Domhnall did an interview with The Last Magazine earlier this summer to promote the release of “About Time” in the US. We added the photoshoot Domhnall did for the magazine in our gallery, and be sure to read the interview below/inside.
“If you want to get famous, just kill a prostitute, you know? It’s a lot easier and you’re guaranteed to make some headlines.” That isn’t how the interview with Domhnall Gleeson, Ireland’s native son and rising talent, starts. Nor is it Gleeson’s line (he openly cops it from Ricky Gervais). But he does say it, deadpan, as a way to explain the sorts of faults and commitments it takes to not only be an actor, but one of worth, the kind Gleeson would like to be.
“It’s not the kind of business that people get in to be famous. If you get into it for the money or the fame, then the odds are so stacked against you,” Gleeson says. “You’ll fall out of love with it pretty quickly. If you’re working, I can’t imagine any better job. It’s when you’re not working that it sucks.”
Fortunately, Gleeson has had the best job ever for the past couple years. With roles in True Grit, Never Let Me Go, Anna Karenina, and the upcoming comedies Frank and About Time, Gleeson is one of the most interesting young actors now making a dent in the Hollywood machine. A natural jokester with a Swiss Army knife of skills, he’s been cast (and cast and cast) in dark films playing anything from a greasy Western simpleton to a bearded Russian landowner with a pure heart to a lackey who gets tortured by the Irish Republican Army.
Gleeson is a fine actor with a penchant for the morose. His ability to embody onscreen heartbreak is matched by his chameleonic ability to imbue his characters with a sense of earned honesty. Now, the rangy redhead is getting more screen time and juicier roles, including a part in the coming Michael Fassbender film Frank and the lead in About Time, a time-traveling romance co-starring Rachel McAdams and directed by Richard Curtis.
“He kept on saying, ‘Rachel’s out of my league,’” Curtis, who directed Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, says. “A real chaotic modesty is part of his nature; what he doesn’t have is an annoying lack of confidence. He was very aware that the responsibility of the film was on his shoulders, and he took that seriously, but not neurotically.”
Frank, on the other hand, has Gleeson playing second fiddle to Fassbender as a would-be rock-star keyboardist. Gleeson isn’t taking any chances of letting down his countryman and costar, submitting to piano practice even on the day we speak so as not to cock up one of Fassbender’s takes. Gleeson doesn’t like to talk about modeling his career, but he has tremendous respect for the kind of actor Fassbender has become: “There’s a man with all the opportunities, which he’s fashioned for himself,” Gleeson says. “You know, a lot of my favorite actors are Irish—Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, and Fassbender, obviously. They show you it’s possible to be from Ireland and to succeed and to be good.”
Gleeson himself is getting more and more chances to be good. He played a lovesick dreamer in 2009’s Sensation, but it was Anna Karenina that helped him grab the lead in About Time. “I’d never been seen for romantic parts before I did Anna Karenina,” Gleeson says. “No one ever considered me for the romantic guy in a movie, which I understood because I’m not the face you might see on the poster. Richard took a bit of a leap for me because they could have gotten somebody famous to do that, someone who does advertising shoots.”
This is, of course, a little silly, but his looks did almost sink his chances. “It actually was quite a tricky prospect because he had the fucking beard from Anna Karenina,” Curtis says of first meeting Gleeson. “It was like auditioning Alfred, Lord Tennyson. We shot him on film as part of the audition and he had a tremendous twinkle and vulnerability. My major memory of him is him laughing.”
It’s actually difficult to find people to say bad things about Gleeson. He’s just so damn nice. The roles are lining up now, but Gleeson speaks from experience when he explains how much acting can suck when work dries up. Now twenty-nine, he has been on a hot streak since 2009, earning a Shooting Star award in 2011 from European Film Promotion, but he’s gone through just as many quiet years of rejection.
The son of accomplished actor Brendan Gleeson (the Irish tough in pretty much every film you’ve seen), Domhnall originally had next-to-no interest in the theater. He did the school plays along with his brother Brian (also an actor), but so did everyone else. His first big break was actually an acceptance speech on behalf of his father, who won best actor at the Irish Film and Television Awards for the 1998 film The General.
