Irish Eye on Hollywood

By Tom Deignan, Contributor
August / September 2007

With the summer upon us, TV is a vast wasteland of reruns – except, of course, for Denis Leary’s brilliant Rescue Me on FT, which some critics believe will take over the title of Best Drama on TV now that The Sopranos is over.

But what else is Leary working on, aside from his post-9/11 Irish-American firefighter drama? Though he’s appeared in over 30 movies (including The Ref, Wag the Dog and The Thomas Crown Affair) Leary is focusing on TV right now. He will produce a Fox legal drama called Canterbury’s Law starring Juliana Marguiles, which will air in January. Leary and Rescue Me co-creator Peter Tolan have also put together the pilot episode for an NBC cop drama called Ft. Pit.

Leary has written a movie he hopes to direct, but according to one recent interview, there is only one thing that would really get him involved in another movie project: a chance to work with the legendary Paul Newman.

And even then, Leary would prefer he woo the recently-retired Newman to play a small role on Rescue Me.

“I have a secret evil plan,” Leary told The New York Observer.

Spider Man 3 and Shrek the Third were monster summer blockbusters, but did you know that a small Irish film actually made more money in the U.S., at least by one standard? True, the film was only showing on two screens. But the independent musical Once, starring Glen Hansard of The Frames as a Dublin street singer, averaged more money per screen its opening week than most Hollywood hits and has become a sleeper hit of the summer. Following great word-of-mouth attention at the Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award) Once has slowly been spreading across the U.S. as the film’s stars, Hansard and Marketa Irglova, and Irish director John Carney tour the country performing the film’s soundtrack.

(Hansard and Irglova have actually been musical collaborators for years, even recording an album, The Swell Season, in 2006.)

“It’s great. We’re seeing a lot of the country from the ground, and we’re meeting real people, which is not what happens when you’re just flying into airports. I’m actually getting the scale of this large place you guys call home,” Carney recently told the movie web site Rotten Tomatoes about the Once musical tour.

“I don’t know what it is about this film, but it seems to have connected with people, which is great, because we started it off as a small labor of love and a pet project. To have something that we did from our hearts be received warmly is vindicating and kind of rewarding as an artist.”

Carney also had an interesting response when asked if Irish films are underappreciated in the U.S. “No, we don’t have any good films. We don’t make good films in Ireland. We have yet to find our niche, and our voice. We’ve tried to make films in the last 10 years for an American audience. They all bombed, and rightfully so. If you’re in that fight, you’ve lost the war, because America’s a massive marketplace. So we need to make films for ourselves, primarily, and then if a couple of them strike, that’s great.”

This summer, the world will learn a lot more about 18th-century Irishman Tom Lefroy, who stepped out with a young British lass named Jane Austen before she went on to become one of the most important writers in British literature.

The troubled Austen-Lefroy courtship is at the center of the August 3 release Becoming Jane. The movie is set in 1795, when Jane Austen is a mere 20 years old. But like a character out of one of her books, she has a fierce independent streak, big dreams and a desire to marry solely for love.

Her family, however, wants her to marry well, so they are not thrilled when she falls for Lefroy, a relatively well-off Irish Protestant judge, who nevertheless is not the kind of aristocrat the Austen family is seeking.

That may very well be why young Jane falls for him so deeply, even though she is risking alienation from her family and society.
Lefroy may or may not have inspired Mr. Darcy, one of Austen’s most famous characters from Pride and Prejudice. Becoming Jane stars Anne Hathaway as Austen and Scotsman James McAvoy as Lefroy.

Colin Farrell has worked alongside some of Hollywood’s hottest leading ladies, so it’s no surprise he’s teamed up with Angelina Jolie. But this project is no blockbuster of romance and intrigue. The film is a documentary called A Place in Time and was actually directed by Jolie.

Jolie had the idea to send camera crews to chronicle a week of everyday life in almost 30 spots around the world.

Farrell is one of over a dozen celebrities who served as correspondents on the project. Jude Law, Ryan Gosling and Hilary Swank are some of the others who visit orphanages, refugee camps and impoverished villages. OK, so this project begs to be made fun of, with all of these pretty people dropping in on the wretched of the earth. Still, the film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, has earned praise. The National Education Association and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are among those who have advocated using A Place in Time as a teaching tool in classrooms.

Farrell’s name also comes up when you ask Gabriel Byrne what is left for him to accomplish: an Irish Magnificent Seven western, to be made along with fellow Irish thespian Pierce Brosnan.

“The idea was to pay tribute to the Irishmen who had such an impact on the West and to give us all the chance to work together,” Byrne said in a recent interview. “I was saying to Pierce, ‘Just think of the poster: Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Steven Rea, Gabriel Byrne, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Murphy, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy – let’s just use all those guys to make a western.’

“None of us can ride horses except Pierce, but we could get somebody to write the story and do it. It’s an ongoing kind of thing where we sit and we have a drink and we say, ‘Yeah, it’ll be a great thing to do.’ And then we don’t see each other for six months.”

The much-hyped Black Donellys has been taken off the air, but expect big things down the road from at least one of the cast from the Irish Hell’s Kitchen show. Olivia Wilde got her start on the Dublin stage, so it may seem as if she’s a relative of the great Oscar Wilde. But “Wilde” is actually a stage name partially chosen because of the actress’s rebellious streak. (She was also performing in The Importance of Being Earnest when she chose the name.) Either way, the actress, who recently appeared in films such as Alpha Dog and TV shows such as The O.C., actually does have Irish literary roots.

She is a member of the famously left wing Cockburn family, which was reared in Ireland.

Olivia’s dad, Andrew, and mom, Leslie, worked in TV journalism while her sister Chloe is a writer. Her grandfather and two uncles, Alexander and Patrick Cockburn, were also journalists. She has dual citizenship, and the Cockburn family maintains a home in Ireland.
Wilde recently wrote and performed an Off-Broadway play, Beauty on the Wine, and is eyeing numerous movie projects.

Also on the TV front, Irish America cover girl and rehabbed Miss USA Tara Conner will soon be hosting a new version of the MTV dating show Singled Out.

Finally, the latest Harry Potter movie is out July 11 (with youngster Evanna Lynch among the Irish talent in the cast), but Warner Brothers already seems to be looking for a successor when the blockbuster series is done.

The film studio may even be relying on an Irish author, Derek Landy, to be the next JK Rowling for his own blockbuster children’s adventure book Skulduggery Pleasant.

Warner Brothers recently bought the rights to make any of Landy’s books into a movie. Landy’s work has already been translated into 25 languages. Set in modern-day Dublin, Landy’s darkly comic novel is about a detective named Skulduggery Pleasant and his female accomplice Stephanie.

Their adversaries in cosmic battle are known as the Faceless Ones. ♦

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