It’s still early in 2011, but so far the Irish newcomer of the year has to be Colin O’Donoghue. The Drogheda native starred alongside Anthony Hopkins in the Exorcist-style thriller The Rite, which should be out on DVD soon. It was O’Donoghue’s film debut, and though some critics were a bit rough on the film, The Rite spent a week as the number one movie in America in January. O’Donoghue, 30, had previously starred (alongside fellow Irish thespian Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in the Showtime drama The Tudors. Prior to that, O’Donoghue had simply done theater work and television shows for Ireland’s TV network RTE. With his performance in The Rite (which also stars Irish screen veteran Ciaran Hinds), O’Donoghue certainly opened some eyes and set himself up for an interesting career. What’s next for O’Donoghue? He’s playing things coy. “I’ve got something else in the works,” he told About.com. “But I can’t talk about it.”
As for Ciaran Hinds, you can also see the Northern Ireland native later this year (alongside ageless wonder Helen Mirren) in the international thriller The Debt. Hinds is also among the Irish actors who will appear in the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II, which hits screens in July. Fiona Shaw, Brendan Gleeson and Evanna Lynch will also be giving Harry a Hibernian bent.
Another busy Irish screen veteran is Sinead Cusack. The Dublin-born actress is entering her sixth decade of movie-making, since appearing in Alfred the Great in 1969. She has also, along the way, received two Tony nominations for her stage work. This March, you can catch Cusack in a film that was released in the U.K. several years back and has finally made its way to the States. The film, entitled Cracks, is about life and love at a posh boarding school for girls in 1930s Britain. Directed by Jordan Scott (Ridley Scott’s daughter), Cracks features Eva Green, Juno Temple and Imogen Poots. Green plays Miss G, a passionate teacher who wants her students to share her zest for life. But this nonconformist streak rubs some of the more strict people at the boarding school the wrong way. Things only get more complicated when a new student arrives from Spain. Fiamma (Maria Valverde) forces the girls, not to mention Miss G, to confront their repressed desires.
The great, cursed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once described himself as “half black-Irish and half old-American stock with the usual exaggerated ancestral pretensions.” The level of Irishness to be found in Fitzgerald’s work is debatable. (Some scholars think the Catholic influence is more predominant.) Either way, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of just a few books that could be mentioned as The Greatest American Novel. Already the basis for one mediocre 1974 movie (starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), The Great Gatsby is about to be made again – in 3D! This might sound profoundly ill-conceived, but you can’t argue with the star power lining up to make the film. Leonardo DiCaprio (whose Irish roles include The Departed and Gangs of New York) will play the mysterious title character, while Tobey Maguire plays narrator Nick Carraway. Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan (An Education) will also star in the film, to be directed by the always-ambitious Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge).
James Brown used to be known as “the hardest working man in show business,” but Liam Neeson now seems to be vying for the title. After the Ballymena star had another number one action hit in February with Unknown (co-starring Aidan Quinn and Mad Men’s January Jones) he has another trio of movies in various stages of development and production. On the popcorn front, Neeson is set to star alongside pop singer Rihanna and the uber-hot (in more ways than one) Brooklyn Decker in the film Battleship. You’ve heard of movies based on books, TV shows and even video games? Well, Battleship is based on the old-school board game. Neeson plays an admiral on the titular vessel who must do battle with aliens on the high seas. The director slated for Battleship is Peter Berg (an actor who has also directed big budget movies such as Hancock and smaller pics such as Friday Night Lights). Look for Battleship to set sail in May of 2012. Neeson will also appear in The Grey alongside Dallas Roberts, James Badge Dale and Dermot Mulroney. The film is about a group of oil-rig workers stuck in the Alaskan tundra who must elude a pack of nasty wolves. Finally, Neeson will keep his vocal cords warm so as to eventually reprise his voice role as Aslan in the ongoing Chronicles of Narnia series, a fourth entry of which is expected further down the road.
Meanwhile, Aidan Quinn, the quintessential working actor, just keeps on working. In March, look for Quinn in the inspirational true story The Fifth Quarter. Also starring Ryan Merriman and Andie McDowell, The Fifth Quarter is about the Abbate family, whose son Luke died in a terrible car accident. Luke’s brother went on to play football at Wake Forest, and thus began a poignant tradition in which the final quarter of every Wake Forest game came to be known as Luke’s quarter – or “The Fifth Quarter.” Quinn plays family patriarch Steven Abbate, whose deceased son had already made the world a better place by donating his organs following his death. The family now spearheads efforts to educate teens about the dangers of reckless driving. Look for The Fifth Quarter to hit screens March 25.
Cillian Murphy, fresh off the blockbuster Inception and the Irish gangster flick Perrier’s Bounty, will star alongside Robert DeNiro and Sigourney Weaver in the Rodrigo Cortes-directed thriller Red Lights. Weaver plays a psychology professor studying paranormal activity, who becomes fascinated by the world-renowned psychic played by DeNiro. Murphy plays the love interest of Elizabeth Olsen, one of Weaver’s students.
Crying Game thespian Stephen Rea is among the stars of an upcoming BBC thriller The Shadow Line. Rea is slated to play a character described by RTE as a “brilliantly lethal puppet master.” The seven-part series will also star Christopher Eccleston and Antony Sher and takes a multi-layered look at the murder investigation of a crime boss. Rea remains busy off-screen as well. Recently he lobbied the Northern Irish government to avoid deep cuts to arts programs. “We should be proud of …the actors, directors, script writers, lighting engineers, set designers, costume designers and make-up artists from Northern Ireland who have gone on to develop successful stage, film and TV careers, learned and developed their craft at local theatre venues. If it weren’t for the initial investment in our home-grown product and talent, so much opportunity would be lost to Northern Ireland,” said Rea.
The Irish Film and Television Awards are an important guide to emerging Irish film talent and the big winner this year was Juanita Wilson’s As If I Am Not There, about the Bosnian War. The movie nabbed best film, best director and best script. Last year, the Dublin-born Wilson received an Oscar nomination for her short The Door, and was dubbed a rising star by closely-read Variety Magazine. Other movies that garnered praise at this year’s IFTAs were Perrier’s Bounty, Swansong: The Story of Occi Byrne, The Runway and Sensation.
One final note originating from the other side of the Atlantic is a new documentary called Born Fighting about the Scots Irish. Based on the book of the same name by U.S. senator James Webb, the film recently aired on TV in Scotland, and it’s a good bet it will soon be available to U.S. viewers. Webb convincingly argues that the Scots Irish have had a profound impact on U.S. history, yet are rarely discussed, or are mentioned only in the context of redneck stereotypes.