Brendan Gleeson discusses character depth in “Calvary”
In a recent interview, Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody) had a chance to talk about one of his more recent films, Calvary, where he plays the character of Father James. During the interview, Gleeson got to talk about said character in great depth and how he approached it.
When asked about how he reacted when first given the script, Gleeson said,
I felt challenged, and in an odd way, I felt reassured. What we talked about with John [Michael McDonagh, the director] was more or less on the page. I had an initial kind of a feeling that I knew this man as a human being through his daughter, which I wasn’t expecting, and maybe we should see more of that. Obviously, I felt excited and all that because I understood culturally where he was coming from. I understood the issues, and there was a lot of stuff that was second nature in the sense [that] it was a very recognizable context for me.
He was also asked if his character seemed like an allegory for Jesus, to which he replied,
No. I never felt Christ-like. I felt like a Samurai Warrior more than Christ in the sense [that] he was a protector of whatever the essence of goodness is. There is a picture of the sacred heart that I remember thinking about where you see the actual heart. It’s open there for anybody to have a go at it. So as Father James, whenever I put on the vestments for mass, in a way I felt that I had a suit of armor, and in another way felt that I was stripping everything away. It was a very odd sensation. The notion of atoning for others’ pain and others’ sins in terms of the abuse that has been perpetrated by people of the cloth and absorbing people’s pain and trauma and taking it on yourself, that was Christ-like, but Christ knew who his father was. Father James is kind of working on his own faith and that this is actually a good idea.
When making the film, he confessed that certain memories from his childhood came flooding back to him while portraying Father James:
There were people in my childhood [who] kept me going back to that [his childhood]. There was a mentor of mine who was a Christian brother and was a hugely inspirational figure in my primary school. He was great mentor. My parents’ kind of faith was the one that I accessed more than anything more modern. I found there was clarity of purpose there, where before people had the kind of questioning that has been the norm for the last 30-40 years. It was kind of faith in humanity and a charity that I missed when it started to move on – just kindness or the ability to be able to go to a child who is lost.
Going off the subject of Calvary, Gleeson went on to talk about his acting career in general, including how he first approached that particular industry:
When I left school, I hooked up with a bunch of guys who had been with my mentor as well, and we got involved in theatre with the help of a particularly good English teacher [whom] I could get on with. After a few years, I went back to college and was going to do a lot of different things. I hooked up with a group there. They were working in the Irish language and were putting on plays and rock concerts and all sorts of stuff in the Irish language. They developed a theatre company, and this company grew bigger and bigger. We went out to find audiences that didn’t go to theatre, and we wrote plays for them and brought them into a theatre they could identify with.
He was also asked how he’s prepared for portraying the many different characters he’s played throughout his career so far. He said,
I don’t have a particular process. Whatever I need to do is what I’m going to do. I don’t necessarily do ‘Method,’ but I don’t mind if somebody else is doing it. It’s kind of great to join in and do improvisation and all that stuff around the work. I think essentially I can read a script and can understand and empathize with the characters to the extent where I can feel impact or the lack of it. Maybe it’s because of all the essays I read when I was teaching. It’s an important thing in my arsenal, so I can distinguish pretty well what is a good script and what isn’t. You’ve already read the script and with a voice in your head, and that’s the beginning of empathizing with the character, and then you do whatever you need to do – whether it’s culture research or something else. I did Churchill, for example, which was a massive leap in terms of accent and culture. It was totally different from my life experience, and I did a lot of research. That said, there are other times where the research gets in the way. So for me, you always approach every job with whatever you need to get it done.
Click here to read the interview in full.
Have you seen Calvary? What did you think of Gleeson’s role? Let us know with your comments below.