Irish Eye on Hollywood
By Tom Deignan, Contributor
February/ March 2007
Amidst all the hype (and jokes) concerning Sylvester Stallone’s latest return to the boxing ring as Rocky Balboa, little was said about the performance given by Belfast native Geraldine Hughes, playing a Philadelphia native opposite Sly. This could be the big break this theater veteran needed to crossover into Hollywood.
Until Rocky Balboa in December, Hughes had appeared in just a few small movies, including Duplex (2003) and St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish-American comedy from 1999.
Hughes is better known for her theater work, including a one-woman show called Belfast Blues, which she wrote and starred in, playing over 20 characters. The new year will also see her take Broadway in a new production of Brian Friel’s Irish play Translations.
Hughes was raised Catholic in Belfast, and began appearing in TV movies in the 1980s. She later came to the United States to study acting. Anjelica Huston (more on the Huston clan later) is among the luminaries who helped bring the critically acclaimed Belfast Blues to New York and wider theatrical audiences in general.
Another Irish actress we can expect big things from in 2007 also hails from Northern Ireland, Saoirse Ronan, who has a pivotal role in the upcoming Atonement alongside Keira Knightly, Vanessa Redgrave and Brenda Blethyn. Ronan plays a 13-year-old who, with one small lie, turns the lives of everyone around her upside down. The film is based on the best-selling Ian McEwan novel. Ronan was previously seen in the Michelle Pfeiffer and Tracy Ullman film I Could Never Be Your Woman.
Finally, on the Irish-American side, up and coming actress Kate Mara should have a big 2007. She appeared in the inspiring Christmas football film We Are Marshall opposite Matthew McConaughey. Mara (whose Irish football roots include being the granddaughter of New York Giants football owner Wellington Mara, and great-granddaughter of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Dan Rooney) has two March films set for release: Full of It, about a habitual liar who realizes his tall tales have become reality, and Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg as a secluded marksman asked to help prevent a political assassination.
The Irish were well represented at the Golden Globe Awards, which are usually taken as a harbinger of what the Academy Awards will bring when Oscar nominations are announced in February.
Martin Scorsese’s Irish gangster epic The Departed earned numerous Golden Globe nominations, including nods for Scorsese as director, as well as for Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie, which features Nicholson as an old-time Boston Irish crime boss and DiCaprio and Matt Damon as younger operatives who may be cops or gangsters, also nabbed a Golden Globe nod for Best Film, Drama.
Departed screenwriter and Irish-American William Monahan also received a Golden Globe nod, and is considered an Oscar favorite.
Monahan will be honored at the second annual “Oscar Wilde: Honoring Irish Writing in Film” event in Hollywood on February 22. Al Pacino, Van Morrison and Belfast-born writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) are also expected to attend.
Monahan has long worked with Hollywood blockbuster veteran Ridley Scott, who asked Monahan to write the Liam Neeson flick Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, also earning a Golden Globe nod is Irish-American TV star Patrick Dempsey for his role in the hit series Grey’s Anatomy. As one of the many Grey’s Anatomy fan sites puts it in Dempsey’s biography, “Patrick was born on January 13, 1966 in Lewiston, Maine, to Irish-American parents. He grew up in nearby Buckfield, Maine, graduating from Buckfield High School.”
Dempsey will also appear in the January release Freedom Writers, opposite Hillary Swank, in a film about a female inner city teacher trying to reach “unreachable” students.
The legendary Peter O’Toole also earned a Golden Globe nomination for his turn in Venus (check it out on DVD), which features O’Toole as an aging actor who falls in love with his close pal’s grandniece. Venus is a welcome return to the spotlight for O’Toole, often thought of as a British screen star but who was actually born Peter Seamus O’Toole in Connemara.
O’Toole recently told Esquire a story about a time when he and his daughter were in Ireland and received a visit from Katharine Hepburn.
“Daddy, there’s an old Gypsy woman at the door,” O’Toole’s daughter said. The actor continues: “We had a Gypsy nearby who would pinch our flowers. I went to the door and said, ‘No thank you, we don’t – oh, hello, Kate.’ She had four jackets on. One belonged to Barrymore, one to Spencer Tracy, one to me, and one to Humphrey Bogart. Khaki trousers and boots – this was her uniform.”
O’Toole (who actually made two other movies in 2006, Lassie and One Night with the King) added: “Good parts make good actors. I take them as they come.”
January 26 is the release date for the Liam Neeson/Pierce Brosnan/Anjelica Huston drama Seraphim Falls. The Irish leading men both play former U.S. Civil War soldiers hunting each other.
Meanwhile, Anjelica Huston is not the only member of that fabled Irish cinematic family keeping busy. Her half-brother Danny appeared in Children of Men at the end of 2006, opposite Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. Look for Danny Huston in 2007 in Thirty Days of Night as well as the Jim Carrey thriller (that’s right, the funny man is getting serious) Number 23, due out in February. In other news concerning Irish-American families in show business, John and Joan Cusack have several new projects planned for the new year.
Having appeared in numerous big time Hollywood productions, John Cusack (who’s been in movies over 20 years now, after debuting in 80s teen flicks such as Sixteen Candles) is going independent with his gritty next film Grace Is Gone. The film is a harsh look at the homefront consequences of the Iraq War, and made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
Noting that U.S. officials have made an effort to conceal the coffins of dead soldiers coming home from Iraq, Cusack recently told the New York Times, “If they’re getting away with that, then your job as an artist in this era would be to tell the story of one of those coffins coming home.”
In 2007, also look for John Cusack in the films 1408 and The Martian Child. The latter film also features Joan Cusack, John’s sister. Cusack (several family members began acting in the Chicago area theater where the Cusack clan grew up) also has a talk show in the works for ABC.
When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, Cillian Murphy will certainly be getting plenty of exposure. First of all, he teams up again with director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) for another science fiction thriller called Sunshine. Set around the year 2050, the film explores a Chinese-United States mission to reignite the sun, which, well, has gone out.
Troy Garity (son of Irish-American activist Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda) also stars in Sunshine.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s much acclaimed Irish Civil War film The Wind That Shakes the Barley will be screened as part of the annual New York Craic Festival, which features music, short films, animated and more at various New York City sites in March.
Directed by provocative British film veteran Ken Loach, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a look at Ireland’s political and military struggle with Britain in the wake of the Easter Rebellion of 1916.
Craic festival organizers are also in negotiations to obtain the rights to screen the Robin Williams-Jonathan Rhys-Myers film August Rush, about an orphan who uses music to track down his parents. August Rush has been directed by Kristen Sheridan, director Jim Sheridan’s daughter. Both previously earned an Oscar nod for the screenplay to In America, which was directed by Jim Sheridan. Kristen Sheridan previously directed Disco Pigs in 2001 and Patterns in 1999. For more information about the annual Craic music and movies festival, visit thecraicfest.com.
Finally, it’s worth your while to keep your eye on BBC America or the DVD aisle for Cracker: A New Terror. Starring Robbie Coltrane, the latest entry in this British detective series has a story line featuring the complexity of post-9/11 terrorism, particularly as it pertains to debates over Northern Ireland and the Irish-American role there. ♦