Big Bad Bunny
"Everybody reckons its a genre film," says actor Brendan Gleeson, of the new Irish crime film, I Went Down. "I got 10 pages into Conor McPhersons script and thought: Oh. Right. Irish Tarantino. But then Bunny entered, and the script began to break with all predictions. Hes such a chaotic steamroller of a man, a big Dublin lulah with an exaggerated sense of his own importance and a great assumption of paternal superiority the sort of mad gobshite who could never even arrive in a Tarantino movie."
The 43-year-old Gleeson, a big-boned, high-energy performer, makes a wonderful Bunny in I Went Down, a career breakthrough that should be boosted still further come fall by his superb (if unlikely) star turn in John Boormans The General, which won best director at this years Cannes film festival. Gleeson has a plain, eminently familiar face: Hes the red-bearded lug cowering a shoulder or two behind Mel Gibson when the arrows come flying in Braveheart. Hes the one decent priest in The Butcher Boy. As Bunny, hes the good-natured agent of chaos in I Went Down. In person, Gleeson is a wonderful talker articulate, precise, the kind of guy wholl use the word imprimatur in casual conversation. That word (which his Gaelic lilt rhymes with alma mater) rolls off his tongue when he explains that "My Left Foot started people believing in the Irish film industry. The imprimatur of the Oscars made a huge difference to the mindset at home." Irelands coming of age in the worlds film industry coincides with a readiness in Gleeson. Until 1991, he wrote and acted in theater by night, while earning his living as a teacher of the Irish language. Since committing himself to acting full-time, his climb has been rapid. His performance as Michael Collins in the Thames TV movie The Treaty brought him to the attention of John Boorman, and his volcanic physical presence in The General gives a powerfully tragic dimension to the true story of Martin Cahill, the Dublin crime lord. "John was adamant we not romanticize this man," says Gleeson. "But we needed to humanize him. And one of the burning questions the film is meant to leave you with is, what might this man have become if he hadnt been raised in such poverty? Because as John saw it, he had the brilliance, the roguishness and the physical daring of a great Irish chieftain. His story, we hope, provokes in the viewer a most profound sense of waste. That all the vitality and humanity of this man is squandered in the dark places left open to him." That Gleeson is an established playwright in Dublin comes as no surprise, given his verbal facility, but interestingly enough, he has no plans as yet to write and direct films. "Im not the sort to wait for the phone to ring, but for the moment I dont have the passion that Boorman has, or that Paddy Breathnach showed in I Went Down, which would inspire an actor to soar. "Im a great believer in this notion put forth by Patrick Kavanaugh, a great Irish poet, that Gods make their own importance. He talks somewhere about a dispute over a little patch of land, and says, The Iliad was made out of such a local row as this. Every small thing is essentially huge. Every ordinary mans life is ultimately heroic or tragic. That I went into acting and got this second life, where Im sitting here in the Westwood Marquis talking to you, or being feted at Cannes living in the very glam that everybodys always talking about is a wonderful but ridiculous concept, set against the first part of my life. I dont regret anything. I dont regret coming late to it. There are roles I wouldve preferred, that I wouldve loved to have had a go at, and would have, had I started younger but thats a passing sort of regret. Its been an incredible bonus to have two lives."
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