Gleeson, then just over his high-school awkwardness, drew big laughs in front of a crowd of Ireland’s best, and he was offered an agent. “He said, ‘If anyone asks, we can be your agent,’ and I said, ‘Fucking fine, that’s funny,’” Gleeson recalls. “‘That’s going to be funny to tell the kids at school.’ I didn’t have any ambition to
be an actor. I think I did one thing where I did a line for the day and I got paid a hundred quid and I was like, This is amazing, but that was all I had done before The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
That play, written by Martin McDonagh, is a dark (dark) comedy set in the Nineties during the Northern Island peace process. There was blood, dead cats, and a newfound love for what acting could be. Gleeson played Davey, a young man desperately trying to cover up the murder of a pet, in both the West End and Broadway runs, earning a Tony nomination in 2006 for best featured actor.
“I can remember millions of his moments that were just priceless,” says Wilson Milam, Inishmore’s director. “The surprise and dismay, and the impact of jealousy.” Milam was even more impressed, he says, given Gleeson’s youth at the time. “We had to delay rehearsals for a couple days because he had to graduate from high school,” he recalls.
But things reset when Gleeson returned home. He went nine months without an acting job. Instead, he wrote and directed his own series of comedy sketches, Your Bad Self, to keep busy and get better. “He doesn’t feel like someone who’s going to wait to get cast,” Curtis says. Accordingly, laziness is a cardinal sin for Gleeson: “Bad taste is one thing, or being hurtful, but laziness is the only thing that I really abhor in actors, you know? That’s the only thing you can really hold someone to account for,” he says. “You have to allow yourself room to make mistakes. As long as you retain some integrity, hopefully you end up being bulletproof to whatever criticism comes your way. Even if a job doesn’t work, at least you were trying.”
That effort has been rewarded with many opportunities to work in film, even if, given the right role, Gleeson would happily return to the stage. “There are certain plays which felt to me like I wouldn’t bring anything to the table,” Gleeson says. “But The Pillowman,”—another McDonagh play—“that’s one of the things I would do in a heartbeat. If there was a production going on somewhere interesting I’d be there in a second if they wanted me.”
In speaking to Gleeson, two things become clear: first, that he thinks he has so much more to learn. Second, that he believes that after doing so, he can be a great actor. This is not a commonly held belief in Hollywood, where so many stars seem unconcerned with the “work” of acting. Perhaps it’s a good upbringing or coming to stardom a touch later in life, even if Gleeson doesn’t particularly agree with that characterization: “I think your idea of ‘young’ shifts as you get older. I’m twenty- nine looking at the nineteen-year-olds I’m working with and thinking I must appear to be so old, and I’ve learned so little because I’m still making fart jokes.”
Gleeson is actually jumping back in the writer/director’s chair to make some more fart jokes. He and his acting family have spearheaded a fundraising initiative called Immatürity for Charity, a series of sketches raising money for the St. Francis Hospice in Dublin, the same institution where Gleeson’s grandparents died. One sketch has Gleeson swallowing a pair of scissors on a first date, another has him botching CPR by blowing a raspberry on a surfer’s stomach. It’s a bit of a goof, but an important part of who Gleeson is. “He’s a very good man,” Curtis, who helped create Comic Relief, says of his star. “I love him for doing that.”
Curtis has been a kind of kingmaker, helping break Hugh Grant, Tom Sturridge, and now—maybe, probably—Gleeson. But if anyone’s floored by Gleeson’s future, it’s Gleeson himself. He’s going to need to get used to seeing his face (wild ginger hair and all) on more posters, and maybe even acknowledge that, yeah, some people think he’s hot. Lists have already popped up on IMDB counting Gleeson as one of the most attractive redheaded guys, the kind of fact that draws up a deep, happy, warm laugh from Gleeson. “Great, I just found out now on the phone that I made it. I can’t believe it, we should open up some champagne,” he chuckles. It’s a joke, sure, but Gleeson is entering a new moment in his career, one where jobs are offered, not begged for, and where he has an opportunity to become the actor he thinks he can be. As for his latest success? “I’m just happy someone told me. Imagine if no one had told me. I’d be walking around not knowing that I’d made it. It would be terrible.”
About Time is out November 8 from Universal Pictures. Styling by Alison Conneely. Photographer’s assistant: Al Higgins. Shot on location on North Great Georges Street, Dublin.