'I considered suicide by the sword at my lowest point,' reveals Patrick Bergin
The actor reveals he battled through low moments and was told by Shane MacGowan he was drinking too much, writes
Published 23/10/2016 | 02:30
The words "look into my threatening eyes" are not exactly what a woman longs to hear when asked to meet a man's gaze - but, in playful form, Patrick Bergin just about gets away with it.
It's 25 years since psychological thriller Sleeping with the Enemy secured the Dubliner a place in Hollywood history as one of the most sinister villains to grace the big screen. But, even today, there remains a flash of the psychopathic alter ego in his steel-blue stare.
WH Auden wrote in his poem Herman Melville that real evil is "unspectacular, and always human". He added it "shares our bed and eats at our own table".
Bergin's character, Martin Burney, was the perfect example of this - a controlling, abusive spouse who painted himself as a gentleman to outsiders.
He had a penchant for perfectly straightened towels and lined up canned goods in the cupboard with military precision.
Bergin flawlessly portrayed him as every woman's worst nightmare.
During our interview, Bergin sat in front of me with a distinctive air of cool - a red rose pinned to his lapel and an antique suitcase by his side. He even kept his shades on for a few minutes as we chatted in the old library upstairs in Cork's Crawford Art Gallery.
He spoke in a deep, crackly baritone, slowly and sparsely.
Bergin is starring in the musical Murder at Shandy Hall at the Briery Gap Theatre in Macroom, Co Cork. He will continue the sold-out run this Thursday at Cork Opera House.
At 65 (he says he is 64), Bergin told me he gave up the bottle following a warning from The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan.
"Shane told me I was drinking too much. He was right. I haven't touched a drop in two years," he said.
But, despite his healthy lifestyle, Bergin's biggest worries are ageing and not staying as fit as he once was.
Over the years, his difficulties have extended to his mental disposition.
He said: "I have had depression. I don't think you would be a human being if you didn't. It's just a question of whether it gets a grip of you."
Describing those dark periods, he added: "You lose connection with the world and with your fellow human beings, and communication goes out the window. Isolation... I have had all of those things.
"There would have been reasons as to why it would have happened, which we have touched upon," he said, referring to the breakdown of his marriage, "but you have to gradually emerge from it."
Bergin met his former wife, Paula Frazier, a British woman of Afro-Caribbean descent, in the early 1980s. They married in Trinidad and Tobago in 1992, and have a daughter named Tatiana.
He once said of Frazier: "I loved her before I even knew her name." Previous interviews were peppered with references to their once-close relationship.
Now, living alone in a 15th-century castle they once shared near Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, he partly attributes the split to a mixture of "a breakdown of communication" and "being away a lot" working on movie projects.
He has regrets in terms of his career and relationships. "Of course, you wish you have done better, or more, in everything - but I am only human," he said.
On occasion, he still sheds tears over the split. I asked: "Do you still love her?"
His simple reply was: "Yes."
I suppose, when it's love, it never really goes away.
"I agree with you," Bergin commented.
I wondered how he came through the dark spells, and he revealed he spoke to people about his issues.
"Both a therapist and friends. Friends were in some way better. But I did speak to a therapist and there was a suggestion, which I didn't want, of anti-depressants - but I didn't take them," he said.
"I had heard bad stories about them. I heard that they can make you worse. So I avoided taking anti-depressants and I just soldiered on."
Bergin's lowest point "was a very dark place".
"You do feel isolated and unable to communicate. That is the worst part. So it gradually took time to emerge from that," he revealed.
"I don't know... they say it's partially chemical. I don't know whether it is or not. There are some other cliches as well; fresh air and looking at the positive things in life."
There were also times he did not get out of bed. "I might spend all day and all night in bed. But I never let it go days on end."
But he could go for a few days without seeing people. "That can happen all the time. I don't even consider that depression. I can go two or three days where I just don't want to see anyone," he said.
Things got so bad that Bergin became suicidal: "I wouldn't say it never crossed my mind. It had crossed my mind."
Thankfully, his determination stopped him. "It was the thought to just 'get on with it'. Basically, that was my reaction," he revealed. "This is the truth - the line that came into my head was: 'get off the stage. Stop looking at yourself, mate. Get f**king on with it.'
"Sometimes it can be quite self-indulgent and you're looking at yourself too much. You're too self-obsessed."
I asked how close he came to going through with it, and he admitted: "I thought about going on my sword. I got the sword and I put it to my chest."
The weapon he referred to hangs on the wall of his castle, and, after our interview, I phoned him again to check once more what he had told me.
He confirmed he had swords and "a few rapiers", and this was the way he thought he might end it all. "It's called a Roman death, darling," he said, finally.
But these days, he is in a better place. He remembers the words of advice his late father, Paddy, gave him: "All a man needs is a roof over his head, food on the table and a rose in a vase." The rose is a symbol of the poetic and spiritual.
Bergin's father was a Labour senator in the 1950s and the actor insists the greatest living politician still hails from the same party. He said: "Michael D Higgins is the only man you can trust these days."
Aside from his political interests, Bergin is bringing out an album next year and starring in a new TG4 comedy series Fir Bolg, which also features Aonghus McAnally, Liam Cunningham, Caroline Morahan, Stephen Rea, and Amy Huberman.
In the meantime, I asked if he was open to finding love again. After remaining coy in the interview, he rang early one morning a few days later to follow up.
"I might put an ad in the back of Ireland's Own," he chuckled. "Failing that, I am staying in the bridal suite of the Riverside Park Hotel in Macroom. And I'll be holding auditions later."
Form an orderly queue.