Questions and Answers With Domhnall Gleeson

Published: November 5, 2013

Domhnall Gleeson, Hollywood’s newest leading man would like to stress two things: His new movie is super weird, and he’s really hungry. Gleeson, 30, leads Richard Curtis’ (“Love Actually”) quirky new time travel movie, “About Time.” Not quirky in that the protagonists wear glasses and have bangs (well, Gleeson’s co-star Rachel McAdams has bangs, but she calls it “fringe,” so she gets a pass), but that the movie is anything but a typical rom-com.

“It’s a bizarre film,” Gleeson told NextMovie during a September conversation in New York City. “There’s time travel, there’s craziness and all the rest, but it’s romantic comedy and there’s big bits and big comedy and all the rest of it.”

Best known for playing Bill Weasley in later installments of the “Harry Potter” series, Gleeson steps up to the plate as Tim in the unconventional new movie, which opens wide on November 8. The year he turns 21, Tim is shocked when his father (played by Bill Nighy) tells him that the men in their family can travel back in time. Throughout his life, Tim learns the do’s (spend time with the people you care about) and don’ts (you’re not going to come up with a suave opening line when you want to chat up that girl) of time travel, coupling up with Mary (Rachel McAdams) in the meantime. While the movie still maintains the humor and warmth “Love Actually” fans will recognize (and, as Gleeson said, Curtis’ “gloriously over the top” sensibilities), “About Time” is ultimately a meditation on family and enjoying the time you’re given in this life.

Our conversation with Gleeson, however, is a meditation on the possibilities that time travel would open up, from the ability to avoid soiling oneself to a new ailment that Gleeson dubbed “time-travel bulimia,” perhaps out of wishful thinking related to the strict diet the actor is on in preparation for a role. Read on for more.

Congratulations on the movie. It’s a great script and a huge part, but what was the biggest factor in your decision to take the role?
I mean, I could say a million things, but they’d all be lies. The truth of the matter is that it wasn’t that I, like, decided to do it, it’s that I pitched to do it, I had to audition really hard and always wanted to do it. And then I was the one who was lucky enough that they chose me, as opposed to the other way around. There’s a lot of stress, because you worry you’re going to mess it up, but I mean, I just wanted to do it because it’s the movie that it is and because I got to be in every scene of it, basically.

You really are in every single scene. That’s so much work!
Yeah, it’s great. You get to go in every day! There is something wonderful about turning up every day and knowing that not just the character, but the whole movie kind of rests on your shoulders. And there’s great satisfaction when you think it’s going well and then real terror when you think it’s not.

This is your first big leading role. Is it nerve wracking at all?
Yeah, you end up with some sleepless nights. Like, when they offer it to you, they hit the roof and you go, “Oh my god, this is amazing” and then you spend, like, three months saying, “Am I doing the right thing? What the hell am I gonna do?” And you’re working all the time, trying to do as much work as you can in preparation for it, and reminding yourself of all the things that you thought about the script the first time that you have to bring to it and make sure of.

Are you planning on picking up any leading man diva personality traits? Are you gonna do a rider?
[gesturing at hotel room] Look around you, I demanded all of this. I mean, this is all — No, I’m drinking green tea, I’m all coffee and green tea and sparkling water at the moment, so, yeah, that’s pretty diva-ish, it feels like.

What, are you detoxing from something?
I’m dieting for a movie I’m doing next.

Can you tell me more about that?
Doing this Angelina Jolie movie [“Unbroken”], she’s directing it. It’s a true life story, I’m only in it a little bit. A certain part of the film is these guys ended up in a raft during World War II in the Pacific for, like, 47 days with no food or water, and it’s all that sort of stuff. So I’m the middle of a diet.

You look very thin already.
Yeah, I’ve already lost most of it, so I’ve just got a little bit left to go, so I’m in the final stages.

Now you understand all the pre-Oscars grumpy actresses, just existing and trying not to eat.
Yeah, exactly, sort of fitting into your dress. Exactly. I know the whole thing.

