— EDITOR’S NOTE: A guest column today from one of Dark Horizons’ colleagues, award-wining pop culture journalist and author Maria Lewis whose next book, “The Wailing Woman,” is out in November. Maria recently attended a junket for “The Kitchen” where she sat down for a one-on-one with “Ex Machina” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” actor Domhnall Gleeson to discuss his role in “The Kitchen” and beyond. —
Los Angeles doesn’t suit Domhnall Gleeson. To put it in his words: “I’d be dead in a week”. Instead, one of the most critically acclaimed and sought-after actors of his generation lives purposefully far from Los Angeles, the epicentre for aspiring critically acclaimed and sought-after actors.
He lives in Dublin, Ireland’s capital, and the same city he was born in. It’s the same city where his father, Brendan Gleeson, and brother, Brian Gleeson, live: all actors and just as critically acclaimed and sought-after as he is. The notion of moving to LA makes him laugh, quite literally.
“I’m getting older now,” says Gleeson, while sipping Diet Coke from a white cup. “Obviously you too, everyone’s getting older, sorry – bad news. I adore working, but also I don’t like being away from everybody that I love for three to four months at a time. You gotta weight it up.”
Despite his rather jovial reflections on mortality, Gleeson’s career is more alive than ever. At 36, he has the kind of range and roles actors twice his age would kill for. From award-winning fare like “Ex Machina,” “Brooklyn,” and “The Revenant,” to people-pleasers like the current “Star Wars” trilogy, “Peter Rabbit,” and “About Time,” he can swing from maniacal intergalactic lackey to philosophical scientist in a blink.
His latest role is new territory for Gleeson, despite a fleeting appearance in “Calvary” as a psychotic killer alongside his father. With “The Kitchen,” he’s supporting the central trio of Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as they plot to take over the Irish mob from their imprisoned husbands. In the source material upon which the seventies crime drama is based, the part of an unhinged assassin was remarkably different.
“In the graphic novel, he’s quite a dude. What’s the word?” he muses. Swole is offered, which Gleeson repeats with smirk-laced caution at first. “Swole? I am not swole. So I was like ‘I can’t turn up and just allow my body to be the thing’. Then I started to think about people who I find scary and the jittery kind of maniac is definitely scary and one way to go. But also, the calm guy who you’ve heard has just killed a bunch of people and you look over and he seems quite nice. Actually, in a way that’s kind of scarier.”
A Vietnam veteran who’s good at one thing and one thing only – “killing people” – is the kind of part that could have been played by any ‘swole’ stud on the scene. In Gleeson’s hands, Gabriel delivers heart and malice in equal measure. It’s this kind of “out of the box” performance that is exactly why writer/director Andrea Berloff cast him in “The Kitchen”.
“If you look at the role of Domhnall Gleeson on the page, the role of a hitman, you’re not going to cast this skinny, little, Irish guy,” she says. “But he’s so good. He’s like Mick Jagger or something, I’m not sure what he’s doing … but he’s doing it.”
Filmed on location in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, the set was the definition of what Gleeson calls “good craic” and brought him back to the Big Apple in an unusual way. “Weirdly enough, that was my first time working in New York since I had done a play there when I was 22-years old,” he chuckles. “And then I was cutting up bodies as well! That was the whole second half of the play, just cutting up bodies. It was like ‘oh back, in New York, cutting up bodies again.’ It’s strange.”
That play was The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, his first big break in the industry and one he received a Tony Award nomination for. It would be a decade later in 2015 that he broke through theatrically, with what anyone would call one helluva twelve months. A case could be made for “Ex Machina,” “Brooklyn,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Revenant” all being on the Mt Rushmore for the best movies of that year. For Gleeson, he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. The moment everything changed for him, he says, came a lot earlier.
“After I got the part in Harry Potter and before anyone knew that Bill Weasley had two lines,” Gleeson nods, referring to his back-to-back roles as the eldest of the wizarding ginger siblings in ‘Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2’. “In that year, I got to audition for stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise got to audition for. I was cast in ‘Anna Karenina’ and I think that was a very big change in my life, because it was a romantic part. I had never been offered anyone like that and nobody had ever thought of me that way before.”
