2012 was quite a year for Domhnall Gleeson. Alongside his BIFA nomination and theatrical releases of Dredd and Shadow Dancer, Anna Karenina finally gave him a more significant post-Harry Potter role after brilliant turns in True Grit and Never Let Me Go.
With 2013 seeing him star opposite Michael Fassbender and Rachel McAdams in Frank and About Time, as well as starring in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror alongside Hayley Atwell, this rising star deserves to be recognised as far more than just ‘Brendan Gleeson’s son’.
Incredibly fun to talk to, with a contagious passion for his art, Domhnall speaks about wanting to work with the cast of The Master, his longing to feature in a film noir and why he’s glad the team behind Anna Karenina didn’t let him keep his scythe at the end of filming.
HeyUGuys: It sounds like you campaigned pretty hard for Levin, what with the infamous five-hour audition for Joe (Wright, director). What was it specifically about the novel that made you so eager to vie for him?
Domhnall Gleeson: Well actually, I was coming at it from a slightly different, slightly more selfish perspective, which was really what I wanted to do was work with Joe. I’d read it, but actually I’d only gotten the script and the novel really a few days before the audition. The thing which I was interested in is that I’d met Joe before and I really loved his films, I really did and still do love his films, and really what I wanted to do was campaign to work with him. So the best way of working with him was trying to be as good as I could be at being this character that he thought maybe I might suit. So that was where it kind of came from and then it was about trying to discover where I fit into that, or if I could fit into that. And actually, in the end it ended up being Joe who really helped me find a way to play the character, so I was very lucky that he believed in me quite strongly from the start.
What can you tell us about Joe and Tom’s (Stoppard, scriptwriter) feelings in regards to giving Levin a much more bulked out role to what we’ve seen before?
Well in the novel it’s almost half Levin and half Anna, I mean it’s pretty huge. But in the previous film versions of it I know that they had, you know, apparently they’d really cut down on the amount of time that Levin was in those films compared to the book. I think really they’d used him as an antidote to Anna’s story, as a way to kind of counterbalance either the joy or the horror of what was going on in Anna’s life. So I think that was something that Tom Stoppard struck upon and really made room for him in the film which obviously I was happy about.
You’ve done theatre before and have been nominated for a Tony, but what was the rehearsal process like here, especially as you had the choreography?
It was wonderful. It was amazing and it was like doing theatre rehearsals to a certain extent, just because it was very connected. Everyone was there a lot of the time which, often in film rehearsals, you just pop in for half an hour with the main person and then the other person would come in to do the next half an hour for their bit of the film. But we were all around for a few weeks and all hung out together, all really talked about the aristocracy and each of our roles in the film and how we fit in. And then, with the choreographer it was just extraordinary working in a way – a feel for the film, a feel for each character and how they interacted within it, so it was really intense in the best possible way. You went home tired but really happy, so it was a great few weeks and made me feel very comfortable going into the filming of it which I hadn’t expected.
So would you want to work with Joe again if the opportunity arose?
Yeah, I would jump all over that. Yeah, I love Joe. I get the feeling that I’m probably better when he’s directing me, so of course I would like to work with him again. Again, just purely for completely selfish reasons!
Were you excited about the idea of marrying theatre and film in a much more palpable way for an audience?
The theatrical element, we were – when I accepted the role, or when they gave me the role, rather, that hadn’t been decided on yet, so anything Joe sprung on me when they came up with the idea, well, after they’d come up with the idea, it was like, ‘Oh, really?’ Because we had quite a straightforward, brilliantly judged, brilliantly paced script that took place in the real world, just quite a long time ago. And Joe said, ‘No, no, no, actually this is the way to do it. This is a way of putting it into a film which is exciting in a different way’. And then, yeah, once you started talking about it, it really is completely compelling, you know, the idea of doing something which is different and which isn’t usual. And which you knew was going to be beautiful when Seamus (McGarvey, cinematographer) was filming it and Joe was behind Seamus. It was great. I mean, I was really excited and every day the set was different, every day on the set was more beautiful and it was just glorious going to work.
Did the other actors begrudge the fact you got to go outside more than they did?
Well, no, because though I got to go outside, I generally got to go to the parts of Russia which were minus forty! So no, I don’t think so! I was very happy that I got to go to Russia and I was really happy that I got to go down to do the scything scenes. It was very nice to be able to get out in the open air, because actually it is important for Levin to connect in the real world, whether it be in the novel or in any film adaptation. If they’re going to use him you have to be connected to something real and striving for something more real that perhaps everybody else was striving for, so obviously Joe really looked after that in the making of the film, so it was nice for me to get out in the open air. It was good, I did enjoy that.
