independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Meaney: still cursing after all these years

Globetrotting Colm Meaney talks family, ambition and rugby with Hilary A White, in between cursing Ireland's squandered opportunities

Colm Meaney

COLM Meaney finds himself trying to predict the future on this breezy afternoon. He answers swiftly, as if having prior knowledge that such things would be asked of this man who for so many is associated with futuristic settings and strange new worlds.

"I think we'll beat Wales," he says earnestly. "I'm very excited about this. We have a chance to go to the World Cup final here. It's almost..." he fizzles out, putting clenched fist to mouth anxiously, "afraid to speak!"

As we were all soon to find out, our rugby team wouldn't be boldly going where no Irish team had gone before.

Meeting Meaney doesn't leave you star-struck and that's meant in the best possible way. Having ranged through screens small and big, from Barrytown to the Beta Quadrant, the Dublin actor is just too familiar, the ubiquitous square jaw, beady eyes and unruly curls the features of a local acquaintance or man-about-town. The voice carries a slight North American inflection and softening of the consonants that has come with nearly 30 years of living in the US.

Last night, the 58-year-old arrived into Dublin from Cannes where he was on promotional duties for Hell On Wheels, a US-produced historical drama series. When home, the international star always stays with mother Kathleen who is "still banging around Glasnevin and Phibsborough". Home-cooked meals are a big plus of this arrangement, and Meaney was greeted in the door by a pot of coddle, he reveals, salivating smugly. Very " Roddy Doyle", you find yourself thinking.

The home ground has been hit running due to an unenviable schedule of interviews ("I'm starting to lose the voice," he mock croaks) for his latest feature film Parked, a muted and elegant study of a man forced to live out of his car after returning to Dublin from abroad.

"It was tough," he says, recalling the snows of the January 2010 shoot. It was one of those situations where it wasn't until he saw the finished article that he realised how good the material was, something that was hard to figure on a blisteringly cold set on Pigeon House Road. First-time director Darragh Byrne also impressed him.

"Working in television, you don't always get to choose directors, and basically if a director's not very good, as long as he stays out of your way you can get on with it if you've been doing it as long as I have. But Darragh was great.

"I knew it was a different kind of character and needed a very subdued, internal performance, where I tend to be quite overt. The acting I admire is like Pacino -- he's my hero -- but it's big," he thunders. "You go for it."

Parked is interesting, I put to him, in that it discusses the shame of bankruptcy, an oft-overlooked symptom of this recession. He thinks this is a good point, but stresses that the story wasn't intended to be symbolic of the past few years and was actually written before the bubble burst.

For Meaney, it is interesting how the film's characters, who are lost for different reasons, cling to their dignity, despite very degrading circumstances.

During his years living in the US, Meaney always kept abreast of his motherland's ups and downs. He explains that his relationship with Ireland has changed to a degree but that he never felt like his emigration to London in the early Eighties and then to the States a few years later was quite the death his family considered it to be. ("I thought they were going to have a wake!") Instead, Meaney is in Dublin at least four or five times a year, and for stretches if he's working on a project, so there's none of that "emigrant harking after the old sod", he promises.

Living abroad, yet still feeling connected, may have helped him understand things at home, he supposes. He theorises that the Irish "have a tendency here to say 'we're special', not that the rules don't apply to us but that we do things our own way".

His travels have taken him to places such as Scandinavia and Canada, places which didn't opt for "this laissez-faire capitalist model, this closer-to-Boston-than-Berlin bulls**t" and he concludes that we in Ireland had an opportunity to do great things and "f***in' blew it big-time".

I've watched The Commitments and The Van, so hearing him cuss and look cheesed-off is like business as usual. It's likely there was plenty of both leading up to his decision to relocate from LA with wife Ines Glorian back to Europe after the Bush-era had left him "very disillusioned and disappointed".

"My wife said to me 'let's look at Majorca'," he shrugs. "She's French but she's lived and worked in Madrid on-and-off over the years. I was reluctant -- I had visions of white, sandy beaches and high-rises, sunburnt drunken Brits and Paddies falling around the place. But I went anyway and I was blown away; it's a beautiful island."

Spain also happened to be where the pair had met in 2003, he says. On location in Almeria, Meaney was shooting Blueberry, a cowboy film starring Vincent Cassel ("a disaster," he whispers) where Glorian, a fashion designer, was working in wardrobe. Daughter Ada appeared a year later and they tied the knot in 2007.

Having two daughters aged six and 26 (the latter from Meaney's previous marriage to Irish actress Bairbre Dowling) is an "odd situation", he laughs, one that has seen him labelled "a f***ing eejit" by his friends ("you just get one off to college and you decide to have another one!"). But fatherhood remains the greatest thing in his life. He speaks of a "great relationship" with the eldest, Brenda, who never gave any trouble growing up and is now doing a masters in drama at Yale ("a very difficult programme to get into but she did it all by herself"), while Ada he describes as "a little cracker" and "a handful" who makes him laugh and opens his eyes to things.

The young Colm Meaney, who dabbled as a trawlerman, who trained with the Abbey Theatre School before moving to London for eight years to be a jobbing stage actor, could hardly have predicted any of it: the Star Trek residency and action doll, the Hollywood blockbuster roles and the ceaseless TV work.

"You didn't think far ahead. I remember Pat Laffan, a great mentor to me, saying don't worry about being a star, just worry about being a working actor. I don't plan ahead," he sighs. "Maybe I'm not particularly ambitious or something, I don't know, but I've always loved what I do. I've had the good fortune to always do it and be good at it, but I certainly don't have that 'burning ambition' -- and I've worked with a lot of big stars who do have it and it's almost insatiable. Some people may say that I'm a lazy f***ker! But it's OK."

'Parked' is now showing in cinemas nationwide

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