Irish Eye on Hollywood

Townsend, Theron still2

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
October / November 2007

Harry Potter’s screen pal Evanna Lynch isn’t the only Irish girl taking Hollywood by storm. In October, Saoirse Ronan will begin shooting the highly anticipated movie The Lovely Bones, which (like the Potter series) is also based on a mega-best-selling book. Ronan will star alongside Rachel Weisz and Ryan Gosling in director Peter Jackson’s screen version of Alice Sebold’s novel. Jackson, of course, is the visionary behind the Lord of the Rings films. Ronan has what you could call the grisly starring role in The Lovely Bones. She plays Susie Salmon, the young girl who is murdered early in the story yet continues to view the lives of her friends and family.

In December, Ronan also has a role in Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s best-seller, and starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Atonement opened the Venice Film Festival on August 29.  (More on that later.) Ronan has been a very busy girl. She will also appear alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in the upcoming Death Defying Acts and is shooting City of Ember with Bill Murray in Belfast.

Stuart Townsend’s career in Hollywood has been an uneven one thus far.  True, he had a charismatic turn in the Irish indy flick About Adam and he did manage to woo Charlize Theron. Otherwise, the Dubliner has yet to land the type of roles that have turned Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy into stars. So Townsend is going to try things from the other side of the camera. He will be directing Theron, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Rodriguez in Battle in Seattle. The film is set in 1999 amid the tumultuous protests that took place during the meeting of the World Trade Organization. Look for Townsend’s directorial debut to be released sometime next year.

If Townsend wants a mentor when it comes to building a career behind the camera, he needs to look no further than Belfast native Terry George, a force in TV and movies for two decades now. In October, George’s latest directorial effort Reservation Road hits theaters starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino. The film revolves around two families brought together by tragedy. George is always juggling numerous projects. The latest rumors suggest the Hotel Rwanda director might soon be working with Tom Cruise. George is talking to Columbia Pictures reps about bringing the Kurt Wimmer book Edwin A. Salt to the big screen. Published reports have suggested Columbia is wooing Cruise to play the lead, a CIA agent who may be a Russian spy.

Terry George earned screenwriting Oscar nods for Hotel Rwanda and the Irish film In the Name of the Father. He has also reportedly been working with Irish-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power (who immigrated to the U.S. as a child) on a screenplay involving the United Nations and efforts to stop genocide abroad.

October is also the month for the latest theatrical release from another Belfast director: Kenneth Branagh. The acclaimed thespian’s latest directorial effort is Sleuth, starring Jude Law and Michael Caine.  The film (which was screened during the Venice Film Festival) revolves around a mystery writer, a struggling actor and a woman for whose affections they’re both competing. Branagh’s latest Shakespeare adaptation, As You Like It, starring Kevin Kline, was shown on HBO  in August.

The magical story of John Carney’s musical romance Once continues.  The little movie starring Glen Hansard of The Frames has now earned over five million dollars in the U.S., an astonishing sum for an independent Dublin film with no stars. The movie could be the biggest sleeper hit of 2007, spreading slowly but surely to art houses all over the U.S. thanks to great reviews and strong word of mouth. Now, Carney has signed on to direct a much larger Hollywood project called Town House, which begins shooting in January. Town House also has a musical angle. This dark comedy looks at the death of a rock-and-roll star whose son has made a career of selling memorabilia. When the supply dries up, the son is forced to make some difficult choices regarding his family, his father’s legacy and the future.

On the DVD front, if you missed John Dahl’s latest noir comedy You Kill Me, starring Ben Kingsley and Tea Leoni, it’s worth a spot on your Netflicks queue. Kingsley plays a Polish-American alcoholic/gangster in blue-collar Buffalo whose main nemesis is a competing Irish-American hood.  Dahl is perhaps best known for directing The Last Seduction and Rounders. The You Kill Me screenplay was co-authored by Irish-American Stephen McFeely, best known for co-authoring the Chronicles of Narnia movies, including Prince Caspian, due out next year.

For years now, rumors have swirled that Johnny Depp was planning to bring J.P. Donleavy’s famous book The Ginger Man to the big screen.  At the age of 82, the writer himself is not sure the project is ever going to happen. Donleavy was recently quoted as saying: “I would dearly love to see his version of The Ginger Man before I am no longer here. But when I saw Mr. Depp in New York recently I made the mistake of telling him the plot of my next book, which is called The Dog on the 17th Floor. He loved it and I’m afraid he might make a movie out of it before The Ginger Man. If so, it will – alas – be my own fault.”

On to TV news: Irish-Americans will be well represented when the Emmy Awards are handed out September 16 (alas, after we go to press.) First up, Irish America cover girl Kathy Griffin has been nominated for her reality show My Life on the D-List.  For those who didn’t catch the season finale, Kathy was shown attending Irish America’s Top 100 gala last March. She then went to Ireland and visited Drogheda where her mother’s family hails from – and whose mayor is Michael O’Dowd (yes, our publisher’s brother). The flame-haired funny girl got very serious when she spread her recently deceased father’s ashes near Bray Head.

Meanwhile, Aidan Quinn is among the Irish talent nominated for HBO’s acclaimed mini-series Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which gained 17 Emmy nods. Wounded Knee, which also stars Anna Paquin and Adam Beach, can be purchased on DVD starting September 11.

Also in the running, Showtime’s The Tudors (filmed at Ardmore Studios in Wicklow) received numerous nominations for its Irish production team, including Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series and Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series. The Tudors stars Cork native Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

In other TV news, Tony Award winner Brían F. O’Byrne (following a supporting role in the Catherine Zeta-Jones summer romance No Reservations) continues his climb towards stardom. He has been added to the cast of Showtime’s Irish Rhode Island drama Brotherhood, which begins its second season in October. O’Byrne will play Colin Carr, a cousin of the Caffee brothers around whom the series revolves. One Caffee is a respected politician, the other a shady character with criminal connections. O’Byrne comes to “The Hill” (as the Providence Irish enclave is known) from Ireland and becomes involved in the Caffee family business. Fionnula Flanagan will also return for her second season as the Caffee family matriarch. Speaking of gangsters, look for Dominic Keating to play a super-powered Irish mobster (that’s how it’s been described) beginning in September on the acclaimed NBC series Heroes.

Finally, Dubliner Jason O’Mara has been tapped to play the lead in the planned U.S. version of the British TV smash Life on Mars. O’Mara (whose TV credits include The Agency, In Justice and CSI: Miami) will portray a modern-day detective who goes back to the 1970s and confronts a serial killer whose actions may have affected the present day. Prodigious TV producer David E. Kelley, who cast O’Mara, was quoted as saying: “This is a complicated character with many colors. After an exhaustive search, we’re thrilled to have cast Jason O’Mara. He is a tremendous talent.” ♦

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