This is obviously a time travel movie of an unconventional sort. In your own life, if you had this ability, what would your reaction being told you could time travel, and would you use it?
Okay, so the first part of the question is how would I react, I would react probably like a million miles away from how I react in the movie, which is, you know, disbelief, obviously. Followed by half shame-faced trying it out, just in case, for your own kicks. And then kind of, you know, s**tting your pants, I mean, I think that’s the next thing. Not literally, figuratively. And if you did, you could always go back and make yourself just not do it.

That’s the beauty of it.
Yeah, exactly, yeah. Just as long as the closet’s near enough that you can waddle over to it.

“That smell? Nothing.”
Yeah, exactly. Nothing happened. And then, what would I use it for? Obviously to have not s**t my pants. And then after that, you know, I don’t know.

The message of the movie is obviously that you shouldn’t [use it], is that you should try to live a life where time travel wouldn’t be necessary. Not to undo mistakes, but because you’ll be appreciating life as it happens, as opposed to afterward. And I try to incorporate it a little bit into my life, as have a lot of people who’ve seen the film, actually, which is a really nice thing. But, yeah, I think I’m getting to a place where I’m every bit as neurotic as I used to be — I think that’s not going to go away — but I do take joy out of life. So I would say I would try not to use it unless I absolutely had to, like because I knocked something over. But if you started using it, where would you stop? And there’s probably some truth to that, I think probably not using it at all might be the key.

And it seems like it would just lead to obsessing over everything. Yeah, it’s like, if you open the sweets, you’re going to finish them, you know? You’re not just going to have one. Or, like, Ferrero Rocher, you know, like, if there’s Ferrero Rocher there, if you eat one, you’re kind of f**ked. [laughs] You’re better off just not having the one, is the idea, or just eating all of them, so I would try not to have any of them.

Or maybe that would be a good thing to use it for. Eat all of it, go back, uneat it, have the nice memory.
Like time-travel bulimia. Yeah, yeah, I’m not sure that would be a good way to look at eating. I could use it at the moment, good god. I could eat a full meal and then just go back and it wouldn’t even have happened. You know, I’d be hungry still, that’s the thing, you’d still be hungry.

Oh, that’s true. But would you have the memory of eating it?
You’d have the memory of it, but I’ve got memory of eating stuff that I ate, like, two months ago, but it’s not helping me now.

You’re like, “I just want this in me…”
I just, yeah! Exactly, yeah. I just want the satisfaction of knowing it’s in me. Yep, yep. Too late, you’d still be hungry. Wouldn’t use it for that.

That sucks. Time travel sucks.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, time travel’s a nightmare. Don’t go down that path.

Every time I’ve tried it, terrible experience.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I’ve just gone back and not done it.

You obviously had some pretty amazing co-stars in this movie, with great chemistry. Was there a rehearsal process for you to get to know each other?
Yeah, there was, yeah. The main relationships in the movie, obviously, are with Rachel [McAdams] and with Bill [Nighy], and they’re two very different relationships. Both were very easygoing. What I realize with Rachel, first of all, like I was so nervous about working with Rachel, because I was a massive fan of hers, a bit nervous. And then I realize she’s never had bad chemistry with anybody in a film. I’ve believed every relationship that she’s ever had in a movie, I’ve always believed it. That is an astonishing thing. And that speaks to what an amazing actress she is, and what an amazing person she is. So, in a way, that just tells you everything you need to know. I met her and it was like, “I think this is going to be okay,” you know?

No one ever says anything bad about her. Make up something bad about her.
Uhhhhhh, her stomach rumbles every now and again.

Just disgusting. You know, I wish she would stop it, but she just can’t.

What an animal.
It’s annoying, she’s an animal. But, yeah, we did some stuff [to rehearse]. We went out and we had dinner together and we talked about our backstories, we hung out a little bit, we went to the Dans Le Noir restaurant in real life with [director] Richard [Curtis], we did all that kind of stuff. Yeah, it was great, and I had her record some stuff on tape, so I could listen to her voice and stuff. Just remind myself what was special about her and about Mary and all those things.

