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May the Force be with you

The black comedy The Guard might just be a force to be reckoned with. Or maybe that should be farce. Having conquered film festivals around the world -- from Sundance to the Galway Film Fleadh -- it's clear from the opening scene that The Guard is not your typical Irish comedy. It's actually really, really funny. And smart.

A bunch of lads, racing through the mean, empty country roads of Galway come to a sticky and tragic end.

And Sergeant Gerry Boyle is quickly on the scene, to go through their pockets and administer a few swear words to the scattered corpses.

"Well, we do heighten the reality just a little bit," says leading man Brendan Gleeson, who plays Sgt Boyle.

"But, you know, we're not that far off the truth. I thought of one this morning, about the guard stopping a guy on his way to the airport, as he just happened to be going about 100mph. The guard just sauntered up slowly to the window, took a pause, and said, 'Are you having trouble taking off?'"

Gleeson lets out a hearty laugh.

"Isn't that brilliant? We'll have to try and edit that one into the film..."

Having been a Hollywood favourite before, Gleeson isn't getting too excited about the glowing reviews The Guard has been receiving around the world.

He's just happy for everyone else involved (among them, acclaimed American actor Don Cheadle, who plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, sent to investigate a drug-ring murder).

Ultimately though, all Gleeson really cares about, he says, is that The Guard's writer and director, John McDonagh, gets to make a few more films.


Gleeson has already made sure John's brother, the noted playwright Martin McDonagh, has such options, having helped him bag an Oscar with the 2004 short Six-Shooter, and a box-office hit with 2008's In Bruges.

Just about the friendliest guy working in the Irish film industry today, Gleeson was in fine fettle when I caught up with him at Dublin's Dylan Hotel and asked him what his reference points were for the role.

"You just have to be guided by the truth of the situation, otherwise you're onto a loser. The truth of the situation could be heightened, but it comes from a position of properly-based reality within the character.

"For example, myself, Don Cheadle and John met in LA for a day -- we got on great, and suddenly you could feel all this extra stuff coming at you, and I just said that it was a shame we didn't have more time to rehearse.

"And Don said, 'No, no, I don't want to overthink this'. And I remember thinking then, these guys do have to be spontaneous. You have to think on your feet."

Did he feel that he had to be aware of the public image of the gardai today?

"Well," he smiles, "I did think, okay, get ready for a lot of parking and speeding tickets. And I did feel, well, hang on now, is it fair to talk about the corruption?

"I think they had a screening for guards, and these guards did not relate to the good cop -- they related to Gerry Boyle. And they laughed their faces off. They know there's a certain pushing of reality there, and in the end, you have to go with the truth of the situation."

The character Wendell can't quite figure out whether Boyle is incredibly smart or incredibly stupid, and certainly, a man who listens to Chet Baker but has a Daniel O'Donnell poster on his wall is hard to work out. I asked Gleeson if Boyle's poster of Daniel O'Donnell was a key to his character?

"We talked about that, and it has its reason for being there. And I don't want to go into it here, because it might take away a little from it, but it took a while for John to give me an answer on that. It wasn't random; it makes total sense. And I think I'll be better off leaving it it that."

For someone who came to this profession quite late, it must be surprising to Brendan that he's now the head of an acting dynasty. Domhnall and Brian are on our screens almost as much as he is these days. So given Brendan's struggles down through the years, did his offspring fight it?

"Brian didn't," he explains. "It was an odd thing with Brian, I knew from the very beginning that he was going to become an actor. He goes into places in his head, and he's utterly gone there.

"We made the effort to give him options, but it was just like water going down a hill.

"With Domhnall, he was looking around a bit, working on the other side of the camera -- he's made a few shorts. They both saw me very angry and frustrated a lot of the time too. It's not an easy profession, but there's a great joy in doing what you should be doing."


Heading to LA on the back of Braveheart, Gleeson was told by one agent that he was too old, and not handsome enough to make it as an actor. I wonder if they have met since.

"I saw him in a lift, at the Emmys. But for once, I found my mother's dignity. It was the kind of thing where I fantasised, if ever I see that guy...

"I remember coming out of that meeting and saying, 'I'll see you at the Oscars'. I said it in my head, of course, and then I drove home with my teeth, as they say. You always think of things to say on the way home. And I even got mixed up as to what he said exactly -- was it fat? Ugly? Old? But that was the gist of it."

He added: "I actually also felt quite relieved. Instead of being told, 'we'll let you know', and then they never do, he gave it to me straight. And then, there I was, in the lift with him, and I said, it's enough for me to be here. And I thought, 'am I going to regret not actually doing anything?' -- but I saw him and I knew he knew."

The Guard opens in cinemas this Friday