Sunday 25 September 2016

I was gifted a happy childhood and we should all be so lucky' - Domhnall Gleeson

It has been a phenomenal year for Domhnall Gleeson with his pivotal role in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' set to put his career into a fresh orbit. But he tells our reporter that when he comes home for Chistmas, it will all be about family

Patricia Danaher

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Gleeson does good: Domhnall has appeared in four major Hollywood flicks this year.
Gleeson does good: Domhnall has appeared in four major Hollywood flicks this year.
Domhnall with co-star Harrison Ford

Domhnall Gleeson is on an incredible roll in his career right now and seems to be taking it all in his stride. This year has seen him star in four very different and critically highly acclaimed movies, which have attracted awards buzz and even more interesting projects for him to sink his teeth into.

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On the phone from London this week, he was busy doing promotional work for Alejandro Innaritu's epic movie The Revenant, just days before the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in which he also plays a huge part. There's Brooklyn where he plays a love interest of Saoirse Ronan and earlier this year he starred in the eerily brilliant Ex Machina, which explores consciousness in robots and artificial intelligence.

The 32 year old DIT graduate brings a quiet and understated intelligence to each of these very different roles so it's no wonder that Hollywood A-listers like Tom Cruise and Thomas Haydn Church are lining up to attach him to their projects. He attributes the good fortune he's enjoying professionally to growing up a Gleeson - in a very happy home in Dublin.

"I'm one of those lucky people whose parents have been nothing but positive in my life. They've always been supportive, they've always been loving and stimulating," he tells me. "Of course any relationship worth having has arguments, but it's always just been about happiness and finding it. I love spending time with my parents and my brothers. They are all brilliant, really interesting people and growing up Gleeson as a result was just very fortunate. There's no point in pretending it was anything other. It was brilliant. I was gifted a very happy childhood and we should all be so lucky."

Domhnall is the eldest of four boys, Fergus, Rory and Brian. His father Brendan was a school teacher for many years before he very successfully transitioned to an acting career in his early 40s. It was a huge gamble to take but such was the support of his wife Mary and the stability of his home life that Domhnall says he can't really remember the time when his dad made this momentous career change.

"I should be able to remember that, but perhaps it is testimony to my parents' parenting skills that any decision like that, which must have been incredibly stressful to make, a huge decision with huge consequences, I never felt stress in the house or anything like that. They kept any of those big decisions to themselves and we were lucky. My parents were my parents.

"They were never defined by their jobs. My mother was a community welfare officer. I didn't think of her as that. I thought of her as mam. The same with my dad, he was never teacher dad or actor dad, he was just dad. People use the word "towering" to describe my dad, but that sounds scary and not how I experience him."

Ever since Harry Potter in 2001, Domhnall has been booking ever increasing and diverse roles. He did a Richard Curtis romantic comedy, About Time. There was the very zany Frank which he made with Michael Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal. He's worked twice with Fassbender's current girlfriend Alicia Vikander, first on Anna Karenina and this year in Ex Machina. He plays General Hux in the new Star Wars, a particularly nasty piece of work. Then there's the hotly tipped awards movie The Revenant where he plays opposite Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hardy.

There does not appear to be a genre in which he cannot disappear and conquer. He likes it that way.

"I'm not getting sent the same type of script, hardly at all these days, which is nice. I'm really hoping to keep mixing it up and to keep having such varied opportunities. I absolutely cannot complain."

If he never worked again, which is highly unlikely, Domhnall Gleeson has amassed an incredible body of work that shows a range and a seriousness which has so quickly made him an A-lister. Take The Revenant, an epic frontier story about Hugh Glass, played by DiCaprio who sets out on a path of vengeance after his fellow travellers left him for dead following a brutal bear attack. Domhnall played Andrew Henry, a fur trader who attempts to seek justice for Glass. It is set in freezing open countryside.

"The Revenant had a level of intensity to what Alejandro Innaritu put us in that pushed him and us to our limits. We were up in Alberta for months doing ridiculous things in the snow. Nothing was right until it was perfect.

"It was kind of an exhilarating concept, because you know when you have it, you really, really have it. When I saw the film, I was so happy to have been a part of something that I feel is unique. It's not often you get to say that. I've never seen a film that's like The Revenant, particularly today - they do not make films like this anymore. It's one of the ones I can look back on and be proud of being part of it and also proud of what I did in it. When I saw it, I wasn't embarrassed by myself."

He and Leonardo Di Caprio had a number of close scenes, where he more than holds his own.

