Irish Eye on Hollywood

Michael Fassbender in The Counselor

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
October / November 2013

1. Interest in Irish American history – preferably with a violent twist – apparently remains so strong that TV and movie producers just can’t resist. Perhaps spurred by the success of BBC America’s Copper (now in its second season), A-list director Martin Scorsese is trying to recapture the success of his 2002 film Gangs of New York with a TV show revolving around a similar time period and cast of characters.

“The series would draw from the history of late 1800s gangs not only in New York, but also in other cities such as Chicago and New Orleans,” according to a report in Entertainment Weekly.

Scorsese himself added: “This time and era of America’s history and heritage is rich with characters and stories that we could not fully explore in a two-hour film. A television series allows us the time and creative freedom to bring this colorful world, and all the implications it had and still does on our society, to life.”

Meanwhile, Guy Ritchie, who directed the most recent Sherlock Holmes mega-blockbuster with Robert Downey Jr., has partnered up with Warner Brothers to purchase the rights of Thomas Kelly’s 2006 novel Empire Rising. Kelly’s novel explores the construction of the Empire State Building and focuses on the Irish immigrant wave of the 1920s and 1930s, when Ireland was emerging from a brutal civil war.

Construction of the Empire State Building actually began on St. Patrick’s Day in 1930 and was overseen by former New York governor Al Smith, who was battered by anti-Catholicism when he ran for president in 1928. Kelly’s protagonist in the novel is Michael Briody, who is still running guns for Irish rebels. Briody falls in love with Grace Masterson, an artist who lives in a houseboat off of the East River. Of course, Grace is also involved with a Tammany Hall operative – hence the potentially explosive love triangle.

Kelly – a New York-born Irish American who was a producer for the TV show Blue Bloods and now is a writer/producer for Copper – is expected to write the Empire Rising screenplay.

2. Michael Fassbender (who was raised in Kerry by his Irish-born mother) is going to have a busy fall. On October 25, The Counselor hits theaters. Fassbender stars alongside Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem in this film,  based on an original screenplay by best-selling Irish American author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men). Chills and thrills expert Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) directs this A-list class. Fassbender stars as the title character, a lawyer who finds himself drawn into the drug trade.

A week before The Counselor’s release, Fassbender will also star in Twelve Years a Slave, directed by long-time collaborator Steve McQueen, and based on the harrowing memoirs of Solomon Northrup, a free African American who was kidnapped and sold back into slavery.
Fassbender also has at least three projects slated for 2014 – each quite a bit different than the other. First there’s an as-yet-untitled Terence Malick movie, then a new version of MacBeth (in which Fassbender will play Lord MacBeth) and, finally, the latest X-Men film.

3. Though his ambitious family film project At Swim-Two Birds (based on the Flann O’Brien novel) has stalled, Domhnall Gleeson remains busy. His next film comes out November 1. Gleeson stars alongside Bill Nighy and Rachel McAdams in About Time, which explores a family whose men can travel back and forth through time. The men cannot alter the course of major historical events but can change things that happened in their own lives. This sci-fi comedy was directed by British A-lister Richard Curtis, who has been behind the camera for just about every touching British comedy ever made, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill and Love, Actually.

As for At Swim-Two Birds – which is to be directed by Brendan Gleeson and star Domhnall as well as (deep breath please) Colin Farrell, Michael Fassbender and Cillian Murphy, among others – the future of the project is currently cloudy.

“We were very close last year and it just didn’t happen,” Brendan Gleeson told the Irish Times. “I am trying to not drive it too hard and am just waiting for it to drop into place. If I stress it to death then that is just what will happen. I am hoping I am still ready to do it. I do actually feel calm about it. I feel that when it gets reassembled, I will know what to do with it.”

4. Speaking of Brendan Gleeson, his latest film Calvary is up for a September 19 release. Gleeson plays a kindly Sligo priest in this latest collaboration with John Michael McDonagh. (The Irish duo also worked together on The Guard.) In Calvary, Gleeson’s character runs afoul of some bad guys when he hears of a murder through confession. McDonagh has humbly described Calvary’s cast as “the best ensemble cast ever assembled in the history of Irish cinema.”  He’s not far off however, with Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd, David Wilmot and Kelly Reilly also starring in the film.

5. The biopic of Irish American beauty Grace Kelly will be released November 27. Starring Nicole Kidman, the film looks at the tumultuous months when Princess Grace – as she was known after marrying Rainier III – helped prevent a coup in Monaco. Tim Roth (playing Rainier III) and Frank Langella also star. Kelly was born in Philadelphia and became one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock classics such as Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Following her marriage, she stopped making films. She died in a car accident in 1982.

4. Irish film director Dearbhla Walsh recently landed a plum assignment. The Sligo native will direct a stellar cast including Dustin Hoffman and Judi Dench in a BBC production of Esio Trot, based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. Walsh, who won an Emmy for her 2009 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, will begin shooting the 90-minute film next Spring, according to The Irish Independent.

