"I was a teacher for ten years. They ripped me to shreds"
Brendan Gleeson talks tough jobs, black comedy and working with his son
In your new film Calvary, you’re a priest who gets told via a confession box that he’s going to be murdered on a specific day. More a ‘who’ll do it?’ than ‘whodunit?’…
Ha! I like it – a ‘who’ll do it?’ The odd thing is that the priest knows who. When I read the script, I suddenly realised, “Hang on, are you saying the priest already knows who it is?” And John [Michael McDonagh, the writer-director] said, “Yeah”.
They’re in a small village – you’d expect him to recognise the would-be killer’s voice, surely?
Well, he does, but we can’t. I think it’s really important that the audience doesn’t know, because you don’t give any more weight to one person in that village than you do to others. They’re all in the mix. Whereas, I think if you knew, there’d be a little more emphasis put on that.
McDonagh’s previous film, The Guard, was lighter, but there’s still that twisted sense of humour to it. Does it match your own?
It does. I mean, [these characters] come up with better lines than I could and I get to say them – what could be better? I remember bursting out into laughter a couple of times, just reading the script. And it’s not just black humour. One of the things I love about it, in the end, is there’s love at the heart of it, you know?
You’re working with your son Domhnall again. Do you have to stop yourself being ‘Dad’ on set?
It’s like two guys who are sparring partners, friends, and suddenly they are matched up in the boxing ring and they have to do it for real. You leave all that stuff outside the ring and you go in. For the best part of a fortnight, we kind of withdrew into our separate corners. So when we walked into the room it was quite odd and we didn’t really talk.
And he plays a child-eating murderer. Of all the characters…
Ha! I know. And he was great. It’s got to the stage where I really do enjoy seeing what he comes up with. I’m so proud that he’s in this film, because it’s good, and we’ve done it together.
You were a teacher for 10 years before you started acting. Does that side of you ever come out on set?
I remember heading over to do Harry Potter. I was looking forward to it and then, on the plane over, I thought, what if these kids are brats? What if I can’t handle it? I mean, if they’re really spoilt and nasty, I’m going to be miserable. It turned out they were the best bunch of kids. It was the only time I felt I might not be able to cope with this [laughs].
Were the adults worse?
Once Michael Gambon is on any set, you are going to have a good time, full stop, simple as that. He’s the funniest man in the history of the world. Take my word for it.
What sort of teacher were you?
When I did teacher training, I went back to my old school, because I was too lazy to look elsewhere. I went in there and went, “Listen lads, I know this school so I know the score, so don’t even bother”. They ripped me to shreds. Ate me for lunch. When I went to a different school, I was a monster for two weeks, then they cooled down, I calmed down and you can enjoy them.
Your Harry Potter character ‘Mad Eye’ Moody had an impressive ‘magical’ glass eye. Did you keep that once filming finished?
No, but Make-A-Wish kids used to come to the set once a week and I never appeared without the eye. Why would I wreck the magic of it? They’d all say, “I know how you do that!” But I’d get help from the eye’s operator, who’d be over the other side of the room. I’d hold my hands up and in the meantime the eye’s going all over the place. The kids were really irritated but they could not figure it out.
Is there an element of acting you struggle with?
Maybe heights; I pulled out of something because it was up a mountain somewhere. I can’t do that. I did take a while to laugh naturally [on screen]. Getting yourself into a place where you laugh spontaneously, in inverted commas, is really hard.
Get the nitrous oxide out?
[Laughs] That’s a good one. I didn’t think of that one.
We’ve got to ask about In Bruges and how big that film got. Did it surprise you?
No, I was surprised how bloody long it took for people to get it. It was really irritating. People only saw it on DVD. It happens with quite a few of my films. I love it having legs, I just wish people would see it in the cinema. Here’s another one [Calvary]. It’s so cinematic, I want people to see it in theatres.
If people only see you on TV sets, do they think you’re smaller than you really are?
Ha! Nah, it’s just the experience of cinema. The only good thing is that people are getting home cinemas, screens are getting bigger.
Calvary is at cinemas from 11 April