Brendan Gleeson has appeared in so many of the films we know and love. In his latest film, Calvary, he plays Irish priest, Father James, a good man who turned to the priesthood after the death of his wife. I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his work on Calvary, on preparing to play a Catholic priest in the wake of church-wide scandal, his co-stars, some of his other outstanding performances over the years, and the director with whom he would most like to collaborate.
“It’s a great film to talk about,” Gleeson began. “It does take a lot of time to process because there’s so much depth to it,” he added when I admitted that I had only just finished watching it.
When asked what drew him to the role, he explained that he liked the idea of playing a good priest, one that hasn’t been part of the church’s scandals in recent years, but who is still affected by them. He also explained that he looked forward to playing a character who has seen a lot of tragedy in his life and who has the weight of it bearing down on him. Gleeson, who previously worked with director John Michael McDonagh on the film The Guard, also mentioned that he had enjoyed working with him before and wanted the chance to work with him again.
In the opening scene of Calvary, Father James receives a death threat in the middle of confession. While attempting to navigate that delicate situation, his daughter comes to town, having just recovered from a suicide attempt. Add to that a host of parishioners in need of priestly counsel and Father James finds himself in the midst of a very emotionally difficult week.
“How do you suppose someone would keep hope when faced with those situations?” I asked. Gleeson said simply, “You’d have to rely on your faith.” We further discussed some key scenes in the film, scenes I won’t describe in detail so as to avoid spoilers, but which add to the growing sense of forboding.
In talking about those key scenes, I asked which was his favorite or the most difficult to film. He was very complimentary of his co-stars. “Everyone brought their A-game,” he said with a chuckle. “Of course, the scene I got to film with my son [actor Domhnall Gleeson] at the prison was very special.” He went on to praise the work of Kelly Reilly, who plays his daughter, Fiona. “She’s just terrific, very talented.” He discussed filming a gut-wrenching scene with Marie-Josée Croze, as well as a few emotionally charged moments with Chris O’Dowd, as being particularly memorable days for him. “We filmed the [final scene] during the first week of shooting, so it was difficult to build up that emotional impact,” Gleeson said. “But it really set the tone for the type of film we were trying to make.”
We switched gears and talked about his extensive body of work, having appeared in iconic films like Gangs of New York, the Harry Potter series, and earlier this summer in the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt film Edge of Tomorrow.
“You’ve had a lot of roles over the years,” I said. “Any particular favorites?”
“In Bruges was a great one. Of course, Braveheart was just an incredible experience.” Gleeson further discussed portraying Winston Churchill in the film Into the Storm (2009) and the transformation that had to take place for him to take on that part. But he came back again to In Bruges, a film for which he obviously has a great fondness. And rightfully so, I told him.
But before we wrapped things up, I had one final question. “Is there anyone in particular you would like to work with that you haven’t had the opportunity yet? Director, actor, writer?”
“The Coen Brothers,” he said without hesitation. “I just really love what they do. I love the types of films they create and think it would be a joy to work with them.”
Calvary is coming soon to DVD and Blu-Ray. Gleeson will also compete in the Lead Actor category in this awards season, which includes the Academy Awards, for his performance.