Irish Eye on Hollywood

John Rhys Meyers stars as Louis Connelly in August Rush

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
February / March 2008

Many TV critics have argued that since The Sopranos went off the air, HBO has been a bit adrift. Well, now the cable channel is turning to Irish stage and screen veteran Gabriel Byrne for what can only be described as a bold experiment. Having had some success with shows revolving around psychiatrists and their patients (remember Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi?), Byrne will star in a new show called In Treatment, which begins airing January 28. The show is based on an Israeli series that chronicles a therapist who is cool, calm and collected with his patients but can’t get his own life in order. In fact, Byrne will have some of his most explosive moments when chatting with his own shrink.

That, however, is not the bold part. After all, even the shrink on The Sopranos had her own shrink. No, In Treatment takes a risk when it comes to its scheduled air times. New episodes will air every night of the week, with Byrne caring for one patient Monday nights, another Tuesdays, another Wednesdays and yet another on Thursdays. Byrne will see his own shrink on Fridays.

In Treatment will air this way for nine weeks, for a total of 45 shows. The stars who will appear as Byrne’s patients include Josh Charles, Blair Underwood and Alias’ Melissa George. Oscar winner Dianne Wiest will play Byrne’s own shrink. Why the intense scheduling program? HBO exc David Baldwin says HBO can do this because “We don’t worry about premiere ratings or selling ads.” In fact, In Treatment may be the first TV show designed for DVD users, since devoting so much time to initial airing will be tough. Indeed, not everyone is impressed by In Treatment’s plan. One Internet TV critic has already said: “It’s a unique and ambitious idea, but I think I need to go into therapy just trying to understand why HBO feels that now is the right time to air this potentially doomed show.”
Byrne also has a film wrapped up and awaiting release, starring alongside Christopher Plummer and Susan Sarandon in Emotional Arithmetic. The movie is about a sensitive young man whose life is thrown into disarray when his mother brings an old friend back into her life.

At this point in his dazzling career, director Martin Scorsese has certainly taken a liking to the Irish, and he has brought Leonardo DiCaprio along for the ride. A few years back this dynamic duo teamed up with Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson to make The Gangs of New York, an over-the-top but nevertheless impressive look at Irish turf battles in Civil War New York. After that came The Departed, Scorsese’s collaboration with Jack Nicholson, which also starred DiCaprio. Set in Boston, The Departed echoed many aspects of Irish gangster Whitey Bulger’s life. DiCaprio played an Irish-American FBI agent who may (or may not) be trying to bring the Boston Irish kingpin down. (In between those two Irish epics, Scorsese and DiCaprio filmed the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator.) Now, Scorsese and DiCaprio are slated to go Irish again for an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island.

It is the latest big screen version of the Irish-American writer’s work. Clint Eastwood brought Lehane’s Mystic River to the big screen, while Ben Affleck recently filmed Gone Baby Gone. Shutter Island is a bit of a departure for Lehane. It is set almost 50 years ago, and does not revolve around identifiably Irish-American characters.

Shutter Island looks at two federal marshals who visit a maximum security prison located on the titular island. Though initially investigating an escape, the lawmen stumble upon gruesome experiments and are thrust into a moral dilemma complicated by the demands of the Cold War.

Screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (who wrote the Colin Farrell movie Alexander) wrote the adaptation of Shutter Island. Reports suggest the movie will begin shooting in March.

At the end of 2007, Belfast native Ciarán Hinds (see interview page 34) starred with Nicole Kidman in Margot at the Wedding. This year should also be a busy one for the acclaimed stage actor who is making a bigger name for himself in Hollywood.  Hinds (seen in Munich, Veronica Guerin and Miami Vice) will star alongside Frances McDormand and Shirley Henderson in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
Set in the late 1930s, the film revolves around a London governess named Guinevere Pettigrew, who is fired from her job. She later finds work with a glamorous American actress, and the reserved Brit becomes swept up in her new world.

Later this year Hinds, who is currently starring on Broadway in The Seafarer, will lend his talents to the animated Tale of Despereaux, about a pack of mice who live in a castle and dream big. Kevin Kline, Matthew Broderick, Emma Watson, William H. Macy and Sigourney Weaver also provide voices.

Peter O’Toole just keeps going and going. The Galway-born legend (who was raised in England) has just signed on to perform alongside fellow Irish thespian Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the next season of The Tudors, expected to premiere on Showtime this spring.
O’Toole, an eight-time Oscar nominee, will play Pope Paul III in the series, which explores the sordid lives of the English royals. Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry VIII (played by Rhys Meyers) as punishment for the king’s notorious romance with Anne Boleyn. The Tudors is currently shooting in Dublin, which is just fine by O’Toole.

“As an Irishman, I am delighted to be working on an Irish production, filming in Ireland,” he recently said.

