Domhnall Gleeson tackles his fear of being funny in ‘About Time’

Domhnall Gleeson plays a man with mild time travel powers in "About Time." Credit: Getty Images
Domhnall Gleeson plays a man with mild time travel powers in “About Time.”
Credit: Getty Images

First off, it’s pronounced “Dough-noll.” Second off, Domhnall Gleeson is fast becoming a major film presence. He popped up as Bill Weasley in the last two “Harry Potter” films, a franchise that also employed his actor father Brendan Gleeson. With supporting turns in “True Grit,” “Dredd” and “Anna Karenina” under his belt, he moves to a headlining role in “About Time,” playing a man who can time travel for rom-com king Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”).

Were you a fan of Richard Curtis before?

When I was a kid we had three VHS tapes in the house. There were highlights from the Brazil ’70 word cup. There was “E.T.” And there was “Mr. Bean.” Then there’s “Notting Hill.” I don’t go and see romantic comedies a lot, but “Notting Hill” is one whenever it is on I find myself watching all the way through.

People often forget that Curtis once wrote very unromantic dark comedies, like “Blackadder.”

He’s got a dagger that he will slice in every now and then. His outlook on life is same as his movies: full of hope and beauty and looking for the moments that matter. There are those people who consider themselves positive people and probably are, but it is relentless. After awhile you want to say, “Will you shut the f— up and let me be depressed for a little bit? I’m enjoying it.” Richard — there’s a purity about it, and a wicked sense of humor. Those two things together do make the world a better place when you’re around him.

Still, he’s not afraid to be sentimental.

People can be ashamed of sentiment. It’s become a dirty word, sentimentality, because I think it’s been cheapened so much by so many bad movies, frankly, which exploit it to try and affect people. I think what’s lovely is Richard means it, instead of it being just a hollow attack on your tear ducts. He does that thing where you keep back a little bit, but when you do tell people what you really feel, you really mean it.

You have a good relationship with your own dad. How was it working with Bill Nighy as your father?

Our big scenes together were toward the end of the shoot, so we kind of knew each other when we did them. He was wrapping the day after our biggest scene in the movie, and all I kept on thinking was they’ll call “That’s a wrap!” for Bill Nighy, and then I’m not going to see him for six months.

How nervous were you of carrying a big movie for the first time?

You’re aware of the responsibility. But I know I work really hard. I prep like a f—er. I was still very nervous for the first two weeks on set. But being there every day does loosen you up. You get used to being on set.

You do a lot of serious work: Dickens, Tolstoy, serious theater. What was it like doing breezy and funny?

I think I can be funny sometimes. The responsibility of going to work and having to be funny is really, really scary. Because if it’s not funny you can feel it’s not funny. But when you can feel “I think if I was watching this I would be amused” — when you feel that, man, you’re just floating on air all day.

You also appeared in a small role in “True Grit.” What is it like being directed by the Coen brothers?

I was only on set being directed by them for three days, because it was a small part. It’s not going to make any huge headlines with this, but they’re everything you want to be around. They know the technical side: They know how the camera works, they know how to capture what they want. They’ve got their storyboards, which you can look at in the morning on the way to work.

Then they’re open to interpretation. If you need to tweak something, or you don’t understand why something isn’t working, they will make it work very quickly. They understand the films they’re making on the deepest, most interesting level, then do it all with a chuckle and a shrug of the shoulders. That makes it even more impressive — and annoying.


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