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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actors > Feature Interviews A to E > Feature Interviews F to J > Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle (2011 Interview)


Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle at the New York press day for "The Guard."

Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle

The Changing of The Guard

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 29, 2011. 

The odd-couple police drama is a staple, but you wonít find many more eccentric than John Michael McDonaghís comedy drama about an uptight US FBI agent hooked up with an antisocial local cop in the boonies of Ireland.

Starring Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (the Harry Potter series, In Bruges) and American star Don Cheadle (Oceans 11, Iron Man 2), The Guard is the directing debut for screenwriter McDonagh (Ned Kelly)

McDonagh had met Gleeson through his brother, playwright Martin McDonagh, who directed Gleeson in Martinís film debut In Bruges.  Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a fascinating Irish mash-up of Archie Bunker and Lt. Columbo.  Boyle is often obnoxious and always opinionated, but he is also a very savvy cop.

Cheadle takes the straight man role as a by-the-book agent who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a strange area he doesnít understand, dealing with a cop who seems to be a bigoted buffoon.  But is he really? 

Gleeson and Cheadle were kind enough to meet with us and some other news outlets at the Sony Building in New York City days before the film starts its limited release.

How did this film come about? Youíre not only acting in it, Don, youíre also executive producing.

Don Cheadle: This was a movie that came to my attention in the conventional way, through my agent.  The script team really sparked to it and they sent it to me and I read it.  I had the same reaction.  I thought it was really great.  They said that Brendan Gleeson was talking about playing the lead.  Iíve been a big fan of his for a long time, so I just wanted to throw my hat in the ring any way we could to help.  We decided to partner with John and lend whatever credibility that we could get it and just started going about the business to get this done.  I met Brendan.  He came to Los Angeles.  He had won a Golden Globe for Churchill.  It just kind of snowballed from there.  It was a great project and I really wanted to be a part of it.  Glad to get the opportunity. 

Brendan Gleeson: Actually, I didnít get the Golden Globe.  I got the Emmy. 

Don Cheadle: Oh, you got the Emmy?  I thought you got a Golden Globe for that.  (laughs) 

Brendan Gleeson: No, no.  They didnít offer that.  Gave it to some other fellow.  (laughs)  Anyway, I met John, we were there for In Bruges at the Golds and I met John with Martin, his brother.  We were having a chat about various things.  He sent me a script and as soon as I read it, it just sang.  He said weíre going after Don.  I said, this would just be made in heaven.  Similarly, Donís work has alwaysÖ I kind of knew before I met him that I would kind of love him, because I knew that his work in an odd way really is who he is.  In a kind of a beautiful way.  So we went in and that can turn out where you meet an actor to [be a] nightmare.  It didnít.  We had a great time.  Weíd just met.  We only read the script through a couple of times and we knew we were going to go with it.  Then we went our various ways.  So I was working back down in Connemara, waiting for Don to arrive in the rain. 

Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle at the New York press day for "The Guard."Youíve worked now with two of the McDonagh brothers.  What are they like to work with?  How are they similar and how are they different in their work? 

Brendan Gleeson: Well, you know, it is two different voices, that is for sure.  Itís a different set.  Two different worlds but there is an obvious similarity.  The wit has a shared pedigree, I think.  More than that, itís the rigor of their writing.  The ferocity of the way they approach a shot.  John would come up just before weíre about to go on something heíd be just right there.  (mimes movement)  ďWeíre just going to do that.Ē  Thanks, heíd say emotionally.  They both have slightly different ways of working, but they both have extraordinary calm.  They both knew absolutely, because no word, no comma, nothing goes down there unless itís been absolutely thought through.  We were the beneficiaries of that.  We came along and just explored it.  It was the same with just Colin [Farrell, his In Bruges co-star] and myself and all the people [who worked on that film].  Itís just coming on and you try to realize whatís there.  The potential that is there.  When you start working with other people, humanity gets involved and the room starts to raise the bar, hopefully.  You never have to wander away.  You always know what the core target is.  So, they both are similar, but as I say, very different voices. 

How important was it to you that this story was not just the stereotypical black guy, white guy fish-out-of-water buddy cop pic?  How hard was it to deal with such an outrageous character? 

Don Cheadle: To me, it was a story that when I was reading the script, I was laughing from the first page all the way to the end.  All of the outrageous stuff that came out of Boyleís mouth was stuff that was hilarious to me.  I thought that everybody gets it.  (laughs)  Everybody gets it in the story.  Itís an equal opportunity slander.  I love movies like that.  Every character has their own bias.  To me, Boyle was the least prejudiced person in the flick.  Heís clearly saying the things that he is saying to get a rise out of the people that are around him.  He is smarter than everybody else.  He is literate.  Heís a cinephile.  He knows whatís up.  I just laughed hearing those kinds of things and thinking of John actually putting it down on paper.  I go, no one writes like that.  People talk like that all the time.  We play like that.  I play like that in my life with people that are close to me.  So I was glad somebody took all of those taboos on and just put it out there in a way to make it something to bandy about like a shuttlecock.  It was funny to me. 

