Irish Eye on Hollywood

Top: Irish actor Brendan Gleeson who will star in the literary classic Beowulf. Above: The Omen director, John Moore, with star Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August / September 2006

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson can always be relied upon to star in independent movies on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as Hollywood blockbusters. For example, next year, Gleeson will star alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins in a new screen version of the literary classic Beowulf. This latest sci-fi version of the book that has tortured high schoolers for decades will be directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future). Until then, keep an eye out for a small movie starring Gleeson called Black Irish. The film, which has been playing on the festival circuit, was shot in Boston and revolves around the tortured Irish-American father-son relationship of Gleeson and a character played by up-and-comer Michael Angarano. If you miss Black Irish in theaters, look for it on DVD.

Irish-born director John Moore got into some trouble a few years back when he criticized George W. Bush and America’s war in Iraq. This was interesting mainly because Moore’s movies have not really shown much of a political angle. First, the Dundalk-born Moore made a splash with his techno-action debut Behind Enemy Lines starring Owen Wilson. Then came another thriller, a remake called The Flight of the Phoenix. Back in June Moore waded into more controversy when he release his latest movie The Omen on June 6 – you know, 6/6/06 (check it out when it comes out on DVD).

The hype around the Satanic date made it easy to forget the film’s other Irish star – Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick. The seven-year-old resident of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania landed the plum role of Damien, spawn of the devil.

“All of the kids at school know that I’m in the movie,” Davey-Fitzpatrick told one Pennsylvania newspaper following a final day of first grade at J.M. Hill Elementary School. “People think I’m going to be like, ‘I’m a movie star and you’re not,’ but I don’t think I am.” Seamus is the son of James H. Fitzpatrick, 55, and Marty Davey, 47, both actors.

“He’s a pretty level-headed kid,” Seamus’ dad said recently. “He hasn’t had anyone running down the street calling his name, so he doesn’t realize it yet.” One movie review of The Omen read: “In the movie, Seamus’ blue eyes and pale skin – evidence of his Irish heritage – contrast with his brown hair dyed black, adding to the otherworldly effect.”

An important piece of advice for little Seamus recently came in. Harvey Stephen told reporters: “People use the same jokes and it gets really boring. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me if I had 666 on my head, I’d be rich.” Who is Harvey Stephen? Now 35 and the owner of a chauffeur company, Stephen played Damien in the original Omen film (1976).

Speaking of children, they – as well as parents with fond memories of a certain cinematic pooch – may want to all take a look at the latest Lassie when it comes out later this year. The film has extensive Irish connections, most prominent among them that it stars screen legend Peter O’Toole. The film, which also stars Irish actor John Lynch (In the Name of the Father), was shot in Ireland and was produced by Ed Guiney, whose past work includes an eclectic mix of Irish films such as The Magdalene Sisters, Disco Pigs and Omagh. Also starring in the new Lassie (set in 1930s Scotland and England) are Samantha Morton (who played an Irish immigrant in Jim Sheridan’s In America) and Kelly McDonald (who played Irish roles in Intermission and the 2000 independent movie Two Family House).

When summer turns to the dog days of August there will be two more movies hitting theaters with Irish-American angles – one serious, one comical.

On August 11, Oliver Stone’s much-hyped World Trade Center will open, starring Nicolas Cage as heroic Port Authority Police Officer John McLoughlin. Child actor Morgan Flynn will play McLoughlin’s daughter Caitlin. A week later, on August 18, New Jersey native and Irish-American writer director Kevin Smith hooks up again with Brian O’Halloran and the gang from Clerks, Smith’s 1994 indie hit, for a sequel.

On a more serious note, Ireland’s largest trade union recently announced it would assist in the funding for an upcoming movie about Irish rebel James Connolly, commander of Republican forces in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising. At the time of the Rising, Connolly was Acting General Secretary of the Services, Industrial, Professional & Technical Union’s (SIPTU) predecessor, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Connolly was eventually executed by the British. The Connolly bio-pic is slated to star Scotsman Peter Mullan. Irish thespian Patrick Bergin will portray the co-founder of the Irish Labour Party, James Larkin. Veteran Irish actor and writer Adrian Dunbar is to direct. SIPTU’s General Secretary Joe O’Flynn said: “James Connolly was passionately committed to organizing workers. The cause of labor is the cause of Ireland. The cause of Ireland is the cause of labour. They cannot be dissevered.”

Speaking of historical films, Ken Loach’s much-anticipated film of the Irish civil war The Wind that Shakes the Barley (starring Cillian Murphy), won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. Already being condemned as anti-British, the film – about brothers who are separated by the Irish civil war of the 1920s – has extensive Irish connections, though Loach himself is British. The film’s title comes from a song by Robert Dwyer Joyce and was written by Paul Laverty. Most of the film was shot in West Cork using locals. Padraic Delaney and Liam Cunningham also star.

Loach has risen to the top of the film world by making gritty critically-acclaimed independent movies such as My Name Is Joe and Ladybird, Ladybird. But The Wind that Shakes the Barley should remind some viewers of his earlier, controversial Irish film. Back in 1990, Loach directed Hidden Agenda, which won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes and explored cover-ups amidst the British “shoot-to-kill” policy in Northern Ireland.

Accepting his latest award at Cannes, Loach said The Wind that Shakes the Barley has a message with relevance for today. He said the movie is “a little step, a very little step, in the British confronting their imperialist history. Maybe if we tell the truth about the past . . . we tell the truth about the present.” The Wind that Shakes the Barley should be out in the fall.

Writer/director Ed Burns is not the only Irish link in his latest romantic comedy The Groomsmen, about men who are nervous because they are on the brink of marriage. Look out for NYPD cop-turned actor John O’Donohue (whose mother came from Sligo and dad came from Kerry). O’Donohue began attending off-Broadway plays while still a police officer and believed he, too, could become an actor. Born and raised on West 106th Street in Manhattan, O’Donohue is perhaps best known for a recurring role as Sgt. Eddie Gibson on NYPD Blue. He has also appeared on a host of TV crime shows such as CSI and Third Watch. Interestingly, Ed Burns’ dad was himself a cop. The Groomsmen, shown recently at the Tribeca Film Festival, will hit theaters later this year.

Finally, on the TV front, by the time Denis Leary’s brilliant Rescue Me as well as Showtime’s Brotherhood wrap up, you might think TV would be an Irish-free zone. But don’t forget, NBC is offering up The Black Donnellys, a gritty drama from the creator of the Academy Award-winning movie Crash about four Irish brothers fighting turf wars in New York’s notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. ♦

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