"It was great. Everyone had physical exertion pushed upon them and it was necessary to put ourselves in very uncomfortable places. As much as anybody, if not more than, I thought Leo was just wonderful. I'm sure he could have handled it differently if he wanted to. He's a star, I'm sure he could have sidled up late and said 'I'm not running in that snow, I'm not going through that', but any challenge that was put in front of him and there were many, he absolutely dove at. Total commitment and it was really impressive to see. I got very lucky to have a couple of one-on-one scenes with him and it was just very impressive to see him do his thing. "We spent our days up mountains and in rivers in -20° and -30°. In the evening, the instinct was not to go out and party. The instinct was to get some rest and be ready for the next days' filming. It was a great group of people that I became quite close with. We really relied on each other at various times. I really enjoyed spending time with them, but it wasn't a "boys on tour" sort of a thing.

''It was a bunch of men there to do the work and that's where the emphasis was. We had dinner together sometimes. In groups that large you bond with different people at various points. There was a group of us staying at the same hotel. We'd meet up and play cards or whatever was relaxing. You need to blow off steam, sometimes by being in company and sometimes you need to blow off steam by being alone and getting away from the group that you pretend to be arguing with. We had to make sure to do both.

"While The Revenant was physical as well as psychological, there was a huge amount of prep. By contrast with Ex Machina, there was psychological warfare in the script between my character and Oscar Isaacs and an emphasis on trying to build something beautiful with Alicia, the robot. In a way, each was an antidote to the other. We shot it in six weeks, where The Revenant was over seven months - two very different experiences.

"I had a huge responsibility in terms of the dialogue and the amount of pressure I had to carry in Ex Machina. I'm very proud of how it turned out. It was very special and I was privileged to work on it. All the pressure we put ourselves through, I think you can see the result up on the screen. I think you can feel it coming off the screen and it makes it worth it."

The experience of Ex Machina caused him to consider robots and artificial intelligence in ways he had not done before and he was glad of the opportunity to challenge himself intellectually in considering the subject.

"In Ex Machina we try to explore what artificial intelligence is and the notion of singularity, what various experts feel that this means for humans, the ethics involved with that: if you create a consciousness do you owe it freedom? Is it human or is it different if it's created out of parts of machinery rather than flesh and blood?

"I find those questions really fascinating, but I'm nowhere near up enough on all the material. I find myself swinging wildly from one place to another. We had a lot of interesting conversations about it and I watched a film called Transcendent Man which was a very positive outlook on the notion of artificial intelligence and singularity. So much of it seems to be scaremongering and doom laden opinions. The director, Alex, has a very positive outlook on it and thinks it's the way forward in lots of ways. I find that point of view really interesting. Some part of me is also worried about where humanity is headed if we create something which can do away with us if it decides to."

He's home in Dublin for Christmas with the Gleesons and despite all these big Hollywood movies he's been making, moving to Los Angeles has no appeal whatsoever for him. Recently home after filming a movie in Atlanta with Tom Cruise, called Crash Pad, Domhnall exhales a sigh of relief to be back.

"I have nothing lined up so far for 2016 and I'm just really looking forward to having a break."

Somehow, I feel it won't be long before Hollywood calls again.

Star Wars:  the force behind acting greats 

Harrison Ford

As Han Solo, Ford gave one of the definitive performances of his career — his crabby, sarcastic anti-hero seemed to have wandered in from a different movie, bringing much needed grit to George Lucas’ often grandiose fairy tale in space. It established Ford as one of the outstanding matinee icons of the 80s, with appearances in such timeless blockbusters as Bladerunner and the Indiana Jones trilogy to follow.

James Earl Jones

“No… I am your father.” With those five words, the voice of Darth Vader attained cinematic immortality. Already a respected name in theatre, Jones would go on to become a leading character actor, with memorable turns in Field Of Dreams, Conan The Barbarian, The Hunt For Red October (and he also voiced Mufasa in The Lion King).

Carrie Fisher

The actress brought sass and steel to Princess Leia — which would remain her highest profile part. She reinvented herself as an acerbic essayist of note: her semi-autobiographical 1987 novel Postcards From The Edge was adapted by Mike Nichols, with Meryl Streep in the ‘Fisher’ role.

And those who ended upon the dark side

Mark Hamill

The smart money was on the golden-haired farm-boy being the one to enjoy a big league career post-Star Wars. He had charm, could act and, off screen, seemed grounded and self-deprecating. But Hamill was typecast as Luke Skywalker and struggled to escape the role. Arguably his best post-Star Wars part was playing a caricature of himself on The Simpsons.

Natalie Portman

Portman was a rising star when cast in Lucas’ prequels trilogy. But the movies were abominable and, required to deliver lugubrious dialogue in a po-faced accent, Portman came across wooden and stilted. She recently suggested Star Wars had damaged her standing in Hollywood, perhaps fatally. “Everyone thought I was a horrible actress,” she said.

Alec Guinness

Guinness’s prospects weren’t ruined by Star Wars. However, his brief appearance as Obi Wan Kenobi in the original 1977 movie at the age of 63 thoroughly overshadowed his previous accomplishments as a respected British stage actor. The irony was that Guinness was openly incredulous of Star Wars’ aliens ‘n blasters storyline and felt the material beneath him.

Ed Power

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