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Marriage is an odyssey

WHEN the award-winning US actor Keir Dullea was asked to tour Ireland with the Red Kettle Theatre Company's production of Ira Levin's thriller Death Trap, he was delighted.

"I'd love to do it," he told his long-time friend Pat Moylan, the artistic director of Andrew's Lane Theatre in Dublin who is also on the board of Red Kettle. "But you have to hire my wife, Mia, to play my wife."

"Ah! He wouldn't leave me behind for three and a half months," says renowned actress Mia, with a laugh. She is is best known for her Broadway portrayal of Babe in Crimes of the Heart, for which she received a Tony Award Nomination and the Clarence Derwent Award.

"We're used to working together - that was how we first met. And we've been fortunate enough to work together frequently since. Otherwise, we'd probably never get to see each other. In fact, we had done Death Trap together before. It was just two weeks after we got married back in 1999," she explains. "We even had to take our honeymoon before the wedding because the job came up and we went into rehearsal."

Chatting with Keir and Mia in their rented apartment in Dublin on a sunny afternoon, feels comfortable - like being with a couple who have been soulmates forever. They are 'easy' with each other, laughing a lot and often finishing each other's sentences with precise timing.

Maybe it's because they got together later on in life when they'd had a chance to grow into themselves, I venture? Although this is his fourth marriage, Keir was happily married to his last wife, Director Susie Miller for 27 years before her death in 1998.

"In a strange way, Susie was the one who brought Mia and I together," Keir points out. "Although we had met briefly once before, it wasn't until Susie cast Mia opposite me when she was directing Private Lives in 1995 that we really got to know each other. The three of us bonded at the time and we became very good friends."

"And I fell in love with the way he treated her," adds Mia. "I had just left a 10-year relationship in which I didn't feel cared for or loved, and I just fell in love with the way he treated his wife. Susie was a wonderful person! After we did the play, we kept in touch a little bit - but you can lose track of people because life is so busy, always working and travelling, especially in our business. I lived in New York and they lived in Connecticut and I didn't even know Susie was ill [she had ovarian cancer] until one day I met Keir on a street in Manhattan."

"And that was the strangest co-incidence," Keir takes up the story. "I was visiting my mother, who was 94 at the time and living in an assisted care facility in New York, and that was how I literally bumped into Mia again. It transpired that my mother was living only a block away from Mia's apartment."

Keir, whose great-grandparents left this country during the famine, fell in love with Ireland on his first trip here, when he cycled all around Co Cork in 1964, and has been back 13 times since.

However, this is only his second time working here. He fulfilled a personal dream 11 years ago when, with his late wife Susie as director, he brought his one-man portrayal of F Scott Fitzgerald to the Dublin Theatre Festival, where he received rave reviews at Andrew's Lane.

Although best-known for his portrayal of Commander Bowman in Stanley Kubrick's iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Keir says that, looking back, his favourite experiences as an actor have been in live theatre rather than film.

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"I'm very proud of 2001: Space Odyssey; it's not that I consider it one of my favourite characters, it's not even one of my favourite films," he stresses. "But it is certainly one of my favourite film experiences because it was such a unique and privileged experience to work with Stanley Kubrick. There was also a film, David and Lisa , that I got a Golden Globe for and that was a favourite film of mine, but the peak experiences have definitely been in the theatre. When things are disastrous nothing is worse than theatre but nothing can be quite as high when it works."

Mia, who also has many film and television credits behind her, and whose many Broadway credits include last season's sold-out run of Our Town with Paul Newman, agrees with Keir that live theatre is the greatest challenge.

Her first Broadway appearance was in Hugh Leonard's Da which ran for a year and a half, and she was thrilled when Hugh invited herself and Keir to spend some time with him when they visited Ireland two years ago.

I ask a question that I've wanted to ask since the start of the interview - about how they cope if they've had a row before going on stage.

"I don't think we've hated each other to the extent that it would last long enough to go on into the performance, but we do have our moments," laughs Mia.

"We work extremely well together. I think the real test is not working together, it's travelling together. When Keir proposed to me it was in Dingle, after two weeks of being in a car, in the rain in Ireland. Together 24 hours a day! And I'm not real crazy about the rain, so I thought 'Well if I can still be happy with him after this!'"

'Death Trap' continues at Andrew's Lane until Saturday, April 30. Tel: 01 6795720

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