For years now Irish leading man Gabriel Bryne, 59, has shunned stardom and all of its trappings, opting instead for a quiet life in Brooklyn in a house filled with books and art.
If there’s a spectrum that begins with Mickey Rourke, then Byrne is probably at the other end of it. But despite his obvious shyness and his quest for privacy, Byrne’s career has only accelerated.
Beginning with RTE’s soap opera "Bracken" back in the 1970’s through to his recent Golden Globe-winning turn as the deeply conflicted psychotherapist in "In Treatment," Byrne has created a body of work that has quietly turned him into one of the most sought after actors in the world.
It’s that soulful quality he has, that craggy face line with character and experience that makes him so believable as psychiatrist Paul Weston in HBO’s "In Treatment." Centering on the conversations held between doctor and patient in real time, five nights a week in half-hour sessions, the show has earned a much-deserved lead actor Golden Globe for Gabriel Byrne.
Night after night Byrne’s brilliant therapist deals with demons that lurk beneath the placid exterior of his various patients. But recently, in his own documentary, "Stories From Home," Byrne has candidly revealed the demons he has dealt with since childhood.
It must be difficult for this intensely private actor to recall the years of abuse he suffered from age eight to 12 at his Christian Brothers primary school in Ireland. Speaking to The London Times recently, Byrne said: “There were things like being lifted off the ground by the hair of your head and being beaten with chair legs. One guy was held out of the window by his leg. It was accepted because a child doesn't have the critical apparatus to examine a situation like that.”
Typically he is, he says, reluctant to “carp on about it” and yet he recognizes that, while he didn't suffer physically, “the damage was emotional, and that took me a long time to shake off.”
A spiraling cycle of drink and depression was only broken when he decided to seek professional treatment, calling it “one of the most difficult things ever in my life.” That, he says, was a few years back and now he doesn't miss drinking.
“I used to drink to get out of depression, which led to more depression. It was a vicious circle. I still have to be careful with depression. It's about trying not to let other people know all you want to do is lie in a corner and have nothing to do with anyone.”
Fatherhood is another experience that has changed him for the better. “There's a raw honesty about kids. I think the unconditional love that flows between parents and kids is the most beautiful thing. It teaches you your place in the world.”
Now Byrne’s place is very much New York City, whereas with Dublin it’s more of a love/hate relationship. “In Dublin, I’m constantly defined by my past. In New York, I have a clean slate.”
Byrne takes his role as a Brooklyn citizen seriously and he is currently battling with New York property developers over plans to erect a tower block in that part of the district referred to as DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge).
It’s only lately, and rather reluctantly, that Byrne decided to do the New York thing and embrace therapy once and for all. “I found that my resistance to it was based on old thinking, that talking about yourself and trying to find out who you are and talking about your childhood was all just American self-indulgence.”