Saturday 21 September 2019

Domhnall Gleeson: 'I just don't feel like I'm a part of Hollywood'

Domhnall Gleeson is one of the most in-demand actors in Tinseltown, but Dublin will always be home, he tells Kirsty Blake Knox

Domhnall Gleeson felt he wasn’t spending enough time at home after a run of movies that included Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in which he played General Hux. Photo: Getty Images
Domhnall Gleeson felt he wasn’t spending enough time at home after a run of movies that included Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in which he played General Hux. Photo: Getty Images
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Domhnall Gleeson is ridiculously affable. Everyone seems to like him. Mention his name and it's met with chimes of 'ahh, he's lovely' and 'what a dote'. Part of his appeal is his modesty. He's humble in that self-deprecating way only wildly successful people can afford to be. When he talks, he's considered: indeed, at times, it borderlines on earnestness.

He has just returned to the States after spending six months at home writing and catching up with friends. The 'downtime' came after an intense few years of back-to-back jobs - it's been restorative for him.

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Domhnall Gleeson played General Hux in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Domhnall Gleeson played General Hux in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

"I had a pretty strong run of it with work and then I realised that I hadn't been spending as much time at home as I would have liked," he says. "So I came back. [I think] when it doesn't feel like a holiday to be at home - that's when you know things are going well."

Based in Dublin, he dips in and out of the mania of La-La Land and wears his 'Hollywood movie star' status lightly. In fact, the whole Tinseltown racket feels like an alien concept to him.

"I live here in Dublin and I just don't feel like a part of that," he says. "When I am working, I feel like I am just doing a job. I'm not part of a bigger thing. I am there to work and then I go home. That's it."

Domhnall comes from an artistic and theatrical background. His father is the award-winning actor Brendan. Then there's his brother Brian - star of RTE series Rebellion and Love/Hate. Meanwhile, his brother Rory has just published his debut novel Rockadoon Shore.

Domhnall was in The Walworth Farce with brother Brian (left) and dad Brendan (centre)
Domhnall was in The Walworth Farce with brother Brian (left) and dad Brendan (centre)

Domhnall was first 'spotted' at the age of 16, when he collected an acting award on his father Brendan's behalf. His first major role was in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ended up on Broadway and earned him a Tony nomination.

Since then, the movie roles have come thick and fast, but despite his success, he still feels uncomfortable watching himself on the big screen.

"It's hard to know if it's passable or not," he says. "It's very difficult to know how you feel about things you're in as a whole, especially if you have a large part."

Asked if he ever feels under pressure to hit the gym ahead of taking on a romantic leading role, he laughs. "I mean, no - look at me," he says. "I have never felt that. There are certain roles you think I have to trim down for that… but no."

For the past few months, he has been scribbling away on a new six-part Channel 4 series called Dukes Govern. The comedy drama is being produced by Sharon Horgan's company Merman, which seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to churning out runaway hits (Catastrophe and This Way Up are among their most acclaimed shows).

Domhnall is working on the script with his long-term writing partner Michael Moloney; the two previously teamed up on critically acclaimed RTE series Yer Bad Self and Immaturity For Charity.

"[The Channel 4 series] is changing all the time. My brother Brian is the lead and I'm part of the supporting cast. We're getting notes from Sharon and her producing partner Clelia [Mountford], so we are really lucky. Hopefully it will work out."

Next up is the new HBO eight-part series Run, which stars The Walking Dead star Merritt Wever, and Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge. He seems uniformly excited discussing his upcoming projects, but appears a little wary when conversation inevitably turns to Star Wars and his role as General Armitage Hux.

Maybe that's not surprising. Being part of the Star Wars family is intense - not only is there the enormity of the production, but there's the intense fandom. Say the wrong thing - or, god forbid, hint at a storyline - and you could be in serious hot water.

"It's something you never get used to. You get reminded of it constantly. Just based on how big everything is. It would be hard to get used to it. But in a good way - you're constantly reminded of how amazing it is… It's coming to a close now. I think three films is plenty to do for me."

Domhnall insists he doesn't separate the non-commercial and the commercial projects in his head. "I know that sounds glib. Good work is good work and good people are good people, and you want to do good work with good people."

Despite distancing himself from Hollywood, he is aware of the seismic changes that have occurred there in recent years. The #MeToo movement saw some seemingly untouchable titans of the industry crash and crumble.

"I wasn't surprised because there is male toxicity in every part of today's society," he says. "And add to that an industry that rewards fame and power… It's that awful mix of being shocking and not surprising at the same time.

"It's a difficult [thing] to talk about briefly. That's the problem. A brief conversation about it becomes a sentence. And a sentence does not, and cannot, sum up the largeness and the awfulness, and the complexity of what it is."

One of his proudest career moments remains starring alongside his brother and father in 2015 stage play The Walworth Farce.

"In some jobs, you just feel bulletproof," he explains. "I knew that I loved the play, and even if people trashed it, I felt I was giving people my version of good value for money."

He would like to team up with his brother and father again, but is waiting for the right project. It would be hard to top the last time they were on stage together.

Our interview is taking place in St Francis Hospice in Raheny - the place where his paternal grandparents spent their final days. He is promoting the launch of Hospice Together's giant Coffee Morning with Bewley's, which returns this September for the 27th year.

This time, it's hoped the coffee mornings, held in homes and businesses across the country, will raise a much-needed €2m for local hospice care to meet the growing demand for the service.

It's a cause he feels very passionate about and has fundraised for them extensively in the past.

His father said the staff at St Francis Hospice "restored his faith in humanity".

Domhnall reiterates this. "What they did here was awe-inspiring… being given dignity, and knowing that they are being cared for and not being talked down to because they're sick."

Watching his grandparents being treated with respect during such a difficult time brought their family closer together, he adds. "In a mad way… it makes you realise what matters," he says. "I'll always be grateful for what they did. And will always help them in any way I can."

  • To register to host a coffee morning on Thursday, September 19, go to hospicecoffeemorning.ie or call 1890 998 995.

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