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11 angry men... and Tom Conti

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Tom Conti

Tom Conti

Tom Conti

Forget his delightful soft Scottish burr, his years of being considered a famous haggis-carrier, Tom Conti, global sex symbol, is in fact Irish. Or at least half-Irish - those smouldering looks that trembled many a Shirley Valentine knee do quite possibly come from his Italian father.

"Yes, I am actually half-Irish. Many people think I am Scottish-Italian and I was brought up in Scotland and born in Scotland, but I am proudly Irish-Italian. My mother was a McGoldrick, her grandparents moved to Scotland. But I haven't a clue about any family still over in Ireland or where we hailed. I seem to remember the name Sligo coming up from time to time in conversation, but I don't know if that was just a place they liked. My grandmother was a Donaghy."

Tom is coming to Dublin next week to star in a West End production of 12 Angry Men at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre (bordgaisenergytheatre.ie). And Tom is playing the crucial role of juror number eight, the Henry Fonda part and the catalyst for the entire story. Written by Reginald Rose in 1954, Twelve Angry Men started life as a television play before being adapted for the stage. And then, in 1957, it was made into the Oscar-nominated film starring Fonda as the one dissenting juror preventing the guilty verdict in a homicide case, who gradually plants seeds of reasonable doubt in the minds of some of his fellow jurors.

"It's a great play, a terrific ensemble piece of theatre, a wonderful story of human unravelling," says Tom. "I saw it when it first came out, over 50 years ago, and consciously didn't watch it again before this production, knowing it was better not to have Henry Fonda's performance too freshly in my mind."

What is particularly special about this play is we see how a jury arrives at a verdict. This play allows us a window into that most private sanctuary, the jury room. And it also reveals the fragility of the human mind, how the herd mentality works and how fickle even our most apparently ironclad decisions really are.

Ever since his screen debut in a 1959 television film Mother Of Men, Tom has easily balanced his stage and screen appearances, though now is leaning towards the former.

"Yes, I am done with wandering around the world, it was terrific fun but I like to be near home now," he says. "I have my family and grandchildren and friends that give me great joy, and I like to be around that. And the other big thing is that if you are making a movie, you get up at 5.30am and go to make-up and then are filming and don't get back to your hotel until after 9pm that night. Compare that to two and a half hours on stage a night and the possibility of your own bed and it seems like an easy decision to make."

Apparently, we almost didn't get to enjoy Tom Conti the actor, the heartthrob (and he does laugh wonderfully heartily at that term), the star. He was almost considering becoming a doctor.

"My wife Kara became pregnant with our daughter and I thought I should be responsible and become a doctor with a steady income. But I got a part in a play in the Royal Court Theatre and, as a result, I am sure thousands of lives were spared. I have still always been fascinated by the human body, it is a phenomenal machine."

Speaking about bodies, Tom himself has long been considered something of a sex symbol (another low chortle), did he always have a way with the ladies? "Nothing could be further from the truth. It was always so agonisingly awkward, making that first approach, knowing you were likely to be rejected." This must have changed, though, once he started to become famous?

"No, then it became a different kind of awkward, I would emerge from a restaurant to find a note from a woman under the windscreen wiper of my car, and didn't really know what to do with that either, it just made me frightened."

Conti is good company, he never seems thrown by any question, answers softly and gently in that distinctive lilt.

He has been nominated for Oscars, won pretty much every other acting accolade... what are the moments that stand out?

"The first big thing for me was a series called The Glittering Prizes, which was written by a brilliant man called Frederic Raphael - that changed everything for me. And my favourite movie is one that no one has ever seen, and understandably so, a film version of Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter directed by Robert Altman, a two-hander starring me and John Travolta. It didn't turn out as it should have done, but shooting it was absolutely hysterical."

 

SOPHIE'S CHOICE

1 This green island will go greener this week with the annual jamboree for our patron saint next Tuesday. This has become a four-day celebration and in Dublin, we have the I Love My City festival-within-a-festival. Today's highlight is a screening of The Snapper followed by Q&A with Colm Meaney and John Kelly. stpatricksfestival.ie.

2 Popular pianist Joanna MacGregor is taking to the Irish road for a 10 day tour around the country from next Thursday. For this tour she has created a programme mixing classical music by Bach and Chopin with gospel songs, spirituals, jazz and also a new commission by Irish composer Conor Linehan. musicnetwork.ie.

3 Tim and Jane meet at a New Year's Eve party in Dublin and so begins The Good Father, a different kind of love story by Christian O'Reilly. As heartbreaking as it is funny, this is about being messed up. A new production directed by Mark O'Brien and starring Nyree Yergainharsian and Emmet Kirwan. axis-ballymun.ie.

 

EXHIBIT A

Under our Dublin bay sea, the underwater steps assume an almost unearthly glow in this image, as if they are a landing strip for an alien ship. These are the steps of the bathing place in Sandycove and the picture is called Sandycove and features in an exhibition called Bathing Places, Dublin Bay.

Isn't it great when an artist doesn't try to confuse you with some esoteric description of their work but instead goes for a straight-up approach? So it is with British photographer Tom Hunter and his new double exhibition of works currently showing in the Green On Red Gallery (greenonredgallery.com).

For this exhibition, Tom has used a large-format pin-hole camera. The Bathing Places, Dublin Bay part of the exhibition was created while Tom was on the Artist's Residency Programme in the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in 2006 and features, yes, a selection of popular bathing places. Tom references Ulysses and Joyce's famous "snotgreen scrotumtightening" sea as his inspiration for this.

The other strand of the show, Axis Mundi, was created in Britain over the last two years and focuses on some remarkable landscape features, surviving elemental structures such as menhirs.

But what's noticeably absent from all of Tom's images here is people, and people normally dominate his images. Tom is best known for focussing his lens on the margins of society, the people who typically are airbrushed out of sight. Here in this exhibition, however, the absence of people does not leave a hole, the landscape and its wonders fills each frame, even the mossy steps into one of our bathing treasures.

Indo Review