Brendan Gleeson on Acting and Growing Older: “Curiosity Is the Thing”

Most Harry Potter fans know Brendan Gleeson as Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. He did an excellent job of portraying the renowned Auror in the films, and it’s hard to imagine Moody looking any different when you read the books. Gleeson is good at what he does, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon. Currently, he portrays Scott in Sundance TV’s State of the Union, and we love that he’s not planning on retiring anytime soon. In a recent interview with the Irish Times, he opened up about how he got into the world of acting, why he doesn’t like being famous, and how he’s educating himself about gender identity.

Brendan Gleeson always loved the stage – he performed in school plays and went on to act in some independent groups after school, but he never really considered making a career out of it. In fact, he used to be a teacher before he started pursuing acting full-time at the age of 34.

I really did think that the professional stage was for other people. I’m not sure why; it just felt as if it was a little … exotic. And I would go then to plays and think, I’m not sure that was the right take on that at all. I kind of felt like I could do better than that.

Now, three decades later, Gleeson is one of the most famous actors out there. While he enjoys his work, he doesn’t exactly like being famous. When he landed the role of Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid) warned him that fame was about to hit him hard.

I remember Robbie Coltrane saying to me, ‘You can forget about walking through an airport again.’ It’s difficult to browse in a shop. It’s a big price to pay, and I don’t like it.

While it might seem like Gleeson could be just as grumpy as Moody in real life, he says that disliking people isn’t the reason he’s not a fan of being famous. On the contrary, he loves people, and he loves observing them (something actors often do to help them hone their craft).

It’s stopped me from being able to people-watch with any great success and comfort. And that’s part of what you really need to do to stay aware of what’s going on.

Starring in State of the Union has taught Gleeson a myriad of new things, one of which is how to navigate gender identities. He admitted that he’d never worked with anyone who identifies as non-binary before. Esco Jouley, who plays Jay, is non-binary, and they and Gleeson work together closely on the show. Gleeson struggled using the correct pronouns at first, but Jouléy was great about it.

I did not use the pronouns ‘them/they’ for gender-fluid people because I haven’t been in a situation where it was either expected or demanded or in fact, even introduced as a possibility. So with Esco, I kept, and I still do, just going to the wrong pronoun. But he — they! — said: ‘I don’t care. I find it interesting who you see me as today.’

Gleeson finally got the hang of it, however, saying it was “exhilarating. It was thrilling to be brought into a new awareness in that way.”

Gleeson is a stunning example of someone who doesn’t stop learning as they get older. In fact, he’s all about experiencing new things and taking on exciting projects whenever the possibility arises. However, he’s not against taking it slow every once in a while.

The excitement you get when you get something through the door that absolutely sings. And that you have to rise to it, rather than trying to drag it up by its bootstraps. When I smell it, when it jumps through the window, it’s just not going to go away. Curiosity is the thing, I think. That’s where I am at the moment.

It appears that, unlike the rest of us, Gleeson might have that work-life balance down to a T. We’ll happily keep using him as inspiration for going after what we want while also taking the time to appreciate all we already have.


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Marica Laing

Growing up, I was a massive fan of Harry Potter and my love for the stories grew as I got older. It’s no surprise then that I love writing about all things Potter related. When I’m not writing about all the magic, you’ll find me reading (probably something Harry Potter related), listening to music, or writing some songs.