Gleeson and Murphy keep home fires alight
Star Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson are still happy to make time for low-budget Irish films. As Evan Fanning discovers
IT'S a bitterly cold December morning in a part of west London that would be familiar to many from Ireland. For generations, on mornings like these when the crisp wind cuts straight to the bone, the surrounding areas of Acton and Ealing, of Brentford and Boston Manor have been built and bulldozed by men from Ireland.
On this particular morning there is a bedraggled-looking set of Irishmen at work again. For the most part they look like cowboys, taken from the saloons and dirt tracks of the Wild West and placed in London's urban sprawl with its pubs and snooker halls.
Outside Delgado's pool hall, Brendan Gleeson emerges with his wild bunch of heavies. Liam Cunningham pulls up in a beat-up Irish-reg Mercedes, straightens his leather jacket and approaches for a chat. Mean-looking men wielding snarling pitbulls loiter in the background. Welcome to the set of an Irish movie. Welcome to Perrier's Bounty. Off-camera, dozens of assistants, and runners, camera men and producers huddle in groups watching the drama take place. Cunningham walks to Gleeson and has a few words. Then they do it again, and again, and when you think they've got it just right, they do it again.
"That's it. Let's take lunch," a floor runner shouts out, to general relief. An hour later, from the relative comfort and certain warmth of his trailer, Gleeson discusses his role in the film. The trailer itself is bare, untouched, like the caravan on a showroom floor.
Gleeson hasn't been spending much time here, jumping back and forth between Perrier's Bounty and Paul Greengrass's Green Zone (also currently in cinemas).
That's the world Gleeson occupies these days. On the one hand, he is playing a major role in a multimillion-dollar blockbuster about the war in Iraq, starring some of Hollywood's biggest names. The very next day he is playing a Dublin loanshark out for justice in an Irish film being made on a comparative shoestring.
In his nonchalant way, Gleeson shrugs off the juxtaposition. "It was weird going from Dublin to American accents and back again," is about the height of his amazement.
Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon (whose previous credits include A Film with Me in It and Paths to Freedom), Perrier's Bounty is the story of Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy), a man who owes money to the nefarious Darren Perrier (Gleeson). An accident befalls one of Perrier's henchmen and a bounty is put on Michael's head. To escape, he must go on the run with his neighbour (Jodie Whittaker) and his father (Jim Broadbent) while the mob try to track him down.
Written by Mark O'Rowe, who also wrote Intermission, Perrier's Bounty features that same heightened sense of speech that made Intermission such a treat. It's that comic world where Dublin gangsters talk about their "Zen, man" or the joys of cooking with a wok.
Sitting here today, it is understandable that Gleeson is enthralled by the writing. At this stage of the process his principal focus is the words on the page as he prepares for each scene.
"The language in this is so delicious anyway, so that's half the battle," Gleeson says. "There tends to be an improvisation with other things but with this you just want to deliver it the way it's written, because it's properly written, basically."
An hour later, in his trailer just next door, Murphy too has his focus on O'Rowe's carefully crafted words. The 33-year-old from Douglas, Co Cork, is on camera in almost every scene of Perrier's Bounty and so has been wrestling with the prose to try to portray the world that is evident on the page to the camera.
"You have to be quite precise with it," he says. "I had experience of doing it with Intermission but that wasn't as heightened as this. It's still a very specific thing and if you hit the rhythms incorrectly it can be a bit of a house of cards and it will collapse on you."
Murphy feels, however, that Ireland is currently in something of a golden age for creative writing talent, with a batch of playwrights-turned-screenwriters at the forefront of this success.
"It's an unbelievable time for Irish writers. It's just a coincidence but all of those guys -- Mark O'Rowe, Enda Walsh, Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh -- are amazing. And they're all very unique. None of them are like each other."
Murphy, too, is dabbling with writing, but treating it very tentatively. "I'm putting my toe in the water a little bit, just very cautiously," he says.
"I have a couple of projects that I'm talking about. I think at a certain age you think I must be able to do something more than just learning the lines and saying them and standing on the right spot.
"I think it must be an age thing. There's a stage -- and it might not come to anything -- but you think: 'F*** it, I might just try and see if I can make something happen'. Lots of actors have pet projects or things that they're trying to get going."
Despite the undoubted high standard of the writing and dialogue in Perrier's Bounty, the reality is that an Irish film such as this (albeit one shot partly in London) will struggle to reach success outside of Ireland and possibly the UK. That's not to say it's impossible but, as Gleeson explains, the elements that conspire to make a film a hit are as elusive as a man on the run from a loan shark.
"I remember being on Braveheart and seeing all these guys coming over the top of the hill and thinking: 'I just know that this is going to be fantastic' -- but fundamentally you don't know if people will like it until it hits the cinema. Even when your friends see it or I remember seeing something with a journalist and it went down a bomb, but then it just doesn't happen in the outside world."
Gleeson, who turns 55 tomorrow, is now one of the film's international selling points after a year which has seen him win an Emmy for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Into the Storm. There are also the other small matters of the Harry Potter movies and the hugely successful In Bruges, which make him one of the marquee names of Irish cinema.
He is joined on that international stage by Murphy, who may have been first introduced to Irish audiences in Kirsten Sheridan's Disco Pigs (written by Enda Walsh) but rose to international prominence with the lead role in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Since then, like Gleeson, he has flittered between the big Hollywood productions (Red Eye, Batman Begins) and films such as Intermission, Breakfast on Pluto and The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
Along with Colin Farrell, Murphy is probably Ireland's biggest young international actor, but in many ways is the antithesis to Farrell who, in the early days at least, made as many headlines for his off-screen antics as he did for his films.
Murphy keeps himself to himself -- his recent appearance on the Late Late Show was his first live TV interview and prefers to let his acting do the talking for him. He opens the door to his trailer and offers to make a cup of tea, his Cork accent a lot more prominent than it has ever come across on screen.
"I see this as an urban western," he says of Perrier's Bounty, a film which is a marked difference to his next release Inception, a Christopher Nolan thriller where Murphy will star alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.
Like Gleeson, he occupies the duality of these two worlds -- the multimillion-dollar and the low-budget-- with apparent ease. "I have no intention of moving to America," he says. "I never had. There's no set plan or anything but I'd like to go back and forth, like Brendan and Liam Neeson and Colin [Farrell]."
Instead, Murphy lives in north-west London with his wife, artist Yvonne McGuinness and their two sons, Malachy, 5, and Carrick, 2. "I've been here seven years. I'm very happy now." The children are even growing up with English accents. "The small fella does, but that's inevitable I suppose," he says with a shrug.
So what is the main difference between a big-budget extravaganza such as Inception and a low-budget crime caper like Perrier's Bounty? "You probably shoot more than you would on a bigger budget film, which I actually prefer because it means less time sitting in here," he says, gesturing to his trailer which contains just him and a copy of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland for entertainment. "It's the waiting around they pay you for."
When pushed, he admits that there may be one other slight difference.
"Perhaps a different level of catering," he says with a smile. He may be right, but on a morning like this, when the hot food offers a respite from the cold, I don't see anyone complaining.
Perrier's Bounty is in cinemas nationwide