Irish Eye on Hollywood

James Nesbitt in Bloody Sunday.

By Tom Deignan, Columnist
October / November 2002

Liam Neeson played German businessman Oskar Schindler in the acclaimed film Schindler’s List. And he was recently seen on Broadway as a tortured Puritan in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

So why should anyone be surprised that the Ballymena-born Hollywood star portrays a Russian in his latest film, K-19: The Widowmaker?

Neeson’s ethnic-bending role is just one of several current and upcoming Hollywood movies in which Americans play Irish characters (see Paul Newman in Road to Perdition), and Irish actors play, well, anything from L.A. gangsters to mythical superheroes.

In K-19 Neeson’s co-star, Harrison Ford, also plays a Russian military man on a doomed submarine mission.

Neeson recently said that K-19 afforded the cast an opportunity to portray heroism in a timeless way.

“There are great human dynamics in this story,” Neeson said. “Under incredible stress, faced with death, these men summon a sense of duty and commitment to each other and to all of humanity.”

Inspired by a true story, K-19 captures the heroic actions of Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Ford). At the height of the Cold War, he is ordered to take command of the nuclear missile submarine K-19 away from original commander Captain Polenin (Neeson). Vostrikov’s mission is to quickly ready the ill-prepared sub for her maiden voyage – no matter what the cost.

But Vostrikov, Polenin and K-19’s loyal crew can never imagine all that is expected of them. Nor can they fathom the price of failure when a nuclear reactor malfunctions, threatening to kill all aboard. As they glide beneath the Arctic seas, the crew’s collective bravery and Vostrikov’s embrace of his duty not only save K-19, but avert a nuclear disaster.

Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in K-19- The Widowmaker.

Another of Ireland’s top leading men, Pierce Brosnan, releases his latest James Bond flick soon. It’s also been confirmed that not only will Madonna perform the title track to Die Another Day, but the material mom will also make a cameo appearance in the film, which also stars Halle Berry.

Now it’s on to Irish actors playing Americans, a market which Colin Farrell seems to have cornered.

Fresh from his appearance in the Tom Cruise blockbuster Minority Report, Farrell has reportedly signed on to appear alongside Samuel L. Jackson in an upcoming gangster flick set in Los Angeles.

Farrell, the Dublin-born Vanity Fair cover boy, will star in Swat, which begins shooting later this year. According to the Irish Independent, the 26-year-old hunk will earn a hefty $8 million for Swat, which revolves around drugs and the Los Angeles police department.

Farrell already has several movies “in the can” as they say, awaiting release, including The Farm with Al Pacino, and Phone Booth, which re-teams the actor with director Joel Schumacher, who cast Farrell in his breakthrough role in Tigerland. Farrell will also appear in the comic book film Daredevil, with Ben Affleck.

Colin Farrell.

Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg is looking to a slightly more experienced Irish actor, in his effort to recreate Camelot for a million-dollar HBO TV series. Spielberg has tapped Gabriel Byrne for the lead role in the director’s take on the chivalric life and bloody battles of King Arthur and his Court. The planned eight-hour Dream Works/HBO epic will explore the mythology of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Spielberg’s series will depict the famed battle for Guinevere’s affections, Merlin’s magic and the legendary search for the sword Excalibur. It will also, according to reports, recreate violent battles against the Saxons.

(Also look for Byrne in the upcoming Ghost Ship.)

Gabriel Byrne who will star in Steven Spielberg’s film on King Arthur.

Speaking of fantasy-action films, Dublin heartthrob Stuart Townsend is headed off to Prague, to star alongside Sean Connery among others in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Based on the acclaimed graphic serial strips (that’s comics to laypersons) by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, the film will also star Shane West and Peta Wilson.

Directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade), League is set in Victorian England, and centers around a team of extraordinary figures culled from great adventure literature. They are recruited by a mysterious caller to stop a villain intent on turning the nations of the world against one another.

This coterie of superheroes is led by Allan Quartermain (Connery) and includes Dracula vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), the Invisible Man (Tony Curran), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), and finally Dorian Gray (Townsend).

Of course, it may be hard to recognize Townsend by the time the film is completed. The film’s much-hyped visual effects are being designed by Academy Award-winner Janek Sirrs (The Matrix), while Steve Johnson (Blade 2) is helping to create creature designs for the characters of Hyde and vampiress Mina Harker, along with special effects makeup for Dorian Gray and the Invisible Man.

Stuart Townsend.

Cork actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ star should continue to rise in the U.S early next year.

Rhys-Meyers, who earned rave reviews most recently playing the lead in Todd Haynes’ much-hyped indy movie Velvet Goldmine, currently stars in the hottest film in Britain.

The film, Bend It Like Beckham, is a culture-clash romantic comedy. It tells the story of an ambitious young woman who has grown up in a loving but tradition-bound family of Indian immigrants. They are happy in England, but they are also loyal to their native culture. Part of this loyalty includes arranged marriages.

But talented and feisty Jess, played by Parminder Nagra, has other ideas. She’s a soccer star and wants to play professionally. She secretly joins a women’s team. Her talents emerge, and she falls in love with her handsome coach, Joe, played by Rhys-Meyers.

The title of the film, of course, is a reference to top English soccer star David Beckham, who is Jess’ hero.

Bend It Like Beckham has proven to be a sensation in Britain, particularly its multiracial storyline. Fox Searchlight movies is planning to release the film in the United States next year.

For Rhys-Meyers, whose screen credits include 1994’s A Man of No Importance and a brief but memorable turn as Michael Collins’ assassin in Jim Sheridan’s epic 1996 biopic, this would just be another step up the U.S. star-making ladder. Rhys-Meyers also received rave reviews for his turn in the cable remake of Orson Welles’ classic film The Magnificent Ambersons earlier this year.

Interestingly, should Rhys-Meyers and Bend It Like Beckham prove to be a hit with critics and independent audiences, it would not be the first time an Irishman used the “new multiracial Britain” angle to catch a break.

Two years ago, director Damien O’Donnell was lauded for his work on East Is East, a film about Pakistani immigrants set in 1970s Britain. The film, which starred legendary actor Om Puri, even won several BAFTA awards in the U.K.

Finally, in that rare movie in which Irish actors play Irish roles, there’s Bloody Sunday. Starring James Nesbitt, this riveting film takes a close look at the terrible events of 1972’s “Bloody Sunday” in Derry, Northern Ireland.

Nesbitt plays civil rights leader Ivor Cooper, who attempts to keep the march from turning violent. On January 30, 1972 British paratroopers opened fire and killed 14 civil rights marchers on the streets of Derry.

Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass (who is British, by the way) said the events of Bloody Sunday were “the worst mistake the British government was responsible for.” ♦

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