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Cinema: Standby for takeoff with actor Brian Gleeson


The Life of Brian: Actor Brian Gleeson likes to keep his cards close to his chest. Pic. Fergal Philips.

The Life of Brian: Actor Brian Gleeson likes to keep his cards close to his chest. Pic. Fergal Philips.

Fergal Phillips

Brian Gleeson in Love/Hate

Brian Gleeson in Love/Hate

Jessica Pare and Brian Gleeson in Standby.

Jessica Pare and Brian Gleeson in Standby.


The Life of Brian: Actor Brian Gleeson likes to keep his cards close to his chest. Pic. Fergal Philips.

You could never accuse Brian Gleeson of being an open book. Squirming and shifting on a couch, eyeballing the Dictaphone, the Dublin actor claims that he's happy to do interviews provided the questions are solely about the film. Were this a scene from the silent era, you'd be none the wiser.

The film in question is Standby, a charm-heavy concoction that transplants the Richard Curtis formula - male loser rescued by Disney princess - to an affectionate rendition of Dublin. Happy is not quite the word you'd ascribe to the way Brian (pronounced "bree-awn") rhymes off the same one-liner answers about how much fun was had on set, working with co-star and Mrs Don Draper Jessica Pare and miming slap-bass in Rob and Ronan Burke's film.

It's a great shame that he is unprepared to allow us get to know this latest talent from the great Gleeson acting dynasty that has produced brother Domhnall and ubiquitous father Brendan, two of this country's most adored acting exports. I tell him that already this year I have interviewed both his kinsmen, and that with Domhnall soon to be immortalised in JJ Abrams' new Star Wars films, Brendan may soon come to be known as "Domhnall's dad".

"Yeah, well maybe for the younger generation," he says in a snappy Dublin burr. "For me, Domhnall is an acting teacher as much as anything. If I turn out to be half the actor he is I'll be happy." An acting teacher? "We discuss projects with each other. He's been in the game a long time so he's someone to look up to. It could take a while to get close to where he's at but I'm trying."

Indeed he is. The 27-year-old soon starts rehearsals for The Walworth Farce, Enda Walsh's much-anticipated collaboration with all three Gleesons and Leona Allen, due to hit Dublin's Olympia Theatre in January.

"I'm sure we're going to drag up stuff from the past, 'this particular bit of the story reminds me of when you stole my sweets' etc, all those grudges," he says. "But there's nothing wrong with pushing each other. It's a bit nerve wracking but I really want to work with them because they're great actors. I'm sure the novelty will wear off pretty soon. I just want to make sure it's good theatre."

Luckily for the rest of the clan, he tells me, there is a rule that the trio can't hog Christmas dinner conversation with shoptalk about the play. "It's going to be intense," he sighs, "just going to work and coming home and going to bed, so I don't think there'll be time to dwell on it."

We know Gleeson grew up in the family home in Malahide with Brendan and mother Mary, and brothers Domhnall, Fergus and Ruairi. After that, little else in the way of biographical information is available out there. (I tell him this and he laughs: "Good!")

When I ask him about his downtime (expecting him to speak about his early interest in violin), he bats away the question and insists nobody wants to read about that.

Let's talk, then, about his youth, and why two of Brendan's four sons should find themselves forging enviable acting careers. Surely his parents had some influence on both following their father into a less-than-forgiving industry? He begins to tell me about getting the bug during school plays before going on to perform with the Gaiety's Youth Theatre Company. Abruptly, he then concludes "there's a million different reasons" why any one does anything and that I can take from it what I will.

But why acting, I persist. "It's falling in love with the plays and the characters," he concedes, speaking of Fiddler On The Roof as a great early dramatic love of his. "Obviously there's a showman performance aspect to it as well."

He made his screen debut alongside his father in John Boorman's The Tiger's Tail (2006) and hasn't looked back. Roles in homegrown fare such as Love/Hate, Quirke and The Stag went hand-in-hand with big-budget concerns like Snow White And The Huntsman and a Broadway run of Conor McPherson's The Night Alive.

And there seems no sign of a let-up. The day after our interview, he will fly to Scotland to film a BBC adaptation of Iain Banks' rural gangland drama Stonemouth, and is recently home from filming Iraq War caper Tiger Raid in Jordan. Foolishly, I comment that his family must be very proud of what Brian and his brother have achieved and it's met with the kind of wincing sarcasm used by teenagers. We move on.

Gleeson insists he doesn't think about the equation of showbiz plus time equalling fame, even if his old Love/Hate co-stars now "can't walk down the street without getting recognised". "I think it's great to be recognised by your peers and by people who come up and sincerely say 'we liked you in that'. Obviously there's downsides to that."

A conversation about differing attitudes in the US and Europe to fame ensues which animates him. "I'm sure there's some sort of cynicism or fatalism in Ireland and England. We are fatalistic here and sometimes we need to be shaken out of that. America's very refreshing when you go over there, they're all just open about what they want and they want you to be open too. There's no problem with trying to be successful but it's all about just doing good work. It's not about fame."

He may not have much to say about himself, but you end up admiring Gleeson for his determination, something you feel has far more to do with where he is going than a famous surname.

"It's all ups and downs," he points out. "Your career doesn't just go one way. If the work didn't come in, you'd have to generate your own material or find an existing play and put it on, anywhere, any small theatre, at the back of a pub. Just do it yourself."

The Dictaphone clicks to a halt and Gleeson exhales.

Standby is in cinemas now

Sunday Independent