Character actor Ciaran Hinds: Best reason to visit Ireland?

Ciaran-Hinds

I’ve been a fan of the tall, imposing Irish actor Ciarán Hinds at least since “Persuasion,”perhaps my favorite Jane Austen adaptation. His quiet, vulnerable and austere turn in that one – he’s a soldier in love with the heroine, but kept from her – is a subtle masterpiece of understatement. I’ve tried to get hold of him for interviews a few times over the years, so when the studio behind “The Eclipsr” offered, I went for it. The interview follows.

Ciarán Hinds is so Irish – so very Irish – that he spends his days in puzzled wonder at how rarely he’s asked to play his lineage.

“I’m out there in the desert with Dwayne Johnson making ‘Race to Witch Mountain,'” he recalls. “And I think, ‘Wait a minute. I’m playing an American agent. Chasing aliens? I’m supposed to be playing priests and members of the IRA.’ ”

Hinds, 63, is one of the busiest and most versatile character actors in the business, playing Israeli secret agents (“Munich”), ancient rulers (Caesar in “Rome,” Herod in “The Nativity Story”), a Texas dad with a kid in the military (“Stop-Loss)” and period-piece Brits (“Amazing Grace,” “Persuasion”). That’s not counting “Game of Thrones.”

Oh, and the occasional Catholic priest (“In Bruges).

But when the chance came to work in his native accent in his native land (he was born in Belfast, but he and his partner have lived in Paris for years), he didn’t hesitate. “My soul is still Irish,” he says. The Eclipse not only would bring him home, to Cove in County Cork, but he’d be an Irish leading man – a grieving, troubled, would-be writer who sees ghosts and longs to start something with the fetching horror author visiting his town. Hinds won the best actor prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and glowing notices as “the wonderful and always underrated Ciarán Hinds” (Boxoffice Magazine) for the film, now opening in some U.S. cities.

“It’s so tough to get movies made in Ireland anymore,” Hinds says. “A whole generation of Irish filmmakers doesn’t have the resources to get a movie made. Whatever film industry we had built up – and it’s a land of great writers, always has been – has gone on this awful hiatus.

“But you live in hope, you know. We have stories to share. When [co-writer and director] Conor McPherson, whom I’d done ‘The Seafarer’ with on Broadway, offered me The Eclipse, I knew it would be a tight schedule and wrestling with some uncomfortable dark emotions, but I had to do it.”

Hinds, whose first show business job was as an Irish dancer, says that Ireland needs to be able to tell its own stories and not be a slave to whatever version of Ireland Hollywood or others want to serve up.

“Sometimes, there’s not an honest engagement of Ireland in Hollywood movies,” he says. “Our film, it doesn’t have a lot of diddly-aye music, there’s no IRA, no guns, no priests.”

Ciaran Hinds in the Eclipse

But it’s still an exception, a one-off project. Afterwards, it was back to the character parts for Hinds – a role in the upcoming sci-fi blockbuster John Carter of Mars, and a small, tasty piece of that haven for the cream of British and Irish character actors, the Harry Potter movies (“four days of concentrated, joyous and frightening work”).

He’s starred in theater on Broadway and in Britain, and has turned up in hit thrillers, comedies and kids’ films, and TV series in the 30 years since he left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Potter has already changed his profile.

“Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, they’ve been doing these roles their whole lives. They know who they are and what they’re playing. I come in, and I have no idea who or how or what. I mean, I’m supposed to be Michael Gambon’s [Dumbledore] younger brother. But he’s 190 and I’m probably 156 or so. And I’m much grumpier than him. But it’s such a great honor to be asked, to be a part of that world.

“But my dream is still to be offered these wonderful little Irish films, in Donegal or Derry. It’s good for my Irish soul.”

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