Monday 20 January 2020

I was homeless -- now I'm acting in movies with Anne Hathaway...

Rise to the
challenge:
Glenn Gannon
Rise to the challenge: Glenn Gannon
Anne Hathaway

Deirdre Reynolds

Ten years ago, Glenn Gannon slept with one eye open on the streets of Dublin -- catching 10-minute naps between the wail of sirens and gnawing cold.

Today, the successful Dublin actor hangs out on set with Hollywood stars like James McAvoy, Julianne Moore and Anne Hathaway.

"One minute I was sleeping under Dolphin's Barn Bridge, the next I was in a Hollywood movie," says Glenn (59), who lives in Clondalkin. "It's surreal."

In his upcoming movie Danny, Glenn plays the title role of a tattered and bruised homeless man.

Off camera though, the granddad-of-three didn't have to look too far to get into character -- he knows only too well the hardship of not having a place to call home.

As a respected businessman running a discount depot in the Liberties in the 1990s, Glenn was the last person you'd expect to wind up without a roof over his head.

When his beloved dad died in 1998, however, it sparked a downward spiral that led to him sleeping rough in the capital for three years.

"Everything blew up on St Patrick's Day 1998," recalls Glenn. "My marriage was on the rocks, my drinking was getting out of control, profits were dwindling as a result -- and in the middle of it all, my dad died.

"Looking back, I often joke that my life was like a Willie Nelson song. And when my dad passed away, I literally just wandered off.

"I had been out of the family home and sleeping on friends' couches for a good while -- but eventually I ran out of couches to sleep on."

Reformed alcoholic and prescription drug addict Glenn spent his first night on the streets the night before his father's burial.

And curled up on the steps of the Church where the funeral took place, he reveals how he got through those first few hours of homelessness.

"Two local homeless men put a blanket over me and slept either side of me to keep me warm," remembers Glenn. "The next day they went to a charity shop and got me a black suit and came to my father's funeral with me.

"I thought: 'Sure if everyone looks after me like this, I'll be grand'.

"At the funeral, none of my family would talk to me -- and I don't blame them," he says. "So for the next three years, those homeless men became like my family.

"One well known Rialto character called Tommy, who spent 25 years on the streets before he passed on, took me under his wing and showed me all the tricks of the trade like where to find a cigarette at four in the morning (outside St James's Hospital) and where to hide your blanket.

"On the street, there's this thing called 'The Social Club'," he explains, "where homeless people pool their resources to survive and the greatest currency you have is your word.

"It's better organised than Dáil Éireann."

Now a volunteer for the Dublin Simon Community, dad-of-two Glenn has committed his cautionary tale to an as-yet unpublished memoir called Miracle Man.

And incredibly he says he's no happier now than when he was when he was homeless.

"You know that saying, 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'?" he asks. "Well, that's exactly what I did.

"Being on the streets, I accepted my lot the same as if I had won the lottery. I stood outside John's Lane Church and was always cheerful."

Tormorrow, a group of Ireland's top architects including Room to Improve presenter Dermot Bannon are set to swap their plush pads for a sleeping bag as part of the Simon Sleepout in a bid to raise awareness of the capital's most invisible residents.

But the Chaplin-esque image of the good-natured vagabond wandering the streets with a bindle over his shoulder isn't always accurate either, warns Glenn.

"Don't get me wrong, there are dark forces on the street who'd cut your throat while you're asleep to rob your coat too," says Glenn.

"I'd spend hours praying for my daughters as I tried to nod off. Then when I did eventually doze off, I'd wake up 10 minutes later thinking I'd heard a noise.

"Choosing where you sleep at night is something you do very carefully because it could be the last decision you ever make," adds Glenn.

"And I've had my fair share of scary moments like young lads squirting me with lighter fluid and throwing matches at me.

"I only survived because people knew I wouldn't take any messing.

"I never started a fight -- but I knew how to finish one."

It was while battling his demons at the Aisling addiction treatment centre that Glenn casually enrolled in an acting class.

After being cast in a Christmas production of his own play at the centre, the aspiring star was talent-spotted by Eamon Farrell -- Colin Farrell's brother -- who co-runs the National Performing Arts School.

"He told me I reminded him of Liam Cunningham and offered me a place on a drama course," reveals Glenn, who has since nabbed roles in blockbusters such as Becoming Jane.

"Suddenly, I was being taught by Colin Farrell's acting coach and treading the boards at Trinity College."

And just as the death of his dad has sent him off the rails, it was the death of his mother that inspired Glenn to get his life back on track.

"One catapulted me into oblivion and the other got me back down to earth," he tells.

"As an alcoholic, the biggest thing is finding the wagon you can sit on for longest.

"When my mam died, I made the decision to go to her funeral sober -- and haven't drank since.

"I went and got counselling. Today, I just take it one day at a time."

With his former life slowly coming back into focus, Glenn returned to the house he now shares with his ex-wife Marie -- whom he describes as his "rock".

"When I was in rehab, my ex-wife told me that if I got back on my feet I could take the back bedroom at home -- and I took her up on the offer.

"Even though we're not together, she's always been very good to me, and I never stopped loving her.

"As a family, we're closer now than ever -- I idolise my grandchildren."

It wasn't long before Tinseltown came knocking on his door.

"In 2004, I got a small role in Laws of Attraction which was filming in Ireland," says Glenn. "And that's just like my life!

"I was chatting away to Julianne Moore in hair and make-up and didn't have a clue who she was until she introduced herself on set. We had a great laugh about it.

"Then in 2007, I got cast in Becoming Jane alongside James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway.

"In rehearsals, James was very helpful with my lines and Anne was just the sweetest thing -- holding my hand and calling me 'darling'.

"She definitely wasn't a diva.

'When I told my daughters I was going to be in a Hollywood movie, they were like: 'Poor dad, I think he's been out in the sun too long!'" he laughs. "I still have to pinch myself."

Next up, Glenn takes the lead in his play The Trial at the upcoming International Eucharistic Congress at the RDS in June.

But he certainly hasn't become accustomed to the red carpet lifestyle.

"When I first arrived back home, I slept on the floor," he reveals. "And even now, I wash and shave in cold water and fast one day a week to stay hardy.

"I take nothing for granted -- all this could fade away tomorrow and I'd be back on the street.

"Now with the recession, I see people walking around town with hangdog expressions," adds Glenn. "But we will have better times -- I'm living proof."

On May 12-13, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland will offer members of the public a one-hour consultation in return for a €50 donation to the Simon Communities of Ireland. See www.simonopendoor.ie.

Irish Independent

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