Brían O’Byrne Wins a Tony

Brían O'Byrne acccepting his award in NYC's Radio City Music Hall. (Photo: AP/Wideworld)

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August / September 2004

When he learned he had just won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a play, Irish actor Brían O’Byrne took to the stage looking stunned.

“I’m not sure if a grinning Irish guy who’s speechless for 45 seconds is going to make good TV,” he said. “But it might be just what you get.”

Who cares if it makes for good TV? O’Byrne has shown he can rule the Broadway stage like few other actors, so forget about TV.

Meanwhile, Hollywood has also come calling. The morning after his big victory, O’Byrne had to get right back to shooting his next movie, which could be the big Hollywood break he has been waiting for. O’Byrne will be seen alongside Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman in the upcoming movie Million Dollar Baby, slated for release next year.

It was a great week for O’Byrne, a native of Mullagh, County Cavan, whose “overnight success” story at the Tonys has actually been years in the making.

O’Byrne has toiled in all sorts of roles on the New York stage, and even won two previous Tony nominations for Broadway roles in The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.

He has also appeared in numerous Irish films, including An Everlasting Piece and, most recently, Intermission, as the hilariously disgruntled bus driver.

But it was the role of a pedophile and killer in Bryony Lavery’s chilling play Frozen that exposed O’Byrne to the masses. He beat out stiff competition for the statue, including fellow Irish actor Aiden Gillen, who himself earned raves for his role opposite Patrick Stewart in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Also up against O’Byrne was Tom Aldredge for his role in Twentieth Century, Ben Chaplin for his turn in The Retreat from Moscow, and Omar Metwally from Sixteen Wounded.

In his Tony speech, the first thing O’Byrne conveyed was his deep respect for his competition and the craft of acting in general.

“There is no such thing, I believe, as competition between actors. You can’t really award any of us. What we try to do is be good. The nomination hopefully means that we’re good. Any of the actors in this category would be standing here if they had my part. There are great parts. I have the best part on Broadway.”

It is the type of reserve that has been evident again and again in the interviews O’Byrne has been doing, now that he’s in greater demand.

But since he had the ear of the entire theater-loving world, O’Byrne also figured it was a good time for a plug.

“If you are listening at home on television, I’ve just said that, so it’s true, so you better come and see our show. Our show is called Frozen. In theater, in plays, in which I am passionate about, we don’t have scores underneath. When I was watching these musical numbers, it was fantastic. I sat back and went, `Wow.’ In theater, on stage, we sit on the edge of our seats. We are part of the play, and it is every bit as electrifying. Come see Frozen! And thank you so much. I am very honored.”

If you don’t get to see Frozen, however, it looks like we will be seeing plenty more of O’Byrne down the road. ♦

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