As a besotted 19th-century Russian idealist in Joe Wright’s highly theatrical “Anna Karenina,” Domhnall Gleeson makes the ache of lost love so physically palpable that if you reached out and touched the screen, you might just feel the beat of his broken heart.
“This was new for me, the romantic angle,” says the 29-year-old actor son of Irish thesp Brendan Gleeson. “I had to learn to fall in love on screen.”
He credits Wright’s intense movement-based rehearsal style with the bond he formed with co-star Alicia Vikander. Role also required learning an English accent, studying Russian history and culture, and, for a harvest scene, mastering the scythe.
Gleeson typically completely transforms himself for roles: a wizard in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”; a wet-behind-the-ears American outlaw with an unforgettable death in the Coen brothers Western “True Grit”; and singer-political activist Bob Geldof in a biopic that won him best actor at the Irish Film and Television Awards.
Although childhood memories include visiting the “Braveheart” set with his dad, Gleeson didn’t think he could act, studying writing and directing instead. An agent saw him accepting an award for his father, however, thought he was funny and signed him.
Martin McDonagh’s dark comedic play “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” ignited his passion for acting and earned him a 2006 Tony nom.
His current film releases are the dystopian “Dredd 3D” and IRA thriller “Shadow Dancer” (in the U.K. and Ireland). He just shot the lead in Richard Curtis’ “About Time” with Rachel McAdams, as a man who time-travels to find love.
Next he’s shooting comedy “Frank,” with Michael Fassbender, and “Calvary” with his father.
Gleeson isn’t shying away from small roles: “As long as the material and director are interesting, even if you only do a couple of days on something, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t consider that,” he explains. “You want to work with good people. That’s how you learn. That’s how you keep getting better.”
Lucky break: “Reading Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” The idea of playing something like that made me hungry to chase things down and to work very hard.
Favorite film: “I love ‘Punch Drunk Love” and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’ I have an epiphany about what it is to be alive, what it is to be in love.
Career would you like to emulate: “My dad, Jeff Bridges, who I was lucky enough to work with, and Sam Rockwell. He can be romantic when he needs to be and dangerous when he needs to be.”