×

Brendan Gleeson on Getting a Late Start on His Career

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson made his film debut in 1990’s “The Field,” starring Richard Harris and based on the play by John B. Keane. Five years later, he made an impact internationally as Hamish Campbell in Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner “Braveheart.” Since then, film lovers have seen the versatile thesp in a wide range of blockbusters and indie films. “Harry Potter” aficionados know him as Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody, and fans have treasured his work in such fare as John Boorman’s “The General,” John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” and Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” and for his Emmy-winning turn as Winston Churchill in TV film “Into the Storm.”

Now on-screen as Detective Bill Hodges in the new Stephen King neo-noir TV series, “Mr. Mercedes,” Gleeson was first noticed by Variety on Aug. 1, 1990, for his performance in Dublin in Keane’s play “The Year of the Hiker.”

John B. Keane’s work as a playwright was popular, but it probably took “The Field” to bring his work to foreign audiences.

Yes, Keane defied the critical opinion of the time. He brought a very rural sensibility to the theater, and I think his rural background, especially in regards to his female characters, was at odds with the time. He sort of saw women as different creatures than men. That said, I did another Keane production with actress Marie Mullen, and I was just staggered by her performance.

In 1990, you were 35 but had only recently chosen acting as your primary vocation.

I was teaching English and Irish at the secondary school level and I actually enjoyed it, but in the summer of 1989 I was working at the Tivoli Theatre and the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, and I was making a little bit of money.

You were in your 30s, and you had a family. Was there pressure to “keep your day job”?

My wife, Mary, is very levelheaded, and she encouraged me. She was incredibly supportive. We both felt it was time to make the jump, and she went back to work at the Abbey Theatre in the first few years to make sure the family was taken care of. Also, I believe she just couldn’t look at me anymore.

Did teaching school yield any dividends for your work as an actor?

At first, I tried to treat students reasonably, like they were human beings. And they ate me alive. So I did learn to keep my distance. I learned that it’s a bluff.

So dealing with rowdy schoolboys prepared you for Hollywood?

My general impression of the entertainment business was positive. I had been warned. I heard all the stories of backstabbing. And all of the networking that I was told was required was definitely not what I wanted to do. My biggest fear in the early days is that I’d spend my life sitting on the couch waiting for the phone call. I was afraid I would get in the position of doing anything for the money, that I’d get taken in by the system, but that crisis of integrity never happened.

But “The Field,” “Braveheart,” “Michael Collins” and “The General” and many other terrific films happened.

Speaking of “The General,” I probably learned more from working with director John Boorman than anywhere else.  Working with the master was a guide to film acting.

More Vintage

  • Amy Sherman-Palladino - Outstanding Writing for

    'Mrs. Maisel' Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Honed Her Writing Skills on 'Roseanne'

    Last year Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” made Emmy history with wins for both comedy writing and directing, becoming the first woman to achieve that double. On July 16, her show, a ’50s period piece starring Rachel Brosnahan as an up-and-coming comedian in New York, was nominated for 20 Emmys, including outstanding [...]

  • Moon Landing

    Looking Back on the Moon Landing and the Giant Leap for TV Networks

    On July 16, 1969, Variety ran a package of stories under the headline “Greatest Show Off Earth,” detailing the three TV networks’ fever over the July 19 moon landing. CBS exec producer Robert Wussler predicted “the world’s greatest single broadcast.” Variety called it a “31-hour TV super-special,” running all day Sunday through midday Monday. The [...]

  • Esther Eng Lesbian Filmmaker

    Pioneering Filmmaker Esther Eng Made Movies in the '30s and '40s on Her Own Terms

    Esther Eng broke all the rules. In the 1930s and ’40s, it was remarkable for a Cantonese American woman to be a producer and director. Even more impressive: She was always upfront about being a lesbian. In 1941, a Variety reviewer praised “Golden Gate Girl” and added that a great marketing hook could be “the [...]

  • Luciano Pavarotti

    Songwriter Carole Bayer Sager Reflects on Her First Hit, 'A Groovy Kind of Love'

    In the summer of 1966, songwriter Johnny Mercer had his final Top 40 American hit with Frank Sinatra’s version of his song “Summer Wind.” That same summer, young songwriter Carole Bayer had her first chart hit with the English rock band the Mindbenders’ version of “A Groovy Kind of Love,” a song she co-wrote with [...]

  • Lorraine Toussaint First Time in Variety

    'Village' Star Lorraine Toussaint Played Lady Macbeth Right After Graduation

    Directly after graduating from Juilliard in 1982, Lorraine Toussaint began rehearsals for her first paid acting gig, as Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare & Company’s production of “Macbeth.” After eight years of classical theater training, the Trinidad-born, New York-raised performer found herself among seasoned professionals like Kristin Linklater and Tim Saukiavicus, who mentored her as she [...]

  • Sergio Gonzalez Musso and Frank

    Longtime Musso & Frank Waiter Sergio Gonzalez Dies at 66

    Sergio Gonzalez, a beloved waiter at Hollywood’s Musso & Frank Grill for 47 years, died Tuesday of a heart attack in Sylmar, Calif. He was 66. Musso & Frank proprietor Mark Echeverria announced Gonzalez’s death, which occurred just one day after a memorial service for Ruben Rueda, a bartender at the iconic restaurant for 52 [...]

  • Idris Elba First Time in Variety

    How an Early Role in a French Film Shaped Idris Elba's Career

    Idris Elba has worn a lot of hats: actor, DJ, director — but it was the time he spent working a series of dull jobs that solidified his desire to pursue a career in the arts. Appearing in a string of roles on British television, he first saw his name appear in Variety on May [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content