Brendan Gleeson has the distinction or working with both Martin McDonagh and his brother John Michael McDonagh. Martin directed Gleeson in the thriller In Bruges and John Michael helmed his new movie, The Guard.
Gleeson, a Dublin-born former teacher left that profession to pursue his love of theatre, joining the Passion Machine company. But his fame came from his movie career, portraying eclectic characters in such popular films as Far and Away, The General, 28 Days Later, Gangs of New York, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One.
In The Guard he plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an eccentric Irish small-town cop with a confrontational and crass personality and a subversive sense of humor. When his district becomes involved in a large drug trafficking investigation, he’s forced to work with a humorless FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), assigned to the case.
This part seems so perfect for you, but it wasn’t specifically written for you. Did you find it was easy to put your stamp on it?
I don’t know if I put my stamp on it or not, or whether it was there on the page to begin with. All you’re trying to do is realize the script and bring it to a reality. I found things out about him that I didn’t know when I started. Whether that was in there already, or whether I found them because I’m warped, I don’t know.
Did he remind you of people you have known?
Yeah, but I couldn’t be specific about it. I meet these guys a lot. Anybody who has ventured into the wilderness of middle-age understands disillusionment. And I think this guy’s profoundly disillusioned. I think he’s also profoundly lonely.
People don’t really get him, and he’s got to the stage where he really give a [crap] about it, what he really wants to do is just make the day go a little bit faster. He’s less than kind to the people around him, hoping that somebody will fly off [the handle] and make the day interesting for him.
Don Cheadle said he was really looking forward to working with you. What was the first meeting like with Don to talk about the movie?
It was in LA actually. We had both decided to do it. I was really delighted when they said that it had gone out to him, and I was even more delighted when he said he’d do it. I was surprised how quickly that happened. I love his work, and I felt that there’s a kind of integrity going on with him that you don’t even have to question.
You can be disappointed in that sometimes with people whose work you that you love, and you find out that they don’t quite match up as people, and I would have been really surprised if it had gone wrong. But then we managed to get together for an afternoon in LA about a month or two before we shot, and we had a reading through it with John, and we basically just tested the water, and seeing how it came out, then we couldn’t wait to get going.
You’ve worked with both brothers, can you compare them? This was John’s first big film.
Yeah. I remember saying to him, ‘By the way John, before this starts there are going to be comparisons, and you’re going to have to find some way to get your head around that.’
There are obvious similarities in the tone of their work and in the sense of humor that’s there and the ferocity of it. They write in a very fierce kind of way and part of the reason they’re so brilliant is because of the vigor that they put into their writing. They don’t tolerate glibness or half measures, that’s a common thing in their work.
But the worlds are completely different, the voice is completely different. My easy way out has been to say, ‘For anybody who figures it’s the same thing, just take any character from either film, In Bruges or The Guard, and put them in the other movie.’
It’s impossible. If you take Gerry Boyle and put him In Bruges it’s not working. It doesn’t feel right, the tonality is different, the whole voice is different. The worlds are separate.
The end of the movie where Gerry faces the drug dealers was very special.
I think he had been wanting a confrontation like this all of his life, whereby he steps up to the mark. It’s so unusual in life to get a clear cut challenge where you know this is the force of good against the force of evil.
Most of it happens in small compromises, people looking the other way, or telling yourself you didn’t see it, but a really clear cut chance to say, ‘Okay, this is where I stand up or run away.’
He’d been wanting one of those from the time he joined the police force, and all he got was small time traffic tickets and small bribery corruptions.
The last Harry Potter movie just opened, what are your reflections of doing that franchise?
I was in [a couple of them] and my demise was in the last one, so I didn’t have an intimate a connection with it as others. But I went into it afraid that they would be brats, being a teacher and a parent I don’t like brats.
I didn’t trust the movie industry not to turn them into brats. And I thought, ‘This is going to be dealing with precocious, rude, little monsters, I don’t know if I can handle it, but let’s have a go.’ And I found beautifully, well-adjusted young kids who were allowed to be kids, and I had such a fantastic time.
The whole set up of it was phenomenal. They would have kids in from the Make a Wish.
Foundation, and the set was really friendly to children. They were very considerate of their audience, and I never felt as if there was a predatory thing going on, either with kids who came in as actors or kids who came in and loved the films or the books.
It just became respectful and really magical. But it’s completed its circle now and so long may it live.