Irish Eye On Hollywood

Gabriel Byrne

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
February / March 2009

Martin Scorsese just can’t get enough of the Irish!

Just as the legendary director of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver is wrapping up his next movie (based on a novel by Irish-American best seller Dennis Lehane), word is that Scorsese’s next project will explore the Irish and their role in the creation of New Jersey’s gambling mecca Atlantic City.

Best known for exploring the Italian-American underworld, Scorsese has been involved in numerous Irish projects in recent years. There was the epic Gangs of New York in 2004, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson, which explored the Famine-era Irish and how they transformed 19th century New York.

Then there was the critically acclaimed The Departed, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon as Boston Irishmen trying to decide if they are cops, gangsters or both.

Next up for Scorsese (set for a fall 2009 release) is Shutter Island, based on a book by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River and whose latest book, The Given Day, is an epic about the Boston Irish in the early 1920s. Reteaming Scorsese with DiCaprio, Shutter Island is about the search for a murderer in the 1950s.

After Shutter Island, Scorsese will reportedly direct a series pilot for HBO called Boardwalk Empire. It will explore the roots of Atlantic City. Acclaimed actor Steve Buscemi will reportedly play the lead, a businessman who turns to bootlegging during the Prohibition era in which Boardwalk Empire is set.

The series also features an Irish immigrant woman who entered into a bad marriage just to escape her parents in Ireland. Scottish actress Kelly McDonald (who has played Irish characters in numerous films, such as Intermission and Two Family House, and was seen more recently as Josh Brolin’s wife in No Country for Old Men) is in talks to play the role.
Buscemi is not the only Sopranos talent linked to Boardwalk Empire. The series has been written by Terrence Winter, another veteran of the acclaimed HBO show.
The schedule of films for this year’s Craic Festival of Irish music and movies is set, and it looks like another great opportunity to see a wide range of much-discussed Irish films. The festival will be held March 11 – 14 in Manhattan, and features new, established and experimental Irish films as well as music.

Included in this year’s Craic lineup is the Cannes Film Festival winner Hunger directed by Steve McQueen and starring Liam Cunningham and Michael Fassbender. The movie explores the hunger strikes which turned men like Bobby Sands into international icons.

Also on the Craic bill are 5 Minutes from Heaven starring Liam Neeson,  Hippie Hippie Shake starring Cillian Murphy and 32A starring Aidan Quinn.

Perhaps the most provocative film on the bill will be a documentary about Gabriel Byrne, in which the famously private star opens up about many of his demons.  The documentary was shown at the Galway Film Fleadh in the summer of 2007 and is now making the rounds on Irish TV and at festivals. Byrne reveals, for example, that he struggles with a serious drinking problem related to depression. No wonder Byrne earned raves as James Tyrone on Broadway in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten.

The documentary also features Byrne’s ex-wife Ellen Barkin caring for their children.

“I don’t miss drinking now at all,” Byrne says. “But it did lead me to a place where, had I not pulled back, it would have led to an early grave. I was a periodic drinker. I could go off it for weeks at a time, but I could go to a hotel room and be there for three or four days with the curtains closed and the phone off the hook.”

The Craic Fest is not just about movies. The music series coincides with the South by Southwest Music Festival in Texas. Performers such as Paddy Casey, Gemma Hayes, Foy Vance, Fight Like Apes and Screaming Orphans will hit the stage at New York’s Mercury Lounge before heading south.

There will also be a free Kids Fleadh on Saturday afternoon March 14th.

One of the great Irish movie success stories in recent memory was Once, the humble musical about an Irishman and a Czech woman falling in love and singing songs. The movie, which starred Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, was a smash hit and eventually brought the duo to the Oscars.

Once is now being turned into a Broadway musical and is set to premiere during the 2010-11 theatrical season.

Ciaran Hinds is set to appear with Paris Hilton in a (for now untitled) comedy-drama about family and war. As far as we know, everyone will be keeping their clothes on. Allison Janney and Charlotte Rampling will join them in this new film from critics’ darling Todd Solondz, best known for Happiness.

The Belfast-born Hinds, who was the subject of our February/March cover story last year, has built a strong reputation as a supporting actor in films such as There Will be Blood and Miami Vice. He was seen (or heard) most recently in the animated film Tale of Despereaux. His film The Race to Witch Mountain will also hit theaters this year.

Phil Lynott was a groundbreaking rock star, a biracial singer-songwriter from Ireland who changed the face of rock-n-roll. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a movie about Lynott, who died when he was just 36 following a long struggle with drugs and alcohol.

A  movie based on Lynott’s life has been postponed following accusations that the film exaggerated Lynott’s addictions. The bio-pic was reportedly ready to shoot, and was slated to feature CSI actor Gary Dourdan in the lead role. But former members of Lynott’s band Thin Lizzy insist that the depiction of Lynott be more accurate.

Guitarist Scott Gorham was quoted as saying: “There was a lot more to Phil and the band than just taking drugs. It irritates me that the personal stuff overshadows the musical legacy. You only get one shot at getting a movie right. We won’t give it the green light until everyone is happy.”

Lynott died in 1986.

When it first began shooting, the late 1990s Boston mob movie Boondock Saints initially turned Irish-American director Troy Duffy into a rising star. But many snags along the way meant that Duffy had to be satisfied just to see the flick make it into a few theaters.

In fact, Duffy’s journey from the heights of promise to the fringe of indy cinema was captured in the subsequent documentary Overnight, which depicted Duffy as a petulant egomaniac.

Nevertheless, it looks like the Boondock Saints crew is getting together for a sequel.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus will star again as Connor and Murphy MacManus, Irish twins at war with the mob, in Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day.
Judd Nelson and Peter Fonda are also set to star.

Another Boston Irish filmmaker to watch out for is Mike O’Dea, who was shooting a Boston Irish crime film on a shoestring, put some of the footage on YouTube and got the attention of Hollywood producer Michael Z. Gordon.

Initially entitled Townies, the film will now be called Code of Silence.

Why? Because Ben Affleck is shooting another Boston mob movie, entitled The Town.

Code of Silence is due to start shooting on St Patrick’s Day.

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