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Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
June / July 2007

The Tribeca Film Festival opened in late April, and Cillian Murphy’s latest effort was among the films featured. Watching the Detectives, which teams the Cork-born Murphy with Lucy Liu, was screened several times during the two-week fest, which closed May 6. Watching the Detectives is a romantic comedy directed by newcomer Paul Soter, who also wrote the script.

Murphy – whose increasingly impressive resume includes indy fare such as Breakfast on Pluto and The Wind that Shakes the Barley as well as blockbusters such as Red Eye and Batman Begins – plays a film buff who falls for a beautiful femme fatale (Liu) who seems to have stepped right out of a movie.

Watching the Detectives should be released wide later this year. Murphy remains busy, though his upcoming film Sunshine has hit a bump in the road. The sci-fi thriller, which re-teams Murphy with director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting), was supposed to be released in the U.S. in March but has reportedly been pushed back to September.

Murphy will also portray Dylan Thomas in the 2008 release The Time of Our Lives. Murphy has the pleasant task of being the man stuck in the middle of Irish-American tabloid favorite Lindsay Lohan and Kiera Knightley. Nice work if you can get it!

It’s a special occasion when enormous amounts of Irish talent converge on a big time Hollywood project: think about Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and John C. Reilly in The Gangs of New York, or Neeson and Pierce Brosnan in last year’s intense Seraphim Falls.
Well, the Irish stars have aligned once again for what could be the most impressive assemblage of Irish talent for a non-Irish film.
In Bruges is the rather unpoetic title of a thriller which is shooting now and set for release next year. The film will star Colin Farrell as well as Brendan Gleeson and was written and directed by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh.

Ralph Fiennes will also star in the film, the first full-length cinematic work from McDonagh, following his Oscar-winning short Six Shooter (which also starred Gleeson).

Studio execs have already called McDonagh’s script “killingly funny and dramatically affecting,” words which also describe McDonagh’s intense yet riotous Irish plays such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Skull in Connemara.

In Bruges is about two hit men (Farrell and Gleeson) in London who are ordered by their boss (Fiennes) to run off to the titular Belgian city.

Once in Bruges, however, they are drawn into situations both absurd and deadly. In Bruges should hit theaters next year. Until then, Brendan Gleeson will be seen this summer in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, once again playing Professor Alastor “MadEye” Moody. Irish stage veteran Fiona Shaw also reprises her supporting role as Harry’s loathsome Aunt Petunia.

Finally, Gleeson will play Winston Churchill in an HBO/BBC production entitled Churchill at War, a follow-up to 2002’s The Gathering Storm.

Churchill at War explores how the stoic Brit became a legendary wartime leader. (Albert Finney portrayed Churchill in the earlier production, which won three Emmy Awards.)

Now, a word about A-list stars working alongside a completely unknown Irish actress. Jayne Wisener, from Coleraine, Derry, will star alongside Johnny Depp in the upcoming screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The 19-year-old Wisener will portray Johanna in the thriller about a bloodthirsty barber. The film will be directed by quirky Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Wisener told the Belfast Telegraph: “I’m so excited – I still can’t believe it. To get the chance to work with such renowned actors is a dream come true. The support and prayers from family and friends have been wonderful. To get to this stage has taken a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.”

Sweeney Todd is currently shooting and will hit screens in 2008.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who gave an impressive turn as Henry VIII in Showtime’s The Tudors (Series II will shoot in Ireland over the coming months) will appear in the October release August Rush alongside Robin Williams. The film (about an orphaned musical prodigy searching for his parents) was directed by Kirsten Sheridan, whose dad happens to be Irish cinema legend Jim Sheridan.
Rhys-Meyers has also signed on to appear in The Children of Huang Shi, a dramatic epic which also features Radha Mitchell and Chow Yun-Fat and is set in war-torn China in the late 1930s.

The Children of Huang Shi is based on the life of George Hogg (played by Rhys-Meyers), a young British journalist who saved 60 children who were about to become orphans. Hogg led the children on a dangerous 1,000-mile journey through mountains to safety. Along the way he fell in love with a nurse (Mitchell).

Belfast veteran of stage and screen Stephen Rea recently appeared alongside Hilary Swank in the plague-infested film The Reaping. He has another horror film in the can, which also features a well-known actress as his co-star. In Stuck (due out later this year or early next) Rea plays a homeless man who is hit by a car driven by Mena Suvari (American Beauty). The victim actually becomes stuck to the car, but the driver, instead of assisting him, actually goes home, parks in her garage and leaves him to die – or rescue himself.

Rea also has an Irish film in production, which marks the directorial debut of Lance Daly, who wrote the 2001 movie Last Days in Dublin. Daly’s next film (which he also wrote) is called Kisses and is about two children who run away from home on Christmas but spend the evening on the mean streets of inner-city Dublin. Newcomers Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry star as the runaway kids.

Speaking of Rea, he famously appeared in the now-classic film based on Patrick McCabe’s book, The Butcher Boy. That movie has finally been released on DVD, with commentary by director and co-screenwriter Neil Jordan, as well as other extras. It’s a shame that this movie, considered by some to be one of the best Irish movies ever, took so long to become available on DVD.

Irish producer, writer and director Terry George is sticking with multinational subjects following the success of Hotel Rwanda. He is reportedly writing a script about U.N. envoy Sergio Viera de Mello, who was killed by a bomb in Baghdad in 2003.

George was quoted as saying that de Mello is a fascinating character because he “served in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, pretty much every hot spot in the world.”

One source George is consulting is the book A Problem from Hell, which won a Pulitzer Prize and was written by Irish-born Samantha Power, who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents at a young age.

On to TV news. Kate Walsh (whose middle name is Erin) has become such a star alongside fellow Irish-American Patrick Dempsey in Grey’s Anatomy that the show’s creators are developing a spin-off that will center around Walsh’s Dr. Montgomery. Current plans have Montgomery leaving the Seattle hospital  and moving to another facility in California (which, coincidentally, is where Walsh was born).

Finally, Cindy Adams made a blunder in a recent New York Post column when she wrote: “Roll over Colin Farrell. Ireland’s next hottie is James McAvoy from The Last King of Scotland.” Cindy, call your fact checker! McAvoy did play the title role in the tiny 2005 Irish film Rory O’Shea Was Here. But that does not change the fact that he was born in Glasgow. McAvoy did earn honorary Irish points while researching his role in Becoming Jane. He plays an 18th-century Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

McAvoy refused to give the character an Irish accent. “It’s completely disrespectful to an Irishman to suggest the English overlords all had Irish accents, just because you want a bit of the Irish blarney for the American audiences.” ♦

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