Brendan Gleeson: The Good, the Bad and the Funny


It’s a Thursday morning in late June, and I am sitting at a table in the empty ballroom of the opulent Beverly Wilshire hotel, waiting for Brendan Gleeson. The press conference scheduled prior to our interview is running a bit long, and I feel as though I’m waiting for someone at a grand, abandoned café.

Then I hear a booming yet mild Dublin accent working its way down the hallway and Brendan Gleeson, grinning and wearing all black, walks into the ballroom.

“Not very L.A., is it?” he asks with a laugh when our photographer, Kit, compliments him on his jacket, and he settles himself cheerfully at our impromptu table for two.

Well, you wouldn’t really describe Gleeson himself as “very L.A.,” either. He is incredibly tall, with broad shoulders and a build that has worked equally well for his work as criminals both thuggish and smart in films like John Boorman’s The General and Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges; his turn as the vigilant and eccentric Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films; and his Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Winston Churchill in the 2009 HBO mini-series Into The Storm. His floppy ginger hair is tinged with white at the temples, and his expressive face shifts quickly from thoughtful and serious to wonderfully devilish. At fifty-six, after twenty-two busy years in film, Gleeson and his wife, Mary, still live in Ireland – in Malahide, not far from Artane, the Dublin suburb where he grew up. He’s here in L.A. for just a few days as part of a promotional tour for The Guard.

The first feature film by John Michael McDonagh (older brother of playwright and In Bruges director Martin), The Guard is a razor-sharp, at times uncomfortably dark comedy. It’s also a western of sorts, complete with good guys and bad guys, a final showdown, justice taken outside the realm of the law, and a soundtrack by Calexico. But rather than Monument Valley or a dusty stretch of central Italy, it takes place in Co. Galway, along the verdant, rainy and totally desolate Connemara coastline.

And instead of John Wayne on horseback or a forbidding, gun-slinging Clint Eastwood, its hero is a burly police sergeant named Gerry Boyle, with a little too much time on his hands and a great talent for pushing people's buttons.

This is, needless to say, Gleeson’s role, and his performance is a triumph.

“Boyle was a brilliant creation from the start,” says Gleeson, fondly. “I just looked at the script and said ‘God, this has to happen.’”

Gleeson’s Sergeant Boyle is a small-town enigma. As Don Cheadle's character, American FBI Agent Wendell Everett, sums it up, he is either the dumbest person or the smartest. He is snarky to his co-workers and irreverent in the face of authority, but sweet and caring towards both his ailing mother (played by the always-wonderful Fionnula Flanagan) and the hookers from Dublin who visit him on his days off. There's a sense of loneliness about him, but it’s something neither he nor the film spends too much time dwelling on. Mostly, he seems wryly fed up with the ennui he's resigned himself to.

“He’s really bored, let's be honest about it, and he just wants something to happen; he wants somebody to lose their temper,” Gleeson explains. 

Fortunately, perhaps, things get more exciting for Gerry and the Connemara police force when it turns out that a strange murder in the area might be connected to a large shipment of drugs worth either €500 million or maybe €100 million – nobody is quite sure – en route from Colombia to Ireland and set to dock in Spiddal, or Cork, or…somewhere else. As all of his colleagues are either inept, corrupt or both, Boyle is forced to team up with the no-nonsense Agent Everett, who is totally mystified by his surroundings and the uncooperative Irish locals.

Everett is equally mystified by Boyle – by his penchant for breaking the law and his incendiary, sometimes racist remarks.

“It’s not unknown at home, people will kind of get up your nose a bit just to see how you react,” Gleeson says, raising a bushy orange eyebrow.

This is something, he admits, he’s a bit worried about: will American audiences get that Gerry doesn't always mean what he says? That the aim of many of his cracks is to get himself through the ridiculousness going on around him?

“I mean, he actually says it,” Gleeson points out, quoting the script in Gerry's defense: “I don’t mean anything by it, I’m only having a bit of fun, like.”

Even if viewers don’t quite get Gerry, they will definitely get the chemistry between Gleeson and Cheadle, who was also the film’s executive producer.

“I stayed in [for the screening] last night,” he discloses. “I wanted to see what an L.A. audience would make of it since it’s so removed from L.A. Don is fantastic. You see, he takes the American audience by the hand and leads them through it. He’s equally as appalled as they are and he can guide them through the maze that is Connemara.”