Sony Picture Classics
Brendan Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle in John Michael McDonagh's black comedy
Brendan Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle in John Michael McDonagh's black comedy The Guard. Sony Picture Classics
In Martin McDonagh's 2008 black comedy In Bruges, Brendan Gleeson played one of two Irish hitman sent to the Belgian countryside to hide out from the law.
Gleeson now stars in another McDonagh black comedy — but this time it's Martin's brother John Michael in the director's seat — and the Irish actor is now on the other side of the law. In The Guard, Gleeson plays a cynical, small-town cop named Gerry Boyle — a lonely man who spends much of his free time ruffling other people's feathers.
"[My character] is basically going slowly out of his mind because of a lack of things to engage his intellect with ... and up to a small point he's decided that he just wanted to be left alone," Gleeson tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "And of course, as with a lot of people who just want to be left alone, he kind of is."
But Boyle is thrust out of his comfort zone when an American FBI agent named Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle, comes to Ireland to track down an international drug trafficking ring. The two men become unlikely partners trying to solve the crime and get along with each other. But with a guy like Boyle on the team, that's easier said than done.
"It's been interesting how the film plays," says Gleeson. "People are so shaken by Gerry's mischief that they become convinced that he means any of this, which of course is nothing like the truth. Gerry will say absolutely anything to anybody if he thinks it will pull their chain."
Gleeson says his character isn't mean or stupid — he's just bored with life in small-town Ireland.
"I've met men like [my character] quite a lot," Gleeson says. "People who are underused a little bit and have terribly sharp wit, but pretend to be a little bit stupid. Country men, quite a lot of the time, pretend to be stupid so that you will underestimate them and not really understand who you're dealing with."
Getting His Start
Gleeson taught school for 10 years in Dublin before embarking on an acting career. In 1991, he played Michael Collins in The Treaty, which led to roles in theater productions in Ireland. But it wasn't until 1995 — when he was offered the part of Hamish Campbell in Braveheart — that he got his big break.
"I owe a lot to that production," he says. "It was the most phenomenal thing to do. Just to be working at that level with extras and the whole production — which was a huge undertaking — made a huge difference to me in terms of my career."
Gleeson's other film rolls include Cold Mountain, The Village, Into the Storm and the fourth, fifth and seventh Harry Potter films, where he played Professor Mad-Eye Moody.