It's a classic set-up. Mike, a handsome young American soldier, crash-lands in Ireland, and before you can say Toora Loora Loora, he’s discovered poteen (moonshine), ceili dancing and a comely Irish lass.
What’s different about "Waiting for Dublin" (which opened March 13) is its huge sense of fun. For actor Andrew Keegan, it was a case of life imitating art, because he was having similar experiences making the film.
"Waiting for Dublin" opens in a Chicago nightclub on New Year’s Eve 1944 where Lieutenant Mike Clarke is celebrating before shipping out to Europe the next morning as a fighter pilot. After too many drinks he meets a shady stranger, Vito Massucci, who suckers him into making a $1,000 bet. Mike must become a war ace by shooting down at least five enemy aircraft.
Fine, Clarke, thinks — he’s probably going to get shot down anyway, so what the hell? But the next morning, when he sobers up, he realizes the deal was changed from $1,000 to $10,000 and Vito’s uncle — who witnessed the contract — is none other than Al Capone!
As the young Clarke, Keegan, 30, is a natural as the out-of-his-depth Yank surrounded by the conniving Irish. In person he turns out to be that rare thing: a movie star with humility.
Although often cast for his brooding good looks, Keegan is essentially a California dude. When he’s home in Venice Beach he takes every opportunity he finds to ride the waves. (“It never gets old, man, never.”)
“The film’s setting is World War II, and I play an American Air Force pilot whose plane goes down," he says. "I end up in a small town in Ireland. I really like the character, he’s a little naïve, he’s good hearted but he gets himself into terrible scrapes.”
For Keegan, getting used to the Irish weather in Co. Clare was tougher than playing a figher pilot.
“There’s a real uniqueness to the cold there. The damp just goes right to your bones, it cuts you deeper and you just gotta keep your drink on to keep yourself numbed you know? I totally understand and I empathize with the Irish now that I have learned what their winter weather can do.”
In spite of the weather, Keegan still went surfing. "I even got up to Donegal, where I was surfing in my shorts without a wetsuit. I said as kind of a joke that I’d just surf in shorts. Holy cow, that didn’t last very long,” he laughs.
Keegan describes his introduction to Ireland as ideal. He first arrived around St. Patrick’s Day in 2006 — the first one with sunny weather for 50 years. Soon, he found himself sampling the homemade poteen.
“I had a very interesting experience drinking that, my God! The day afterwards there were incidents I didn’t entirely recall. I just didn’t remember,” he says.
“The Irish were drinking it in thimble-fulls, and I was drinking it in shots. When I came downstairs the next day there was a young lass waiting for me. Apparently I had made a date with her I couldn’t remember. I looked at her, and it was as if I had never seen her before. I had no idea who she was. I blame it on the moonshine.”
Keegan was close with Heath Ledger. A trace of sadness can be detected in his voice when he talks about his friend.
“I know Heath’s family well and I actually traveled to Perth with Heath to meet them when '10 Things I Hate About You' came out. Heath and I were close; we’d hang out every week,” says Keegan.
“He shared so much of himself with his friends, and I feel fortunate to have been close to him. His death was such a shock and so tragic. We can’t change his destiny, but we can appreciate what he did. Like his family said, I choose to celebrate his life rather than get sad about his death. It was a gift to have known him.”
Keegan is currently in New York for the opening of "Waiting for Dublin," is itching to get back to Los Angles and to his beloved Venice Beach.
Awaiting the green light is a film called "Wave Riders" – a new surfing film set in (wait for it) Donegal! "Baywatch" may never be the same.
“But this time I’m bringing the wet suit, dude,” he says, laughing.