With two very different films about to be released, GABRIEL BYRN E is as unpredictable as any leading man comes.‘ Alan
Morrison spoke to him about the difficulties of making films both in
Tinseltown and in the Emerald Isle.
hen you go to America as an ordinary Irish person, the first thing they say to you is “How are things in Glockamorra? Are there leprechauns over
Most Scots, bombarded by questions about
haggis and kilts, can sympathise with Gabriel Byrne but, as an Irish actor abroad, he has an additional problem — coping with that green-tinted vision of his homeland that could only exist in Hollywood. ‘As Irish people, we suffer from Hollywood coming in, making films, using the country as a location and employing Irish actors in small roles — generally a stereotypical Ireland that went out with the war. I mean, FarAnd Away [Ron Howard’s recent Tom Cruise epic] was conceived by a guy who had never been in Ireland and who has never made a ﬁlm that’s had any depth to it — Splash and that kind of thing.’
Byrne was a latecomer to the acting profession at the age of 29, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, who worked as an archaeologist and a teacher before treading the boards at his home city’s Focus and Abbey Theatres. During this period he appeared in the Irish TV series The Riordans, then made his big screen debut as Uther Pendragon in John Boorman’s
THE FILM r
Excalibur. It didn’t take him long to gain a reputation for leading roles in slightly off-beat movies (Gothic, Miller’s Crossing) and a small clutch of slightly off-beat supporting roles in leading movies (Siesta, Hello Again). But if the success of a movie actor were judged solely on the number of statuettes gathering dust on the mantelpiece or the zeros after the dollar sign on the last pay cheque, then you could be forgiven for thinking that Gabriel Byrne was distinctly minor league. Because, although Hollywood keeps knocking at his door, he’s never been one to toe the line.
‘I was also asked to do Lethal Weapon 3, Alien 3 and Patriot Games — which I wouldn’t do for political and moral reasons,‘ he explains. ‘Hollywood will continue to make things like Patriot Games, which portray the Irish-English conflict as being basically a war between demented. poetry-quoting terrorists and a very intelligent, far-seeing, rational British establishment, as long as they‘ve got Harrison Ford to play it. The thing about Hollywood is that it’s a business. It’s like a big mill town where there are five mills and they’re all producing the same product and looking for the same market. McDonald’s don’t come out one week and say “Oh, let’s put a cherry on top of a hamburger because
. * Excalibur (1981
Reﬂections (19 3) Hanna K. 1983) The Keep 1983 Defence oi the Realm 1985) othic (1986 Lionheart g1 87) Siesta (19 7 Hello Again 1987) A Soldier’s Tale (1988) The Courier (1988) Diamond Skulls (1989)
:Q; 5i i;
Haakon Haakonson 1990 out orld (1992) into The West (1992 The Specialist (199 )
that might get more people”; they say “Let’s get the hamburger that they had last week because they’re buying them in millions all over the world”. That’s why you get the repetition, because Hollywood does not set out to make artistic movies and never did. It’s a mistake, an accident, if they do.’ Nevertheless, the 42-year-old Dubliner has recently completed Cool World with Kim Basinger and the US remake of Nikita (The Specialist) with Bridget Fonda, and is currently filming in the US with Debra Winger. ‘Cool World is a typical example of a Hollywood movie,’ he says of the $35 million partly animated film in which he stars as a cartoonist. ‘It cost an absolute fortune to make, it took four months to film,
‘The thing about Hollywood is that it’s a business. It’s like a big mill town where there are live mills and they’re all producing the same product and looking iorthe same market.’
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
eighteen months in post-production and at the end of the day you look at the movie and you say, this just doesn’t work at all. I’m not being disloyal to the film because I cared passionately about it while I was doing it. But an actor is at the mercy of the editor and the studio, and they just took the scissors to that movie and went snip.’
Fortunately he does have a decent movie on the horizon, the touching Irish fable Into The West, in which he stars with Ellen Barkin. And how many actors could persuade one of the sexiest women in Hollywood to take a supporting role with him, two kids and a horse in a film that was made during the depths of an Irish winter? Okay, for Byrne this was made a bit easier by the fact that he and Barkin - whom he met on the set of Siesta — have been married for four years and have a two-year-old son called Jack. Theirs is the kind of relationship that could only exist with at least one toe dipped in the movie world: his dark, Celtic good looks and her particular brand of American raunch score highly on most cinema-goers’ drool chart. Nevertheless, the decision to go ahead with Into The West, a movie with a budget of only 2.5 million Irish punts, is one that the Bening/Beattys and Griffith/Johnsons of this world would probably baulk at.
‘The problem with most American films is that they don’t have any sense of place, whereas one of the things that’s wrong with English movies is that they’re bogged down in their sense of place,’ he says. ‘Into The West is a poetic fairytale, but it’s very much
rooted in reality. Basically the story is about
two kids who are traveller children and who
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12m: List 4— 17 December 1992