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Monday 18 December 2017

Actor reveals heartache behind the joy of his red-carpet success at Cannes

Barry Ward, star of Ken Loach's new film 'Jimmy's Hall', reveals the inspiration behind his biggest role yet

Actress Simone Kirby and Barry Ward dance in a scene from ‘Jimmy’s Hall’
Actress Simone Kirby and Barry Ward dance in a scene from ‘Jimmy’s Hall’
Actress Simone Kirby and Barry Ward attend the UK premiere of Jimmy's Hall in London this week. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It's over 24 hours since his last morsel of food and Barry Ward is famished. His last meal, a tin of sardines, has to do him for another day as part of his weight-loss plan for his latest role.

Now the average guy would be forgiven for being a bit tetchy, but an actor whose star has just exploded into life? Well, you'd expect a diva extraordinaire.

Maybe it's the copious amounts of coffee, maybe it's the after-buzz of the Cannes Film Festival but the Blanchardstown boy is high on life.

Even the story of how he met his girlfriend – on the New Year's Eve of the Millennium on the Millennium bridge – is a fairytale in itself.

At the same time that the actor landed the lead role in Ken Loach's new movie Jimmy's Hall, his girlfriend told him he was going to be a first-time dad.

Fast-forward a year and he has brought the whole clan to share in the red-carpet whirlwind at Cannes.

Barry tells the Sunday Independent: "We got a standing ovation for 15 minutes when the film was over so I stood looking around trying to pick my family out of the crowd. All I could see were hundreds of the same botoxed face staring back at me. It was like playing Where's Wally?"

His current winning streak has been well known, but there is a heartache behind it all. He flew home from France early to have time with his ill father before attending the Irish premiere. His dad, who is battling cancer, was too sick to attend his son's big night.

Ward plays Jimmy Gralton, a socialist maverick who returns from America to Leitrim in the Thirties and sets about re-establishing the local social hall as a centre for learning, music and political organisation.

And Barry says it was his father, who is from the West of Ireland, who provided the inspiration for his on-screen character, "his quirks, his mannerisms," an emotional Ward says.

"It's tragic. I want him to see it. I am playing him in many ways. He was born in the year Gralton was deported and he is also from the West. Any time I play a West of Ireland man, I do a bad interpretation of my dad's accent and I steal some of his mannerisms. I know when my mam is watching it she won't be able to see past him because I am the spitting image of him."

He describes the legendary Loach as "a hands-on director" who would immerse himself in every aspect of filming: "One day this camera man shouts over to him 'I've a great spot over here but it's through marshlands – don't bother coming!'

"No, I'll be there in a second," he says, imitating Loach, "trudge, trudge, trudge he goes through the marsh ... and tries to pull his leg out to find out he is shoeless."

Loach wanted Ward to "work the land" in preparation for his role, and sent him off to a farm in Leitrim, telling him to return with calloused hands.

"But everything is machine-based now and technology has moved on," Ward explains. "They thought I was mental when I insisted on getting a rake and raking an entire field as a tractor whizzed past."

Apart from extreme diets, Barry is preparing for his next role by learning how to drive, and getting a driver's licence for a first time. Couple that with household chores and a new baby – "I am now 'one' with the dishwasher" – plus handing in his final year paper in philosophy (he has gone back to college) and you can't help but wonder what on earth he's like after a proper feed.

Jimmy's Hall opens nationwide this weekend.

Sunday Independent

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