Untangling Love: In Conversation With Lola Petticrew on 'Dating Amber'

Untangling Love: In Conversation With Lola Petticrew on 'Dating Amber'

Set in rural Ireland in the 1990s, Dating Amber focuses on two teenagers grappling with their sexuality, who decide to become each other’s beards instead of admitting and accepting that they’re both gay. Playing the eponymous Amber is Lola Petticrew, a rising star in Ireland bringing heart and energy into everything she does. Emily Gunn chats to Petticrew about demystifying queerness, finding a platonic soulmate and Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 

How did you connect with Amber and aim to do her justice? 

I read the entire script and was immediately laughing out loud – it was something I hadn’t read before. These two queer leads, with a focus on their platonic friendship, and their own coming out stories. It was inherently tragic, but presented with so much joy. 

I’m a queer person myself and I’ve known that from a young age. But it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve given it the weight that it deserves, to speak about it openly. I had a massive affinity straight away to Amber, to be this queer girl that I thought, well I wished, I had on my screen growing up

She is extremely strong-minded. Did you share any similarities with Amber when growing up?

I definitely think so. My mum and dad would say I had a mouth growing up – I think that’s common with teenage girls! You think you have the world figured out, and you want people to hear your opinions before they’re even fully formed. For Amber, she expresses her joy through escapism. She has this idea of living a political life with punks, and knows she must leave her small town behind to truly be herself. She’s more comfortable than Eddie with her sexuality because of this. I don’t think she sees a life when she doesn’t come out. But she definitely doesn’t see herself come out in her small town in Kildare.

How has the situation for kids like Amber, trying to come out to their parents in rural Ireland, changed since the 90s? 

The film is set in 1995, an era on the cusp of societal change just two years after homosexuality was decriminalised in Northern Ireland, which made it fundamental. But I think this could be set in contemporary modern-day, in any rural town in the world. We make the mistake thinking that coming out is easy today. It might be easier, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. We still have a lot of catching up to do. Just because things are written in law it doesn’t mean we have untangled everything that we need to untangle about this topic yet. 

The film balances comedy and pain beautifully. How did you find that balance in your performance?

We were very lucky to have a lot of rehearsal time with our director David Freyne. It was a massive thing for him. He also felt, growing up gay, that there was a lack of queer films with humour. He was witnessing LGBTQ films with tragic storylines, which, yes, were all very important to watch, but if you’re connecting only with that on-screen character... then that’s quite bleak. He wanted to give queer people a film that was joyous, hopeful and full of love, showing that tragedy isn’t the only experience. 

Could you talk me through Amber’s style, both in her clothes and her physicality? 

We had an amazing costume designer, Joan Cleary. There was a clear idea for Amber’s look, but it was very collaborative which you sometimes don’t always get. We wanted to shy away from stereotypes of what a queer girl is. Amber’s style comes from her music and her interests. The hair was all down to our hair designer who presented the blue-coloured hair dye and got me on board. That colour has become so emblematic of Amber’s independence, yet it’s all down to the team creating this collaborative energy on set. Her look is very ‘90s I must admit!

You have fantastic chemistry with your co-star Fionn O’Shea. How did you build that? 

We met in the final audition, and we both knew there was something special between us, it was like lighting in a bottle. We knew no matter what, we would be friends. And then we both got the job, which was great!

By the time we got to shooting the film, there was already that bond and friendship that only grew stronger through the experiences on set. It was nuts because we both felt this massive sense of security. Being on set was really fun, but a lot of it was incredibly tough and emotional. To know you had somebody there who knew you, and loved you, and supported you at the end of the day, was absolutely magical. Amber and Eddie are platonic soul mates and that’s how I feel with Fionn.

Some of the more poignant scenes have heavy frustrations and confessions – did you feel connected to them personally? 

I had been labeled as bisexual for years, and something about the term hadn’t quite sat right with me. I hadn’t given myself time to figure it out. And then I was given Amber’s world, and her experience, which knew I deserved to give to myself. From then I became more comfortable with the term “queer” and I completely transformed as a person. 

I started really delving into that and thinking about it more deeply. I wanted to be completely who I am. Fionn would say the same. I was transformed after the film, I’m the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been. I can’t put into words how much it meant. 

What films inspired you when imagining the relationship between Amber and her then-girlfriend? 

I don’t think I turned to any other films. It was about thinking back to your first love. Seeing someone and thinking they are the cutest person on earth. I think we have all been through that in our teenage years. It was so beautiful to be able to show two queer girls loving each other for the first time, I think there isn’t enough of that out there. I had so many people respond online saying they were so happy they had this film now, but they wished they had it growing up. It’s been incredible to see. I would have loved to have Amber as a figure myself growing up. 

How do you feel about the landscape for onscreen lesbian relationships, especially for people at such a young age? 

When I was younger, I had to seek our LGBTQ films online or hear about it through other queer friends. I think, up until recently, these films have always been shown through the male gaze. I was recently moved when watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire which was a queer relationship told through the female gaze. I kept gasping on the sofa and by the end of it, I was crying my eyes out. I definitely think it’s shifting, and that’s what we wanted to show. 

What did you learn from Amber that you’d hope to apply in your own life? 

I had a rewiring in my brain about platonic relationships. When we are growing up we are force-fed this idea that romance is the only connection we are seeking. I learned to untangle that by understanding if I don’t find romantic love, it doesn’t mean I’ve lost. I can be grateful and happy with all the platonic loves that I have. I came away from the movie appreciating my great friends, like Fionn. I feel completely fulfilled by that. 

Dating Amber is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Emily Gunn (@emilygunny) is a London-based writer and freelance film journalist whose work has appeared in JumpCut Magazine & Home of Passion. She runs her own film critic website www.itsnotthatboring.com.

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