5. Judi Dench’s performance as an Irish woman searching for her son in the title role of Philomena caused a stir at the Venice film festival. Based on the The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the 1999 book by Martin Sixsmith, the movie, which director Stephen Frears calls “an odd-couple film, an extraordinary road trip,” covers the journey to the U.S. made by Sixsmith (Ed Coogan), a world-weary British journalist and Philomena (Dench) who despite having been put to work in a laundry after having a child out of wedlock in 1952, and having had her son taken from her and given up for adoption,  is still attached to her Catholic faith.

8. Colin Farrell’s long-awaited film Winter’s Tale (see Jaime Lubin’s article for more) finally has a release date – February 14, 2014. The time-traveling film, based on Mark Helprin’s novel of the same name, also stars Will Smith, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Farrell plays a thief who falls in love with a dying woman. The film shifts from 1916 to present day Manhattan, and features Crowe as menacing gangster Pearly Soames. Winter’s Tale is being directed by acclaimed screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend) who penned the screenplay for Cinderella Man, about Irish American boxer Jim Braddock and won an Academy Award for his A Beautiful Mind screenplay. Until Winter’s Tale hits screens, look for Farrell in December’s Saving Mr. Banks, alongside Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, in the flick about how Mary Poppins became a movie.

9. On to television: Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ TV show Dracula will debut on NBC October 25.

Rhys Meyers (who won an Emmy for his work in The Tudors) stars as the title character in this latest reimagining of the infamous character created by Irish writer Bram Stoker. (See Patricia Danaher’s interviews with the stars.)

The setting is late 19th century London, and Ryhs Meyers’ Count Dracula is masquerading as an American entrepreneur seeking to bring modern science to Victorian society.

“He’s especially interested in the new technology of electricity, which promises to brighten the night – useful for someone who avoids the sun. But he has another reason for his travels: he hopes to take revenge on those who cursed him with immortality centuries earlier,” according to NBC.

Dracula also features Wicklow native Katie McGrath, as well as Ballykissangel actress Victoria Smurfit.

10. Meanwhile, the Hallmark channel is currently producing two separate projects based on books by the Irish American mother-daughter duo Mary and Carol Higgins Clark.

First up is The Mystery Cruise starring Irish American Gail O’Grady. Based on the Regan Reilly mystery book The Santa Cruise, the two-hour pilot will introduce viewers to partners in crime-solving Alvirah Meehan (three-time Emmy nominee Gail O’Grady) and Regan Reilly (Michelle Harrison). If the pilot proves successful, The Mystery Cruise will be picked up as a regular Hallmark series. Look for Elizabeth Higgins Clark, Mary’s granddaughter to appear in The Mystery Cruise, which is slated to air in late October.

Meanwhile, in 2014, look for another two-hour pilot on Hallmark entitled called My Gal Sunday.  Based on short stories by Mary Higgins Clark, My Gal Sunday will star Jack Wagner, Rachel Blanchard and Cameron Mathison. Word is that Marry Higgins Clark as well as her daughter Carol, will also have roles in My Gal Sunday.

11. Finally, Liam Neeson continues to do . . . everything. In October, Neeson will lend his vocal talents to the animated 3-D zebra flick Khumba.  Then in December, Neeson joins the cast of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, starring Will Ferrell, and a lengthly list of comic actors. Two more animated flicks follow in 2014 for Neeson – Nut Job (about squirrels) and The Lego Movie (yes, based on the kid’s toy . . . because that Battleship movie, also starring Neeson, was just so good, right?) To see Neeson actually act, 2014 also offers the thriller Non-Stop with Julianne Moore (think Taken on a plane), A Million Ways to Die in the West (a goofy Western directed by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) and A Walk Among the Tombstones, (a crime drama based on the Lawrence Block novel).

2 Responses to “Irish Eye on Hollywood”

  1. lmk says:

    Success of Copper. Alas, our beloved show was cancelled unceremoniously by BBC because it wasn’t getting the same ratings as Orphan Black. Fans of Copper have a campaign to bri ng back Copper as movie or third swason on another network. We were left at end of season two with a major cliffhanger. Writers and creators had anticipated and plotted out season three already. If you agree that we need more Copper join us on the Save Copper Facebook page. Tom Fontana would like fo make a movie but needs our support to do so.

  2. Sherry Perkins says:

    Yes, please bring back Copper! It was based on real people in real situations. It was raw, gritty, real, sexy and explored the immigration issues and police corruption in NY in the 1860s. This was the best show on TV! Do you hear this executives at BBCA? I invite anyone to read our public comments on the Save Copper Facebook page and to pass the word. This action by the BBCA is just another way the Brits (BBCA) continue to kick dirt in the faces of the Irish!

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