Brendan Gleeson: Obama visit was "inspirational"

The esteemed actor opens up to Hot Press!

Interviewed in the latest issue of Hot Press (out now!), renowned Irish actor Brendan Gleeson shares his candid views on Barack Obama’s visit, talking to Michelle Obama, the issue of Irish people and racism, his determination to bring Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds to the big screen, and renaming the IFTAs the Gleesons!

On President Obama’s visit he says, "I found it inspirational. I wanted it to turn things around and I think it actually did. The energy was amazing."

The star of the new Irish movie The Guard also says he spoke to Michelle Obama. "I said something inane like, 'We really needed that – thanks, for leading the faith, saying that we’re worth believing in'. She said, 'Yeah, yeah – work work work!' And I thought that was really cool because it wasn’t about any abstract concept of faith, hope and charity. I think that’s the answer we have to face into now after the euphoria: we have to do the work."

Asked about his latest role in The Guard, in which his character declares "I’m Irish – racism is part of my culture", Gleeson replies, "It’s the shock factor. Because people do that all the time, especially here, especially – (giggles) – down the country. I think it's a tester to see, ‘Well, how racist are you?’ We have to watch it. There are so many times you come across claims that maybe we’re racist in America or we’re racist here. You begin to believe badly of yourself, that the Irish as a nation can be racist. Because they can."

To the suggestion that we’ve become less tolerant because of the recession, Gleeson responds, "There’s the practicality of you looking at somebody from somewhere else who has your job. You didn’t want that job when the good times were there, so they came in and did it. Now you look at them and you resent the fact they’re still working here. That’s the problem. It’s a very practical thing. And we have to – everybody has to – fight this thing of saying Us and Them. It happens everywhere – Northside versus Southside of the city, country versus Dublin."

Gleeson reveals that Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Michael Fassbender will all star in his planned film version of Flann O’Brien’s 1939 novel At Swim-Two Birds. He also emphasises the importance of having an Irish cast, adding "It was important, but also, they are the best people!"


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He’s the dean of Irish screen acting, with a CV that includes Hollywood blockbusters and low budget independent films. In his latest movie Brendan Gleeson plays a feckless Garda, riding shot-gun with an African-American FBI agent. But is there more to the character than meets the eye? Gleeson holds forth on the sticky issue of Irish people and race, Barack Obama’s recent visit and why he is determined to bring Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds to the big screen. Words: Roe McDermott

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