Irish Eye on Hollywood


By Tom Deignan, Contributor
April / May 2008

Saoirse Ronan (featured in our Top 100, page 44) didn’t take home an Academy Award at the big show on February 24, but the 13-year-old Hollywood star has a busy 2008 planned. Ronan was nominated as a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Atonement.  Prior to the Oscars, Ronan was happy just to be going to the show, which was nearly canceled because of the prolonged writer’s strike.

“It will be really nice … to go to the big ceremony and get to sit at the fancy table and everything, that would be pretty cool,” she was quoted as saying.

This October, look for Ronan in a starring role alongside Bill Murray, Tim  Robbins and Martin Landau in City of Ember.  Based on a novel of the same name, the film will also feature a slew of Irish actors and actresses in smaller roles since it was shot in Belfast.

The film is set in a city of dazzling lights called Ember. As the film begins, Ember’s powerful generator is losing power, threatening to plunge the city into darkness. Ronan and her co-star Harry Treadway scour Ember in search of a way to preserve the city’s light. In the process, they reveal secrets which may expose the mystery of the city’s origins. All indications suggest that this will be a breakout starring role for Ronan. City of Ember director Gil Kenan has said: “I won the lottery with Saoirse Ronan. She’s about to take over the world. She’s amazing. I don’t know if any of you have seen Atonement yet, but she’s like mind-blowing. She fills the screen with light, which is exactly what she needs to do in every frame.”

Acting is sort of a family business for the Ronans. Saoirse’s father Paul has appeared in U.K. television shows such as Ballykissangel. Ronan will also appear in the highly anticipated 2009 release The Lovely Bones, based on the best selling Alice Sebold novel.

In keeping with the theme of young Irish talent, 18-year-old Liam Aiken (whose mother Moya was born in Ireland) has recently signed on to join the cast of a comedy-drama entitled Will.  The film will also star Lisa Kudrow and High School Musical cutie Vanessa Hudgens. Aiken (whose middle name is Padraic) has had a series of increasingly prominent roles in films such as Road to Perdition and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Will began shooting in January.

Now we’ll move on to the veterans of the Irish film scene. Tom Cruise’s next project Valkyrie, about an unsuccessful plot by German generals to murder Adolf Hitler towards the end of World War II, has already generated many headlines. This even though it is not due out until next year. Filming in Germany was temporarily halted because government officials consider Cruise’s much-discussed religion, Scientology, to be a cult. Lost amidst all the hoopla was the impressive cast which has signed on to appear in Valkyrie, including Belfast’s own Kenneth Branagh, and X-Men director, Bryan Singer.

Pierce Brosnan is having no problems finding work in his post-James Bond life. He has two movies coming out this year, with another slated for 2009.

The three films are, to say the least, diverse. They feature cold-blooded killers, Swedish pop tunes and white gorillas. In March, look for Brosnan in the thriller Married Life, about a man torn between a boring marriage and a passionate love affair.  Too ashamed to seek divorce, the husband turns to an assassin and tries to have his wife killed. Married Life also features Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams.

In a slightly more fun film, look for Brosnan in the summer release Mama Mia! That’s right, Brosnan – along with Meryl Streep – will have a role in the film version of the musical comedy based on the sugary songs of Swedish supergroup Abba. The plot revolves around an isolated woman who is about to be married and is seeking the identity of her father. Somehow, this odd combination of story and song has captivated audiences all over the world.

Finally, in 2009, Brosnan will team up with Irish director Terry Loane for the film Vanilla Gorilla, about (you guessed it) an albino ape who learns sign language and becomes friends with a little girl.

Meryl Streep will bring her amazing versatility to two more upcoming films. First she will star with Irish actor Brían F. O’Byrne in the political thriller The International.  The film also stars Naomi Watts and Clive Owen, who plays an agent seeking to bring down a prestigious financial firm which has stooped to smuggling arms.

Next up for Streep will be the film version of Doubt, the highly acclaimed play by Irish-American John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote the film Moonstruck). Streep plays a nun who suspects a priest of sexually abusing a boy. Philip Seymour Hoffman takes over the role of the priest from Brían F. O’Byrne, who won rave reviews and a Tony award for playing the role on Broadway. The film, currently shooting in New York City, is slated for release next year.

O’Byrne, along with Albert Finney, appeared in the acclaimed crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke.  Released last fall, the film is worth picking up on DVD.

New York City was a crucial character in Irish-American actress Bridget Moynahan’s last film Noise, which should be out on DVD soon. Appearing alongside Tim Robbins, Moynahan stars in this film about a man (Robbins) driven insane by the constant noise in his Manhattan neighborhood. So crazed is Robbins’ character that he becomes a vigilante named “The Rectifier.” He goes out at night silencing the city by any means necessary, including taking a baseball bat to incessant car alarms.

Having recently worked with director Woody Allen (Cassandra’s Dream) as well as director Martin McDonagh and co-star Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), Colin Farrell has a particularly Irish-American role in the upcoming Pride and Glory.  In the film, which also stars Ed Norton, Farrell is a member of a family of NYPD cops who are actually named Farrell. The Farrell brothers all take pride in their work – that is, until one of them begins uncovering a scandal which may implicate other members of the Farrell clan. Pride and Glory will be directed by Long Island Irish- American Gavin O’Connor.

Farrell is also slated to star in a film based on Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music. Set in Western Australia, Dirt Music is about a disillusioned man who works as a fisherman illegally, trying to forget his past which is haunted by a terrible loss in a fatal accident. Dirt Music also stars Rachel Weisz. In a tragic twist, Heath Ledger was initially slated to take on Farrell’s role but eventually passed on the project. Ledger’s final film – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – which he was filming when he died, will be completed with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all stepping into the late actor’s character. The movie was nearly abandoned in the wake of Ledger’s death in January, but now a spokesperson for Jude Law has confirmed that “subject to final negotiations” he, Johnny and Colin will step into the role. The fantasy film, directed by Terry Gilliam, follows a traveling theater group who pass through a magical mirror into alternate dimensions – and the actors will play Heath’s character in each of the different  dimensions. Ledger’s last complete film, Batman sequel The Dark Knight, is to be released in July.

Ciarán Hinds (Irish America’s cover story, Feb./Mar. issue) is on Broadway in The Seafarer through the end of March, which is when Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day  opens in movie theaters. Hinds plays the love interest of Guinevere Pettigrew (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged London governess who finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse. Hinds also made an appearance in There Will Be Blood, for which Daniel Day-Lewis on accepting a BAFTA award for the role, thanked Hinds in his remarks.

Finally, May 16 has been established for the release of the next entry in the Narnia series, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, with Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan. The voice work of Peter Dinklage and Anna Popplewell will also be featured.

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