Brendan Gleeson’s latest film The Guard is doing well in Ireland as the public packs theaters for the jet black comedy written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s older, wiser brother John Michael. CAHIR O’DOHERTY meets Gleeson, the outspoken Irish actor, fiddle player and former schoolteacher who many now regard as Ireland’s preeminent film actor.
That distinctive roar of a laugh, you’ll probably hear it booming in the hallways before you actually meet Brendan Gleeson. It’s become a kind of trademark of his, but it’s also genuine -- he knows how to enjoy himself.
Then just ask him a doubtful question, like when does your long rumored Irish brat-pack film At Swim Two Birds really start shooting, and you’ll be treated to it all over again.
Gleeson, 56, obviously takes his job as an actor very seriously, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t take himself or his celebrity seriously at all.
This week he’s in New York to promote The Guard, which opens on Friday, July 29, the undisputed Irish hit comedy drama of both the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals.
Making his way quickly through the foyer of the Lowes Regency Hotel on Park Avenue on Monday, Gleeson decides on a spot for a coffee and a chat before he attends a press conference to promote The Guard later in the afternoon. He’s clearly in his element, but a little jet-lagged from the trip over from Ireland, he says.
“I got in from Dublin in plenty of time last night but I made the capital mistake of going to bed too early,” he tells the Irish Voice, rolling his eyes at his own foolishness.
“Next thing I woke up at one in the morning and I did the usual staring at the walls. I’ve been up now since seven this morning doing breakfast TV, which is always interesting to do. People who are up and working and being crazy that early in the morning makes no sense to me, but ah sure it’s all a bit of fun.”
Gleeson is famously charismatic, but you’d be foolish to fall for his just one of the lads demeanor. He’s a former schoolteacher and an avid reader since childhood, and he’s also arguably the greatest film actor Ireland has ever produced. Although he sometimes plays the fiddle at an occasional trad session in Dublin, it’s been a long time since he was just another face in the crowd.
Only an actor with Gleeson’s star power could have attracted fellow A-listers like Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Michael Fassbender and others to co-star in his much heralded (and now finally on the way) screen version of Flan O’Brien’s masterpiece At Swim Two Birds.
News reports last week confirmed Gleeson had finally secured the funding for the film he will direct and co-star in next spring in Ireland. And as soon as the project was announced it was a trending topic on Twitter with Stephen Fry, one of social media’s acknowledged megastars, announcing it was one of his favorite books and that he had high hopes for the film.
“Ah yeah, no pressure there Stephen thanks very much!” laughs Gleeson, with just a bit of an edge to his tone. “No pressure at all. The story is the film’s due in spring and until I’m actually on the set saying that’s a wrap, thanks for a nice shoot, I won’t believe it.”
There’s a reason for his caution, Gleeson says. “I have everything in place for far too long at this point. It’s all settling in now, it has momentum and seems to be going for spring.
“But the assumption that everything is going to happen the way it’s supposed to happen is not something that I’m comfortable with these days. I’m looking forward to it and it’ll almost be more of a relief more than anything else to get going with it because I’ve been thinking about it for seven or eight years now.”
It must be a relief to let others do the worrying and just focus on the acting. It hasn’t been remarked on yet, but Gleeson is unique in having starred in the two signature films from the McDonagh brothers Martin and John Michael, In Bruges and now The Guard.