Irish Eye on Hollywood

Ciaran Hinds and Sigourney Weaver in Political Animals.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August / September 2012

The latest in Irish and Irish-American film and television.

1. A husband-and-wife political team in which the man is a womanizing former president and the woman is currently serving as Secretary of State. . . Sound familiar?

Well, if you’re thinking of the Clintons, you’re only partially right. Because just such a family is also at the center of the USA cable network’s new drama Political Animals, starring Northern Irish veteran of stage and screen Ciaran Hinds and Sigourney Weaver,

Political Animals hit TV screens on July 15, and features Hinds as former president Bud Hammond, whose sexual dalliances cost him his family. However, Hammond still wants to play the game of politics, and even his enemies know he is a master. Political Animals is a six-hour series that will run most of the summer on USA.

This summer television season also brings the much-anticipated debut of Copper, the BBC America series about Irish cops and criminals in 19th century New York, during the era of the Irish Famine. Copper premieres on August 19.

2. Denis Leary spent nearly a decade playing Irish-American firefighter Tommy Gavin on the FX drama series Rescue Me. Leary recently landed a plum gig in the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. He played police chief George Stacey, who also happens to be the father of Peter Parker’s main squeeze, Gwen Stacy. Up next for Leary, whose parents were Irish immigrants, is yet another New York production: a new television comedy called Bronx Warrants.

Returning to the FX cable channel, Leary is serving as an executive producer for the show, which follows the trials and tribulations of detectives as they set out to arrest people with outstanding warrants. Currently, Leary is not slated to appear in Bronx Warrants, which will begin shooting its pilot episode this summer in New York City.

3. Martin McGuiness recently shook hands with the Queen of England, so you know the times they are a-changing in Northern Ireland. But that doesn’t mean the worst years of The Troubles have stopped inspiring great filmmakers. Belfast native Kenneth Branagh recently announced that a drama about political conflict in the North is one of the many projects currently on his very full plate.

“What’s always appealed to me was to tell a story about my own experience: a generational thing about my time in Belfast, a particular slice of dockside, working-class, Protestant life. I have an almost photographic recall of seeing Bernadette Devlin [the republican activist and MP] on television in the riots, and what all of that was doing to our family and all of those around us,” Branagh recently told The Guardian.

Branagh was always a hardworking actor/director, but since he brought the comic book smash Thor to life as a director, he’s been red hot.

He will be directing Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins in the romantic comedy Italian Shoes and then directing Kate Winslet in the movie version of the best-seller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

4. September will bring with it yet another film with angel-faced Saoirse Ronan playing a cold-blooded killer.  Ronan, whose last film, Hanna, featured her as a CIA-trained assassin, is set to star in Violet & Daisy, an action comedy also starring Alexis Bledel and directed by Geoffrey Fletcher. Bledel (of Gilmore Girls fame) and Ronan play teenage assassins who are given what they believe will be an easy job, but which turns out to be anything but. To add a menace to the proceedings, former Sopranos leading man James Gandolfini also stars. Later this year, or early next, Ronan will also team up with fellow Irish entertainer Neil Jordan for the film Byzantium, about a mother and daughter vampire duo. The film also stars Gemma Arterton and Jonny Lee Miller.

Speaking of vampires, for Ronan, there is also the 2013 film The Host, a big-screen adaptation of Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s novel. To be directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War), The Host will also star Max Irons, and Jake Abel when it hits theaters March 2013.

5. In other Irish assassin film news, Colin Farrell is slated to play a contract killer in a new film entitled Dead Man Down, currently shooting in New York and elsewhere. The film also stars the original girl with the dragon tattoo (from the first Swedish film version), Noomi Rapace. Fittingly, Dead Man Down is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who was behind the camera for the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dead Man Down will also feature Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper.

In the film, Farrell portrays a professional killer and associate to an underground New York crime boss. After he is seduced and black-mailed by a victim seeking revenge (Rapace), the duo think about joining forces.

6. Recently, filmgoers finally got a chance to see the Irish film Stella Days, starring Martin Sheen and Stephen Rea. Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan (Ordinary Decent Criminal, Into the Storm), Stella Days should be available for home viewing soon. The film is based on the book Stella Days: 1957 – 1967, The Life and Times of Rural Irish Cinema by Michael Doorley. Both the book and film explore the small Tipperary town of Borrisokane, where tensions arise when a local priest (Sheen) who loves movies begins to bicker with a powerful bishop. Though he was born Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez, Martin Sheen’s Irish roots are well established. In fact, Stella Days was a homecoming for the veteran actor. Sheen’s mom, Mary, was an Irish immigrant who hailed from Tipperary.

7. Brendan Gleeson has a big-time film hitting screens in October, and a prized Irish project on the horizon.

First up for Gleeson is the star-studded The Company You Keep, a political thriller produced and directed by Hollywood legend Robert Redford. The film is about a group of former 1960s Weather Underground militants who have managed to evade the FBI for three decades. When one of the fugitives has his identity exposed by a reporter, he must once again run, this time with his 11-year-old daughter.

Redford also stars in the film, along with Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie and Terrence Howard.  Brendan Gleeson appears as the retired police-man who initially investigated the militants’ bank robbery. Look for The Company You Keep in theaters in October.

More recently, Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan nominated the elder Gleeson to play the elder Mr. Sheridan in Sheriff Street Stories, Sheridan’s upcoming film about growing up in Dublin’s inner city in the 1950s. Sheridan said Gleeson would be perfect to play his late father Peter Sheridan in the film, which is slated to begin shooting in Dublin later this year. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Sheridan said: “I’d kind of like Brendan Gleeson to play my dad if he would do me the honor,” adding that the story is “very personal; whether it’s true or not, I don’t know.”

The Gleeson clan are just one of many Irish connections to the upcoming film Stay. The cast features Brendan’s son Brian Gleeson (seen in the RTE series Love/Hate), who will play the role of Liam. Stay, which also stars Aidan Quinn and is currently shooting in Galway, is based on Vancouver poet Aislinn Hunter’s debut novel of the same name. It explores the life of a young Canadian woman living in a village outside Galway, who returns home after learning that she is pregnant.

Brian Gleeson recently appeared – visually altered – as one of the dwarves in Snow White and The Huntsman and will be seen next in Lance Daly’s Life’s A Breeze.

8. Rumors of a screen adaptation of Irish author John Banville’s Quirke mystery series, which he writes under the pen name Benjamin Black, have been simmering for a while now. The Irish Film and Television Network recently confirmed that scriptwriters Andrew Davies (Bridget Jones’ Diary) and Conor McPherson (The Eclipse) had received funding from the Irish Film Board. The adaptation, simply called Quirke, will star Gabriel Byrne in the title role, as a pathologist turned detective in 1950s Dublin.

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