain potatoes, and would gladly never touch the bland spuds again. Slightly contentious given my Irish heritage. I am a fervent believer that potatoes should only be eaten once deep fried, or when covered in a generous amount of sour cream, butter or cheese. Period.

Cat person or dog person?

I’m a pooch lover from way back. I had a golden retriever growing up. Chloe was mischievous, rebellious, and stubborn until the end (my kind of gal). My favourite books as a child were Dogs to the Rescue, White Fang and Wolf-Woman, about a girl called Tanith who ran and lived with the wolves. I was a little obsessed to say the least. I recall putting on a play with my bestie ‘Bub’. I played the wolf. I’ve always dreamed of having an Alaskan malamute or a husky. Maybe one day, if I live in a colder climate. Side note: I recently cat-sat for a couple of weeks, and by the end I had become pretty bloody smitten with my feline friend Flossy and her weird, wonderful and oh-so-snobby ways. Respect.

Early riser or night owl?

I’ve been trying for years (with the best of intentions) to retrain myself to be an early riser (and early to ‘bedder’). But alas, it would seem I am destined to forever be a nocturnal creature. My brain often seems to have more clarity in the later hours. Mornings generally feel more leisurely to me—a time for coffee, breakfast, more coffee...and all at a civilised hour.

This article was originally published on Campaign, 2 September 2021.