It's 8 a.m. and Fionnula Flanagan arrives for breakfast looking fresh as a daisy in a crisp white shirt. Her thick white hair swept back, not a lick of make-up. She looks beautiful; her once flame-red hair is now a luscious pearl. Antique earrings she picked up for 10 cents at a yard sale adorn her ears.
Molly Bloom is aging gracefully, but she still has the spit and fire of the sexy siren associated with "James Joyce's Women" - the one-woman show that became the 1985 movie in which she plays various women who influenced Joyce's life and writings.
One of the few Irish actresses to make it in Hollywood, Flanagan had been up until 3 a.m. celebrating Bloomsday, the day in the life of Leopold Bloom that is chronicled in "Ulysses." The readings by a number of actors began at 7 p.m. in Manhattan's Symphony Space and ended in the wee hours with Flanagan delivering Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy.
Joyce has been a major factor in Flanagan's career. In addition to "Joyce's Women," she played Gerty MacDowell in Joseph Strick's film of "Ulysses" (1973), and Molly Bloom in the Broadway production "Ulysses in Nighttown" in 1974.
So if she's not on a movie set, or filming the latest episode of the Showtime hit "Brotherhood" in Rhode Island, Flanagan flies in to New York to take part in the annual Bloomsday readings.
Flanagan grew up familiar with Joyce's Dublin in a family that treasured the Irish language, literature and culture. The eldest of five, she trained at the Abbey Theatre and struck out for New York, making her Broadway debut in Brian Friel's "Lovers" in 1968. A national tour with the play brought her to Baltimore where she met Garrett O'Connor, a Dublin doctor working at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
When the tour ended, Flanagan decided to stay in America. She married Garrett, now C.E.O. of the Betty Ford Institute, settled in Los Angeles and found early success in television, winning an Emmy for the 1976 mini-series "Rich Man, Poor Man," but had a hard time breaking into film. So she wrote her own script, turning her one-woman show on Joyce's women into a movie.
Many fine films followed, including "Waking Ned Devine" ("working on an independent movie, on the Isle of Man for little money - who knew it would become such a success?"); "Transamerica" ("an important film"); "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" ("every woman in America has read the book but not one man"); and one that affected her life profoundly - "Some Mother's Son," the 1996 movie about the Irish hunger strike, in which she starred opposite Helen Mirren, as the mother of a young hunger striker.
Playing in this movie led her to consider more deeply the politics in the North of Ireland. When the IRA showed that they were serious about a ceasefire, she began to see Sinn Féin as the political way forward and reached out a helping hand, hosting a Hollywood welcome party for Gerry Adams.
A self-described political junky, who finds herself "glued to the set" as the upcoming American election rolls around, Flanagan is also passionate about the rights of immigrants, and lends her support to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
She is also passionate about the Irish language and in 2007 she starred in the Irish language tv series "Paddywhackery." ("I spent six weeks in the West of Ireland and it was so joyful to hear it spoken all around me.")
A relatively new passion is lending her support to turn one of Galway City's historic buildings into an Art House Film venue, designed by the award-winning young Irish architect Tom De Paor and a project conceived and driven by Lelia Doolan, former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theater and first Chair of the Irish Film Board. ("Lelia is an amazing leader - knowledgeable, visionary, courageous, and, fortunately for The Galway Picture Palace, an unstoppable force of nature.")
A few weeks after our meeting she received an Honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland, Galway. It is something that she is thrilled about.
Then it was back home to Beverly Hills for a quick break before heading to Providence for "Brotherhood's" season three shooting schedule where she plays Rose, matriarch of the Caffee clan. After that she's off to Hawaii for another appearance on "Lost."
One couldn't ask for a more interesting breakfast companion. The following are some nuggets from our conversation.
"When the tour finally got to Baltimore, we had been on the road 6 months and were all half crazed. Eamon Morissey, my fellow-actor said, 'I have a friend in Baltimore who is a doctor.' He brought him to the hotel and we met. I came upon them in the corridor as Garrett was on hands and knees telling a joke!
"So yes, we went on to get married. He had two children from a previous marriage, aged 11 and 12. So I actually married a group - then it really got crazy!"
"What changed our lives was Garrett got sober and then I got sober. That was 25 years ago. That made a huge difference in so many ways, not just health-wise, but attitude-wise too. I don't think I ever showed up drunk or stoned on the set, but I would show up angry and resentful, frightened and addled in interviews.
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