Brendan Gleeson: Itís a kind of fearlessness, to actually go and do it.  I donít think there is a racist bone in Boyleís body, to be honest with you.  So playing him as the biggest asshole that ever walked was easy, because I know itís not the truth of him, really.  I was just talking earlier on about you can not go to a doctor and entrust him with your motherís life.  That actual scene was cut back, there was quite an interesting thing where Boyle talks to the doctor about what itís like going to tell someone that their nearest and dearest is dead, for example.  Cops do it.  Doctors do it.  So I think Boyle is mischievous.  It doesnít excuse, exactly, everything heís doing.  (laughs)  But let me ask you something: How do you think I feel?  Iím a Dublin person.  (laughs harder)  Dublin girls get it.  Everybody gets it.  The one guy says he caught something from the ladies.  Where they from?  Dublin.  AhhÖ. What do you expect?  What are you looking for?   So, equal opportunity is a good way to take it.  Everybody was getting it.  I really think there is also a culture thing that sometimes gets lost in the mix.  I donít think itís necessarily just purely Irish, but there is a culture thing and I think itís from going to markets and stuff like that and not letting anybody know what to pay for the thing you are trying to flog.  Itís about making the other guy think you are really dumb.  Itís not just restricted to any particular [group].  Itís quite a good way to take what you like from people who are maybe underestimated anyway, to let them think that youíre dumb and then their real selves come out and you hear all this stuff.  So there is a whole pile of stuff going on behind Boyle that I donít think that he is just an idiot.  I donít think heís a racist at all, actually. 

Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle at the New York press day for "The Guard."The film has a very unusual tone.  Definitely unlike his brotherísÖ 

Brendan Gleeson: Iím glad to hear it, yeah.  I think so, too. 

What was interesting was how well you two fit into the tone.  Was it there on the paper? 

Brendan Gleeson: I thought it was. 

Don Cheadle: I thought it was, too.  I really believe that, as I just said earlier, that I thought wow, if we are able to just do whatís here and this is people.  This cast was believable.  I had no concern about Brendan, but I was like, these other roles Ė is everyone in this as believable and grounded and has a sense of humor and gets the joke? 

Brendan Gleeson: And plays it straight at the same time. 

Don Cheadle: Plays it straight but understands what they are saying.  I was like: this is going to be great. 

Itís so dark, all these awful things, and yet it is so funny and bright at the same time. 

Don Cheadle: When youíre asking a guy whoís sitting there dying and he says ďThereís so many things I wanted to doĒ and [Boyle responds] ďRun with the bulls in Pamplona?Ē (laughs)  Have you got no respect for anything to say that?  No, not really.  Thatís Johnís dark, wry sense of humor that you get from the very first moment.  Brendanís first reaction when the car goes by and it crashes and heís like (groans) ďOh, do I have to deal with this shit?Ē 

Brendan Gleeson: Another day at the office. 

Don Cheadle: I think it just sets it up right, right away, that if you get it from the very beginning youíre going to get whatís happening. 

Brendan Gleeson: But also, itís a thing that is not filled with hatred.  It is important that he can come out with this stuff and he does have a dark side and he will go there.  If you say itís a bit of a dark hole over there, heíd be over there like a shot.  (laughs)  He does kind of gravitate towards it.  But there is no malice and hatred and mean-spiritedness about it at all. 

Don Cheadle: If there was it wouldnítÖ my friend said the same thing.  Some people kept saying ďRacism.  Racism.Ē  My friendís brother, a guy I know, said, ďIf he really was like that, it wouldnít be funny.Ē 

Brendan Gleeson: No. 

Don Cheadle: If he was really hateful and filled with that.  A bigot couldnít do this and make it funny.  It would be offensive. 

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson star in the Sony Pictures Classics film "The Guard."Even the villains are elitists. 

Don Cheadle: Yes!  (laughs)  Theyíre debating Nietzsche. 

Brendan Gleeson: I think John does have a thing Ė you can ask him yourself Ė but he has a thing about always depicting working class people as really, really dumb.  Nobody ever reads a book.  Nobody ever has a discussion about the central core issues of life.  So he throws in this stuff and just sees how you get on.  Heís a great man, as I say.  A lot of it has to do with that fearlessness.  Itís where you are not being patronizing.  Youíre not afraid to say; oh that person wouldnít say that.  Almost anybody would say almost anything at some level at some point.  He fires as many of those things out as he can and sees how we get on. (laughs)  I think itís about that, more than anything else. 

How have the Irish been responding to the film? You had done a similarly dark look at the country with Tigerís Tail and that was not received well

Brendan Gleeson: Oh, we were eaten alive for Tigerís Tail, especially John [Boorman, the writer/director], because heís English.  We tried to show in a film around 2006 that the society was going down the tubes Ė it was throwing out everything that it held dear, that made it worthwhile as a place.  It was all full of bling and wealth, meaning nothing.  We were actually castigated at home.  Actually eaten alive. 

