Ciaran Hinds has appeared in a wealth of movies and plays over the years, yet he remains on the periphery of Hollywood stardom – it would seem by choice.
Following a critically lauded role as the Devil in Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer,” his latest movie, “Race to Witch Mountain,” in which he plays a UFO investigator, was released this month.
Hinds, who is 55, was born in Belfast, the youngest of five children and the only son. His father was a doctor, and his mother, Moya, had been involved in amateur dramatics. He attended Queens University to study law, but soon left to attend the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
He began his stage career at the Glasgow Citizens’ Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and since his first film appearance, in 1981, as one of the medieval knights in “Excalibur,” he has gone on to amass a large number of credits both on film and stage, including “Munich,” “Margot at the Wedding,” and “There Will Be Blood.”
He also appeared as Julius Caesar in the HBO series Rome, for which he received the 2007 Irish Film & Television Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role.
I first noticed Hinds in “December Bride,” a tale of two brothers in love with the same woman. Set in Northern Ireland at the turn of the 20th century, it’s a classic film with haunting cinematography.
Can you tell me about December Bride, which I saw again recently and enjoyed as much the second time round?
It was filmed in 1989. There hadn’t been a film made in the North of Ireland for about forty years, sometime in the 50’s. It was made and directed by a Kerry man, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, a great cinematographer who was interested in the dichotomy of the North. He found this story by Sam Hanna Bell and stayed with it for a long time to get it made. There was something very pure about the film itself, at the root of it. It was very honest. They didn’t try to modernize it or give it an aggressive glamour that passes for truth. It was a simple story of two brothers, very closed off. And they get awakened, their hearts get awakened, by the same woman.
It also brought in much about the North, and what was happening on the periphery. Presbyterianism and the landscape featured heavily in the film. Thaddeus being a photographer himself got this fantastic French cinematographer Bruno de Keyzer because he loved the way Bruno treated people’s faces and landscape.
Was there a specific moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do?
Well, I hardly studied law. I was supposed to be studying law — I never thought, “I want to be an actor, I want to be on stage, I want to be in film.” For a long time I was just involved. I did a lot of Irish dancing. I worked with Patricia Mulholland who was one of the few in the North who did work that was different from the rigid Irish dancing. Her work was very fluid. She was a huge influence in terms of showing us how to move.
Do you go back to Belfast a lot?
I nip in and go visit my mom in Cushindall, in the Glens of Antrim. She’s been living there 20 years now. My father died 15 years ago and they had moved there right after he retired. She’s 87 now. She can’t move as once she did, but she’s still very much in the game. She was involved in amateur dramatics when she was younger, before we children were born.
She must be thrilled at your success.
I suppose, yeah, but all parents are nervous for their children, “Will they get through?” “Will they get by?” That was the reason, I think, that even though they knew I wanted to be involved in theater, they wanted me to have a degree to fall back on. So my parents were probably quite nervous for a while. I mean, in the end the work is about survival, it’s not about getting up to the top rung.
Do you have a preference between film and drama?
Not really. I usually say that the one that I’m doing at the time is the one I prefer, and that is certainly true in the case of “The Seafarer.” There’s work to do along the journey. But it’s just everything around the play, from being around Conor McPherson and his writing, and working with Conleth Hill, David Morse, and being in on Sean Mahon’s first time on Broadway, and he’s great, really wonderful. Then there’s the god we call Jim Norton. So just to be in the company of these people and to work together is quietly thrilling.
David Morse and Ciarán Hinds in Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer"