Monday 19 March 2018

Cool Domhnall Gleeson gets hot under collar over Angelina Jolie

Domhnall Gleeson is one of the hottest young properties in Hollywood. But, he says he doesn't want a starring role in the fame game

Like father, like son: Domhnall Gleeson, who stars with Saoirse Ronan in the new release 'Brooklyn', believes the less an actor is known, the better for his work.
Like father, like son: Domhnall Gleeson, who stars with Saoirse Ronan in the new release 'Brooklyn', believes the less an actor is known, the better for his work.
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

In Brooklyn, the new Nick Hornby-scripted adaptation of Colm Tóibín's best-selling novel, Saoirse Ronan's character, Eilis, is torn between the spine-tingling promise of the new world, featuring the twinkly charms of Brooklyn hottie Tony (Emory Cohen) and the more sensible, rock-solid-yet-distinctly dull offering of the boy next door back home, played by Domhnall Gleeson. I can't help think of this tension in the film as I watch Gleeson walk through The Westbury Hotel in Dublin attracting, by his own admission, hardly a second look. You wouldn't peg him for one of the ­hottest young properties in ­Hollywood. When he sits down there is zero starry hauteur and throughout our conversation he is thoughtful, self-deprecating and studiously guarded. "It's an independent, not young love, not an excitable kind of love", he says at one point of his character's passion for Eilis. "But it's no less deep for that."

As much as Gleeson has any designs on our love, you feel that's the kind he'd prefer: not excitable. And if your spine really needs to tingle, you must turn to his films. Still only 34, he has already amassed an incredible body of work, earning a reputation as a character actor versatile enough to move from a Coen Brothers remake of True Grit to Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Anna Karenina to the romantic lead in About Time. After Brooklyn he'll have a leading role in the forthcoming Star Wars movie. Bar some heavyweight award silverware there wouldn't seem to be much more left to achieve.

Except, perhaps, the small matter of getting Americans to pronounce his name correctly. His director on the tepidly reviewed Unbroken, Angelina Jolie - "Angie" to Domhnall - recently conducted the world's least-penetrating interview with him, in which perhaps the sole point of interest was her gentle teasing about those seemingly extraneous letters.

In fairness to Jolie, Gleeson, while unremittingly affable, doesn't seem to enjoy attempts to mine nuggets of biographical colour from his career-focused patter. He says that Matt Damon's recent comments that the less an actor is known, the better for his work "make a lot of sense to me." Interviews are good for getting the word out about movies, he helpfully adds, and he does slightly see the point of them beyond that - but not much: "I've got the same interest in my heroes that everyone does. I will say I do google interviews with Sam Rockwell or Daniel Day-Lewis or Jennifer Lawrence and you might hope to gain something in them for yourself, but the real interest, the real truth, is in the work. It doesn't matter how they grew up, none of that is going to help you understand them better really."

I'm wondering if this would be a good time to ask him about what it was like growing up the son of another acting legend and getting his big break through his father, Brendan. As a schoolboy Domhnall had acted in a few student productions but his first foray into the professional acting world came when he was just 16 and he got spotted by an agent after picking up an award on his dad's behalf. ("The idea of going into school and saying I had an agent just seemed so ridiculous"). His first big part was in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ended up on Broadway and secured him a Tony nomination.

After this auspicious start he returned to Dublin and was unemployed for a while. That must have been tough? "I really hated it. I was young enough that I didn't feel like all my hopes and dreams had been dashed. I was living at home and I was still going out with my friends. I had saved a little bit of money. I learned that I had to make my own luck. I started writing short films and kept myself active artistically." In a lot of Irish families there would be the narrative of what writer Jamie O'Neill called "the bull calf coming up" and clashing with the father. I wonder if, for all the obvious passing of the torch that went on, Domhnall ever had something like that with Brendan. "No, my father was always very generous. Himself and my Mam have only ever been delighted by our success."

It wasn't all a gilded passage to fame and fortune, he valiantly protests at one point. "For about a year I'd always be down to the last two for a job but I didn't get any of them. I'd be waiting to see if the other person couldn't do it." Any we'd have heard of? "Just parts in American indie movies. I'd be told, the good news is they like you, the bad news is just not enough. I got that phone call many times for six months." Would he drown his sorrows afterward? "No, you'd lick your wounds. But then you'd look for another script."

Given his other background as a ginger, pale Irishman ("handsome is not really where I'm at", he said in another interview) did he have insecurity in terms of finding his niche as a leading man? "Yeah I didn't think that was going to happen at all. Tom Hall, who directed Sensation (a 2010 film about an innocent young Irishman who has a relationship with a call girl) really trusted me when I was quite young. And after that I thought 'wow this is amazing'. Then Joe Wright trusted me to play a romantic part (in Anna Karenina), which was huge too. You're relying on people to see a vision of you that you don't see in yourself." Speaking of which, I imagine that he must have gained considerably more attention from women after he became a big success. He responds: "People have. Sometimes they recognise me, sometimes, yeah, if I'm walking down the street, but it's never been a problem and people generally aren't mean. People are generally nice and you move on with your day and they with theirs." He's been linked to talented Irish producer Juliette Bonass, who is behind film and TV hits including Glassland with Jack Reynor and The Stag with Gleeson's brother Brian but confirmation of this is impossible as any discussion of Domhnall's love life is verboten.

Given the calibre of talents he comes into contact with now, I wonder if he ever feels overawed. "Meeting Angie was a big one. Calling her Angie - I know that makes me sound like an arsehole. Because she was a great actor but then also seemed like an icon in some ways as well. But then you realise this is a person who lives in the world as well." But in her own world, her bubble of superstardom, surely? "Well you can say that, it's my opinion that she's very connected." I mention the way she was depicted in the Sony leaks, as a star who seemingly rarely had the truth told to her by a couple of the key people in her work sphere, but Gleeson's eyes flash with alarm. "I have nothing to say about that, it's got nothing to do with my experience of her. She was very generous, quite open and caring. And a very good director, which is what I was interested in."

In the interview with Jolie he mentioned that he has a short fuse, so I wonder what kinds of things make him lose his temper. "Well right there, when you mentioned the Sony leaks, I am fighting the urge to say 'why the f**k did you ask me that?' That would make me a little bit angry. I guess I consider it provocative or something." But are artists by their nature not provocative? "Yes but provocative through my work, not as chief rabble-rouser. That's not an accusation, sorry, just my instinct is to be over-protective of myself."

It's time for a change of tack. As our interview draws to a close I ask him about what makes him sad and he tells me: "I'm not trying to be evasive or boring but it's just the same things as everybody." And with that, the rabble, having been shaken awake for a shining ­second, are soothingly returned to their sweet slumber.

Brooklyn is on general release from this Friday

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