STANDBY – Interview with Brian Gleeson

We sit down with the star of new Irish rom-com STANDBY…

With the Irish rom-com STANDBY, Brian Gleeson takes the leap to leading man status. caught up with the budding international jetsetting superstar.

It’s impossible not to like Brian Gleeson. For a start, he’s self-deprecating – rare in a leading man. Secondly, he’s frank, open and honest. Ditto. And thirdly, his dad is Brendan Gleeson. And you really don’t want to tick Brendan Gleeson off.

Shot two years ago – “when I was just a kid,” jokes Gleeson – STANDBY is a unabashed rom-com of the Richard Curtis-meets-ONCE variety. Written and directed by brothers Rob and Ronan Burke, it stars Gleeson as the ramshackle and slightly broken airport tourist desk jockey and would-be rockabilly star Alan, his daily drudge interrupted somewhat when Alice (Mad Men’s Jessice Pare) strolls up to his counter. This is the Alice that Alan almost married 8 years ago, as part of a cunning plan to get a US green card. There was a possibility too, of course, that the two were madly in love. With Alice on standby until the morning, the lonely Alan offers to show her his native Dublin for a night. No funny business. Only, of course, there’s plenty of funny business, of the mainstream romantic comedy variety, that is, as culture clashes, drunken drag queens and impromptu gigs provide a backdrop to this fine reblossoming romance.

We caught up with the increasingly busy young Gleeson between film sets – “working in Scotland with Peter Mullan for the next few weeks, and then I’m back to rehearse THE WALWORTH FARCE” – to talk film, family and fitness regimes.

We’re deep in Richard Curtis territory here – where there’s magic, and money, but also muck. As Richard Curtis’ CV proves. Were there reference points for you when it came to shooting STANDBY?
Brian Gleeson: Yeah, it reminded me a bit of Tim and Dawn in ‘The Office’, and how they get on. The two of them are friends more than anything else, and that bittersweet sense of time and the opportunity for true love passing them by. You know what’s going to happen, given that we’re in classic rom-com territory, but it’s given an Irish twist. I like the idea of messing with genre pieces, so, you get the airport scene and so forth, but ‘Standby’ has its own identity.

That old devil called love is a universal story, but Irish films often struggle internationally. Was STANDBY a hard sell for you?
BG: No, not at all. I was ready to do something light and funny, and getting a lead role didn’t exactly put me off either. The only reservation I might have had was making sure that Jessica and I sparked, that we had fun. And, thankfully, we did. And I’m really proud of the guys. They’ve been trying to make this for six, seven years, and they got an offer three years ago, but they held out for more money. They were determined to make the movie they wanted.

You scrub up well – hard fitness regime? Fancy face creams? Jogging to and from work?
BG: We were lucky enough to have this amazing make-up artist, Katya, in Luxemborg, and she just worked her magic on me. She can actually make a pasty Irishman look presentable. Remarkable.

You’re getting more lead roles, as, of course, is your brother Domhnall. Must make it pretty interesting, to compare score cards with the rest of the family?
BG: Well, it’s funny, especially with myself and Domhnall. We’re different actors, but it’s fun to see where we’re going with this. For me though, Brendan is still my acting coach, and I go to him with scripts, and we talk about stuff. It’ll be great going on stage with him. It’s going to be a hoot.

This is Enda Walsh’s THE WALWORTH FARCE, hitting Dublin’s Olympia on January 10th, starring yourself, Domhnall and Brendan. Great poster, by the way. Did you know you were getting your shot taken that day, or did the paparazzi take you by surprise on a Sunday stroll?
BG: Yeah, damn paparazzi. We just had to grin and bear it, but it kinda ruined Sunday tea.

Was there any reluctance in the Gleeson household about coming together as a three-headed beast for THE WALWORTH FARCE?
BG: Yeah, there was definitely a feeling that we didn’t want to turn anything we did together into some kind of novelty. A Eugene O’Neill play where we all scream at one another about families. This is just three great characters, and I’m really looking forward to the three of us working on it.

STANDBY is at cinemas from November 14th 2014

Words: Paul Byrne