“We’re honored to have Peter O’Toole take on this wonderful part,” Tudors Executive Producer Morgan O’Sullivan added.

O’Toole’s most famous role was in the 1962  film Lawrence of Arabia but he has continued to flourish, earning yet another acclaimed independent film. In 2003, he was awarded a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Aside from O’Toole and Rhys Meyers, look for Irish fashion model Emer O’Sullivan and singer Jean Elliot (both Cork natives) in small roles in Tudors. They play courtiers in King Henry’s court.

O’Toole also has numerous movie projects in production. In March, he will begin shooting Love and Virtue, another costume drama, set during the era of King Charlemagne. John Malkovich, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Damian Lewis and Saffron Burrows round out the impressive cast. O’Toole will also join Mira Sorvino in Out of the Night, set during World War II in Italy. For the record, Peter Seamus O’Toole turns 76 in August 2008.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers also has a couple of ambitious international movies awaiting release. First there’s Toussaint, directed by and starring Danny Glover, as well as the rapper Mos Def, Don Cheadle and Angela Basset. The film is a biopic about Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture. Then there’s The Children of Huang Shi, in which Rhys Meyers plays George Hogg, a British journalist who rescued 60 orphaned children in 1930s China. Also look for Meyers’ collaboration with director Kristen Sheridan (Jim’s daughter) in August Rush on DVD.

It was fitting that last Halloween, an Irish director won a major award for his first horror film. Director Kit Ryan won the Best Film award at the New York Horror Film Festival for his comic-horror film Botched. Filmed in Wicklow, Botched stars Stephen Dorff as a thief who goes to Russia to steal an antique. The plan goes awry and the thief and his team of crazed Russian accomplices square off against the police – as well as a serial killer. Stephen Dorff, incidentally, nabbed Best Actor Award at the annual horror film fest. Botched also stars Irish actors Hugh O’Conor and Bronagh Gallagher. It is slated for a February 2008 release in Ireland and Britain, with a U.S. release date expected afterwards.

Producer-director Steve Barron has had a wide-ranging career, to say the least. Born in Dublin to a show business family (his father was an actor and technician, his mother a director), he worked as a camera assistant on the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve, among other films.

By the mid 1980s, he got into the fledgling music video business, eventually directing groundbreaking videos for the likes of Madonna, David Bowie and Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”). Barron even shot the famous Dire Straits video “Money For Nothing.” TV was also the inspiration for two highly successful movies he directed in the 1990s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Saturday Night Live-inspired Coneheads. Barron could, by now, ease into a cozy life directing as well as producing hits for TV and the big screen.

But instead, he chose to challenge himself and in 2007 he earned major raves for his independent film Choking Man.

Far from the broad genre comedies he’s directed in the past, Choking Man follows an Ecuadorian dishwasher at a Queens, New York diner who falls for a waitress. The title comes from the ubiquitous Heimlich Maneuver posters seen in most restaurants.

“The idea started with the poster,” Barron told Cinematical Indie Chat web site. “My son Oliver and I talked over a diner meal about how unappetizing the image of someone choking is, even if it’s a line drawing. New Yorkers didn’t seem to care – talking to some it seemed the years of compulsory display in the States had made the graphic almost invisible. The animation pieces I put into the movie felt naturally motivated, as they were Jorge’s ‘window’ to the world.” Asked what audiences should take from Choking Man, Barron said: “Perhaps a little more sensitivity to others from all walks of life. Feeling invisible and unnoticed must amount to feeling uncared for and useless. That’s not healthy. If we are a compassionate race, I hope we could be less selective.”

After you check out Choking Man on DVD, keep an eye out for Barron’s next exotic project, a movie set in Bangalore with an all-Indian cast led by Irrfan Khan. The story explores an eight-year-old boy from an upper-middle background. Barron also says he might take up a project called Quiver, which “follows a drunken, cynical Cupid around a London filled with misfiring relationships. Both are in the casting process,” Barron said.

Also worth checking out on DVD is Life of Reilly, a bio-documentary about Bronx native Charles Nelson Reilly, which revolves around his smash one-man show. Reilly made it to fame and fortune on Hollywood Squares and other comic offerings in the 1960s and 1970s. But Reilly faced numerous challenges when he came out of the closet and tried to reconcile his life with his provincial upbringing.

Also available now on DVD is a massive John Ford collection of 26 movies called Ford at Fox. It does not include some of Ford’s most famous Irish movies, such as The Quiet Man or The Informer. But it does include Grapes of Wrath (Ford said he could appreciate Steinbeck’s classic tale because it echoed the Irish Famine), Young Mr. Lincoln, My Darling Clementine and Drums Along the Mohawk. Dan Dailey, James Cagney, George O’Brien and others star in this huge collection, which also includes an essay by Irish America contributor and Ford biographer Joseph McBride.

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