Brendan Gleeson's bear necessities of life

Brendan Gleeson tells Esther McCarthy about the fun he had working on ‘Paddington 2’, and his mixed feelings about Cork GAA.

He’s played leaders and statesmen and is one of our most respected screen stars. But sometimes an actor wants to bring on the laughs so when he was offered a part in Paddington 2, Brendan Gleeson was promptly onboard.

The result is a delight. As the intimidating prison chef Knuckles McGinty, who cooks lumpy porridge for Paddington and his fellow inmates (yes, the world’s favourite bear ends up in the slammer) Gleeson is having a blast.

“Knuckles with a capital N!” he bellows at the bear at one point, before displaying his misspelt finger tattoos.

Witty and heartwarming, it’s a worthy sequel to the great first film, and once Gleeson knew The Mighty Boosh’s Paul King was back at the helm, he signed up.

“I’ve only seen it myself,” he chuckles. “Paul King is terrific.

He’s a huge comic talent. His beats, his sense of the rhythm of comedy are just extraordinary. I’m really delighted with it.”

He reveals something of his múinteoir past in the amount of thought that went into his misspelt name.

“I had it with just the one K. And then, it might have been Domhnall… an apostrophe came in at one point. Then maybe Mary [his wife] suggested it just with the N. It was a composite thing.

"And the knuckles with the crossed fists, that was my superhero pose! I do cross my knuckles, I hope you notice that.”

Aside from the fun it was to film (Hugh Grant also joins a returning Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville), the movie has made him fall even a little more in love with cinema.

“Everybody was throwing it out there. Kids do that for you, when you know it’s for kids you can just kind of let it away.

"I just thought the bear was such a brilliant creation. There’s such subtlety in the animation and everything. There’s such care put in. This is really where movies are magical. I love movie making when it can do something that no other medium can do.”

Though he didn’t leave his teaching job to act full time until his 30s, Gleeson was always passionate about drama and music.

A skilled fiddle player, as a young man he would travel around Ireland to learn more about traditional music, visiting the likes of Kerry and West Cork.

The town of Boyle in Co Roscommon became a home from home, when he learned from the talents of the late Kathleen Dwyer-Morris and the Grehan family.

“I’ve had great friends down there since I was 19. I went down there on spec, I’d got into traditional music around 17, 18, that time.

"I didn’t know that part of the country at all. I went up there one Easter weekend, I remember, I spent four days in it and God almighty they treated me like….it was amazing, the generosity. I got to know them really, really well over the years, I learnt a lot about music and all that kind of stuff.

“I remember I was once trying to learn The Blackbird, a set dance, and I ended up missing the bloody train home! It was that kind of a place, I went down there and didn’t want to leave. I have friends down there. Rockingham Park and Lough Key is just an amazing place.”

Cork has been kind to him too, and he has fond memories of a week in the city performing a John B Keane play in the Opera House, though as a huge Dublin Gaelic football fan, he can’t resist teasing Cork’s men’s downturn in fortunes.

“I always enjoyed Cork. I remember somebody telling me years ago that it was a Mediterranean city really, which is of course a total lie. But I knew what they meant.

"There is a kind of a Latin flavour to it, in some odd way, in the attitudes, the craic that’s down there. But I don’t like them winning in Gaelic football. I knew Cork were good one time,” he jokes, laughing aloud.

“They’re on the way back with the hurling, that’s for sure. They were missed for a bit alright. The trouble with them is they’re either at your throat or at your feet. If they’re winning, they stay winning, so everybody’s a little afraid to let the genie out of the bottle. When they start doing well they tend to dominate.”

Such is his fondness of Gaelic games that he subscribed to a special channel while in the US filming his new TV series. Mr Mercedes. He’s been getting strong reviews for his role as a troubled detective in the show, based on a novel by Stephen King, which will return for a second series.

“I could go at this character from a very... he’s a man who’s lost his curiosity in the world a little bit, and is basically just killing himself with drink, I suppose. All that was really interesting to go at.

"I didn’t expect it to be coming here so soon, that was really nice. My friends like it. People of my own age like it. There’s a great crossover of young and older viewers. I kind of like that. It’s a unifying thing when something hits a number of different spots at the one time.”

Though Dublin remains very much home, his knowledge of and working life within Hollywood means he has been watching recent revelations — including Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey — with interest. He hopes they will bring about positive change.

“I would have come across a certain amount of the kind of power-wielding that happens, even apart from the sexual stuff, where kind of outrageous and boorish behaviour is OK, because everybody is afraid of ruining their career,” he says.

“I do think it’s good because it’s being focused on the fact that when you put a sexual aspect into that as well, it goes into a place of true horror. So I think it’s great that it’s all starting to be exposed, and I do think it will fundamentally change what is OK in terms of people taking liberties with each other.

"It will certainly accelerate the rate of change. It could be that was about to change anyway. But nevertheless, people will get away with whatever they can get away with.

"Simple as that. And people can delude themselves about all sorts of things when they’re in positions of power. I think the whole domineering, intimidating sexual power games, the more often they’re called out the better.”

‘Paddington 2’ opens in cinemas on November 10.


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