Irish Eye on Hollywood

Gabrielle Union, John Slattery, Jenna Malone and Zach Gilford in In Our Nature.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
December / January 2013

The latest with your favorite Irish and Irish-American film and television stars.

1. Irish actor Chris O’Dowd is among the stars of Judd Apatow’s latest comedy This is 40, to be released December 21.  O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, Friends With Kids) plays the annoying pal of Apatow regular Paul Rudd in this film, which has been described as a “sort of sequel” to the mega-smash new-parents flick Knocked Up.  This time around, Apatow is exploring the jam-packed lives of fortysomething parents. As their children grow up, their parents grow old and their jobs demand more time, Rudd and co-star Leslie Mann play a married couple trying to stay sane – and married. The Sligo-born O’Dowd (apparently holding on to his accent, at least to judge by the film’s trailer) plays Apatow’s carefree, stoner friend.

2. Chris O’Dowd will also be appearing with actress Kelly Reilly and a host of other Irish talent in 2013’s Calvary.  The red-headed Reilly earned raves this fall in the thriller Flight, starring alongside Denzel Washington. Reilly (born Jessica Kelly Siobhán Reilly) has slowly and steadily been building an impressive Hollywood career, recently appearing alongside Robert Downey Jr. in both of the mega-hit Sherlock Holmes films.  Reilly’s next role will team her up with numerous fellow Irish actors. (Reilly’s grandparents emigrated from Ireland to England.) After locking lips with Denzel in Flight, Reilly is next slated to appear in Calvary which will also star the aforementioned Chris O’Dowd as well as Brendan Gleeson. Calvary is about a priest who listens to a potentially dangerous confession and then goes on the run. Calvary – slated to be released next year – was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, who also worked with Brendan Gleeson in the film The Guard. McDonagh is the brother of acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh.

3. Also in time for Christmas, there’s Ed Burns’ Long Island Irish dramedy The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (see interview on page 92). And another member of the Gleeson clan – Brendan’s son Domhnall – will star in the latest big screen version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. Gleeson co-stars with Jude Law and Keira Knightley.

4. And one final bit of Gleeson family news: Domhnall and fellow Irish actor Michael Fassbender have both signed on to star in a comedy about rock musicians entitled Frank. Fassbender plays the eccentric title character, a rock star who recruits an up-and-coming player (Gleeson) for his band. The film was written by Jon Ronson, whose book The Men Who Stare At Goats was made into a film by Irish-American hunk George Clooney.

5. The BBC may be asking for trouble on this one.

Last summer, some people grumbled when BBC America announced plans that they would be airing Copper, a series about the Famine-era Irish in New York City. Some feared the renowned British broadcasting giant would resurrect anti-Irish stereotypes. However, most critics agreed Copper was a fair depiction of the era, and a second season is planned.

But the BBC is wading into more controversial waters now that it has announced plans to develop a series based on the mystery novels of acclaimed Irish writer John Banville, writing under his pseudonym Benjamin Black.

Currently titled Quirke, the series will star Dublin native Gabriel Byrne. Set in 1950s Dublin, the books feature Quirke as a brooding figure who runs the city morgue. Given the access this position grants Quirke to dead bodies, it should be no surprise to learn that he gets caught up in murder investigations from time to time.

Thus far, this may seem none too controversial. But John Banville has had some tough words for the era in which his Quirke novels are set.

Last year, Banville told the editor of The New York Times Book Review that Ireland in the fifties “was a time of great secrecy. We were in the clutch of the Catholic Church. The church for us was what the Communist party was for Eastern Europe. We only discovered this when we got older, how unfree we were. And everything was hidden, as we have discovered, to our horror, in the past five or 10 years.”

It’s one thing for an Irish Catholic to say such things. Will the venerable BBC explore such controversial terrain? Or will they focus simply on the steamy streets and the bloody murders? Time will tell. Byrne is set to start filming Quirke soon, and the series is expected to air on BBC next year.  No word yet as to whether or not the series will cross the pond and be shown on BBC America.