An intense, five-hour audition with director Joe Wright was a game-changer for Gleeson, whose work never seemed to slow post-Karenina. “He made me a better actor in the audition than I had been before. It was unbelievable and very important for my life and for my growth as an actor. The way Joe talked about love, I was like ‘oh fuck, it’s so wonderful’. When you actually feel that you’re looking at love on the screen and it feels real and not pushed, when you’re not just trying to do the thing … they’re just some of my favourite moments, it reflecting back at you and you feeling how lucky you are to experience that sometimes.”
Gleeson cites his “About Time” director Richard Curtis as being someone else who was ‘very important’ in helping him achieve that. The skills honed with those unexpected roles are still bleeding through. It’s rare for someone who plays a villain as often and effectively as Gleeson to play the reverse as well: an empathetic and romantic lead. Perhaps that – along with a hardcore following from Harry Potter and Star Wars – is why he has so many stans.
“What? Stans?” he asks, blinking, before his eyes light up with excitement. “That’s a fan! See, swole, stans – I’m all over it, I know all the jargon.” If you were playing a Domhnall – pronounced like ‘tonal’ with a D – drinking game, you’d be forced to take a shot every time the phrase ‘unlikely leading man’ is used to describe him in a magazine profile. Sitting in a restaurant on the Warner Bros lot, for the first time he looks a little uncomfortable when asked why he thinks that might be.
“The way I look, I guess? That would be my best guess. I dunno … I’m okay with it, I can’t look any other way, there’s nothing else I can do.” He pauses, before adding: “I’m not self-deprecating, I’m not a horror show or anything like that. But I also know that … ugh, how do you talk about it and not be self-deprecating? I wasn’t the one the girls were running over to go talk to at, well, at any point of my life. You know what I mean? Maybe that’s why, because leading men are expected to be very handsome or whatever. Or maybe it’s because of the way I act? Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit withdrawn? It could be fucking anything. Maybe it’s because I’m Irish.”
His character in “The Kitchen” – like many of the leads – is supposed to be a ‘first-generation’ Irish American, which allowed him to infuse some of his heritage in to the role. Although, to his dismay, maybe a little too much. “This fella said to me earlier on ‘what was it like being in a film where you don’t have to put on an accent?’ I was like ‘oh fuck, I definitely tried to put on an American accent in this movie – definitely’. So that was very disappointing.” He chuckles, before taking a sip of his Coke.
To research the role, Gleeson consumed documentaries about the Irish gangs operating in Hell’s Kitchen at the time, which he found “very interesting”. “There’s a wildness that may have been a stereotype of the mad Irishman,” he says. “Truth is, those guys were wild – they were out of control – and there were only a few of them. There were, like, 12 of them and they fucked up everything. They just went crazy. So they were not nice people, but they were interesting … I don’t know what I took of them and what I took of myself, really. I can’t separate in my head what’s Irish and what’s me and what’s what.”
It was a role that intrigued not just him, but his family who he consults on every part he takes. “I’m a talker,” Gleeson says with a shrug. “I discuss with my dad and my brother and my friends and my ma’am: flipping everybody. I’ll send them scripts and they’ll read it – actually I don’t send them scripts, they remain private. S–t.” Given the next script he read that will see the night of day is “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in December, you can understand his caution.
More than anything, Gleeson is excited to take some time off and actually consume some of the film and television he spends so much time making. Before he begins work on the new Phoebe Waller-Bridge series “Run” in Toronto, that is. He says he has “been horrific” about going to the cinema this year, but “The Irishman” is high on his viewing list, so too the new season of “Peaky Blinders,” which stars two people he’s a massive fan of: his brother and Cillian Murphy.
“I did watch Anima again on Netflix last night,” he adds, gushing about the experimental PTA-Thom Yorke collaboration. “Holy s–t, that’s the best thing I’ve seen in ages.” He has worked with some of the greatest living filmmakers – from Alejandro G. Inarritu to the Coen Brothers – but working with Paul Thomas Anderson is on the top of Gleeson’s list. However, somebody else in his family got there first. “My brother is working with him,” he says, with a sigh. “So f–k him.”