And then, with Bill, it was a much more delicate. There was not even as much planning, in a way, because we met, and we rehearsed and we thought, “We don’t want to overdo this, let’s just leave it.” And then, because we knew our stuff, our big stuff, our big, emotional stuff, was happening at the end of the shoot, we had the whole shoot to get to know each other. It was different with Rachel. So there was no pressure on me and Bill, we took our time, and it was lovely that way. And they’re very easy to get along with. So it was very easy to do. It was a very nice working environment.

On paper, bullet-pointed out, I feel like this movie could kind of be a hard sell. “It’s about time travel and death and the love story’s pretty uncomplicated, there’s not a huge conflict there…”
Yeah, I think the delivery of it is kind of delightful, you know? And Richard is delightful as a human being, and I think it comes across that way. The fact that it’s funny, I think, really helps, it’s a nice way to spend time. And laughing, you know.

What’s this movie about?
Let me tell you, this movie’s about love, actually.

I see what you did there.
[laughing] No, boom, I did it. F**k it, yeah. Why not? You only live once. Try the joke, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Have you gotten to watch it with an audience and witness yourself ruining lives and making women cry?
Making men cry, too, it’s very interesting. Yeah, I’ve sat in on a couple of screenings, you know. There’s two reasons you do it: You do it to see how it plays with an audience, and you do it to learn from your mistakes. And I’ve done both those things, I think, with this movie. It’s been, you never look at yourself and think, “Right, I nailed it” in a movie, it’s never happened to anyone, I don’t think. Except for people who are really terrible, probably. But we worked on this movie for a very long time, you know, a very long time, and I felt like I was going to be proud of it. And then we played it with an audience and people laughed all the way through, and cried in all the places you hoped that they would be touched in some way, and that makes me proud, you know.

Have you seen “The Notebook”?

Did you cry?
Look, I don’t want to say for definitely if I cried or if I didn’t cry.

Come on.
Has anybody seen “The Notebook” and not cried? I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s the case. It sort of hangs around for a while. But yeah, no, isn’t [McAdams] just gorgeous in that film? Just so good. She’s the real deal, she really is.

Are you a big movie cryer?
Yeah, it depends. I go through, I think a couple years where I won’t cry at anything, and then I’ll go through a couple months where all of a sudden, you know, it depends where you are in your life, I guess. But yeah, when I was a kid, “E.T.” used to make me cry. I used to hate that. “Bambi” and stuff. I remember the ones that kind of, you know, you remember them hitting you in the heart and, so, there’s still films like that. The good ones.

We’re here to talk about feelings.
Yeah, that’s mostly what we do.

I also like that this was like a mini “Harry Potter” reunion.
What, me and Bill? Oh, and Richard Griffiths is in it. Yeah, but I didn’t actually have scenes with any of those guys in “Harry Potter.” It was really good to get to see [Griffiths] do his thing, because that’s his last role, I think. I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with a couple of the “Harry Potter” guys since, so yeah, we’ve had our own little reunion since. It’s a nice thing to have been a part of.

Does it ever come up? You’re like, “Hey, we’re all wizards. We’re all wizards here, it’s fine.”
We all, yeah, exactly. You get the wand and, uh, yeah.

It’s like a secret society.
It is, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. [to publicist] What are you laughing at? Yes, it’s really nerdy. It’s a real deal, I’ve got my wand, yeah, yeah.

Using the formula of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what would your porn name be?
My porn name would be Zig Forest. That’s pretty good.

That sounds very woodsy. Like long hair, loincloth, maybe.
That sounds like long hair and like, really, really butch worked out, but gone to sea a little bit, like fat covering, like, quite a lot of muscle, but quite a lot of fat over it. That’s what Zig Forest looks like.

Someone who can mess you up.
Yeah, exactly, don’t mess with Zig Forest.

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