FEATURE ADRIAN DUN BAR
A familiar face from recent key television and cinema dramas, ADRIAN DUNBAR has achieved success after a long hard slog. Pater Jinks talked to him about how he made it happen.
drian Dunbar was killing pigs for a living when he realised there had to be a better world out there. Amid the daily carnage of the slaughterhouse. he dreamt of becoming an actor. but it was a long shot for a boy brought up in the housing estates of Enniskillen. Northern Ireland.
Dunbar was just ten years old when the Troubles erupted. Until then. his young friends came from both sides of the religious divide and they played together happily enough — although he couldn‘t speak for the adults. He still fondly remembers Enniskillen as a pretty town planted between two big lakes. It didn’t have ugly associations back then.
These days Dunbar calls himself a member of the ‘non—aligned left”. But he wasn’t allowed to distance himself from religio-political definition in Portadown. the town where he moved as a young man. It was here. he says. that he first came up against the ‘Protestant state'. and all the inequalities and resentment that had been allowed to fester. ‘It was a very pressured existence.‘ he says delicately. He quickly realised that if he didn't get himself top grades and a ticket out of there pretty soon. he could be frying pigs for the rest of his life. The incentive worked. He got himself a grant and headed off to study drama at London’s Guildhall. leaving the reek of the abattoir behind him forever. The smell of injustice. however. has never quite left him.
At 36 years old. Adrian Dunbar is now one of the most sought-after screen actors in Britain. He stars in a forthcoming feature lilm. Halcyon Days. a British/French co-production about a detective who becomes embroiled in an expatriate tangle of incest and murder. Dunbar can also be seen on BBCI this Christmas in The Blue Buy. a ghost story set on Scotland‘s west coast and co-starring Emma 'l‘hompson. Shot on a tight schedule. it was lilmed in six weeks near Dunoon last winter. The film. written and directed by Paul Murton. tells how a man‘s infidelity to his wife catches up with him when the bed-and-breakfast they are staying in turns out to be haunted by a young. lonely boy with a score to settle.
Dunbar fell in love with the local pub where they filmed. found Emma Thompson ‘a hoot’ and is reasonably happy with the end result: ‘lt‘s a good lilm for Christmas. when people are just sitting down after their turkey and want something to tax the brain a little bit. but not too much.’
Getting to the stage in his career where he is playing opposite Ken Branagh‘s better half
.4 Passionate Il/lan
didn’t come easy. but Dunbar‘s early lesson in personal motivation served him well in London. He soon understood that if he was really going to make it. it would be off his own back. So he
co-wrote a film. Hear My Song with Peter
Chelsom. and played the lead. Its success was backed up by parts in My Left Foot and The C tying Game. where he played an IRA man who frets over the fate of a kidnapped British soldier in his charge. Did he feel the latter lilm's portrayal of the IRA was accurate? This touches on a loaded subject for Dunbar. He starts talking and before we know it. flames are licking around
‘Obviously you have an inkling how the IRA behave it they come from your people, that’s all I can say. It’s like
Robert De Niro. Has he been in the Mafia? I don’t think so. But he can play a Mafia leader all the same.’
his words and reasoned speech unravels into rhetoric: ‘What with the British Government‘s censorship. one thing I’m really looking forward to — ifthis peace process survives — is finding out about the IRA. Because none of us knows. The propaganda is such that they’re all usually portrayed as racketeers. thugs. idiots and murderers. Nobody's actually asked: are they
ordinary. dedicated people who have been trained politically and have absolute
justification and have feelings and all the rest of
it? Are they a guerrilla force. are they a liberation army‘.”
He goes on. We head back to the original question and he says that yes. the portrayal probably is accurate. but adds drin that the IRA are good enough at theirjob not to let a British soldier escape. and that it’s a bit silly and naive to think otherwise. He conlirms the impression that he had a special insight into the role: ‘Obviously you have an inkling how they behave if they come from your people. that‘s all I can say. It‘s like Robert De Niro. Has he been in the Malia? I don‘t think so. but he can play a Mafia leader all the same.’
Dunbar also delivers a polemic about low government funding of drama. and is forthright on the Irish peace process. l-lis views are reflected in his reading — in particular The Politics of Irish Freedom by Gerry Adams. which Dunbarrecommends as ‘esscntial reading for anyone who wants to know what's happening in Ireland at the moment’.
As for his own future. Dunbar hopes to produce a one-hour video documentary of a piece of music by composer Patrick Cassidy at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Dublin. and is involved in a BBC adaptation of Zola‘s The Beast and Man. He is also starring in a David Hayman lilm noir called The Near Room. written by Robert Murphy and set in Glasgow.
It would seem that his career is on a steep upward curve at the moment. ‘It comes with a steep upward mortgage as well.‘ Dunbar quips. But the hard-driven dreamer from Enniskillen can’t resist savouring his success. just for a moment. out loud: ‘A steep upward curve. I like that. I like that . . .‘ '_l The Blue Boy is on Mon 2 Jun at 9.05pm, BBC]
Adrian Dundar with Emma Thompson in The Blue Boy j
4 The List 16 December l994—l2 January 1995