“I’m that person in the bar who’s like, ‘Can they turn the music down? I would like to chat.’ I don’t like clothes. I’m terrible at all that stuff. I like sitting around and drinking a pint and gossiping or whatever.” Domhnall Gleeson
It’s all happening for Domhnall Gleeson. The 32-year-old lad from Dublin, and son of the great actor Brendan Gleeson (with whom he appeared, most recently, in 2014’s black-humored Calvary), has, for years, seemed to be a man on the verge of a major breakthrough. Starring opposite Bill Nighy in the much beloved 2013 Richard Curtis time-travel movie About Time, though, didn’t quite do it. Nor did his charming lead in last year’s seriocomic indie about a disastrous band, Frank (an underrated film perhaps best known for Michael Fassbender wearing a giant papier-mâché mask throughout). But running a Turing test on Alicia Vikander’s robot for Alex Garland‘s AI thriller Ex Machina has gotten him close. Now it’s really happening and nothing can stop it. Such is the power of Star Wars.
This December you’ll have to be in a galaxy far, far away to miss the roar of Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it hits theaters worldwide. (Details about J.J. Abrams’s reignition of the George Lucas interstellar saga, however, are about as scarce as water on Tatooine, so Gleeson’s part is anyone’s guess.) The month following, Gleeson does the Wild West with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 19th-century frontier story of survival and vengeance, The Revenant. But first he will romance Saoirse Ronan in an adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s historical epic Brooklyn.
It’s quite a run, but one that Gleeson’s pal (and director of last year’s Unbroken, in which Gleeson played the survivor of a World War II-era plane crash) Angelina Jolie has been expecting. As she tells the breaking star, the only thing Jolie’s husband (who is also something of a star) doesn’t get about Gleeson is how to pronounce his name.
ANGELINA JOLIE: More than anybody I’ve ever met in this business, you’re very present. I imagine a lot of that comes from your family. So what’s it like to grow up in a healthy family?
DOMHNALL GLEESON: [laughs] That is the best question I’ve ever been asked. What a way to begin. The truth is that I don’t know anything else. I’ve got three brothers; I think all of them are good human beings. There’s this thing that you’re not meant to have too many children—for global warming, it’s bad. But I know lots of crappy people, and I would rather that good people have lots of kids and outnumber the baddies.
JOLIE: What is it that turns people into artists? It often comes from some kind of pain or angst, a need to understand or express something. It very rarely comes from confidence, being raised by parents who want to hear what you have to say and wants to encourage you, right?
GLEESON: People always want to ask me about my dad. Which I get because he’s a phenomenal actor, and that’s for the world, that’s out there. But my mother is every bit as impressive and as important for the world as my dad is. It’s just that she’s not an actor. She was a community welfare officer. She did as much good for as many people. No one asks the community welfare officer any questions, which I understand.
JOLIE: What an amazing thing to be. What’s her name, your mom?
GLEESON: Mary Weldon. She’s a brilliant woman.
JOLIE: She is the normal one in the family, then.
GLEESON: Well, my dad was also a teacher until he was 34. I think there is a basis in reality. But I’d only done two jobs before I was an actor. I worked in a petrol station and I worked in a supermarket.
JOLIE: And how were you?
GLEESON: I was so diligent.
JOLIE: I’m not surprised.
GLEESON: [laughs] I remember this time I was packing Tampax, and this guy who worked in the supermarket sprinted up to me, his face all red, saying, “You don’t have to touch those things. We can get one of the girls to do that.” [both laugh] I also remember sweeping up the floor and him panicking and rushing over to say, “You look like you’re working too hard. You’re going to put people off their shopping.” So were you an actor first and then director?
JOLIE: Yeah, well, pretty much. My mom always wanted me to be an actor. And I started going to theater and going on auditions young. I only realized about five years ago that I actually didn’t want to be an actor.
GLEESON: Is that it? You don’t want to be an actor anymore? We had this conversation on Unbroken. It’s weird to be very good at something and not necessarily to want to do it, I’d imagine.
JOLIE: As you say, I never knew the other. I grew up with my career being thrust upon me. It took me a long time to believe that I could do more than that one aspect of our business. Are you happiest when you’re directing or acting?
GLEESON: I think I’m happiest when there are really talented people around. I’ve directed two short films and also directed a music video. And they were with my father and my brother for the most part—really talented people. And still you can drive one another crazy.
JOLIE: Exactly. But you are best friends.
GLEESON: Yeah, that was one of the most fun days in my life, running around the park with my brother pretending to be cowboys and Indians. But as an actor, I’ve just gotten insanely lucky. I quite like being surrounded by lots of different talented people lots of different times a year. You direct now, so you’re going to be stuck with a movie for two years. I don’t think I could do that. I’m too restless at the moment.
JOLIE: So, Brad had a question for you. “What the hell is the M doing in your name if you’re not going to use it?”
