Irish Eye on Hollywood

Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
April / May 2005

A recent New York Times article about the next installment of the Batman movie series was headlined “Batman Now Speaks With a British Accent.”

That may be true regarding Christian Bale, the hunky, Welsh-born star of Batman Begins, which hits theaters this summer. But if you listen closely you will also hear a lot of Irish accents around Bale.

First off, Dublin rising star Cillian Murphy gets a high-profile role in Batman Begins. Murphy, seen recently in the dark, brilliant Irish film Intermission (alongside Colin Farrell) as well as Girl With the Pearl Earring and Cold Mountain, will play the drug-dealing Dr. Jonathan Crane in Batman Begins. The role of Crane (also known as “The Scarecrow”) suggests that Murphy continues to be drawn to dark material, as he was last year when he starred alongside fellow Irish actor Brendan Gleeson in the zombie flick 28 Days Later.

Also look for Liam Neeson in Batman Begins. He will play Ducard, a mentor of sorts to Bruce Wayne, whose secret identity, of course, is Batman.

In fact, Neeson will have himself a busy summer, following his very busy Hollywood awards season. Neeson, of course, was nominated for a slew of Best Actor awards (including the Golden Globe) for his turn in Kinsey, the critically-acclaimed bio-pic about 1950s sex pioneer Alfred Kinsey.

Before Batman Begins hits theaters, Neeson will appear opposite Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven. Directed by Hollywood top gun Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Alien), Kingdom of Heaven is an action/adventure war epic set in the distant past and has quite an A-list cast including Neeson, Bloom, Jeremy Irons and Edward Norton. Kingdom of Heaven will also feature yet another turn by Irish supporting actor extraordinaire Brendan Gleeson, seen lately in Cold Mountain, Troy, The Village and Gangs of New York.

In March, meanwhile, Gleeson will appear alongside Samuel L. Jackson in the politically-tinged romantic drama In My Country. Directed by John Boorman (whose love for Ireland is evident in his work with Pierce Brosnan in The Tailor of Panama and Gleeson in The General), In My Country explores a love affair between Jackson (who plays a married Washington Post reporter) and Juliet Binoche, who plays a white South African journalist.

Another director who has done quite well recently exploring Irish material is the great Clint Eastwood. In the wake of his South Boston Irish-American tragedy Mystic River, Eastwood scored another knockout with Million Dollar Baby. The boxing flick (nominated for several Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture, Drama) explored the relationship between a female boxer (Hillary Swank) and her aging, Irish-American mentor (played by Eastwood, whose character occasionally lapsed into Gaelic). If you didn’t get a chance to see Million Dollar Baby in theaters, look for it soon on DVD.

Million Dollar Baby also featured a performance from rising star Brián F. O’Byrne, who is on his way to parlaying his Broadway success into big-screen stardom. But there is a sad side to the success of Million Dollar Baby. The film was based on the short stories of F.X. Toole, the son of an Irish immigrant who, for decades, worked the lower rungs of the fight game. He finally hit the literary big time after he turned 70. Unfortunately, he died just before the film hit the big screen. Million Dollar Baby is a lasting legacy to Toole’s great life and work.

Meanwhile, two Irish film stars recently made, um, interesting choices for their next projects.

First, there’s acclaimed director Jim Sheridan, whose last film In America, about Irish immigrants living in New York, earned three Oscar nominations. Sheridan is still busy working with his daughters trying to turn that movie into a TV show. But he is also planning another film, and this one takes him quite a way from the Irish experience in New York.

In Locked and Loaded, Sheridan will direct a story about African-Americans in the inner city struggling with guns and drugs. The star of the film knows a thing or two about run-ins with the law. Hot hip-hop star 50 Cent has signed onto the leading role. In the film, 50 Cent will play a drug dealer who tries to straighten his life out while pursuing a career in the music business.

Then there’s Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Myers. Following up his success in the international hit Bend It Like Beckham, in which Rhys-Myers played the Irish coach of a British girls soccer club, the Dublin star will next play Elvis Presley in a TV mini-series.

Rhys-Myers was selected by producers of the Presley movie mainly because, well, the Irishman looks a lot like the famously Southern king of rock-n-roll. CBS executive producer Howard Braunstein was quoted as saying: “[Rhys-Myers] was the first person I’d ever thought of for the role. I watched Bend It Like Beckham, and when you see him, you just say `He is Elvis.'”

Presumably Rhys-Myers will have no trouble swapping his Irish brogue for a Southern twang.

Speaking of accents, actress Holly Hunter has become the latest victim of the famously difficult Irish accent.

Hunter, who won a Best Actress Oscar in 1993 for her role in The Piano, had to employ an Irish accent in her new West End London play By the Bog of Cats.

Well, critics responded by calling it one of the worst accents they’d ever heard.

Hunter claimed not to be bothered by the criticism.

She was quoted as saying: “I’m only interested in what me, my director and the cast can create on the stage — I never read reviews.”

Hunter joins a long list of Hollywood luminaries including Julia Roberts (Mary Reilly), Brad Pitt (The Devil’s Own) and Tom Cruise (Far and Away) who, um, struggled with the Irish accent.

Irish director Damien O’Donnell made a big splash with his 2000 debut East Is East, a semi-comic look at the trials and tribulations of assimilation in melting-pot London. In February, O’Donnell’s next movie is slated for release. The buzz is that Inside I’m Dancing is every bit as good as East Is East.

Last year, O’Donnell won the prestigious Standard Life Audience Award at Edinburgh International Film Festival for Inside I’m Dancing. (Another Irish film, Mickybo &Me came in third place.)

Inside I’m Dancing explores the life of a young man suffering from cerebral palsy whose life is changed by an unlikely friendship. Once entitled Rory O’Shea Was Here, critics and festival judges have been impressed by O’Donnell’s Irish tale of suffering and friendship, whatever the film’s name is.

Finally, The Quiet Man recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. And though some Irish film lovers think the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara classic is a bit too sentimental, the film is about to receive a most Irish honor.

The Quiet Man Movie Club (yes, there is such a body) announced recently that they plan to translate the film into Gaelic.

Already, native-Irish actors have been lined up to speak the dialogue. Meanwhile, Irish language agencies Foras na Gaeilge and Udarás na Gaeltachta have said they are willing to fund the project along with Government-funded TV station TG4 and an independent production company Telegael.

There is one stumbling block: permission from Paramount Pictures, which owns the rights to the film, must be secured.

The Quiet Man Movie Club notes that the beloved film has already been translated into a dozen languages including French, Russian, Japanese and German.

Movie Club spokesman Des McHale recently said: “If John Wayne can speak in German and Japanese, then why not Irish also?” ♦

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