I can imagine you’re rather dangerous near a scythe now, though.
Yeah, I can take your finger off! They didn’t give it to me at the end of filming as a present or anything like that, which was probably a good thing because I may not have got it back through customs on the plane!
The relationship between Kitty and Levin is absolutely beautiful to watch. The script assists everything perfectly, but were there any specific techniques you used in rehearsal to form such a tangible devotion between you?
Yeah, we worked really, really, really hard at that, I’m glad you thought that. It was really important that you felt that they were meant to be together. That even when she refuses him at the start, there’s meant to be that feeling that there’s something about them where you think that maybe in a different time that these two people really could work together. So we worked very hard at creating physically a space for them to exist and there was a lot of time on set, just the two of us kind of being together. And it was wonderful, she was just so open to everything and I was in a place where I was very open to everything and it just always felt right. We worked very hard to get it to a place where it felt even better, but it always felt right, we got very lucky on that one.
My favourite scene from the film is with Levin, Kitty and the blocks. Do you have a personal favourite moment from within the film, regardless of whether you were in it?
I think the blocks is a pretty good scene. There’s a scene with Jude (Law) in front of the footlights with himself and Keira (Knightley) I thought was really, really good and really affecting. And then any time when Matthew Macfadyen is doing his thing, I’m onboard, I just laughed like a madman anytime he was onscreen, so anytime he’s there I’m extra clued in.
Are there any other literary characters you’d like to get your teeth into if you could have your pick?
Now that’s interesting. Yeah, that’s interesting, I’ve never even thought of that! Because any time I read a book I never think of it being adapted into a movie, I just – it never happens. You know what? I’d love to be in like a film noir, that would be cool. Yeah, yeah, yeah, like where they’re all drinking too much – like a modern film noir. I’d be really into that.
You’ve worked with some amazing people and you’ve got some brilliant stuff lined up. But before I get onto what you’ve got coming up, are there any specific actors you’d really like the chance to work with?
Yeah, well, I’m getting to work with Michael Fassbender, I can’t wait to do that, I’m very excited about that. And then people who I don’t know if I’ll ever work with them? I’d love to work with Sam Rockwell, I do love Sam Rockwell, I think he’s incredible. And I’ve just seen Joaquin Phoenix in The Master with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams is awesome, so yeah, I’m just basically listing people who are in that film, but everybody in that film is awesome and I’d love to work with them. And, you know, a Will Ferrell comedy would be fun to do too.
So what can you let us know about Frank, Calvary, About Time and the other projects you’ve got coming up?
Well they’re all very different, I mean, About Time is a comedy, but it’s also kind of very deep and beautiful, about all these relationships and I had a wonderful time filming that with Richard Curtis and Rachel McAdams – with all these incredible people, I had a brilliant time on that. I did a couple of days on Calvary with my dad, which – I don’t have so much to do in that film, but I think it’s going to be extraordinary. And then I work with Hayley Atwell on a thing for Charlie Brooker for this British series, Black Mirror. I did an hour-long episode of that and that was really fun. Had to change it up and be something completely different as it’s kind of spooky, kind of Twilight Zone-y but also sort of real. He’s just a really good writer so I really enjoyed my time on that. And then I’ve got a bunch of comedy sketches coming out over on telly and online that I wrote with my friends and then I made with some great actors from back here – Robbie (Robert) Sheehan and my dad and all these people to raise money for a hospice back here, so that’s going to happen right now. I’m hoping to get some people to go to the website and donate for that.
So no rest for you, then.
No, not for the moment, not for the moment, but I’ve had plenty of time where I’ve had too much rest so I’m happy to take on whatever work comes my way at the moment.
Obviously acting is very close to home, but who do you count as the other influences that gave you the push into acting?
Yeah, there are people who I wouldn’t have been an actor if they hadn’t been around. And, obviously my father is huge in that and my mum was always supportive of the decision when I decided I wanted to do it. But one of the influences, I think, is Martin McDonagh, because it was reading his script that really made me, really made me want to try hard for an audition for the first time, you know? Really made me think I could actually be in it and then I got the part and being in it was even more wonderful than I’d imagined it would be. So yes, Martin McDonagh, but obviously my mum and dad.