GLEESON: I’m disappointed he didn’t ask, “When can we work together?” And maybe he can answer why there isn’t an M in Brad? [Jolie laughs] Because his name would be so much more interesting if he had an M. No, I think for my parents it was like “A Boy Named Sue,” the Johnny Cash song. A guy named Sue tries to track down his father to take it out on his father for naming him Sue. And his father says, “Look, I knew I wasn’t going to be around. So I gave you the name so that you would grow up strong enough to take the hits and fight back.” So I like to believe that’s why my parents gave me this stupid name.
JOLIE: I love your name. It’s old Irish?
GLEESON: Yeah. And the M is weird as well. Because if you spelled it in the old Irish way, it would be like D-O-M. Then there’d be a full stop over the M. It would just be a dot over the M, and then N-A-L-L, sometimes. There’s a reason the language is dying out. I wish it wasn’t, but there’s a reason it is, which is names like Domhnall. It’s pronounced like tonal, but with a D instead of a T.
JOLIE: Do you feel a part of the tradition of Irish storytelling?
GLEESON: Yeah, it’s a funny one. Some of my favorite writers are the McDonagh brothers, John Michael and Martin, who’ve directed my dad in a bunch of stuff. They’re kind of, like, London-Irish. Their parents are Irish and they’re from London. Martin, in particular, any notion of a tradition, he hates. He wants to burn that down. He says, “You don’t own any of James Joyce, any of Beckett. You don’t take any of the kudos for that. They take it and they alone take it.” But the truth is that I’m hugely proud of being Irish. And I don’t even know what that means. I just know that it’s true. I feel it when I go back home. Do you feel that about being American? Or does that just not exist?
JOLIE: It doesn’t. Maybe because we’re such a beautiful melting pot.
GLEESON: But that’s something to be proud of, too, isn’t it?
You talk to anybody over the age of 80, and nobody wishes they’d worked more or spent more time being sad or anxious.Domhnall GleesoN
JOLIE: Exactly. It’s a different thing to be. But I’m convinced you can’t possibly be as lovely and as nice and as balanced as you are. So what makes you angry? What makes you tyrannical and just on fire?
GLEESON: People walking beside me with their umbrellas at my eye level, with just wanton disregard for how difficult it is to walk down the street when you’ve got no eyes. [Jolie laughs] People who don’t listen make me annoyed. That’s the normal stuff, isn’t it? People who just try to paint themselves in a good picture—like, you ask, “What’s your worst quality?” And they say, “I work too hard. I care too much.” “My biggest flaw is that I just help other people to my own detriment.” [Jolie laughs] No, I get really annoyed. I’ve got quite a short fuse sometimes. So, as a result, I’ve definitely enjoyed myself more on the projects where I’ve played a good person, rather than on the projects where I’ve played somebody who is morally compromised.
JOLIE: So I know I can’t ask about Star Wars, but I’m going to. Because, as an actor, and as that little boy who I saw in that video with your brother … I imagine that boy getting the phone call that he’s going to be in Star Wars. How did you react to that?
GLEESON: I panicked. I met with J.J. [Abrams] and said, “I’m not okay with signing up for something when I haven’t read the script. I just feel weird about it.” And so they let me read the script, which is really important to me. But then I had to make a decision that night whether I was going to be at the table-read the next day, which meant signing the deal. So that night I did have kind of a panic attack. I really get on well with my agents. And I called them up and I was like, “What have I done? I like my privacy … ” Was being a movie star important to you? Or is that too personal a question?
JOLIE: No. It’s the aspect of being an artist I don’t like at all. I’m a very private person. I don’t go out much. I’m home with kids. I go to work. I don’t really like being the focus of attention, which is why I like being behind the camera more.
GLEESON: That’s a really strange thing. People will ask me what you’re like, and I’m like, “What can I offer you that will make you happier about how you should feel about who Angelina Jolie is?” I think that’s a very strange desire to know those things. And yet I have it, with musicians in particular. I’m desperate to know what Micah P. Hinson is like or Julian Casablancas. Philip Seymour Hoffman made me feel like that. When I met him, I immediately kind of turned into an adolescent. I said, “I think you’re great.” And then wandered away like an idiot, leaving him not knowing what to do. When I met you, I was too hungry to care about anything except for the fact that you were eating sushi. [Jolie laughs]
JOLIE: That was really rude of me.
GLEESON: No, you’d put it away, but I knew it was there. I knew there was food in the room. That’s where we’d gotten to [with our dieting].
JOLIE: Oh, God, you were so skinny. I think we all got scared. The day that your contacts stopped fitting because your body shape changed was the day that we all got really scared and thought maybe you’d gone too far.
GLEESON: But it was also hilarious because there’s food right there. [Jolie laughs] Like the idea is that the actor is sacrificing, but if you want a cookie, you can eat a cookie. You choose not to do it. Like, with the real guys, there wasn’t craft services near the raft they were in. One of them actually died. And then you look around and everybody is saying, “Are you okay?” And you’re like, “Yeah, I can eat a fucking cookie if I want to. They’re right there.”