6. In another Irish broadcasting controversy, Downton Abbey’s Irish-born actor Allen Leech recently defended the show’s exploration of Irish rebellion. Leech plays Irish chauffeur Tom Branson in the hit series.

Some viewers were offended in one episode this past season when the Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) referred to an Irish character as a “drunken gorilla.”
Other not-so-nice things have been uttered about the Irish and the Catholic Church since another Downton character has decided to raise his child as a Catholic.

Leech defended the series and its use of anti-Irish sentiment.

“You have to remember that, at that time, in England, that’s actually how the Irish were depicted,” Leech told Ireland’s Herald newspaper. “Ireland is pretty much to the fore in this series. I think it opens a dialogue in relation to what actually did happen and makes people realize what Ireland was going through at the time.”

He added: “I think Branson shows how passionate people can be in relation to their own country and he’s passionate about everything he does, be it in going after a woman or his pleas for his country. It’s great that it brings Ireland’s history to a whole new audience.”

Leech will be seen in an upcoming thriller called In Fear and will star alongside Irish American star John Cusack in another future film called Grand Piano.

7. Irish American actor / director Thomas McCarthy – whose indy film hits include The Station Agent and The Visitor – has reportedly signed on to direct a film which is sure to kick up yet more controversy in Catholic circles: a drama chronicling the Church’s cover-up of rampant child abuse allegations in the U.S. “This is a story that feels like it has to be told,” McCarthy told the Boston Globe, which is widely credited for uncovering the extent of abuse allegations. The paper’s coverage will serve as the basis for McCarthy’s film.

Among the revelations published in the Globe: Cardinal Bernard Law had covered up abuse by shuffling accused priests from one parish to another. Many of the same priests were later again accused of abuse. Law, meanwhile, was granted a post in the Vatican. The shockwaves in Boston unleashed a wave of revelations in parishes all across America.

McCarthy is a New Jersey native who, aside from writing and directing, has appeared in many TV shows and films, including Little Fockers and Michael Clayton. He also played the corrupt journalist Scott Templeton in the celebrated HBO series The Wire.

8. Speaking of Irish American cable TV stars, Mad Man John Slattery is slated to star in an upcoming film In Our Nature.  Slattery’s character brings his much younger girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) to his family’s cabin in upstate New York, where he happens upon his estranged son (Zach Gilford from Friday Night Lights), who had a similar weekend planned with his girlfriend (Jenna Malone). Father and son have many issues to work out, though it’s not likely Slattery, in real life, would go too deep into therapeutic chit chat. Slattery told Vanity Fair in 2009: “I grew up Irish Catholic in Boston and there was a mentality that was, you know, don’t whinge about it. Just get on with it. You got a problem? Figure it out.”

9. In TV news, the Irish are coming and going on CBS. First, Las Vegas is turning into Little Ireland. The CBS crime show starring Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis also features Dublin-born star Jason O’Mara as well as Irish American actors Michael Reilly Burke and Michael O’Neill. And finally, Jersey City Irish American Susan Flannery is leaving the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful after 25 years.

2 Responses to “Irish Eye on Hollywood”

  1. Daniel Maloney says:

    My crew want to see much more Irish-Catholic and Irish-American-Catholics in film.
    We,as a White-Catholic race and religion want to see the sordid suffering of our people over 1,000 years of slavery and suffering told to the World’s youth.
    While I have your attention…what of the 30 to 50 million of Russians murdered by WW II Germany?

  2. Ramsey Mcvicker says:

    I refuse to watch shows that employ non Irish actors in Irish character roles. There is a lack of authenticity and God knows we have plenty of Irish talent around. Copper is awful as are the accents. Boardwalk Empire is the same. Not awful but they fill Irish roles with English Scots and Ameircans.

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