Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2004

Though the last James Bond film Die Another Day was a smash hit, some feel Navan-born star Pierce Brosnan is getting a bit old to play the dashing agent. At this point, it’s unclear who will star in the next Bond pic.

Asked recently about the ongoing uncertainty, Brosnan was quite blunt.

“It’s nowhere near a done deal. We’ve reached an impasse with the producers. They seem paralyzed and can’t move forward,” Brosnan was quoted as saying.

It’s worth adding, however, that the Bond films may stay in the Irish family: Colin Farrell has been talked up as the next 007, along with Hugh Jackman and Orlando Bloom.

Either way, Brosnan has no trouble finding work. He was in top form recently alongside Julianne Moore in the dueling-attorneys romantic comedy Laws of Attraction. Many said the film was a delightful reminder of classic Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn films.

Brosnan has also begun shooting The Matador, alongside Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis.

Also about to begin production is a soccer movie featuring Irish actors Stuart Townsend and James Nesbitt. Directed by acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom, the film (entitled Goal!) will feature Nesbitt (who earned raves recently in the Northern Ireland docu-drama Bloody Sunday) as a soccer agent who masterminds the career of a talented young Mexican player. There is even talk of the film being part of a trilogy.

“This is a big deal and may well propel James Nesbitt into the spotlight as far as Hollywood is concerned,” one industry insider told The Star newspaper of Ireland.

Irish-American song and dance lass Donna Murphy has wowed Broadway audiences for over a decade. This summer, however, she is looking to make a big splash in the ocean of blockbuster films. She landed a plum role in Spider Man 2, alongside Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire. The film is due out June 30.

Murphy was born into a large Irish-American clan in Queens, the oldest of seven children.

She attended New York University, but left at the age of 20 to make her name on the New York stage.

Murphy’s big break came in 1993 when she landed the female lead in — and won a Tony for — Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. Murphy has since appeared on TV shows such as Law &Order, Ally McBeal and The Practice and in films such as Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Center Stage (2000).

The recent Philadelphia Film Festival featured two Irish films worth keeping an eye out for down the road. One is an independent film from Ireland, while the other features a slew of Hollywood veterans.

First there’s the small independent film Cowboys &Angels. The coming-of-age tale follows two Irish best friends — one gay, one straight — as their worlds change, and they move from the uncomplicated travails of youth to the very messy complications of adulthood.

Cowboys &Angels was written and directed by David Gleeson in his feature film debut.

Then there’s Shade, staring aforementioned Dublin actor Stuart Townsend, as well as Irish film veteran Gabriel Byrne. Shade is set in the world of high-stakes poker playing, and tells the story of three con-men looking for one more big score which would allow them all to retire. Aside from Townsend and Byrne, Shade also stars Sylvester Stallone, Thandie Newton, Jamie Foxx, Melanie Griffith and Hal Holbrook.

Irish talent also remains busy on the TV front.

After nine years starring in the CBS smash hit Touched by an Angel, Roma Downey is now concentrating on TV movies. She produced and starred in a number of them while doing Angel.

Downey recently starred in her first post-Angel effort The Survivor’s Club. Jacqueline Bisset and Lauren Lee Smith also starred in the CBS movie. Based on the best-selling novel by Lisa Gardner, the film explored three women who were raped by the same man. They band together to form a “Survivor’s Club.” But their road to recovery is blocked when a hired hit man kills the suspected rapist. The members of “the club” suddenly become murder suspects themselves.

Downey also appeared on the Lifetime cable cop show The Division, and will soon launch her own line of Celtic jewelry.

Meanwhile, Dublin native Amanda Byram can be seen these days hosting the much-criticized new reality show The Swan on Fox TV, in which women submit to radical plastic surgery then compete in a beauty contest.

Two British-born TV actors with Irish roots have also been busy of late.

John Mahoney is best known for playing the crotchety Dad on the sitcom Frasier. That long-running show recently left the airwaves, so the veteran actor (who played an Irish-American Dad in Ed Burns’ She’s the One) is now concentrating on films.

Mahoney will star later this year in an ambitious movie called Fathers and Sons. Three directors — Rodrigo Garcia, Rob Spera and Jared Rappaport — will handle three different angles of the script, which revolves around three families who grow up on the same block.

Meanwhile, acting legend Angela Lansbury got in touch with her Irish roots recently on the Hallmark Channel film The Blackwater Lightship. Based on a novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín, Lansbury plays a rural Irish matriarch forced to acknowledge how Ireland has changed since her youth.

In a recent interview, Lansbury said her character is “the real bastion of strength in this family. She’s salt-of-the-earth Irish, and she helps bring reason and caring to a rather desperate situation.”

But she added: “Granny’s almost a thing of the past, and I think that’s what’s interesting about her. She represents the largely rural Ireland of 30, 40, 50 years ago. Her daughter and grandchildren represent the new, busy, dynamic Ireland. But we see Granny begin to change. She does want to catch up with the present.”

Incidentally, New York stage actor Brian F. O’Byrne also appeared in The Blackwater Lightship and O’Byme qualifies as an Irish star about to hit the big time. He had a quirky role in the recent Irish movie Intermission. But it is his stage work that has recently earned raves.

Playing a killer in the play Frozen (which recently moved to Broadway), O’Byrne met with unanimous critical acclaim (see Hibernia page 28). After years of doing solid, quiet work, O’Byrne deserved the big break that is surely around the corner.

Moving onto news about Irish books and movies, the rights to Joe O’Connor’s novel Star of the Sea were recently sold to Working Title Films, whose hits include Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Billy Elliot, About a Boy and Fargo.

O’Connor’s novel is a sweeping Famine-era historical novel set on a “coffin ship” and dubbed “brave and artful,” by the New York Times Book Review. The novel was also named one of 25 “Books to Remember” for 2003 by the New York Public Library.

Not such good news, however, has come out of the camp of Wexford author Eoin Colfer, author of the best-selling Artemis Fowl series for kids.

Efforts to bring Colfer’s character to the big screen have faltered. The announcement came even after Alisters such as Winona Ryder and Cameron Diaz were linked to the project.

Reports out of Ireland suggest that financial rather than artistic difficulties are hampering the Artemis Fowl project. The weakness of the U.S. dollar against the Euro has made filming in Ireland pricey. As a consequence, shooting has been shelved for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of financial difficulty, the recent film The Alamo was not treated kindly by audiences or critics. The film stars Billy Bob Thornton and Irish-American actor Jason Patric (grandson of showbiz legend Jackie Gleason). But there is an Irish angle to the Alamo story often forgotten.

Of the 188 noble Texans who attempted to defend the Alamo, ten were natives of Ireland. To this day, the tri-color still flies at the famed mission, to mark the contribution Irish soldiers made to this ultimately lost cause.

Finally, it was great fun recently for lovers of Hollywood classics to see Maureen O’Hara out and about discussing her new memoir `Tis Herself (see our cover story on page 30). In several interviews, it’s worth noting, O’Hara said that she is looking through scripts and expects to take on a film project in the near future. ♦

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