JOLIE: If you only do one job a year and you can either have a great time and a mediocre movie or a mediocre time and a great movie, which would you pick?
GLEESON: That’s impossible, isn’t it? I think you would have to just refuse to accept that that’s the choice. But there is this old thing that a lot of people say—that the worst experiences make the best films. I don’t subscribe to it. But I’ve seen it happen.
JOLIE: So, can I ask if you enjoyed working on the film that cannot be mentioned?
GLEESON: On Star Wars? I did. I enjoyed it for the reasons that you enjoy any film, that people were together, and that it was actually challenging. I like a challenge. I was more of an Indiana Jones kid than a Star Wars kid.
JOLIE: I’m personally a Boba Fett fan. [Gleeson laughs]
GLEESON: Well, you make a phone call and I’m pretty sure, Angie, that they’ll have you in, in a second.
JOLIE: Can Boba Fett have a missus? Well, put in a good word for me, then.
GLEESON: Could you imagine? “Hey, I’m calling to put in a good word for Angie.” [Jolie laughs] There is a wonder when you see make-believe stuff. And the crew, because they were all Star Wars fans, they’d painted stuff in the forest, little personal touches in there. I did this romantic comedy [About Time], and the whole point of it was that you’re supposed to take a second if life is going well, to enjoy it and not just move on with the rest of your day worrying about the next thing. And it’s a really trite point in some ways. But it’s bizarre how little I had done it at various points in my life. And weirdly that film comes up as much as anything else with people who like being reminded of that fact. But it does pop into my head every now and again.
JOLIE: I think we all need to remember that more.
GLEESON: You talk to anybody over the age of 80, and nobody wishes they’d worked more or spent more time being sad or anxious.
JOLIE: No. They wish that they enjoyed it more. The funny thing for you now having done this movie is it will mean so much more to you when one day your little boy is watching it and looks at you in that different way.
GLEESON: That is weird.
JOLIE: You still won’t be cool to your children no matter what you do. But the Star Wars movies always have these beautiful messages and they are quite profound. And you will have this thing where, wherever you go in the world, you will be an artist and familiar to them.
GLEESON: Unless you’re terrible in the movie and they hate you.
JOLIE: That should be your worry. [laughs] How long did you work on it?
GLEESON: It was stoppy-starty. And then schedules changed because Harrison got hurt. But it wasn’t nearly as long as I had thought, because the most recent one I did ended up being about seven months.
JOLIE: That was The Revenant?
GLEESON: Yes, that was insane. Alejandro [González Iñárritu] told us at the beginning, “I want you to be in pain.” Everyone held up a glass of wine. We thought we were going to cheer the journey ahead of us. And Alejandro started by saying, “I want you all to be in pain.” So then it was, “Oh, cheers?” Like, a cheers with a question mark is never a good way to start a film. And he just put us through the shit. But it looks beautiful, and that ended up being a beautiful experience.
JOLIE: What is the story of The Revenant?
GLEESON: It’s based on a true story. Hugh Glass, who is played by Leo DiCaprio … It’s really weird—if I call you Angie with people who don’t know you, I sound like an asshole. [Jolie laughs] You’ve created that problem for me in my life, by the way.
JOLIE: I’m sorry.
GLEESON: Which is the most high-class problem that anybody’s ever had. So Leo’s playing a fur trapper in the 1820s who was attacked by a bear and they had to choose whether to leave him behind—he was almost dead—or bring him with them. So two stayed behind to look after him, but then they buried him alive basically. But then he crawled across this huge portion of the country to get revenge on them. It’s kind of crazy. Where are you by the way? Where in the world are you?
JOLIE: I’m in L.A. for now. Most of June I’m in Europe. I’m finished with the movie. I’m doing more of my U.N. work and doing the African Union Summit and things like that. What else are you up to? I know that you really love music. Do you also write?
GLEESON: The only music I’ve ever written was for a film called Frank, and the idea was that it was the worst music in the world.
JOLIE: That movie, by the way, made me laugh out loud.
GLEESON: I’ll take that, really. That filmmaker is as good as Ireland’s got. Lenny Abrahamson, there’s somebody who’s Irish, who I’m really proud is Irish. Even though my task was to write the worst music, I know people who write good music. But I don’t go to a lot of gigs. I’m that person in the bar who’s like, “Can they turn the music down? I would like to chat.” I don’t like clothes. I’m terrible at all that stuff. I like sitting around and drinking a pint and gossiping or whatever.
ANGELINA JOLIE IS AN ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS AND DIRECTOR OF IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY AND UNBROKEN. BY THE SEA, WHICH SHE DIRECTED AND STARS IN, WILL BE RELEASED LATER THIS YEAR.
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