It was a big economic bubble being explored [about the real estate and building markets in Ireland]. 

Brendan Gleeson: That was a big bubble.  Blah, blah, blah.  People were talking so loud in coffee shops about having profits in Bulgaria and all this absolute ghastly nonsense.  How to want to make a killing.  Everybody was going to be rich.  It was just a horrible thing to see.  And John Boorman painted it in as bright a color as he could.  He really did try to put it in a place where it wasnít sanctimonious.  But the rejection was utter and total.  I donít take any great satisfaction out of it Ė for obvious reasons Ė but the bust isnít a whole lot of fun, either.  Iím not sure.  I havenít made a connection between that and and Gerry Boyle.  But there is something about puncturing the notion of perceived authority.  You know this unearned respect that happens where people expect that you would respect them because of their position.  Ireland has been going through a real trauma: which is the church, itís the economics, itís the politics.  Itís just about every slice of the societal pizza.  At least theyíre okay there.  Except the arts.  The only place that people were not let down was in the arts.  Actually, it does say an awful lot.  I donít know, because John [Michael McDonagh] would never tell you if he is Irish or English, either.  He doesnít really care.  But as part of that whole thing, it would be good to see it.  Itís done something like two million in two weeks now.  (laughs)  Thereís only four million people in the whole country.  Itís doing fantastically well at home.  So itís obviously hitting something.  Tigerís Tail absolutely hit the funny bone and they didnít want to know about it.  Now, they actually love to see all this stuff, because it has been punctured.  Gerry BoyleÖ (laughs)  Iím only afraid itís going to breed all these little Gerry Boyles going around saying the most offensive things to everybody who comes into the country we are hosting. 

Don Cheadle: Hey, now, wait a minute.  You actually are an asshole! 

Brendan Gleeson: (laughs hard)  Yes!  Exactly.  The approach is to go in the home to make sure they donít get the wrong idea of this.  But, I think itís great to puncture all that unearned nonsense. 

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson star in the Sony Pictures Classics film "The Guard."Itís sort of like a love letter to the country, too.  The area was so beautiful and so unusual.  The photography made it even more eccentric. 

Brendan Gleeson: Well, there is something about just getting up someoneís nose that obviously turns us on.  I donít know what it is.  Maybe itís just the boredom factor.  But it is shot well and Connemara did become part of our hearts in a way.  Iíd been to Connemara loads and loads of times when I was 19 or 20.  I went down there to learn Irish and all this.  They wouldnít give me a job, but thatís another story.  We went over working in there.  We were part of the place.  You know, it is Gaelic speaking and quite of itself.  But being on the inside, working on the inside, was absolutely beautiful.  We spent the last two weeks working over in Wicklow on the pier.  We shot it all against the country.  Everybody felt bereft in a weird way to leave.  So yeah, I think there is a kind of love in it, I guess. 

Don, your character is supposed to be very straight-laced and not have a great sense of humor about himself.  As an actor, was it difficult to keep a straight face when you heard some of the things coming from Brendanís mouth without cracking up, completely? 

Don Cheadle: Yeah, there were a couple of times where I just actually did.  Like, okay, letís go back and reboot and do that again.  Because it is so outrageous and it is so unbelievable and because I know Brendan and Iíve seen the twinkle in his eye when heís saying it.  But like I said, it was fully realized on the page.  It was kind of fun for once to be the character that everything is happening to.  To be in Ireland Ė a place Iíd never been before.  To be in that part of Ireland, which is not even like any place else (laughs) in Ireland.  To have this fish out of water story, I didnít have to act much.  I just had to stand there.  The only thing I had to do was act the out of water part.  Everything else was just right there.  You donít always have a director that is very clear and direct about what they want.  Very assertive and definite.  John really was.  So it was just putting myself in his hands. 

How did you prepare for the relationship between the two of you? 

Don Cheadle: For me, like I said, I was a fan before I walked in the room.  I know it sounds clichťd, actors saying, ďOh, I loved him in five minutes.Ē  But, I really did.  It really took about 45 seconds.  I shook his hand and said hey.  We sat down and started reading.  We read the first two or three lines and we were cracking up. 

Brendan Gleeson: Thatís when we cracked up. 

Don Cheadle: Yeah. 

Brendan Gleeson: Thatís when it happens, really, in answer of the other question.  When you get a chance to rehearse the scene.  Thatís when we fell around the place.  After that youíre doing your job.  Youíre kind of in a slightly different place.  The script was the bond.  The script was clear and our understanding of it was on such a level Ė on terms of being on the same level Ė that that was so easy.  We didnít have to think about that much, really and just go at it.  After that, then the fun came later.


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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2011 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2011 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2011 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2011. Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2011. Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 29, 2011.  

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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 29, 2011.