Brendan Gleeson interview: The Guard, Don Cheadle, Crocodile Dundee and more

As The Guard opens in the UK, we sat down for a chat with the mighty Brendan Gleeson about the movie…

Now here’s an interview that didn’t start well. Positioned in front of Brendan Gleeson, as your intrepid interviewer entered the room, was a low table. So low, in fact, that said interviewer didn’t notice it until his leg crashed into it. Just for good measure, he repeated the trick on the way out, too. Bah. Photos of the bruising are available on request.

In better news, Brendan Gleeson was on fine form, and he had good reason to me. His new film, The Guard, has been picking up strong reviews (rightly so, too), and he sat down to tell us all about it…

You wrote in the notes that I got before I saw The Guard that the role of Gerry Boyle was an “actor’s gift”. And that’s the second time that one of the McDonagh brothers has given you such a gift, after In Bruges.

So how did The Guard come to you, as in the same notes, John Michael McDonagh said he didn’t write it for you specifically. 

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I don’t know whether he wrote it for. I think he did. [Laughs] 

What he said was “I didn’t write it for him, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing him”.

What does that mean? [Laughs]

I don’t know. I was hoping you could throw some light on it!

It means he wrote it for me, but he’s not going to admit it!

Were you with this one from the start of the project, then?

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The script was written. I met John on In Bruges in person, and I knew some of his stuff before. But next thing was, this script kind of came, and I knew once I read it that this was it. 

But I don’t think he necessarily is telling a lie. If, for example, my own [directorial] project was going ahead, because we were lining up funding at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to do [The Guard], and he would have got somebody else, and they would have been equally good.

Well, maybe not equally good. C’mon, let’s face it [Laughs]. But it would have been a thing, one way or the other. And you can’t get too tied, because in this business, that’s stupid. To write something for somebody, and for it to go to pieces because the person can’t play it is kind of daft. People have first picks for every sort of thing, then they don’t happen, and someone comes in and blows it out of the water. 

I think he’s not telling fibs, but I’m really glad I got to have a go at it, I must say.

The first third of the film in particular I though was outstanding. That’s when you have to sell the character of Gerry Boyle to us, and you’re not selling a conventional law enforcement character at all, but neither are you doing the obvious twists.

He stuck me as a man who tries to give the impression he doesn’t give a shit, but actually he does.

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Yeah, yeah. 

So what’s the process for you there? How easy was it for you to find him?

I kind of felt I was very centred at the reading. Culturally, I understood that kind of snarly persona. Culturally, too, I understood a lot of the stuff. But in terms of trying to get to the soul of him, I kind of had an idea, but there were options, too. 

I went into a backstory, which I don’t always do. So you ask yourself questions: why did he join the cops? Was it just because he was lazy, and didn’t want to bother?

But he’s got too vigorous a mindset for that. He’s not going to be reading Dostoevsky. So why did he become a cop? I felt that all of that cynicism and snarling, and poking, just getting amusement out of other people’s discomfort and stuff, part of that is culture. We all do it. 

I kind of felt that he’s quite soft, and has a great respect for women. He almost wants to be fatherly, in terms of mentoring. He’s a big dote in a way, with the women. 

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I concocted a scenario where maybe he grew up with his mam, when his dad wasn’t around. I grew up without any sisters, so I always had a rather exalted notion of women. Because you don’t have any familiarity of fighting with them as real people. I’d imagine that he went into the cops because, he was always bright enough, but in some way he had to prove a certain maleness. There was kind of a heroism like Gary Cooper in High Noon that was going on there. He watched and saw and aspired, and thought I bet you I’d have the mettle for that.

Then he went into a place where nothing really happens very much, and maybe he dirtied his bib. He wants to live his own life in his own way…

I though the film felt like a western.

Yeah, yeah. It’s obvious that he’s watched all these influences, and he’s watching all this stuff, so it has to be impinging on him. And then he went in and fellas were dribbling over the bar, and sticking a few bob in their back pocket and looking the other way. 

This just became a sardonic, wry, jaundiced view of the world. There wasn’t a great deal to get excited about anyway. He wanted to be tested, and to meet people who had real integrity, so all this spewing of bile he comes out with, apart from the fact that he’s amusing himself and having fun, he wanted somebody to come out and emerge from that as a person of integrity, or a real challenge.

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He’s a fascinating character, and were it feasible, it’d be good to see him on the screen again. Maybe The Boyle Supremacy, or The Boyle Ultimatum?

Oh, how long have you been holding that one in? [Laughs] That’s really good, I like that, that’s the best ever! 

I’d love to see more of him though.

I’d say Don [Cheadle] would like to see him go over to where his comfort zone is, in America. Where he has to protect some Irish dignitary.

You’re turning this into a Crocodile Dundee sequel!

[Laughs] I think that’s one of the funniest sequences I ever saw, where [Paul Hogan] walks down saying “G’day, g’day” to everybody. It’s just so cool, and so funny. 

With Boyle, he had an ambition, he thought he was going to be tested, and it hadn’t happened. So he eats himself up in terms of everything. Cynicism, sarcasm. Those things are very funny, but ultimately they’re terribly negative ways to live your life, if that’s your only compensation. He doesn’t have a woman, and he obviously likes women, he obviously makes them laugh, and he talks to them as equals.

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Very Mild Spoiler

Even when he encounters the prostitutes in the film.

Yeah. They have a laugh together. And he’s so naïve to imagine that he’s going to get away with that. But you can’t feel that he’s just a nasty, negative piece of work, when somebody has that warmth in them. All of those things, you have to go to some place where you have to ask how he got to the stage he’s at, and build a personality out of him.

Very Mild Spoiler Ends

Has Don Cheadle’s Cockney accent got better? I bet he tried it while the camera was off…

No he didn’t! And he didn’t attempt the Irish accent either!

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You’ve got a lovely line in the film, where Boyle talks about how he pretends to be sad.

I know. And I don’t even know what to make of that line. It’s far too honest to be rationalised. It’s just wonderful writing again. 

It is interesting what various people’s take on it all is. Your take is, I have to say, very close to the way my take on it is. Other people are coming in saying he’s a horrible man, all that race stuff. And I’m, yeah, okay…

But then you look at what Clint Eastwood did with Gran Torino?

Yeah, yeah.

[We get the wrap up signal, so go for one more question]

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How’s At Swim Two Boards coming along, the film you’re looking to direct?

What I need to do is get the money and the people involved all in the same place at the same time to make the damn thing! 

We have it slotted in for the spring, because these guys, Fassbender and Colin [Farrell], Gabriel [Byrne], all these people are already committed [to other projects] until then.

I’m really confident about it, but I won’t really believe it until I’m walking off the set, and it’s finished!

Brendan Gleeson, thank you very much!

The Guard is out in the UK on 19th August. Our review is here.

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