Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August September 2005

It will be hard to get away from rising Irish superstar Cillian Murphy this summer. After breaking through with roles in critically acclaimed films such as Cold Mountain, 28 Days, Later and Girl with a Pearl Earring, the Cork-born Murphy burst into the Hollywood mainstream by landing a role in the summer smash Batman Begins. (That film also stars Irish veteran Liam Neeson.)

Later in the summer, Murphy will be seen in the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye.

Now that he’s making it to the big time, it looks like Murphy is returning to his Irish roots in what is expected to be a highly controversial political movie.

Famous British independent director Ken Loach is making a new film about the Irish War of Independence. The film will be called The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and also stars Irish actor Liam Cunningham (The Card Player, Do Soldiers). Director Loach’s longtime collaborator Paul Laverty (the son of an Irish mother and Scottish father) will handle screenwriting duties.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, set in 1919, tells the story of two brothers who sign on to wage guerrilla war against the infamous British Black and Tan security squads.

Loach is best known for gritty, politically tinged films such as Ladybird, Ladybird, My Name Is Joe and Sweet Sixteen. It’s not likely his Irish flick will be as controversial as, say, Michael Collins. But expect a provocative look at Irish rebellion. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (the title comes from an old Irish tune) is due to begin shooting later this year.

Legendary Irish director Neil Jordan also called on Cillian Murphy when he needed a star for Breakfast on Pluto, which was shown this summer at the London UK Film Focus festival. Jordan’s film — which also features top Irish stars Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea and Brendan Gleeson — was shot in Kilkenny, Glenavy and Belfast last year. Murphy plays a young man (whose mother had an affair with a small town parish priest) who flees to London and becomes a famous cabaret singer

Also showing at the London UK Film Focus was Irish multi-media star Samantha Mumba’s next movie. Best known for her pop singing, Mumba (whose father was an African immigrant to Ireland) starred in a new version of The Time Machine a few years back. Now she stars in Stephen Bradley’s Boy Eats Girl, a dark comedy which was shot in Dublin.

Other upcoming Irish films have been making the rounds on the festival circuit.

The recent Dublin International Film Festival offered the premiere of the Irish-made film The Mighty Celt. The screening at the Savoy Theater was attended by director Pearse Elliott, as well as the stars Robert Carlyle and Tyrone McKenna.

More than 100 films from over 30 countries were shown at the Dublin rest over 10 days. Other new Irish films which premiered were The Trouble with Sex, Mickeybo &Me and Capital Letters.

Meanwhile, Conor McMahon’s zombie film Dead Meat was shown at the 21st Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival in June. The film stars Marian Araiyo and David Mallard and was shot in Leitrim. The seventh Boston Irish Film Festival is now seeking films for its November 17 opening date.

Speaking of Boston, a small galaxy of stars is gathering to create an upcoming film about the Boston Irish mob.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg are slated to star in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. All of those actors are American, but have extensive experience playing Irish-Americans, from Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) to Nicholson (Ironweed) to DiCaprio (Gangs of New York).

But, just to make sure The Departed has an authentic Irish flavor, Scorsese held an open casting call for Irish immigrants in the Bronx and Queens, which were very well attended.

The Departed is about conflicts between Irish mobsters, and elements of the script are similar to the notorious story of James “Whitey” Bulger, who is one the FBI’s most wanted men, after he was accused of many murders, arrested but then fled.

Filming for The Departed should wrap up over the summer.

Cable network Showtime is also set to air another show with similarities to the Bulger story called Brotherhood. The series is partially based on Whitey, as well as Billy Bulger, a well-connected Boston politician who has been accused of maintaining close links with his criminal brother. Brotherhood is scheduled to air next year.

The Irish did very well for themselves at the prestigious Cannes film festival this year. Irish writers Brian O’Malley and Terry McMahon won the coveted Hartley-Merrill International Screenwriting Prize for Sisk.

The film looks at the Dublin underworld in which an ex-gangster returns home and gets caught up in a battle between Irish and Chinese gangsters.

Meanwhile, the Irish short film Undressing My Mother was selected for Cannes’ International Critics Week.

The film, directed by Ken Wardrop, is described as a poignant short documentary about a mother with a unique take on growing old and being overweight.

Produced by Andrew Freedman, Undressing My Mother has picked up many other awards including Best Short Film at the Irish Film &Television Awards 2004, Best Documentary at the Tempere Film Festival 2005 and the Jameson Best Irish film award at the Cork Film Festival.

Cork native Jonathan Rhys Meyers wowed American TV audiences earlier this year by playing the ultimate U.S. icon Elvis Presley in a four-hour mini-series which aired on CBS. Next up, look for Rhys Meyers, as well as Northern Ireland actor James Nesbitt, to appear in what some call the most prestigious acting club: the cast of any Woody Allen film.

Nesbitt and Rhys Meyers star, along with Scarlett Johansson, in Match Point. But don’t expect Rhys Meyers to play a neurotic New Yorker in a typical Woody Allen movie. Allen famously has moved away from shooting in New York (it’s too costly as well as too difficult to get financing in the U.S., he has said). Match Point, instead, is set in England, and revolves around a young tennis instructor (Meyers) who is teaching a member of an upper crust British family. So he begins to see a whole new world of wealth and sophistication. Amidst these class conflicts there’s a romantic involvement with not one but two women. Match Point premiered at Cannes, and will be released in the U.S. later this year.

Finally, Gabriel Byrne (seen in recent small films such as The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Virginia’s Run) is looking beyond Hollywood for good roles. He is looking to the great dramatist of Irish America when he comes to Broadway this fall for a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Touch of the Poet. He will play an Irish immigrant named Cornelius Melody who is striving for a better life in 1820s America.

Byrne was fierce when he last hit Broadway opposite Cherry Jones in O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten, so expect a torrid performance from the veteran Irish thespian. ♦

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