For Irish actors, work is about a good story



Cillian Murphy in a scene from The Wind That Shakes The Barley.


Director Ken Loach’s latest film The Wind That Shakes The Barley delves deep into the turmoil of the Irish War Of Independence (1919-21) and the ensuing Civil War (1922-23) which tore the country apart.


The historical ramifications of that tumultuous period are too numerous to tally, its importance to Irish history almost too great to comprehend, but the movie itself is significant to film-going audiences on several levels.

First, because it sheds light on a history that is often untold, second because it depicts the chaos of the Irish versus Irish conflict that pitted families against each other, and lastly because its release marks the unofficial entry into St. Patrick’s Day, tomorrow.

But movie buffs will also take note of the distinguished work of Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who plays the doctor-turned-freedom-fighter Damien in the film.

The 30-year-old thespian has quickly become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men, joining a long list of Irish actors — think Colin Farrell, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers — who have earned A-list status over the course of their vastly different careers.

But in recent years Murphy has also made waves by going home to work, most notably on Neil Jordan’s 2005 comedy Breakfast On Pluto, and recently with Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

“I don’t feel a responsibility (to work in Ireland), but if a good script comes along like how Breakfast On Pluto came along two years ago, and then this came along coincidentally, they were good stories. It was more that they were good stories than they were Irish stories,” Murphy says. “I think it’s very important to know where you come from and make art about where you come from, but similarly I don’t think you should be limited by your extraction. You’re an actor who’s Irish, not an Irish actor.”

Perhaps one day the world will see Murphy accepting the film industry’s most coveted trophy, just as this year’s Academy Awards ceremony saw Irish-born legend Peter O’Toole nominated for the eighth time in his career, but once again without a win.

But Ballymena, Northern Ireland-born Liam Neeson, who has played national heroes Rob Roy and Michael Collins on screen, and will next star with fellow Irishman Pierce Brosnan in the Civil War epic Seraphim Falls, feels that despite the awards, glamour and money to be made in Hollywood, actors have a responsibility to make films about their homeland.

“Coming from the north of Ireland and 30 years of war, there are questions to be asked and artists have a duty to ask those questions and explore them through film and theatre and all the arts,” the Oscar-nominated Neeson (Schindler’s List) states. “I think there will be a rich tapestry of art that hopefully is going to come out from that conflict that we can all learn from as human beings.”

But when they do return home to work, Irish actors are quick to point out that their families and friends have little patience for the trappings of fame and fortune.

“Nobody treats you any different,” the 28 Days Later star says of his regular social or working visits to his hometown of Cork. “They have healthy cynicism about all that shit.”