Friday 20 September 2019

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

Star Wars actor reveals why he will do anything he can for the Hospice, why he wasn't surprised by the revelations of #MeToo, and talks upcoming roles in Dukes Govern, which he is also co-writing, and Run for HBO

Domhnall Gleeson
Domhnall Gleeson
Actor Domhnall Gleeson attends the European Premiere of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' at Royal Albert Hall on December 12, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/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 border lines on earnestness.  But that is undercut with a splash of frenetic giddiness that can be infectious.

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, and has been restorative for him. 

“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 said.“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 Tinsel Town racket feels like an alien concept to him.

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Première: Lenny Abrahamson with Ruth Wilson and Domhnall Gleeson at ‘The Little Stranger’ in the Lighthouse Cinema. Photo: Brian McEvoy

“I live here in Dublin and I just don’t feel like a part of that. 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,” he said. “That’s it.”

Domhnall comes from an artistic and theatrical background.  His father is. of course, 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.

“They’re all involved in the arts or filmmaking in some way,” he said.

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Brendan Gleeson with sons Brian and Domhnall Gleeson in Psychic

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; he has been a foppish leading man, an old school intergalactic space villain, a bumbling musician and a ginger wizard.

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 said. “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 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 said.  “I have never felt that. There are certain roles you think I have to trim down for that… but no.”

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Brendan Gleeson and his sons, Brian and Domhnall. Picture: Colin Keegan

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, who seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to churning out runaway hits (Catasrophe and This Way Up are among their most acclaimed shows).

Domhnall has been working on Dukes Govern with his long term writing partner Micheal Maloney; 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.”

But now he’s putting a pin in the screenplay as he starts work on a new HBO eight part series called Run. The series is generating plenty of interest: it stars The Walking Dead star Merritt Wever, and Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

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Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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 that 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 said.  “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 stageplay The Walworth Farce.

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The Gleeson clan: From left, Domhnall, Brian and Brendan in The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh

“In some jobs you just feel bulletproof,” he explained. “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.  Family is important to Domhnall.

“I’m definitely very close to my family… [they’re] inspiring”.

When I meet him it’s 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 year it is hoped the coffee mornings, held in homes and businesses across the country, will raise a much needed €2 million for Hospice, to meet with growing demands for the service.  Domhnall recalls walking from the Dart station to visit his grandparents when he was younger.  His father said it ‘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 them closer together.  “In a mad way… it makes you realise what matters,” he said. “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 19th September go to www.hospicecoffeemorning.ie or call 1890 998 995.

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