Blessed with leading man good looks and a level of talent that makes every performance he gives an event, it’s quite strange that Ciaran Hinds, 57, has often been passed over for leading man roles.
“I usually turn up like a bad penny for a moment or two here there and everywhere,” he tells the Irish Voice, making light of the fact but acknowledging it too.
But all that’s changing now. Over the last decade Hinds, who hails from Belfast originally, has quietly become a go-to actor for some of the most sought after roles in theater (where he first came to prominence) and film (where he’s finally carrying the films himself).
This month he can be seen in his award winning turn as a bereaved husband in “The Eclipse”, a supernatural shocker directed by Conor McPherson. After that he’ll star in “Life During Wartime,” the pitch black but highly anticipated new film from virtuoso director Todd Solondz (Hinds plays a pedophile just released from prison).
But it’s the size of the roles that signal a new direction for Hinds career.
“When Conor and I were doing ‘The Seafarer’ on Broadway a couple of years ago he passed me this rough draft of ‘The Eclipse’ and asked me if I might be interested in playing Michael, the lead. At the time it was quite a threadbare draft, but working with Conor in the theater I knew he had a lot in his armory, philosophically and psychologically,” Hinds says.
“Even though it was a mystery to me I had no hesitation in saying, ‘Well, if you want me to do it I’ll be thrilled, wherever we go with it.’”
Hinds’ is the emotional center of “The Eclipse” (you can catch it at the Craic Fest at the Tribeca Cinema on Saturday, March 6) playing a father, son and bereaved husband. He’s sensational in the role, giving a riveting performance that will remind audiences why he’s in such demand with directors worldwide.
Says Hinds, “Michael’s just a small town teacher, that’s all he is. I think Conor wanted the human scale of the film to be honest and real, so that when the supernatural or the paranormal hits people will have a huge reaction to it. They’ll think, ‘S***, he’s really in deep trouble…’
“Because if you believe in Michael and follow his journey you discover he’s broken hearted, he’s suffering panic attacks, he’s on rocky ground emotionally and psychologically.”
It’s up to the audience to decide if the night terrors Michael is witnessing are real or imaginary, the product of his mind or a genuine haunting. We know he’s been devastated by the loss of his wife and the suicide of his father, we know that emotionally he’s holding on by a thread, but ghosts?
“Whether it was a visitation or self-manifested through being psychologically unsteady, I think that Conor wanted the audiences to make up their own minds about it. I don’t think he wants to force any negative interpretation,” says Hines.
Grieving after a death happens in different ways to different people, Hinds says. McPherson wanted people to identify with Michael’s panic at that moment in his life. The shocks come like a bolt out of the blue. McPherson’s taking us very quietly to a strange place and suddenly confronting us with it.
Alongside all the eeriness, the film is also often wildly funny. In particular Irish American actor Aidan Quinn, 50, scores for his turn as an insufferably pompous American novelist.
“Aidan is remarkable in this film,” says Hinds. “It’s a not a part he’d be normally asked to play certainly over here in America, and he loved being asked to play it. Aidan read it as a very arrogant, obnoxious, full of himself writer -- but he’s suffering. He feels the hand of mortality -- he’s getting old.
“Iben Hjejle (Hinds’ co-star) is superb as well. Her directness and truthfulness and what she offers is captivating.”
Someone suggested Quinn’s pompous character was a composite of Oscar winning Irish film director Neil Jordan, but McPherson says no. Other people asked how did McPherson know that that’s how so many novelists actually behave, because neither he nor Hinds has ever been to an Irish literary festival.
Fellow Irish filmmakers are certainly in no doubt about “The Eclipse” merits. Last week it won three Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) for Best Film, Best Script and Best Supporting Actor (Quinn).
“It helps when a small independent film receives that kind of recognition. Having worked on it for three or four years drafting it you get to shoot it and you wonder if it will have any value,” says Hinds.
“Then when you do that you wonder if anyone will get to see it. Then you show it to someone who might put it in a festival. Then from the festival we were lucky enough to have it screen at Tribeca, then at Tribeca someone saw it and picked it up. There’s a whole process: hurdle after hurdle.”
Speaking about his craft as an actor and the depth he invests in each character he plays, Hinds thinks it may in part stem from his Belfast background. Being Irish may actually be good training for the stage.
“I’m from Belfast. My close friend Liam (Neeson) is from Ballymena. I’ve been told that there’s something about the Irish: they talk a lot but when it comes to things that are emotional, while some people will talk them out, we Irish just tend to keep a lid on it. It’s private,” says Hinds.
“Especially northern people, it’s been pointed out to me. So maybe that stoicism is part of our psyche. Not speaking, but reflecting the emotion in a look that is significant.”
Hinds lives with his wife Helene Patarot in Paris, and he laments the state of Irish filmmaking at the moment.
“There was a time when I hoped that our great young filmmakers like Lance Daly and Declan Recks – well, the opportunities for them are few and far between to make film,” Hinds says.
“It’s a shame because they’re so gifted. I don’t know if it should have to be by law, but we should support our own talent. There’d be no harm in going out to see an Irish film once a week and it would support the whole industry. Somehow in Ireland we should really encourage it at some level.”
As for a future Broadway run for “The Birds,” McPherson’s latest play that ran with Hinds in the lead role, he sounds skeptical.
“We don’t know if that’s going to happen to it because although it packed out the theater in Dublin the critical reaction differed,” Hinds says.
“I think that Conor took it to a place that was an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s original story, then he took it into his own realm of the slightly existential survival of the human species, and where does that put us philosophically?
“Some people really liked that, and some people really wanted to see Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds onstage. You know, big birds coming down on stage and eating people. When you have that expectation you’ll be disappointed.
“But many people were enthralled by it. We just don’t know at this point if it will transfer. It needs to have a real fire when it leaves Dublin.”
As for the career renaissance being experienced at the moment by Ireland’s other leading men like Colin Farrell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Neeson, Hinds is delighted.
“It’s not like we think, oh we’re at this level, this is the work we’ll do now. There’s no plan,” says Hinds.
“Brendan Gleeson is directing his first film, ‘At Swim Two Birds.’ I hear he’s got Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy and perhaps Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Isn’t that fantastic? I just think yes, get cracking on that!”
Hinds will also feature in the next Harry Potter film as Aberforth Dumbledore, the gruff younger brother of Hogwarts beloved Principal Albus Dumbledore.
“I’m grumpy in the film, and the joy of that was that they tried to make me look similar to Michael Gambon, which was a great honor for me. It was fun to be a part of that world and those amazing sets.”
“The Eclipse” opens in limited release on March 26.