Irish hit spotlights shy guy Murphy

It’s a rare actor who will do anything to avoid attention, but that seems to be the case with Irish thesp Tom Murphy.

Murphy is the co-star of Irish movie “Adam & Paul,” one of the gems of the Panorama sidebar at the recent Berlin Intl. Film Festival. It’s a tragicomedy about a day in the life of two Dublin junkies, with distinct echoes of “Waiting for Godot.”

The feature debut of commercials helmer Lenny Abrahamson, pic cost just £400,000 ($500,000) but grossed $700,000-plus in Ireland, making it the first movie backed by the Irish Film Board to earn more than its own budget at the local box office.

With humor, heart and a remarkable visual lyricism considering the amount of coin available, the movie delves poignantly into the drug-ravaged underside of the Irish economic boom.

Screenplay is by Mark O’Halloran, who plays Adam and was Ireland’s entry in the Shooting Stars parade at Berlin. But he gives all the best lines to Murphy, who turns in a scene-stealing performance as hapless sidekick Paul, the Laurel to Adam’s Hardy.

But don’t expect Murphy (whose credits include “In America,” “Intermission” and “The General”) to take his turn in the spotlight. He’s so pathologically averse to publicity that after winning a Tony on Broadway in 1998 for “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” he changed his name to Jordan Murphy in a bid for anonymity.

In Berlin, when the pic’s cast was called to the stage to take a bow after the premiere, Murphy was suddenly nowhere to be found, and he never showed up to the subsequent party.

“Personally I think Tom is the finest Irish actor of his generation,” Abrahamson says. “But unlike pretty much any actor I’ve ever met, he’s not publicity-hungry.”

Murphy might be glad, therefore, that foreign distribs have been strangely slow to snap up “Adam & Paul,” which is being sold by London-based boutique Moviehouse. Although the pic’s a proven crowd-pleaser, its bleak-sounding subject matter makes it a marketing challenge. For U.K. buyers, the fact it has already been a hit in Ireland is perversely a negative, since it means they can’t count on the Irish box office as part of their calculations.

Nonetheless, Abrahamson and O’Halloran seem destined for greater notice — even if Murphy is doing his level best not to join them.

BFI faces book puzzle

The British Film Institute is suffering from a constitutional headache that could jeopardize its modernization plans.

Some bright spark in the U.K. government has pointed out that since the BFI now gets its annual $30 million grant from the U.K. Film Council (instead of direct from Whitehall), its accounts should be consolidated with those of its parent body.

That might sound dull and technical, but it’s an outcome the BFI and the UKFC are desperate to avoid. It would leave the UKFC with the nightmare of having to restate all of its accounts since it took over responsibility for the BFI five years ago.

More signficantly, it would prevent the BFI from raising debt finance, secured against its extensive property portfolio, with which chairman Anthony Minghella and director Amanda Nevill were hoping to bankroll their reforms.

For example, the BFI was planning to mortgage and lease out its West End headquarters in Stephen Street in order to help fund its plans to develop a new National Film Center on the South Bank.

For legal reasons, that won’t be possible if the BFI is subsumed into the UKFC’s books. The toppers of both orgs are bending their brains for an answer to this conundrum.

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