Irish Eye on Hollywood

Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie O and Robert Lowe as JFK in the upcoming National Geographic adaptation of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Kennedy.
Ginnifer Goodwin as Jackie O and Rob Lowe as JFK in the upcoming National Geographic adaptation of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Kennedy.

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August / September 2013

The latest news and releases from your favorite Irish and Irish-American stars.

1. The news that The Sopranos star James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at the age of 51 shocked Hollywood and the millions of Americans who were reluctantly seduced by the New Jersey gangster Gandolfini portrayed. Gandolfini’s life was the ultimate immigrant success story (his father was born in Italy). The actor was even in his father’s homeland to receive an award when he passed.

The Sopranos had its fair share of Irish connections, some more flattering than others. For one, the famed Satriale’s pork store where Tony’s crew often congregated was, in real life, located right next to the Kearney Irish American club in New Jersey.

At the time of his death, Gandolfini had completed two final films, one of them entitled Animal Rescue, written by another son of immigrants (from Ireland), best-selling author and fledgling movie mogul Dennis Lehane.

Based on his own short story entitled “Animal Rescue,” the film will star Gandolfini as well as Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace.

“Animal Rescue” first appeared in the story collection Boston Noir. Lehane’s tale revolves around a heist as well as a killing, which eventually drags an ex-con back into the life of crime he is trying to leave behind. Look for Animal Rescue in theaters later this year or early next.

Lehane’s books Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island have already been turned into acclaimed films. He is also planning to re-team with Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in Shutter Island, to make a film called Travis McGee. Lehane’s book Live by Night is currently being turned into a film to be directed by Ben Affleck.

2. A movie about Irish-American pundit Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book Killing Kennedy, about President John F. Kennedy, is being planned. Rob Lowe – the 80s hearthrob who recently played a stiff-faced plastic surgeon in HBO’s Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas – is slated to play President Kennedy in the film, which is being produced for the National Geographic Channel. The film will explore the lives of Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from 1959 to that fateful November day in Dallas in 1963. Ginnifer Goodwin has reportedly signed on to portray Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, while Michelle Trachtenberg will play Oswald’s wife Marina. Killing Kennedy is filming now and is scheduled to be shown this November, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

3. Also slated for TV is a new CBS comedy about a Boston Irish clan called The McCarthys,  which will follow the trials and tribulations of a large Irish Catholic family. The McCarthy family includes a gay son, but tension arises not from the son’s sexual orientation, but from his desire to be less wrapped up in his whacky family’s life. The McCarthys was created by Boston-born writer and actor Brian Gallivan. The initial pilot for The McCarthys starred Irish American Bronx native Jack McGee (Rescue Me), but final casting decisions have not yet been made.

4. CBS is also looking to produce a sitcom created by Irish American comedian Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan is an acclaimed stand-up whose deadpan riffs on life and fatherhood (he has five kids) have earned raves. Gaffigan has teamed up with TV and movie production veteran Peter Tolan (whose credits include Rescue Me with Denis Leary) to produce a sitcom revolving around Gaffigan’s family life.

5. Everyone was amazed in March when The Bible proved such a hit on the History Channel, drawing the biggest TV audience of 2013 to date. The ten-hour, $20 million mini-series was produced by Derry native and former Touched by an Angel TV star Roma Downey and her reality TV mogul husband Mark Burnett. Now, Burnett and Downey have announced they are going to produce a follow-up, tentatively entitled A.D.: Beyond the Bible.

This time around, Downey and Burnett are doing business not with a cable channel but with the NBC television network.

“I followed the development process of The Bible closely with Mark and knew that the story was far from over after Christ’s crucifixion,” said Bob Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, in a statement.

6. Brendan Gleeson remains as busy as ever. While still laboring away (along with his son Domhnall) at a big screen version of the famously difficult Flann O’Brien novel At Swim-Two-Birds (which will also feature a slew of Irish acting talent), Gleeson is also scheduled to star in an upcoming Ron Howard film entitled In The Heart of the Sea. Fellow Irish thespians Cillian Murphy and Sam Keeley will also appear in the whaling epic. Based on the Nathaniel Philbrick book of the same title, In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of a tragic 1820 whaling ship, that many say inspired Herman Melville to write the American classic Moby Dick.

Gleeson will also appear later this year in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, alongside other Irish actors such as Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly.

7. Two of the well-received films with Irish talent to come out of this summer’s Galway Film Fleadh were The Callback Queen and Mister John. Irish actress Amy-Joyce Hastings stars as Kate Loughlin in The Callback Queen, set in the cutthroat London film industry. Kate must navigate the dicey world of sleazy agents and competitive fellow actors, once she lands a prized role in a highly anticipated film. Sean T. O’Meallaigh and Ger Ryan also star in The Callback Queen.

Meanwhile, aforementioned Dubliner Aidan Gillen (the mayor from HBO’s The Wire) has received raves for his leading role in Mister John, directed by the Irish team of Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. In Mister John, Gillen plays an Irishman out of his element in Asia, where his brother built a satisfying life for himself only to die suddenly. Unhappily married to an unfaithful wife, Gillen’s character begins falling in love with his brother’s widow. Mister John has been described as an intimate character study which painstakingly explores the hard realities of life, love and death.

8. A new documentary worth checking out is Evocateur:  The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, which explores Downey’s coming of age  and looks closely at the wild syndicated TV talk show that bore his name. He was born Sean Morton Downey Jr. in New York City in 1932. His father was a popular singer in the 1930s and 1940s, referred to as The Irish Nightingale. Downey Sr. also appeared on TV and in movies. One of his many songwriting hits was “That’s How I Spell Ireland.” Downey wanted to match his father’s achievements, working in show business as well as politics. Downey even worked for Irish-American political legend Bobby Kennedy. But most memorable about this movie and Downey’s life is the talk show that more or less invented trash talk TV– for better or worse.

9. Another interesting documentary making the rounds on the festival circuit is Our Irish Cousins, which began as a video diary of Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Houlihan’s book tour, but has since expanded into a broad exploration of the Irish diaspora and its impact on both sides of the Atlantic. For upcoming screenings, visit ouririshcousins.com.

10. For Netflix users out there, the BBC production of the Belfast-set mini-series The Fall is currently streaming, and stars Gillian Anderson and John Lynch, as the former X-Files star attempts to link several unconnected murders in Northern Ireland.

11. Finally, Fionnula Flanagan was in Galway in July for the 2013 Film Fleadh where two movies starring her were shown in Ireland for the first time – “Tasting Menu” (Spanish) and “Life’s a Breeze” (Irish).

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