Irish Eye on Hollywood

Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Willem Dafoe lead an all-star cast in Wes Anderson's new film, Life Aquatic. (Photo: Philippe Antonello).

By Tom Deignan, Columnist
October / November 2004

Brendan Gleeson is turning into Hollywood’s go-to-guy, at least when it comes to supporting characters.

Gleeson’s credits, in the last few years, are a tour through A-list Hollywood, from his role in Martin Scorsese’s Irish warrior flick Gangs of New York to more recent turns in Troy and the creepy summer blockbuster The Village (directed by Sixth Sense creator M. Night Shyamalan).

Along the way, Gleeson has maintained street cred by appearing, in smaller, independent films such as Danny Boyle’s zombie-fest 28 Days Later. Well, there’s nothing small about Gleeson’s latest role. He will be among the newcomers to the next big-budget Harry Potter movie. To be directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Gleeson will play Mad Eye Moody, described in one report as “the latest in a series of ill-fated Defense Against the Dark Arts Teachers.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is slated for a November 2005 release. Previous Harry Potter movies have had a distinctly Irish flavor, with Fiona Shaw, Kenneth Branagh and – of course – the great Richard Harris starring.

Certainly not a film for the Harry Potter set is Liam Neeson’s next film Kinsey, which is set for a November release. Neeson stars as the famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. Also appearing in the drama directed by Bill Condon (perhaps best known for the indy hit Gods and Monsters) are Laura Linney (more on her later), Chris O’Donnell, Tim Curry, Timothy Hutton, Oliver Platt, and famed radical author Gore Vidal.

Liam Neeson in Kinsey. (Photo: Ken Regan)

Kinsey, of course, was an Indiana University researcher whose studies of human sexuality were groundbreaking and controversial in the (supposedly) buttoned-up 1940s and 1950s. Kinsey established the Institute for Sex Research, which conducted interviews with thousands of everyday people, and published best sellers such as Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Kinsey died in 1956.

Gabriel Byrne, by now, is a revealing study of just how fickle show business can be. Easily one of the more popular and critically acclaimed actors of the 1990s, Byrne began the new century with a stunning turn on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten and was also launching a new sitcom.

Just a few years later, however, Byrne’s luck has soured. His latest movie Shade (also starring Dublin actor and Irish America cover story subject, Stuart Townsend) went straight to DVD.

Shade is set in the world of high-stakes poker playing, and tells the story of three con men looking for one more big score. Aside from Townsend and Byrne, Shade also stars Sylvester Stallone, Thandie Newton, Jamie Foxx, Melanie Griffith, and Hal Holbrook.

In October, however, Byrne has a shot at what looks like a cinematic winner. He is among the stars of Dylan Kidd’s second film, P.S. The cast includes Laura Linney, Topher Grace, Paul Rudd, and Marcia Gay Harden.

P.S. has been described as a touching and romantic film, quite a departure from Kidd’s cutting, much-heralded debut Roger Dodger, starting Campbell Scott.

In P.S., Laura Linney plays Louise Harrington, a divorced, thirty-something woman who is ultimately unfulfilled as an admissions officer at Columbia University. Byrne stars as Linney’s ex-husband, who, for better or worse, remains a large presence in her life.

Harrington’s life is adrift until student Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace) appears at her office, beating a striking resemblance to her high school boyfriend, an artist who died in a car accident decades earlier.

It’s not long before the older woman / younger man affair kicks in. So do the complications, from Harrington’s ex-hubby, her best friend, as well as her own young lover, who may simply be trying to sleep his way into an elite college.

For Byrne fans who can’t wait until the release of P.S., Shade is just out on DVD.

Speaking of movies with Irish actors on DVD, keep an eye out for Corkman Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (recently seen in Bend It Like Beckham) in Mike Hodges’ atmospheric noir film l’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

And in one of those Hollywood coincidences, both Rhys-Meyers and Byrne will appear in the September release Vanity Fair, the latest movie version of William Makepeace Thackeray’s famous novel, starring Reese Witherspoon.

Gabriel Byrne in Vanity Fair. (Photo: Frank Connor).

Irish-American actress Anjelica Huston (daughter of Hollywood legend John Huston) has a much-anticipated film coming out, slated for a Christmas release. It will be her latest with wunderkind writer-director Wes Anderson.

Huston stars in Life Aquatic with fellow Irish American, the comedic Bill Murray. The pair, along with Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson, starred in Anderson’s previous smash hit The Royal Tenenbaums, a tender (or pretentious, in the minds of some) look at an overeducated, dysfunctional family in Manhattan. Aquatic also stars Jeff Goldblum, Peter Stormare and Matthew Gubler.

At this point, Anderson fans (and detractors) may know what to expect from this brief Internet description of Life Aquatic: “A quirky crew of wildlife filmmakers follows their self-centered leader on a misguided hunt for a rare shark.”

Meanwhile, the Colin Farrell train shows no signs of slowing down. Few other actors could cause a media sensation by having one of their scenes cut from a film. But when Farrell’s full-frontal nude scene was deleted from the recent indy pic A Home at the End of the World, it got nearly as much attention as the film itself. Still, most critics said that Farrell’s performance in the flick added yet another stellar line to his already impressive resume.

There was other controversy on the Farrell front recently when the star was forced to deny rumors that he would star in a film about an I.R.A. killer who targeted British security agents. How could Farrell make such a movie when he’s got so many others ready to go? There’s Ask the Dust, a 1930s romantic tragedy in which Farrell stars with Salma Hayek.

Then there’s the November release Alexander, Oliver Stone’s vision of the life of Alexander the Great, starring Farrell as the great one, alongside Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins.

Meanwhile, back on the independent side of Irish cinema, look out for the September release Cowboys & Angels. This coming-of-age Irish tale follows two best friends, one gay, one straight, as they move from the uncomplicated ease of youth to the very messy life of adults. Written and directed by newcomer David Gleeson, Cowboys & Angels won the Best Screenplay Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Irish-American film veterans such as Peter Gallagher and Andrew McCarthy will be mingling with a slew of newcomers beginning September 23 at the fourth annual Shorts Night for the New York-based Film Fleadh. Andrew McCarthy (best known for 1980s work such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink) is expected to attend the fest at NYU’s Cantor Film Center, which will screen his directorial debut, an award-winning short entitled “News for the Church”. Newly minted TV stars Peter Gallagher and Graham Norton are also expected to be on hand for an evening of short films featuring some of the most innovative Irish film talent. For more information go to www.filmfleadh.com.

Speaking of TV stars, Kiefer Sutherland (of 24 fame) is about to venture into troubled waters for an American actor. He will play an Irish immigrant in the drama River Queen, set in the British colony of New Zealand in the 18th century. Beware, Kiefer: the likes of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kate Hudson have all conquered Hollywood – but they tend to try and forget their forays into the nasty, brutal land of the Irish accent. ♦

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