ShortList picks up the phone and dials in with the mighty Brendan Gleeson.
Hi Brendan. Where are you?
I’m in Charleston, South Carolina.
Well, it’s different. The sun is beaming through the window, which is always a nice thing. I’m doing a 10-part series – Mr Mercedes, which is based on the first book of a Stephen King trilogy. I think it’s gonna be good. It’s a first for me, doing longform TV.
It’s crazy that you haven’t popped up in Game Of Thrones, actually. What would you say if they approached you?
They did, actually. To be honest with you, I prefer the short form of movies in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of danger in longform TV in the sense that you can get tired. Crudely speaking, it’s about how much you can influence things. It’s about my personal interaction with the creative direction it’s going to take. If I’m on the inside of what they’re trying to do, I feel like I’ve not just jumped into a boat that somebody else is sailing. I need to have at least some influence on the tiller.
Brendan, I have to tell you: in two days I’m going to Bruges.
So I wondered if I could pick your brain. What would you recommend in particular?
In Bruges? I recommend that you bring your own craic. Haha! What I loved in Bruges was, a lot of the bars had no television, and no particular live entertainment. And it was just great. You can actually have a proper conversation in a pub, which doesn’t really happen that often any more; there’s usually about six screens showing sports or there’s some fella roaring with a guitar. I’m not that much into the chocolate. That beautiful tower has mixed memories for me in the sense that I chucked myself off it [in the film In Bruges]. No, all that medieval stuff is beautiful. I said to the mayor, “Thanks for lighting the set.” You’ll be glad you went. It’s just 14 weeks is different to 14 hours, it really is.
Your new film, Hampstead, is based on the story of Harry Hallowes, a ‘hermit’ who lived on Hampstead Heath and was threatened with eviction by property developers. Can you tell me more?
It’s his story but it’s not his story. I’m not playing Harry Hallowes – it’s not a biopic – but it is taking his circumstances as a factual basis for telling a fictional story. I was a little bit challenged by whether it was a good thing to do or not. As it happened, he died before we started making the film. But the theme of homelessness and what a home means is important. We tried to be true to the importance of, firstly, the idea of a home and, secondly, a closed heart. People isolate and close themselves off in different ways. Homelessness is both a symptom and a facilitator of that. But people can have lovely homes and still be isolated.
You sport a big beard in the film and have been compared to a Hairy Biker. I wondered how you felt about that?
Haha! I have absolutely no feeling about that whatsoever.
Do you prefer being clean-shaven or having a big beard?
Well, I’ve had it on and off all my life. I thought it was appropriate for this. I got married in a beard and then I cut it off because my firstborn didn’t like it. He wrinkled his nose; it was hard to kiss him.
You worked with Daniel Day-Lewis on Gangs Of New York. What was the most Daniel Day-Lewis thing he did?
Well, he stabbed me in the back. He actually does throw a hatchet into my back. That was very Daniel Day-Lewis of him. I loved working with him. He’s a really, really fascinating force in cinema. It was a great thrill. When we were setting up the scenes he discussed camera moves. Bill The Butcher wouldn’t discuss camera moves, so he’s not so completely removed from the whole filmmaking process that he becomes Bill The Butcher. He stays within the persona all right and it’s really cool. All the lads around him were very fond of him. It’s fantastic, what he’s achieved. I hope it’s not the last time, but even if it was, it was a pretty special moment to be working on that particular film with him.
It was a great honour to have him throw a hatchet into your back?
Absolutely. I was thrilled to be cut down in such a callous way by him.
You also worked with Michael Gambon on the Harry Potter films. You described him as the funniest man in the world. What would Michael Gambon stand-up look like?
Some stand-ups I’ve watched are some of the unfunniest men I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not stand-up – with him it’s mischief. He has the most mischievous personality. Somebody asked him where he started and he said the corps de ballet. Now, if you’d seen Michael Gambon’s feet, you’d know how funny that is. He’s just mischievous from start to finish. He’s a beautiful man.
Hampstead is at cinemas nationwide from 23 June.