Irish Eye on Hollywood
By Tom Deignan
Amidst the popcorn blockbusters of the summer, keep an eye out for veterans as well as up-and-coming Irish talent in Hollywood.
First up, Pierce Brosnan stars alongside Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!, based on the musical, which itself was based on the songs of Swedish supergroup Abba. Mamma Mia!, scheduled for a July 18 release, is about a bride-to-be who is searching for her father. The musical was such a hit that superstar Tom Hanks (along with his wife Rita Wilson) snatched up the film rights and produced the movie. Along with Streep and Brosnan, Mamma Mia! also stars Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. Brosnan is also set to star in the next film by Irish director Terry Loane, the 2009 release Vanilla Gorilla.
Speaking of young Irish directors, John Crowley impressed many with his star-studded 2003 movie Intermission, which featured Colin Farrell, Colm Meaney, Cillian Murphy and a slew of other Irish actors. Crowley, who established his reputation as a brilliant theater director, is returning to film again this summer with the controversial Boy A.
The film, slated for a July release, takes a close look at a juvenile criminal, and what happens when the guilty boy is released back into society with a new identity. He struggles to put the past behind him, but can never put his heinous crime completely out of his mind. Boy A is based on a novel by Jonathan Trigell, and, in part, seems to have been influenced by the infamous Liverpool murder of three-year-old James Patrick Bulger at the hands of two ten-year-old boys. Boy A stars Andrew Garfield as well as Scotsman Peter Mullan, familiar to many Irish film fans for directing the explosive film The Magdalene Sisters, about abusive priests and nuns.
One Irishman you will not be seeing this summer is Brian F. O'Byrne. True, he is starring in the political thriller The International, alongside Naomi Watts and Clive Owen. The film is about an agent seeking to bring down a prestigious financial firm which has taken to smuggling arms. The International was initially slated for a summer 2008 release. The latest word is that the film has been pushed back to February 2009.
It's not surprising that the director of the Irish political prison film Hunger went into film. His name is Steve McQueen, after all. McQueen, however, does not make suave action films like the 1970s American icon did. Instead, McQueen made one of the most unforgettable films at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Hunger, in fact, won the Camera d'Or prize for best first film.
Hunger was co-written by Irish playwright Enda Walsh and chronicles the infamous 1981 hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. The film features what has widely been described as a star-making turn by Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands, who became an international symbol of injustice when he died in the Maze while on hunger strike at the age of 27. "Within the prison, there were prison officers who I identify with and protestors with whom I identify," McQueen said after winning the award. "The film is about people in a situation and what these people do."
Interestingly, neither of the two driving forces behind Hunger are Irish-born. McQueen is British while Fassbender was born in Heidelburg, Germany, though his family moved to Killarney, Ireland, when he was young. Fassbender appeared in the swords-and-sandals comic book film 300 and Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, alongside Colin Farrell. Fassbender has also been seen in numerous British and American TV shows, including Band of Brothers. He is next slated to appear in the upcoming Joel Schumacher movie Town Creek. It's worth noting that Colin Farrell's big breakthrough was Tigerland, also directed by Joel Schumacher. Perhaps the director can do the same for Fassbender.
Hunger was funded, in part, by the Northern Ireland Screen and The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. It is expected to be distributed in the U.S. by IFC films, though no release date has been announced.
Barry, thus far, is best known for his supporting role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, playing Tommy Ryan. Barry is moving behind the camera for Mineville, which tells the story of Irish immigrants working in the iron ore camps of upstate New York. Set around 1910, Mineville explores the workers in the camp, as well as a man seen initially as a savior for the laborers, who actually becomes their worst nightmare.
Mineville, which begins shooting in September, is being made by a production company owned by Barry and his wife Nicola Charles.
"Jason and I are really excited about the film," Charles was recently quoted as saying. "It's a great script, and a story that hasn't been told before." Giovanni Ribisi, William Sadler, Anthony Lapaglia, Ian Hart and Tony Curran are among the actors expected to appear in Mineville.
Earlier this year, Meaney appeared in Three and Out, a comedy about a bus driver who hits two people in one month. The driver finds out that if he hits a third anytime soon, he will lose his job - a prospect which actually appeals to him. Now all he has to do is find a person to hit with his bus, or willing to be hit.
Next up for Meaney is a soccer flick called The Damned United. Directed by Tom Hooper (who recently directed the heralded John Adams mini-series for HBO), The Damned United tells the story of former soccer player and coach Brian Clough, who coached Leeds United for just 44 days one miserable season in the 1970s before he was fired. No word yet on whether or not The Damned United will be released in the U.S. It is slated for release in the U.K. some time next year.
Cable giant HBO is producing a new drama series called The Anatomy of Hope, which will explore patients battling cancer and other terminal ailments. Among the stars will be Irish actress Kerry Condon, who previously appeared in HBO's mini-series Rome. Chris Messina (Six Feet Under) and Simon Callow will also star in Anatomy of Hope, which will be produced by Lost wunderkind J.J. Abrams.
In September, the troubled biopic of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward is supposed to begin shooting. Star Mark Wahlberg says he's still behind the film, but even he cannot guarantee the film will get made."I'll be disappointed (if it doesn't happen), because it's been a dream of mine," he told Men's Health magazine recently.
Also in September, Taken - Liam Neeson's next film - is slated to hit theaters. The film sounds a bit like a remake of the 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up Commando. In both films, the daughter of a former soldier is kidnapped, then (presumably) heroically rescued.
Cillian Murphy has joined the stellar cast of Peacock, a drama to be directed by Michael Lander. Set for a 2009 release, Peacock also features Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman and the young star of Juno Ellen Page. In Peacock, Murphy plays a small town clerk who discovers that a homeless woman has been secretly living in his back yard.
Finally, Irish beauty queen Gemma Garret is branching out into movies - at her peril. The onetime Miss Belfast and Miss Great Britain is teaming up with 80s action star Dolph Lundgren to shoot Direct Contact in Bulgaria and is planning to shoot another film with the muscular leading man. Garret was Sienna Miller's body double in Layer Cake and has also been seen in the movies Johnny Was and Buy Borrow Steal.