Brendan Gleeson talks about working on Aardman’s latest film
With three movies out this month, Brendan Gleeson is one of our most in-demand actors. “So, how come I’m sitting here twiddling me thumbs?” he asks Paul Byrne.
Brendan Gleeson is the sort of man that you don’t want to upset. Not that the guy is threatening in any way – far from it – but you can’t help but imagine that he would be handy in a fight. Or on a rugby team. Or battling giant dragons.
It’s more to do with the fact that Brendan Gleeson plainly has little time for fools. And sometimes, in interviews, I find myself being a fool. Letting someone know that their latest film doesn’t quite work. Or that their new album put my cat in a coma. Luckily, Brendan Gleeson also has a devilish sense of humour, a sly chuckle never far from his lips. So, you know, I might just be able to mention that film of his that didn’t quite work.
Thankfullly, it’s not his new one, Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists being the latest from those playful plasticine pranksters Aardman Animation, creators of Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, Chicken Run and Morph. Based on the first of a series of comic novels by Gideon Defoe, this swashbuckling tale sees our highly incompetent pirates setting out to win the coveted Pirate Of The Year award. All seems lost until they happen upon Charles Darwin, who quickly recognizes that the captain’s ungainly parrot is in fact the very rare, very prize-worthy dodo. Such a discovery would put Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) on the map. And his motley crew off everyone’s laughing stock list. So, Mr. Gleeson, how does one prepare to play Pirate With Gout? “Lots of bad living,” quips the 56-year old actor. “Actually, it was a very interesting experience. Wallace & Gromit is one of my all-time favourite creations, so, I didn’t need to be asked twice, you know.”
When it came to the actual making of Pirates!, as is so very often the case with animation, the actors each found themselves alone in a recording booth, with only a director, a recording engineer and a sheet of paper for company. “Kind of like doing a radio play,” Gleeson explains. So, how did our boy Become The Pirate then, given that there was nary a ship, a swash or a buckle in sight? “I had no notion of what to do with him at all,” confesses one of Ireland’s most celebrated screen actors, “except that I decided my man was from Rush – given that there was a certain amount of history of ships being brought onto rocks there. So, I tried to play it was a Rush accent, but that didn’t work out, because they wouldn’t let me. “I was trying to do a Fingal accent too, just for the laugh, so, he ended up being a vaguely Dublin pirate, which is kind of bizarre. I would have loved to make him either Rush or Ringsend.” Dublin native Michael Gambon fabricated a history for Kevin Costner of Cabra criminals making their way to America in the 19th century to become sheriffs in the wild, wild west, just so Gambon could use his childhood accent in 2003’s Open Range. “No better man,” laughs Gleeson. “I reckon there must have been some Fingal pirates along the way though…” I think there still are… “Yeah, there are a few pirates out there, still in operation.” I mention the fact that there’s been a long tradition now of the thick Irish Paddy providing some comic relief in the mainstream, from the late David Kelly’s incompetent builder O’Reilly in Fawlty Towers to Devon Murray’s Seamus Finnegan in the Harry Potter movies. Gleeson is having none of it though. “Well, he wasn’t meant to be Irish,” he says of his Pirates! character. “If you feel there’s an Irish stereotype thing going on, I think when you go into a cartoon, you can forget about all that sort of stuff. “I like that he was quite pretentious. He’s one of those blokes who’s a mixture of total innocence and complete arrogance…” Gleeson allows himself a hearty chuckle. “I’ve come across these characters – and I’m sure you have too – travelling around this fair city of ours, so, I just had fun.” Brendan Gleeson seems to be having a lot of fun lately, with three films hitting our multiplexes this month – the fine action thriller Safe House, the not-so-fine horror flick The Raven and now Pirates!. Somehow, there was a week there in March when Brendan Gleeson failed to pop up with a new blockbuster. Lazy git. “You know how this business is,” he says, “nothing for a year or two, and then there’s three or four of them all at once. For the last while though, there’s been two or three projects that have collapsed, so, I’m keen right now to get on set. I’ve been tearing around, doing all kinds of different stuff, but, as far as getting on a set, getting my teeth into a role, it’s been a couple of months for me. It’s an odd time for me when I’m not working but lots of the movies that I’ve done suddenly arrive. I’m thinking, so, how come I’m sitting here twiddling me thumbs?”
We’re getting on, so, bejasus, I think I might take a step into the dark side, and talk about A Film That Didn’t Quite Work. Namely, the wobbly Perrier’s Bounty. Which was basically I Went Down without the charm. Or the wit. Or the decent script. “Well, I enjoyed doing Perrier’s Bounty,” says Gleeson, calmly, “and I’d stand over it, certainly my own work. I kinda feel that it’s watchable, and I just think that on another day, in another set of circumstances, Perrier’s Bounty would have hit a spot for people. Sometimes you miss the zeitgeist, sometimes you hit it, you know. So, I kinda won’t apologise for that one. There’s been a couple of turkeys, which I won’t mention, films that didn’t work, but the amount of effort that goes into trying to make it work… “It almost happened with The Guard. That film came together in the editing. It escaped from us though, for months and months on end. So, you know, I can never quite give up on a film, because that alchemy is always there, waiting to be unlocked. “You have to just keep trying your best. That way, the odds will be stacked in your favour. It’s kinda worked for me so far…”
Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists hits Irish screens March 28th