Irish Eye on Hollywood

Actor James Nesbitt, actor Liam Neeson and director Oliver Hirschbiegel of the film "Five Minutes Of Heaven" poses for a portrait at the Film Lounge Media Center during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2009 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
April / May 2009

Now that Liam Neeson has done the Hollywood blockbuster thing with his very big, very violent hit Taken, he can return to the kinds of movies which have made him such a respected actor.

Neeson is currently out shopping Five Minutes of Heaven, a drama about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This, of course, is a very personal issue for Neeson who was born in Ballymena, Antrim, in the North.

Five Minutes of Heaven, which also stars acclaimed Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday), is a character-driven story about events after the most violent years of the Troubles have passed. In the film, two men struggle to deal with a murder that happened many years earlier.

Five Minutes of Heaven is currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit, and received raves (as well as awards) at the Sundance Film Festival.  According to Internet reports, Neeson had not watched the completed film until Sundance – meaning he had to watch his performance for the first time along with hundreds of other folks in a crowded

Asked what it was like, he said: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘fun.’ It’s strange – it’s kind of like giving birth. I hadn’t seen the complete film and to see it with 200 other people is a wee bit nerve-wracking. You work on something for quite a long period and then you see it and there’s stuff you can’t change.  And you’re seeing it with a roomful of strangers too. It’s kind of a very odd, unique feeling.”

Five Minutes of Heaven was written by Guy Hibbert, who also wrote the gripping 2004 Northern Ireland film Omagh.

The twisted saga of Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish mob has already inspired numerous movies and TV shows. For example, The Departed starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson featured an aging, Bulger-esque mob boss as well as FBI agents who spent their down time working for gangsters. Then there is Showtime’s excellent series Brotherhood, about two New England Irish brothers, one a politician and the other a criminal.

As chance would have it, Whitey Bulger’s brother, Billy, was a leader in the Massachusetts state legislature.

So, having danced around the Bulger saga, Irish director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, In America) is now tackling the story directly. Sheridan will direct, and co-write the screenplay for a movie based on the book Black Mass, which is the definitive account of Bulger’s rise and fall, and the ways it was hard to tell the cops from the crooks in Boston.
Filming is expected to begin later in 2009. No word on casting decisions just yet.

Black Mass (written by Gerard O’Neill and Dick Lehr) explores the rise of Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang (which ran drugs and, on one memorable occasion, guns for the Irish Republican Army) and how the criminal life lured in even FBI agents such as John Connolly, who grew up with Bulger. Bulger remains on the run and on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

“This is a story of a corrupt system and about how an angry guy became the second most wanted man after Bin Laden,” Sheridan told Daily Variety.

Irish-American Queens native Amy Ryan has at least three movies coming out in 2009, with another prestigious project about to begin shooting.

Look for Ryan (best known for her Oscar-nominated turn as the troubled Southie Mom in Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone) in Bob Funk, The Missing Person and Green Zone. The film also stars Matt Damon (who portrayed another Boston Irish-American in Good Will Hunting) and was directed by Paul Greengrass, whose many credits include the Northern Ireland docudrama Bloody Sunday.

Meanwhile, Ryan is about to begin shooting Jack Goes Boating, a film which will mark the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, fresh off his Oscar-nominated role as a Bronx Irish priest in Doubt.

Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker in The Dark Knight was hailed by many, in part because it was believed to be the last time we would see the actor, who died in January of 2008.

But Ledger was actually shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when he died. Director Terry Gilliam later asked numerous Hollywood A-listers to help complete the film, which will be out later this year. Among the actors who will be seen as stand-ins for Ledger is Dublin star Colin Farrell. Jude Law will also appear in the film. Gilliam is the Monty Python alum and visionary director behind such films as Brazil, Time Bandits and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Later, Farrell will team up with teenaged Irish acting prodigy Saoirse Ronan as well as Ed Harris to begin shooting The Way Back, a World War II drama from director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show).

After his big-time buzz at the Oscars, Sean Penn’s next project is Tree of Life, which also stars Brad Pitt and Irish actress Fiona Shaw. Tree of Life is an updated spin on the fountain of youth myth. The characters in the film strive to locate the titular tree in the belief that it will give them everlasting life. Expect this to be an unorthodox film, as it is being directed by Terrence Malick, who directed Colin Farrell in The New World as well as other critical faves such as The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven and Badlands.

Cork native Fiona Shaw is best known for her stage work, including memorable collaborations with Deborah Warner. However, she has also been appearing in many movies in recent years, including several of the blockbuster Harry Potter movies.
Tree of Life is currently in post-production and should be released by the end of the year.

If there are people out there who mistakenly believe the famous troubled poet Dylan Thomas was Irish (he was actually Welsh), they must pay close attention to The Edge of Love – a film due out in March about Thomas and his wife Caitlin MacNamara, who did have Irish roots.  Cork star Cillian Murphy plays the poet whose life came to a sad end at The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village.

The Edge of Love also features Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys and was directed by John Maybury.

If there is an actress working today with a more Irish name than Siobhan Fallon Hogan, then you are most likely to see her on TG4, the Irish language TV station.

Hogan, however, is a native of Syracuse, New York, who has slowly but surely built a solid career, appearing regularly on TV stalwarts such as Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live, before moving on to movie roles in blockbusters such as Men in Black and (most recently) the Renée Zellweger-Harry Connick Jr. comedy New in Town (out on DVD).

Hogan (a graduate of Catholic University), initially turned down the New in Town role.  It would have required this mother of three to fly across country with one day’s notice. But once Hogan read the script, she ended up landing the part – which, she says, appealed to her devout Catholicism.

“Being that I was raised in the Catholic faith, I am very careful about what I choose. I’ve turned down a lot of projects that . . . could have helped me a lot financially, and I’ve quit shows because of where they were going and because I feel like I have to be a role model for my kids. So when I got this script, it was unbelievable to me,” she recently said.

Speaking of famous Irish names, how does Oona Chaplin roll off the tongue? Yes, this is indeed Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter, but the young actress’s Irish connection goes far beyond her mythic first name. Charlie Chaplin, of course, married the daughter of acclaimed Irish-American playwright Eugene O’Neill (even though O’Neill’s daughter, also named Oona, was half Chaplin’s age).

These days, the young Oona O’Neill is trying to get an acting career going. She recently appeared in an Italian film entitled Imago Mortis. It was quite a family effort for young Oona, because also appearing was her mother, Geraldine Chaplin, a screen veteran who has appeared in classic films such as Doctor Zhivago, and remains a busy actress.

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