Ciarán Hinds on acting, movies and his family

Hollywood legend at ease among his own

Ciarán Hinds in discussion with Kim Lenehan Ciarán Hinds in discussion with Kim Lenehan
By Staff Reporter

Picture the scene. You’re in a small audience with a famous Hollywood actor in front of you and you can ask him anything. He has just completed a talk on his life and career to date and is ready to field another question.

So far the audience have wanted to know about how this man views the local film industry and about the various roles he has inhabited, and he has answered with great conviction and honesty.

All relevant questions, and interesting. But one woman has the courage to ask the question probably everyone wants to know.

“Have you ever worked with some really famous but really really awful? Somebody everyone thinks is great but is awful?”

Laugher ensures and the star is as amused as the audience.

“Can you imagine if I came up with a name?” he says laughing. “I’d love it Ciarán,” the woman says, pressing home her request. But Ciarán Hinds is too much of a diplomat for that.

The Antrim Road man is in Coláiste Feirste on Friday evening as part of Féile 25 to talk about his career on the silver screen, a career that has been on a non-stop upward trajectory for 25 years. This is an actor, after all, who Steven Spielberg sought out to play a Mossad assassin in his film about the aftermath of the Munich Olympic attacks, and has appeared on screen alongside Angelina Jolie and Daniel Day Lewis.

But he has never shied away from his home city, and as he addresses the crowd of around 100 people he points out that the second row is filled with family members, including his mother with whom he credits for having given him the acting bug.

“It would be churlish for me to say not from my mother because she is here! It actually probably came from both my parents. My father was a raconteur, a hugely warm hearted big spirited man. He was a doctor on the Springfield Road – that’s where his practice was in the fifties and was there until he retired in the eighties.

“In the times that were in it in the 60’s and 70’s he had patients from both sides of the political and cultural divide and that sort of informed me who he was. He would take no nonsense from anybody. He also had a great warmth and generosity.

“My mother is a fantastic actress but I only ever got to see her act once. There are lots of pictures of her looking very elegant but I managed to catch her once playing an 85-year-old woman in the Grand Circle down on the New Lodge.”

Sipping alternately from a glass of wine and bottle of water, Ciarán Hinds succeeded in deconstructing the role of an actor, and spoke of how he continues to be surprised at his huge success.

After quitting a law degree at Queen’s it was off to London to take up a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) before learning his trade in a Glasgow theatre for eight years.

His big break was years later in HBO’s mini-series Rome, where Hinds was to take on the iconic role of Julius Caesar in the series that it could be argued invented the ‘box set’.

This was no pre-planned career however, and he is at a loss to explain how he has come to be such a star.

“A lot of luck; a lot of accidents; such a thing as fate, and such a thing as a good agent.

“I don’t usually decide (on projects).

“I end up playing a lot of roles of people who are very powerful and whether that’s something in the physiology or the bearing which often goes in a visual medium, it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why sometimes I am chosen for roles.”

There is one particular film, he says, that sums up how almost by accident he has become so famous.

“I played the president of Russia in this film. Now that’s ridiculous; really, a Belfast man plays the president of Russia. And not in a theatre piece – in a universal film. “How does it come down to that? How stuck are they? Who hasn’t opened their eyes to see who else is in the world?”

The film he is talking about is a Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman blockbuster from ten years ago called The Sum of all Fears, where the Belfast man plays the Russian president caught up in a story of cold war intrigue.

“That was weird because I did an audition where I put something on tape and I faked my Russian accent and they said ‘they want to offer you this job’ and I sad, ‘no, that can’t be right. I presume in this day and age you’re not going to have the Russians speaking English in cod Russian accents?’ But they told me it would be done in Russian. I told them I didn’t speak Russian – I’m Irish, so they said if they got tapes to me I could learn. ‘When does it start?’ Ten days. ‘You’re having a laugh’!”

But ten days later Ciarán was on set in Canada and in a nervous state, seeking out the director.

“I spoke to the director and I said ‘I do not know why I have been chosen to play this role,’ and he said; ‘it’s funny you say that, I don’t know why they chose me to direct this film!’ And that’s what he said and I said ‘yay!’ we are doing down the pan!!! But for some reason it worked and that gave me an entrée for people to say, ‘oh who’s that guy’. It’s kind of mickey mouse when you put it all together.”

What wasn’t mickey mouse was taking a call from Steven Spielberg who had sought Ciarán out after seeing his performance in Rome. He wanted him to play an ageing Israeli secret service assassin in his 2006 film Munich and flew him out to LA for a talk.

This led to the role of his life and he said working with the movie legend was a joy.

“I have to say as a director he is one of the greatest when it comes to helping actors doing their work.”

But after long periods working across the world with the most glamourous people imaginable, Ciarán is now back in Belfast where he is filming a role in Game of Thrones. He said the lure of working in his home town was too much to turn down and that being back has been very special.

“Certainly as I approach later age the memories come flooding back because I have travelled a lot for work – all over the place. I didn’t intend to but that’s the way it worked out.

“The older you get (Belfast) is like remembering how brilliant your parents were when you forgot it when you were 16 or 17. But when you’re in your thirties you understand how amazing they were to get you through all that stuff.

“I think it’s the same for me travelling around seeing a lot of new places, meeting a lot of different people, working on new projects but then there’s a moment in your life when suddenly all the stuff that made you comes back.

“The creativity comes from a group of people with whom you grew up with and shared football and education and dancing, and while you can forget that in a way suddenly it came back to me in a big way. So in all the travelling and wondering ‘what the heck am I doing here’ when I came home originally to work on some smaller projects I knew deep inside it meant something probably more profound than the more public work that I was doing.”

By Evan Short

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