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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Name droppings II

Now, where was I before I got interrupted by the passing of one of the 20th century’s great thespians and summertime political fever? Oh yeah, I was doing my best to drop a few names.

Readers with sharp memories (and not much else going on in their lives) will recall that three weeks ago I embarked on an effort to squeeze the most, anecdotewise, out of every celebrity encounter or near-encounter that I had ever had.

It turns out that I’ve had better luck crossing paths with celebrities in Ireland than in the United States. This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Ireland is a much smaller country, so in terms of square footage, the odds are just better that you will run into someone that you’ve heard of. To put the size of Ireland into perspective, there are people alive there today who can remember when there was one phone book for the whole entire country. Of course, nobody actually bothered using it because they all already knew each other anyway.

The Galway Film Fleadh is a particularly good place to bump into actors and directors—and not just Irish ones. Galway’s film fest is nearly ideal in that it is large enough to attract films from all over Ireland and from all over the world, but it is small enough to be intimate and not overwhelming. When I attended in 1998, I found myself in between screenings (along with hordes of other people) in the extremely crowded theater lobby rubbing shoulders (literally) and other body parts with the likes of documentarian Michael Moore (Roger and Me, The Big One) and actor Aidan Quinn (This Is My Father, Practical Magic) and his brothers. The Irish aren’t nearly as finicky as Americans about rubbing their bodies up against lots of other people. Mainly because on most nights in a pub that’s the only way to get to the bar to get a drink.

But apart from these herd celebrity experiences I’ve actually managed to have a couple of memorable one-on-one encounters with actors on the Emerald Isle.

And let’s be real here. Ireland has given the world a lot of well-known actors, going back as far as Maureen O’Hara, who left County Roscommon for Hollywood decades ago. The current James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, was born in Meath. Veteran international stars Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris hail from Galway and Limerick, respectively. Gabriel Byrne was born a Dubliner. Liam Neeson started life in Antrim, as did Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh. The list goes on. There are many other Irish actors who have worked internationally whose names may not be as well known yet. Brendan Gleeson of Lake Placid and Mission: Impossible 2 fame comes to mind. And there are young up-and-coming talents waiting to be discovered by mainstream world audiences, like Cork’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who was featured in The Loss of Sexual Innocence and Titus. (There’s yet another Irish actor who has made something of a career for himself in Hollywood, but I will leave him for next time.)

And then there are the numerous actors who work mostly in Ireland on the stage, in Irish films and on Irish television. Sometimes they get a small part in a big budget movie because the movie happens to be filmed in Ireland. One such man is Sean McGinley. I single him out because he made a extraordinary impression on me in the key role of a BBC-produced mini-series written by Roddy Doyle (best known for writing The Commitments) about the sordid underbelly of modern urban Irish family life called simply Family. McGinley convincingly and unmelodramatically played one of the rottenest human beings in film history in that series, which was adapted into a movie for screening at film festivals, which is how I happened to catch it in Seattle in 1995. McGinley’s character was so malevolent, the audience cheered for the first or only time during the whole disheartening film at the climax when his wife finally beats him with a frying pan. There was something so real about the portrayal that it has stuck with me ever since.

So imagine my surprise when I spotted his face while taking in a Dublin flea market with some friends one Sunday afternoon in the autumn of 1995. My first reaction was, no, it couldn’t be him. But, frankly, no one else looks like him. My second reaction was, hey, leave the guy alone, he’s probably tired of getting dumped on for making a series that portrayed Ireland as the most depressing place in the whole universe. But I finally screwed up my courage and walked up to him and told him what a great job he had done playing a real S.O.B. in that Family series. The poor man nodded and mumbled a few words and looked afraid for his life and just a bit surprised. He seemed genuinely humble and shy about being recognized, but I would like to think that he appreciated the compliment.

The funny thing is: from that day forward his face kept showing up everywhere I looked. He was the lead in a TV police drama for RTÉ. He had a fairly substantial role in John Boorman’s The General. A second viewing of Circle of Friends led to another spotting. He had a small villain’s role in Michael Collins. It goes on and on. He was everywhere. But if he looked surprised when I accosted him to pay a compliment for a TV role he had played years earlier, it might have been because he would have expected a Yank to be spotting him for something a bit more high-profile and which was playing in Ireland at that very moment and which had been playing the States for months. But for reasons that are hard to explain, I hadn’t yet seen what was only the biggest movie of that year and didn’t know that Mr. McGinley played the father-in-law of none other than Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

-S.L., 24 August 2000


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