Sunday 4 December 2016

The Acting Life of Brian

New Irish comedyThe Flag marks a new stage in the career of actor Brian Gleeson

Aine O'Connor

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

For Brian Gleeson, acting runs in the family. Photo: Steve Humphreys
For Brian Gleeson, acting runs in the family. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The centenary of 1916 has proven a rich vein of work for Brian Gleeson. He played Jimmy Mahon in RTE's Rebellion and works with Pat Shortt to retrieve a stolen national treasure in the film The Flag which has just opened.

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It's been two years of steady work for the Dublin actor, something for which he is very grateful. And while acting is in some ways a family business, so too is the slow build, putting in a good body of work to get where you want to go.

Many actors are surprisingly reserved and Brian is too, but he smiles with forbearance and agrees it would be a bit disingenuous if I didn't mention Brendan and Domhnall, his father and older brother. Brian is the second of Brendan's four sons with Mary Weldon and looks more like him than Domhnall does. He says he doesn't make comparisons to his thespian rellies but learned from his father that acting was a real career possibility and from both that you have to carve your own path. "It's a long game," he says, "You're not a footballer, it doesn't end at 35."

Brian's first role was in John Boorman's Tiger's Tail during his Leaving Cert year. He didn't study acting in college, but did short courses and mostly learned as he went along.

"I'm nearly ten years at it now, so I feel maybe I'm starting to absorb the lessons I learned," he laughs. "You've got to serve your apprenticeship. I think the worst thing you can do is be in too much of a rush. Wanting to be famous as soon as you get out of college means you only end up getting burnt," but, he adds, "Try telling that to a twenty year old."

He turns twenty nine next month and feels confident in the career he is building. He has won awards for his work, like the IFTA for his role in Love/Hate, but says whilst they're nice, they don't mean that much.

"You know when you're good and you know when you're bad. You can put in a horrendous performance and everyone is telling you you're great, but you know when you haven't done a good job. You'll always be your own worst critic so you have to keep trying to learn and not take anything for granted.

"You have to love it, it's a crazy profession, nuts, but you have to have more strings to your bow."

He does film, TV and stage work because he believes in taking all the work you can. There's the financial aspect of needing to earn, but also the emotional side. "Unemployment is a big part of being an actor and the time out of work can be very hard. For the last two years it's been pretty steady and I'm really thankful because I always remember what it is like not to work."

He says he has experienced quite long periods without working and that it can be very demoralising, "But you can't just be waiting for your phone to ring. You feel desperate or needy and you go into the audition room and they can smell that off you."

Although he says he works for "whoever gives me a job", when a comedy script comes along it has to make him laugh.

The Flag, which was shot last March, was an unusually swift turnaround. He had worked with the production company Treasure before, on The Stag, and knew they were good to work with. And that they like scenes with naked men? "Yes, and preferably in the cold!" The cast of The Stag had to cover their bits with twigs in the Wicklow winter, and there's a naked Pat Shortt in The Flag, "Who doesn't want to see that?" asks Brian.

"It's really Pat's film and I think Pat's humour. I really wanted to work with him. I have also known him going back years, he's a good friend of my dad's."

Although Shortt is known for his comedy there is always an undertone of pathos in his characters, it's present in The Flag too.

"Pat's a very soulful guy and he has a very warm presence and I think that people just like being around him. There's a melancholic strain to what he does - to have that within a comedy is always a winning combination."

The Flag is now showing nationwide.

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